How the San Antonio Spurs Are Destroying AAU Basketball

The past two NBA Finals games in Miami have been absolute blowouts and embarrassments for the Miami Heat. A team put together to win several championships, the Miami Heat is now down 3-1 in the 2014 NBA Finals, and the next game is Sunday night in San Antonio. I did predict that the Spurs would win in six games, but I never thought the Spurs would perform as well as they have this series.

I guess I gave the Heat too much credit by thinking it would go six games.

However, on a deeper and more personal level, I wondered why a team so talented as Miami could be beat so easily on their home court. Seriously, the Heat have LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, and arguably one of the best players of all time. Then I remembered that LeBron was left off the NBA’s All-Defensive team this season.

Clearly, he was left off for a reason.

If you’ve watched these four games between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, then surely you’ve noticed that the Heat have played very little defense. In game three, the Spurs scored over 40 points in the first quarter alone. Then comes game four, and everyone in the world figured the Miami Heat was going to come out on fire, score a ton of points, and play serious defense.

Nope.

Let’s take a look at the starting roster of each team:

Miami Heat

  1. Mario Chalmers, G, Kansas (USA)
  2. Dwyane Wade, G, Marquette (USA)
  3. Rashard Lewis, F, Alief Elsid HS (TX/USA)
  4. Chris Bosh, C-F, Georgia Tech (USA)
  5. LeBron James, F, St. Vincent-St. James HS (OH/USA)

San Antonio Spurs

  1. Manu Ginobili, G, Kinder Bologna (ARGENTINA)
  2. Tony Parker, G, Paris BR (FRANCE)
  3. Boris Diaw, F, Pau Orthez (FRANCE)
  4. Tim Duncan, F, Wake Forest (US VIRGIN ISLANDS)
  5. Tiago Splitter, C, Saski Baskonia (BRAZIL)

Arguably, these roster changes for every game, but do you notice any differences between the two?

I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count.

Without doing extensive investigative reporting on each listed player, I would venture to guess that each Heat player played in the AAU prior to their college and/or NBA career. Those on the Spurs roster did not.

I can speak somewhat intelligently about AAU Basketball since my 10-year-old son currently plays in a league. At least twice per week, not including tournament games, I sit back and watch the coaching in these games. Not just my son’s group, but the others, too. They participate in a series of drills to improve their dribbling and shooting, but passing and defense is often ignored.

In today’s basketball world, we want to see superstars. The players who can dazzle us with their dribbling and shooting skills are the ones that every college coach in the land wants. Therefore, the AAU leagues are now focused on giving the colleges what they require. If a kid is extremely talented, e.g. LeBron James, they bypass college basketball all together, and enter the NBA Draft immediately out of high school.

A paradigm shift in sports has occurred to a degree where defense has taken a serious back seat to offense. Look at football—the running back position has all but disappeared from relevance. The NFL is a pass-happy league, and it’s all about airing it all over the field. If a college QB has any semblance of passing proficiency, they are given a long and hard look by every NFL coach in the league. If you watch a Major League Baseball game, then you’ll see people sleeping in the stands, if they even show up, if the score is 2-1.

Then there’s the San Antonio Spurs, the anti-NBA team. A group of team first, “me” second players that make up a small-market team that gets very little fanfare outside of Texas. Their head coach, Gregg Popovich, known for his post-game interviews as well his success with the San Antonio Spurs, leads a team of starters that never sniffed an AAU team. They pass in order to get the best shot possible, not just a good one. They play incredible defense. They are a team, and have undefined the word “me”.

And they are about to win another championship.

Perhaps it’s time to re-think AAU basketball here in the United States. Clearly, the Miami Heat are still in a different reality since they are flirting with signing Carmelo Anthony, the poster child of the anti-team movement. Give Anthony the ball, and his teammates turn immediately to the hoop hoping they can get the offensive rebound in case he misses. But he tends to hit quite a few shots, so surely he’ll be offered a gazillion dollars to play in South Beach.

As for my 10-year-old son, his basketball future may not include AAU. Don’t get me wrong; his coaches do a great job coaching the skills they focus on, but in my opinion the training is incomplete. My son is also on a YMCA team, and the coach puts an emphasis on the team and not just scoring points. The conundrum for me is that I may make a detrimental decision that negatively affects his development.

I guess that’s life in a nutshell. We make decisions that are larger risks than others.

One thing is for sure: The San Antonio Spurs are proving what most of us have known for a very long time that synergy outperforms individual efforts. Great teams outperform superstars all the time, and the 2014 NBA Finals are proving it once again.

Accepting vs. Embracing Diversity: Donald Sterling Did Us A Favor

Thank you, Donald Sterling, for shining a light on an issue that is known to exist, but still goes unaddressed. An old man, wealthy and set in his ways, was recorded saying what everyone knew he felt. Once it went viral, the voices of reason could be heard from the top of any nearby mountain shouting for Sterling’s head.

What I find striking about this recent revelation is that it further demonstrates that a huge problem still exists in the United States.

I have been outspoken about politicians and political parties since the beginning of President Barack Obama’s presidency. One of the great divides today in our country thanks to the GOP is racism and diversity. The Republican Party has gone out of it’s way to widen the divide courtesy of the birther movement, voter fraud scares via voter ID, and refusing to raise the minimum wage just to name a few. The top tiers of the Republican Party has plenty of Donald Sterlings and that will not change anytime soon.

You see, it is quite easy to state that you value diversity. Check out corporate America today, and you can find diversity statements everywhere in their mission statements. See, what most folks don’t understand that there is a huge difference between acknowledging diversity, accepting it, and embracing it.

Baby Boomers were introduced to the idea early in their professional careers. Every Human Resource department immediately incorporated language into the corporate environment to prevent lawsuits; not just to fight off racism, but to ensure that good old white boy club didn’t take total control. Women, minorities, and the disabled were to be given equal opportunity, and every suit within ear shot would shake their heads in total agreement for all to see.

By the time those within “Generation X” worked their way into leadership roles diversity was no longer simply acknowledged, but accepted. Racism would not be tolerated, and they would welcome a diverse culture anywhere a team was formed. Forward progress, yes, but the journey was not near complete. Too many baby steps, and not nearly enough marathons.

Today, we have Generation Y, Millennials, taking hold of society and corporate America, and they continue to excel and grow their influence. Now, diversity is not simply acknowledged or accepted, but it is embraced. It is welcomed. Forget the fact that more and more opportunities are now available for women, minorities, and disabled individuals, but they are viewed as natural equals and differences are not pointed out, but looked for. Those differences are what improves ideas, methods/procedures, and creativity. In the end, the world is becoming a better place.

Unfortunately, there are those that still hold positions of power and influence that remain closed-minded and set in their ways. Jokingly, I often tell people that every four years, when we elect or re-elect a President, old folks die off and younger people enter the voting pool. Those turning 18 years of age and registering to vote are for the most part welcoming and nurturing diversity and doing their best to rid society of racism.

I realize that the statements made above were broad-stroke in nature and you can find racism everywhere. Also, you can find Seniors that embrace diversity across our land. I speak in generalities, and the law of averages are followed. All I know is that as a father of a 10 year old son, I hope that the disease known as racism never enters his heart, and he sees it for what it is: hate and ignorance.

To quote one of my favorite musicians, Neil Peart: “Quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand. Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand”.

Marcus Luttrell: Lone Survivor and True American Hero

I had the honor of listening to Marcus Luttrell, the “Lone Survivor”, along with other American heroes in the Jacksonville, FL area when his “Patriot Tour” came to town this past Wednesday, March 12, 2014. I was looking forward to this event, but when a good friend could not make it due to a family member’s illness that forced him to leave town I almost didn’t go. Graciously, he gave his ticket to a friend of mine and we went.

I had several reasons for wanting to attend. First, I wanted to hear first-hand Luttrell’s experiences as a Navy SEAL especially the event that led to what became the movie “Lone Survivor”. Second, I wanted to physically see the man who went through hell and back defending what we American’s treasure. Third, I was hoping to personally thank Luttrell for his service to our country. I was fortunate to accomplish two out of three of my goals.

Before Marcus Luttrell took the stage, other heroes spoke about their personal experiences. The one thing they all had in common was their undeniable devotion to the United States of America and what it stands for. They are unapologetic, loyal, and incredible human beings. Some lost limbs, others lost loved ones, and others have now devoted their civilian lives to helping other veterans. They also have selflessness in common; they continue to give for this country after leaving much on battlefields all over the world.

When Luttrell walked on the stage, honestly, I was expecting a man who was somewhat confident in his presentation possibly bordering on arrogance. However, he was far from cocky; quite the opposite actually. He seemed just like any other guy you would bump into at a ball game or at the store. He spoke immediately without waiting for the crowd’s adulation. He looked into the crowd like a man who was nervous and out-of-place. It was almost like he didn’t completely understand why everyone was there to see him.

While interjecting a joke or two into his presentation, he discussed the fateful mission that has become known around the world. Ordered to hunt down a wanted terrorist in a dangerous section of Afghanistan, he and three comrades, Navy SEALs trained like no other soldier anywhere, experienced what no men should ever be asked to. He told us the real story of what happened on that mission, and pointed out what really happened versus what the film illustrated. He said the main reason for the differences were two-fold; first, it was way too graphic, and second, to save the families of the dead soldiers the horror of watching what truly happened to those men.

I can honestly say that I have never been so engrossed in a dialogue than I was listening to Marcus. The candor, humility, and absolute pain in his words carved a place within my memory that will never be erased. The detail he explained with every aspect of that mission was mind-boggling. His wounds and the ability to keep going; to survive. To continue fighting. To complete the mission until it was clearly lost, and he still found a way to go on.

I have a special place in my heart for all current and veteran military members. The sacrifices on and off the battlefields are incredible and in my opinion undervalued. I wish our government would do far more for those that serve or served with honor. After experiencing The Patriot Tour, that place in my heart is now much larger.

I can never feel sorry for myself for any type of struggle I may have or will experience; all I have to do is remind myself of Marcus Luttrell and other great American heroes. What they have dealt with trumps any and all bad things I can think of, and my life has not been a bed of roses. Veterans have always been a source of inspiration for me, but now they are true role models thanks to Marcus Luttrell’s courage to share with us all what he and his brothers went through while serving our country.

If you have a chance to see The Patriot Tour, then do not hesitate to do so. At least do yourself a favor and read his book or see the movie “Lone Survivor”. I cannot convince everyone to respect the men and women of the Armed Forces and/or Veterans, but every chance I get I will act in a way that shows the respect they deserve. I hope everyone finds their way to show that respect. We owe them everything we have. They are the best that the United States of America has to offer. They are the United States of America.

God bless you all.

Marcus Luttrell during the Patriots Tour in Orange Park, FL

Marcus Luttrell during the Patriots Tour in Orange Park, FL

My Son Is My Life; My Other Kids are My Lifeline

The annual event. The Super Bowl party. Yes, I look forward to it every year. I love football—always have and always will. During the season, I watch as many games as I can. College or pro—I don’t care. Hell, I even help coach my son’s football team.

If football was taken away from me, I don’t know what I would do.

Last night I was reminded why I love the Super Bowl. Recently, I turned 48 years old, and honestly I’ve been spending time looking in the mirror staring down the barrel of 50 years of age. Plenty of reflection looking back on the past and looking forward to the future. Emotions on both ends of the spectrum have been deeply explored.

Then the Super Bowl party arrived.

Soon after our arrival—my wife, son, and yours truly, my “other” kids arrived.

Instant bliss.

I have strong feelings for my brothers’ kids. Not blood-brothers, mind you, but brothers nonetheless. He has four kids, two boys and two girls, that I love like they are my own. I haven’t seen them in quite some time. I will not use their names, but first was the oldest.

Recently selected for the National Honor Society, I couldn’t wait to give her a big hug and kiss. She’s not my daughter, but she is my “daughter”. I held back tears but hugged her for a long time. I am so proud of her. She is nothing short of spectacular in all facets of life.

Then came my brother’s doppelganger. He is almost as tall as his father, perhaps a few inches shorter. He is going to be a lady-killer. Super kid, too. For a very long time I felt he may have to be the son I would never have. Regardless, I still consider him my “son”.

Then the little ones. One was celebrating a birthday, while the other had his trademark awesome smile on his face the entire night. I am an introvert, but these four kids infused energy that I needed.

Don’t get me wrong, my son Jake is my LIFE. He is No. 1 and that will NEVER change.

Unfortunately, there was a time in my life when I had about given up on having kids of my own. These four kids were going to be mine by default. Yes, I love and care for them that much.

Usually, when a game especially the Super Bowl is a blow-out like last night’s game, I want to head home early. Last night was a different story. I needed to be around those kids. I had my son Jake sitting next to me at times when he wasn’t buried in his iPad after losing interest in the Toilet Bowl, but I also had my “other” kids near me at all times.

I thought of the times I actually held the oldest in my arms dreaming that she was actually mine. Now she is bordering on adulthood with college and a extraordinarily bright future ahead of her.

Age 50? Whatever, dude.

I have an incredible wife, an incredible son, and four children from a different mother and father. Close friends cannot be manufactured, but they can be nurtured and appreciated. And yes—their kids are my kids.

The good news is—they know and accept it.

The Dreaded 2014 New Year’s Resolution List: I’m Not Scared Of Mine

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I know what you’re thinking: yeah, I’m reading what you’re thinking, but everyone says they’re going to do things to start off the new year and never accomplish a thing. Normally, I would agree, but I would argue that most of the things that land on that dreaded list costs money, and that plays a huge part in the chances of being successful. Seriously, what (without doing “official” research) are the typical resolutions people make to start off the year: lose weight, quit smoking, eat healthier, exercise, and improve oneself in some physical and/or professional way.

Well, that’s all well and good, and the intentions are mostly good to start off with, but when money gets involved to whatever degree, combined with time management it usually spells disaster for the vast majority of people that endeavor to do these things. Therefore, I am going to simplify my list this year while leaving my wallet in my pocket. I want to focus on those things that we know we should do, but for whatever reason the ball is dropped and overlooked too many times.

First, I am going to embrace my introverted personality. Yes, instead of doing things I am suppose to do that takes me out of my zone, I am going to focus on what energizes me to be better for my family, friends, and co-workers. For years, I’ve felt compelled to interact with people for personal and professional reasons even though I had absolutely no interest in doing so. This may sound cold and callous, but that is not my intent. Trust me, I love being around people, but when it’s time to do so, and not when I feel I must. There is a huge difference. A major “Eureka” moment happened for me this past year when I watched on TED a talk courtesy of Susan Cain titled “The Power of Introverts” http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html. It opened my eyes and caused a smile from ear-to-ear. Finally, someone identified what I had been feeling for a very long time, and articulated it in a way that is understandable by most.

Second, I am going to smile more especially when walking past a stranger. When smiles are no longer free I will no longer want to live on this planet. I understand that some folks are shy and may have a multitude of things on their minds, and I cannot control those things that I have nothing to do with, but if I can smile and possibly force someone to smile back and/or improve their mood if even for a milli-second then it is well worth it. I am a happy person and sharing a smile is free and easy so why not do it more?

Third, I am going to leverage the things I love – my family, my friends, reading, and listening to music. Spending time with my wife and son is of most importance, and realizing that this area of my life is not in any way in bad shape, but finding ways to do it even more should be rather easy. My friends – well that’s a different story. Those close friends that are near and dear to my heart are spread out all over the country, so spending time in their presence may be challenging, but with Skype and other available technologies, I am going to at a minimum pick up a telephone (okay, a cell phone) if not find out what’s best for them to communicate. If I can travel to see them affordably then I will do so. Anyone that spends any amount of time around me will tell you I ALWAYS have a laptop or tablet in my possession and utilize such devices all the time due to my unquenchable thirst for information. I love to learn and have knowledge and it’s free to access. Lastly, I cannot live without music. Let me say that again – I cannot LIVE without music. If my body has a fuel need it’s music and I am going to ensure the tank is always near full this year.

Last but not least, I am going to leverage MOOCs. What’s a MOOC? It stands for Massive Open Online Courses, and the first one I am going to take is offered by Northwestern University entitled “Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences For Your Organization”. I love to write and improving my ability to create content for my employer and myself can only better my personal brand. Best of all, the class is absolutely FREE. 

So there is my list and it is relatively painless. I can leave my wallet in my pocket and simply invest time to improve myself and the experience those around me have. Most of all, I am going to enjoy myself while doing it all.

Christmas 2013: Cherishing My Son’s Continued Awakening

Talk about feeling the spirit of Christmas steer my son in the right direction! This morning at exactly 6:55AM EST, he ran into our bedroom and jumped into our bed to proclaim that Santa Claus had delivered presents. Waking both my wife and me up from deep slumber, we slowly crawled out of bed as he patiently waited with a huge smile on his face. He clearly remembered the rule: he would not go upstairs until we were with him and ready to go. It took about 15 minutes before we started up the stairs.

Immediately upon entering the room, we were expecting his excitement to overcome and compel him to begin ripping open his presents. On the contrary, he first reached for a present that he made for my wife and me. It was a handwritten journal of his wishes and appreciation of what the season means and had given him. He ends stating that the best part of the season is both giving and spending it with us, i.e. his mother and me.

That’s my boy.

As he began opening his presents from both Santa and us, after each one he either said thank you to Santa or us while holding the present close to his chest. Toys, games, and clothes—he truly appreciated everything he received. He smiled, winked, laughed, and appreciated every single gift.

I am proud of my son for so many reasons, and it seems that every day he says or does something that surprises me. Today was no exception—his actions and reactions proved the goodness of his heart. Yes, I am subjective but promise I am not exaggerating. He is such a great kid. He is my son. He is a blessing and gift that I do not or will ever deserve.

That being said, blessed am I to have him as my son. He is capable of asking questions that spark debate and thought at such a young age. Today we spoke of religion and watched television programs that spoke of Jesus Christ and his teachings, struggles, and crucifixion. One question he asked that led to a moment of pause: “Why do people not love and follow His teachings especially since he died for us?” Yes, he asked that question at age 10. I answered simply “I don’t know”. Another great question: “Why do some not love and honor Mary since she is the mother of Christ? Aren’t we supposed to respect any and all mothers? She especially?”.

These are the type of questions and debates we participate in almost daily. You have no idea how much I enjoy it! It seems that he is continuing an awakening of conscious that I am so happy to facilitate. He doesn’t ask the what but the why and I love it. Great ideas stem from asking the question “why”, and it seems that he has learned it at an early age.

Today was a special day for the obvious and personal reasons. Perhaps it was just another day in my son’s physical, mental, and spiritual development. One thing is for certain: if we continue to witness days as astonishing as today we will continue to see awesome examples of excellence courtesy of my son.

The Last Christmas Believing in Santa Claus

My son Jake turned 10 years old back in November, and my wife and I have worried that soon he will discontinue believing in Santa Claus. Yes, we know it is inevitable, and we already know of one good friend that understands St. Nicholas is a mere fantasy, but we enjoy having Santa Claus as a big part of the Christmas season. So far so good; he is planning on having cookies and a glass of milk waiting for Santa tomorrow night, and carrots for his reindeer, too. Still….

We have discussed how we will have the unavoidable conversation when the time comes, and I know what I will say. It’s easy for me because I do believe in Santa Claus. Yes, I really do. I know that sounds silly to the vast majority of people who think they know better, but to me the spirit of Christmas must maintain the presence of St. Nick. It’s the mindset, the context, and the attitude of the season. I believe in the meaning of the season, and what it holds for us all that celebrate it. Miracles happen every Christmas—small and large—and in my mind it’s all because of Santa Claus.

What about Jesus you ask? Of course He is the reason for the holiday, and the reason we celebrate it. For children who have yet to completely comprehend the words of John 3:16, it is Santa Claus that most children focus on.

I also believe that Santa Claus has many images that are only limited by a child’s imagination. The suit Santa wears is the only constant; perhaps, other similarities are also part of the conscious, but does it really matter what he specifically looks like?

As we tucked our son into bed tonight, he had a huge smile on his face knowing that he has been a very good boy and Santa will reward him for his actions and behavior. I hope he continues to “believe”; as far as I’m concerned, he does and always will exist. I will allow my son to make up his own mind and choose to believe or disbelieve, but a father can hope.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I hope Santa is kind to you, and if you do receive “coal” in your stocking, then get to work changing his opinion of you. Those around you will greatly appreciate it.