Book of the Week—Geezerball

I’m on a nice little reading roll, meaning a book a week. This week I cheated though when I subbed in a fun, short read, for a long, dryish, academic one that I was plodding through.

Geezerball: North Carolina Basketball at its Eldest (Sort of a Memoir) by Richie Zweigenhaft tells the story of the Guilford College noon pickup basketball game that I played in between 1993-1998 when I taught at the “small Quaker college”. The game is 44 years old and counting and some of the participants have been playing most or all of those years. One of the game’s mottos is “You don’t stop playing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop playing.”

Richie, also known as “The Commissioner” is an accomplished author of several books on diversity in the American power structure. Now 75 years young, he’s the glue that’s held the game together over the decades.

Geezerball prompted a lot of reminiscing about those years and reflection on what’s most important in life. I remember 11 of the 29 players on the current geezer email list which is pretty remarkable given how bad I am with names. It also speaks to the game’s stability and what demographers have been telling us for awhile—that Americans aren’t moving nearly as much as in the past.

The game combines two of the very few things upon which most medical doctors and social scientists respectively agree—the importance of exercise to our physical health and the importance of close interpersonal relationships to our mental health.

“My wife says she expects to get a call one day saying I’ve died on the basketball court,” one geezer writes in the book. “If that happens, she’ll know I died happy.” In actuality, the game is probably extending the life of the participants. Even more importantly, it’s adding tremendously to the quality of their lives. Their friendships, and the humor that marks their interactions, are testaments to the power of community.

Among other remarkable aspects of the game is the fact that nearly all the participants are men. As a runner, I can’t help but notice more women running together; like the geezers, strengthening their bodies, their hearts, and their minds simultaneously. Same with the Gal Pal and her girlfriends who go on long walks every Saturday morning while catching up on the week’s events. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seems like men are more prone than women to prioritize their work lives, often to their own detriment. Given that, I find it inspiring that a dozen men in Greensboro, NC have been defying that norm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 44 years.

The sort of memoir reminded me of exactly how cool of an addendum the game is to the participants’ lives. But now, upon further thought, I can’t help but wonder if when those men near the end of their lives, they’ll think of the game as one of the most essential parts of their lives, and their work as more of an addendum. Meaning, what if we all have it backwards? What if the GalPal’s Saturday morning walks, my Saturday morning group runs, my Tuesday and Thursday night group rides are the core and everything else is the periphery?

This line of thinking may be just one more example of my economic privilege at work, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we organized our lives around Geezerball-like communities, where we prioritized movement and friendship over material wealth and status? Put another way, how much is enough? When it comes to work hours and money, there’s always a point of diminishing returns. At a certain point, more work means more impoverished relationships with family and friends.

In contrast, when it comes to walking, running, cycling, swimming, surfing, or playing basketball or golf with friends, there is no point of diminishing returns. Our physical and mental health just keep improving. Our entire well-being. That’s the lesson of Geezerball.

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More Zach Lowe Genius

Because you can only take so much of President Big Stuff, more of the most astute NBA analysis going.

On rookie Memphis point guard Ja Morant.

“Morant is real . . . Morant. . . is absolutely electric with the ball. When he gets a head of steam, he can finish right through bigger defenders:The league is awash in water bug point guards who get inside the foul line at will. What separates the greats is the ability to explode through traffic to the rim instead of settling for floaters. Morant has that extra gear.

Morant is shifty in tight spaces. He has a knack for changing speed and direction with an abruptness that confuses defenders. He already is smart about weaponizing his speed as an off-ball cutter.

Teams are going under picks and daring Morant to shoot 3s. He is accepting some of those invitations and is 12-of-29 from deep — great early signs.

Like almost every rookie point guard, Morant has a long way to go on defense. He has the tools and grit to grow into a plus on that end. In his third NBA game, Morant swatted Kyrie Irving’s game-winning attempt at the buzzer and talked all sorts of trash. He looks like a star in every sense.”

And what about De’Aaron Fox?

“I’m a De’Aaron Fox true believer, but Fox’s early-season defense was disappointing: He was flat-footed, upright in his stance, not as engaged as he needed to be.”

Proving no one’s perfect, Lowe shoulda used “is disappointing”, “is flat-footed”, and “he needs to be” since we’re still in the early going.

And on Laker cast off Moe Wagner:

“Wagner might. . . be the leagues’ cheeriest teammate. Basket mics constantly pick him up shouting encouragement at teammates. I would purchase a Moe Wagner Encouragement app that reinforced positive life behaviors: ‘You are killing it on the treadmill, Zach! Great job ordering salad instead of fries! You’re taking a lot of steps today, Zach! Keep it up!'”

Postscript: Richie Z, Guilford College noon ball legend, checks all of Morant’s boxes except the “all sorts of trash”. That can be learned though.

Don’t Box People In

My advice to myself after reading this short article, “Emotional Michael Jordan unveils first of two medical clinics in Charlotte”.

One day in the spring of 1984, MJ walked into UCLA’s Wooden Center where a scrawny senior history major, who would one day become a famous blogger, was on fire. After helping my team hold court again, I stopped to watch MJ run with an assortment of professional and UCLA varsity ballers. In town to accept the John Wooden Award, he was on another level, even compared to me.

Like any basketball fan I suspect, I always admired his talent, the ease in which he moved, got open, shot, defended. Simultaneously, I was always dismayed by his refusal to use his platform and incredible wealth to benefit others. Did he have his social conscious surgically removed I wondered?

I shoulda been more patient. I apologize MJ for not giving you the benefit of the doubt that someday you’d most definitely give back in the most meaningful of ways. Good on you.

 

National Greatness Reconsidered

Team USA is doing poorly in the World Cup of Basketball which is also serving as a 2020 Olympic qualifier. Even though several top NBA players chose not to play on Team USA, many US fans still assumed the team would prevail. Now they are disappointed.

The new international basketball reality, the world has closed the considerable gap the US historically had in basketball dominance, makes me wonder why the men’s US National Soccer Team is still a third or fourth tier program?

Much more importantly, why do we let our country’s athletic performances influence what we think about ourselves? At all.

It’s odd isn’t it, the way we count Olympic medals and feel a little better about ourselves, at least temporarily, when our countrymen/women excel in international competition.

Like most places, in the US we watch our teams closely and cheer them passionately, while we simultaneously incarcerate more people, childhood poverty and homelessness increases, gun violence persists, environmental regulations are undone, and loneliness and mental health challenges mount.

If we have to compete, why don’t we change the parameters? How about a World Cup of Prison Reform. The country that reduces their prison population and recidivism the most wins. The World Cup of Childhood Poverty and Homelessness. The country that moves the largest percentage of children out of poverty and reduces their homelessness population the most wins. The World Cup of Public Safety. The World Cup of Environmental Protection. The World Cup of Social Infrastructure.

Granted, those competitions won’t translate to television and will take a lot longer, but unlike the athletic ones, the outcomes will improve the long-term quality of our lives.

Lost in Tiger’s Masters Victory

Understandably, all of the post tourney press is about Tiger’s comeback from professional golf oblivion. Best comeback in the history of sports many argue.

But just like a year ago, when the University of Virginia basketball team became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed in the NCAA tournament, many no doubt missed Francesco Molinari’s master class in gracious losing.

A year ago, after the unlikeliest of defeats, Tony Bennett:

And Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Georgia, Francesco Molinari, taking a page from Bennett’s book:

“I think I made some new fans today with those two double bogeys.” Best runner up interview and line ever. If only all of us were half as centered. As with Bennett, look for Molinari in green sometime soon.

Postscript: How does one explain how Molinari could so surgically make his way around Augusta for 65 holes, then suddenly, as they sometimes say, throw up all over himself? My theory is it had nothing to do with bad swings or Tiger’s death stare, it’s that he could only hold off the weight of the spectators (spare me the “patron” bullshit) for so long. He wasn’t just battling Tiger and numerous other Americans, he was fighting the legion of Tiger fans. How dare anyone, let alone a foreign player, spoil the ending! An empty course and the two stroke cushion he began with is enough to hold Tiger off. Tiger, in other words, owes his victory to the multitudes.

Janos is FULL TWITER KING

Ever find a t.v. show really funny and recommend it to someone only to find them question your sanity? Is at example Port Landia.

With that caveat, I have a way to infuse your life with a major dose of humor, especially if you like basketball and follow the NBA. Although Alison Byrnes, Janos’s twitter feed is so funny in some cases that’s not even required.

The second sentence of this post is not a typo, it’s me trying to write “Janos”. I stop not until I perfection it.

When I spent a month in China in the late 90’s, the very first thing I did whenever I checked into a hotel was break open the informational materials. They were so poorly translated, I’d sit on the side of my bed howling.

Janos is China hotel industry on steroids. Thanks to him or her, for the first time in a long time, I think I might be able to survive the Trump presidency.

The only problem with Janos is he’s a Celtic’s fan. Here’s a few recent favs:

I AM TELL YOU ON RONDOS. He is do 17 assist of point also many reband! The Very Smart is talk on his FULL leadership. I am tire Westbok. I am tire rocket beard. I AM PREFER RONDOS!

hi is janos . I am not do a funny on you. i am sad for you . Next couple week you are loose on playof . then lebrun going leave you go new team . nobody going make articles about you next year . You will be forgot team;, no hope. you are get grade F.

Son is ask me not do post on him ;, but he is get new job put window in truck take window out of truck. is long time no job so i am very proud . Trouble now he is want to learn to do boxing . i am not think he is need take punch in face and head . Girl is not like the ugly .

Tatum is one day put number in roof . I am do OFFICIAL PREDICT on this.

Thank you Full Twiter King for lightening ups thing.

On Sports Promiscuity

Like Cassius Clay, I grew up in Louisville, KY. At five, six, seven years old, I fell asleep listening to Louie Dampier and Dan Issel of the ABA Kentucky Colonels kicking ass.

Then a move to Talmadge, OH, close to LeBron’s hometown of Akron. My game was similar to his so NE Ohioans took to calling me LeRon. In fourth, fifth grade I fell asleep listening to the tail end of Lenny Wilkens’ NBA career with the Cavs.

Then SoCal where I patterned my game after Magic Johnson* and in 1986 bought a scalped ticket to the sixth game of the NBA finals in which my Los Angeles Lakers finally beat the dreaded Celtics.

Conventional wisdom is stick with your home team, but conventional wisdom is wrong. Like gender and race, “home” is a fluid concept. We move, life changes, the only reason to stick with your childhood teams is nostalgia.

If you think the Cav’s amazing come from behind, not NBA orchestrated, championship unleashed millions of lifelong long-suffering fans, wait until the Cubbies playoff run this fall. Nearly everyone you know will claim to be a long-suffering Cubs fan and we’ll be subjected to endless profiles of truly ancient people who’ve been waiting since pre-history for the Cubs to win it all.

Apart from LeBron, none of the Cavs are from NE Ohio. Odds are few or none of the players on your favorite, hometown team that you’ve always been loyal to are from the hometown.

Felony arrest records are another reason why fan promiscuity makes way more sense than unconditional love and loyalty. After Kobe’s infamous visit to Colorado, I began losing that loving feeling for the Lakers.

Then my Sonics were sold by that Starbucks son of a bitch, the ultimate wake up call. If teams can disappear based upon the vagaries of capitalism, you’d be pretty stupid to pledge blind fidelity to any one of them.

Despite my NE Ohio street cred, I dug the Warrior vibe the last few years. I was finding the bandwagon pretty damn comfortable. Love the long ball, the team chemistry, the high tech ownership, Curry’s daughter. So when the college senior watched the game with me for Father’s Day, and asked who I wanted to win, I told her, “Really, I don’t know, I’ll be happy for either team.”

Forty plus years later, after watching the upset and emotional outpouring, I’m definitely a Cavs fan tonight. By October, that may very well change.

 

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* One LA evening, the Gal Pal and I were standing in line at a Century City movie theatre when Magic got in line behind us. “Oh man, Magic Johnson sighting!” I said. Looking around hopelessly, “Where?!” “Ah, the only 6’9″ brother.”

The Art of Leadership

Watching the Golden State Warriors getting thumped by the New Orleans Pelicans. Game three of their first round NBA playoff series. End of the third, they’re down 20. First year coach Steve Kerr calls a time out. The network has a microphone in the huddle, so we get a master lesson in the art of leadership:

“Who lead the league in assists this year? We did. Who lead the league in scoring this year? We did. I don’t recognize the team playing out there. We have to move the ball and find the open man. Let’s go.”

Kerr’s calmness magnified the impact of his words. You’re mother was right, often it’s not what you say, but how you say it. It was the first time his team was getting schooled in the playoffs and he took the long view, knowing this was the earliest stages of a 16 step process. He had to save stronger emotion for the later, more consequential stages. Also, his calm communicated complete confidence that they could come back, which amazingly, they ultimately did.

The first four sentences are a positive reminder that they’re the best team in basketball.  “I don’t recognize the team playing out there,” is Kerr lowering the boom gracefully, subtly, and as effectively as possible. In other words, “That’s not the best team in basketball I’m accustomed to seeing.” Then finally, an ever so simple, two-part command, “Move the ball, find the open man.”

Effective leaders don’t overreact, they’re always bolstering the confidence of those they lead, and they communicate clearly. Just like the Warrior’s rookie coach.

Sports Report with a Touch of Mad Men

• Yes, I wrongly predicted a Wisconsin victory a few weeks back. Duke is the most Republican and Conservative of the ACC schools. Which may mean the political pendulum has swung which bodes poorly for HClinton.

• Last week my eldest daughter, in a temporary lapse of sanity, said she could “cream” me in the 500 freestyle. Both of us are traveling to Pensacola FL shortly, where competition pools are aplenty. Her personal record is 5:59, mine 6:18, but right now I’d be lucky to go 7 flat. However, since she puts the “dent” in sedentary these days, I like my chances. I’ve been out of the water for almost three weeks due to an overly ambitious surgeon, so I think I deserve a 50 yard head start. Only fair, right? Am I Wisconsin or Duke in this tilt?

• The two best teams in basketball are both in the Western Conference—the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Last night, instead of turning on the television, I sporadically checked the Clippers-Spurs boxscore. Am I the only one who does this, relies on internet updates because the t.v., at 15 feet away, is too far? It was Clips 30-Spurs 18 at the end of 1. (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess a few of the Clippers use marijuana on occasion, making Clips a most excellent nickname.) Then suddenly it was Spurs 37-Clips 35. Here’s the remarkable thing. The leading scorer for the Clippers had 11, but one Spur had 6, three had 5, and ELEVEN had scored. 12 assists to 8. For most teams, eleven guys don’t score all night. Pop and Kerr have the most diversified portfolios. The Spurs and Warriors move the ball better than any other team. And they keep their egos in check better than everyone else. Could be a great conference final. 12 on 12. I’m rooting for NoCal.

• Jordan Spieth won the Masters on Thursday, thereby challenging my entire competitive philosophy which is based on finishing stronger than your competitors. Turns out you don’t have to finish stronger than your competitors if you create enough separation in the early miles, rounds, innings, quarters.

• My US Open Golf tourney orientation is scheduled for a month from now when I’ll be kicking my daughters ass in a Pensacola FL pool. I’m on the Disability Access Volunteer Committee meaning I’ll be driving differently abled patrons out to designated places on the course in a golf cart. Turns out I can pick up my credentials after returning from the Peninsula. I still need to devise a plan to make it onto television. Thinking about a John 3:16 multicolored afro or an “accidental” cart accident where I somehow end up in the Sound. Or a combo. Let me know if you have a better idea. (Dear Disability Access Committee Chair, just kidding.)

• Saturday’s For the Heck of It impromptu half marathon, 1:42 which included a few walking breaks. There are two types of runners, Travis, DByrnes, and everyone besides me who religiously stop their watches whenever they stop, and me who programs it to pause after stopping for a few seconds, and doesn’t bother with it until finishing. Let’s call it 1:40 net. Kept a little in reserve meaning I’m in 1:36-37 shape.

• All eyes on Boston today and the 119th running of the marathon. Beautiful tradition. Props to the enlightened people of Mass for their resiliency and refusal to execute people.

• Mariners down 10-5, win 11-10. This isn’t your mother’s Mariners. If NCruz stays en fuego, there’s going to be a lot of little Nelsons running around the PNW.

• Mad Men. Megan’s sideways over the dissolution of the marriage. Don wants to make it right so he cooly writes her a check. For $1m. Remember it’s 1970. The vast majority of his net worth. Great scene that begs a question, has there ever been a less materialistic dude on television? He’s Ghandi if Ghandi was a Madison Avenue Ad man.

Stream of Semi-consciousness

• Skin cancer surgery last week. Fun stuff. It had been 2.5 years so I was overdo. The surgeon said I can’t swim for three weeks. I’ll give the scars two. I need a new doc, one who cares about my swim fitness.

• Olympia’s Spring Break meaning the running posse and wife have scattered to Oregon, California, and Mexico. Leaving the Labradude and me.

• Hope he likes the Masters.

• Why is the NBA obsessing about this year’s Most Valuable Player when basketball is a team sport?

• Today’s 38 mile solo training ride, 5 on, 5 off, Boston Harbor, Fishtrap, Lilly, Farmers Market, Cap Lake. 18.2mph w/ 1,400′ of el. I need more miles and more el.

• Why couldn’t baseball wait until the day after Easter to start the season?

• Why did Stacy Lewis hit such a poor chip on the 75th hole of the [Corporate Name Deleted] Major Championship? The world’s #2 player HAS to get that up and down 95% of the time.

• Take my daughter to work day. That’s the only way she can get a lift to the airport for her return flight to her college. Look for her in the PLU library. A young TSwift.

• I’m looking forward to listening to the NCAA championship game in the car to and from the airport. The more experienced Badgers wlll cut down the nets.

• Special Easter Dinner for the college sophomore, mac-n-cheese with ham in it. Peas on the side.

• To bad she won’t be on campus next Monday to heckle me when I give a lecture to students who’ve been admitted titled, “The High School to College Transition”.

• Is it hypocritical of me to a give a lecture when I don’t like lectures? The answer to that is probably. Depends how much time I use to lecture and how much for questions.

• Still missing moms.