And Then There Was UCLA

Repping West Coast basketball.

The lowest point for my UCLA Bruins may have been 2013 when they came from behind and won on a buzzer beater in some Pac-12 conference game. In an otherwise forgettable season, Shabazz Muhammad glared at his teammates as he headed towards the locker room.

Why? Because he didn’t get the last shot. Muhammad, who didn’t give a shit about the team, only cared about his NBA prospects. Never one to play defense, Muhammad spent five years mostly warming NBA benches and then bounced around overseas.

Fast forward to Philadelphia tonight. The University of North Carolina Tar Heels are on a roll and may very well beat my Bruins, but that’s okay, because I get so much joy watching them compete.

They always make the extra pass and never quit. Credit Cronin. The worse things go, the more they lean on each other. And in their pressers, they continually talk about their bonds with Cronin and one another. They are the complete antithesis to the 2013 Bruins.

Yesterday, a college analyst picked the Heels to cover (UCLA is a 2.5 point favorite) and win because they’re playing with so much confidence and they’re a better rebounding team. He cited some other analytics, but he hasn’t watched the Bruins as much as me. You can’t quantify their unity and resolve to keep it going as long as possible.

Win or lose, I will relish the smiles, the affection, the team’s spirit. All of the intangibles.

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Stop And Go

People who evaluate the viability of a commute to work often error in only considering the distance. They’ll decide 10 miles is doable, 15 or 20 is not. But anybody who has commuted much at all knows it’s not that simple because an uninterrupted 15 or 20 mile drive is way better than a 10 mile one in stop-and-go traffic. Because the constant changing of speed and monitoring of space is mentally exhausting.

Which brings me to college basketball’s March Madness, one of our country’s greatest sporting events.

I watch a fair amount of television sports, but because I’m impatient, about two-thirds of that viewing is shortly after the event is over so that I can fast forward through the endless commercial breaks. Not just that, sometimes I watch basketball games and golf tournaments in “2x” speed, which is a fair bit faster than real time. I also fast forward through field goals and free throws, deducing the outcome of them from the score change. Given my advanced remote control skills, I can watch a 40 minute college basketball game in about. . . 40 minutes.

Which brings me to Saturday’s West Regional in Portland, Oregon where I watched UCLA turn up the defensive intensity against St. Mary’s in person and advance to the Sweet Sixteen Friday in Philadelphia.* It was WEIRD watching the game in very real time because of the incessant breaks in the action.

Like driving in stop-and-go traffic, the game is played in twelvish two to four minute segments. That’s because each team gets a certain number of timeouts and then there are pre-planned “television timeouts”. To add insult to injury, now soul crushing video replays of especially close officiating calls make the spectating an even greater test of patience.

How is any team supposed to sustain any momentum? And how are fans expected to stay tuned in through the millions of mind numbing commercials?

It’s enough to make someone want to watch soccer.

*I watched some other team beat some other team too.

Sports, Sports, Sports

By which I mean college basketball and professional golf. We will return to regular programming once I get this stuff off my chest. 

Borrowing from a Dan Patrick Show mock headline, “It Suggs to be UCLA.” Not really of course, the team’s improbable run was the most fun I’ve had watching televised sports in a long, long time. Saturday night I thought we were going to win on the last possession of regulation when Juzang brought it up the court. He opted to get inside, which is understandable even though it didn’t work out. I dig how he mixes up his deadly long-range shooting with mid-range jumpers and lay ups. Juzang, pleaze let’s run it back one more year.

I also thought we were going to win it in double overtime. I thought outlasting them was our destiny. 

Wrong and wrong. But I was right about the fact that the Bruins would never quit. The 14 point spread was made by someone who hadn’t been watching them very closely. Thus proving Vegas data nerds can’t quantify heart. 

Yes, Suggs’s block was spectacular, but the long distance, high speed bounce pass through the UCLA defense was even more so. As good a pass as you’ll ever see at any level. And then, the presence of mind to know exactly when to release the final shot. Major props to someone who reminds me of a younger Damian Lillard. And major props to both coaches who are team first class acts. 

I expect the Zags Baylor to cut down the nets tonight.

Switching gears, how about the first major LPGA tournament of the year won by a 21 year-old Bruin who left school early. Here’s what one golf writer, Dylan Dethier, said about the state of women’s golf:

“Take a look at the ANA’s final leaderboard and you’ll see a game in great shape going forward. A rising star in big-bombing Patty Tavatanakit. Stalwart top guns Jin Young Ko and Sei Young Kim. Generational talent Inbee Park. American stars Nelly Korda and Danielle Kang. And Lydia Ko may be the most fascinating player in the entire game. The next major can’t come quickly enough.”  

Another writer asked if Ko’s 62 was the finest round in major golf history. Good question for which I’m sure PressingPause readers have many varied opinions.

Next, a video that will induce laughter from at least one PressingPause loyalist from central Ohio (and sometimes Kentucky). Along with any other bipartisan golf enthusiast—meaning they follow the EuroTour and the PGA Tour.

Lastly, my pick for the Masters. . . another Bruin. . . Patrick Cantlay. Are we still calling it the Masters?  

UCLA v Michigan @ 1900 Tonight

A lot of people my age were enthralled with the idea of UCLA because of the unprecedented success of John Wooden’s basketball teams. 

When I moved into UCLA’s “Southern Suites” across from Rieber Hall when they opened in January 1981, I promptly put a poster of John Wooden and his “Pyramid of Success” on the bedroom wall I shared with Johnny Sun from South Pas (Pasadena for the uninitiated). The fact that Johnny moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong when he was 12 is no excuse for what he asked me a few months later, “Who is that on the poster?” “Shit!” I replied, “how the hell did they ever admit you!” 

Nine months earlier, at freshman orientation, I made friends with a shy Asian-American student who for our purposes we’ll call “Ken”. As some of us shot hoops, Ken stood at a distance and silently watched. Somehow I ended up chatting with him and we palled around during subsequent activities. In addition, we took a Social Psychology class together our first year, during which Ken napped through a majority of the lectures. 

Yesterday, from Japan, Ken one-upped Johnny Sun by asking a couple of questions about the absurd poster that celebrates UCLA’s surprising run in the NCAA tournament. It started innocently enough, “Whose beaming face is on the little cherubs?” But then things quickly escalated into Johnny Sun territory, “I’m glad I didn’t guess. I thought it was Joe Biden (you wrote ‘J brothers’).” And then he brought it home, “So Bill’s name has a silent J in front? Who are the 3 seated? Me thought the center was Justin Trudeau.”

And with that reference to the Canadian Prime Minister, “Ken” is the new leader in the Clueless UCLA Clubhouse (neither of them would get that golf reference).

So for Ken and anyone else similarly flumoxed, a brief explanation.

Left to right, Jules Bernand, Jaime Jaquez Jr., and Johnny Juzang, three of the best players on this year’s team. Thus, the “J Brothers.” The little cherubs. . . Bill Walton, not 46. And for extra credit, note the tiny Mitch Cronin just below and to the left of Bernard. 

Ken, because I know you’re going to ask, Mick Cronin is the coach.

Go Bruins!   

 

Questions To Ponder

  • I’m far from a Presidential historian, but I can’t help but wonder, has there ever been a more dramatic change in governing assumptions and policies than we are witnessing right now?
  • After their amazing comeback victory over Sparty last night, is UCLA the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA championship?
  • Speaking of the NCAA tourney, is my contingent of the PAC-12 teams plus Gonzaga plus Oklahoma State going to overwhelm Richie’s ACC teams for yet another t-shirt victory?
  • How many t-shirts does one need?
  • Chuck is proposing a 30% rebate on electric bikes. Can I get a shop to throw a cheap battery on my next bike, and then immediately take it off, for 30% savings? And still get into heaven?
  • In the (dis)United States, how long until the ‘rona vax supply outstrips demand?
  • Why doesn’t Trudeau want my money?
  • When is Trudeau going to shave?
  • How do young adults find romantic partners these days?
  • What should I make for dinner?

Thank You For Being Late—Buyer Beware

Excellent take down of Thomas Friedman’s newest NY Times best seller by Justin Peters of Slate.

Fav pgraph:

“Thank You for Being Late was put to bed well before the presidential election, and throughout the text Friedman makes occasional dismissive references to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. (Ha ha, remember those clowns? Good thing technocratic rationality prevailed!) Near the end of the book, Friedman presents an earnest 18-point plan for governmental reform in the age of accelerations; a platform for the “Making the Future Work for Everybody” party, as he puts it. Thomas Friedman doesn’t know a damn thing about the future. Despite all of his self-serving rhetoric about necessities and inevitabilities, he still couldn’t recognize that Trumpism is in part a consequence of thought leadership, of rampant globalization with blithe disregard for its domestic casualties, of having your head jammed so far up the future’s ass that you’ve completely lost touch with the present.”

If you’re looking for something better to read, I recommend Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance. In this day and age, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it has become a political beach ball, batted around by Republicans and Democrats to argue for conservative and liberal social and economic policies. It’s Vance’s story of growing up in a dysfunctional family in Kentucky and Ohio, two states I grew up in. Here’s an idea, you can’t tell a person their story is “wrong”. Yes, if you must, you can tell them the conclusions they draw from it are misguided, but how about waiting awhile.

Alibaba, can I count Hillbilly Elegy as a 2017 book if I started it in the final days of 2016? What do your “book list” rules say about that? I also just finished the sup short collection of essays by Oliver Sacks that you gave me for Christmas. Does the fact that I enjoy reading and thinking about how people approach the end of life mean I’m old? How ’bout waiting awhile to answer that.

I just started a bruiser, Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann. Hoping to finish before UCLA cuts down the nets in Phoenix and/or JSpieth birdies #12 at Augusta National on Sunday. Also hoping everyone forgets I’m reading this so no one asks how it’s coming. #toomuchpressure

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You May Now Unplug the Treadmill

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive (or negative) life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. For example, a person excitedly drives a new car home from a lot. They’re marginally happier. But a few weeks later it’s dirty and the driver has adapted to the improved interior, handling, and quietness. The loving feeling dissipates.

Now that you’re an expert on the hedonic treadmill, you’re ready for a March Madness story about our tendency to think the grass is usually greener on the other side. Let’s title the story “Why is contentment so elusive?”

UCLA, my team, got schooled in the opening round. A few days later, the coach got whacked. The backstory to why is an interesting case study in leadership, but that’s peripheral to our story.

Along with many others, Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Brad Stevens (Butler) have been mentioned as possibile replacements. Because of a new Pac-12 conference television deal, UCLA can triple or quadruple their current “small market” salaries. Both coaches, young and very successful, have been sought after by other schools in recent years.

Here’s what an Indiana reporter recently wrote about Stevens and UCLA.

UCLA just spent $138 million renovating Pauley Pavilion. Stevens is going to be able to negotiate, not just a top salary, but also facility upgrades (the Bruins need a practice facility), length on the contract, security on that contract (Howland got a buyout for the remaining four years on his deal), and assurances that this coach can run the program as he sees fit.

You give Stevens all of that, coupled with the lifestyle that living in Beverly Hills (just a long jump shot from the UCLA campus) brings, and all of sudden Butler fans have a very legitimate reason to be nervous.

I don’t question Stevens’ love of Butler in any way. I love my alma mater, as well. But when he visits the UCLA campus and tours a renovated Pauley Pavilion, visits the private school where his children will attend in Beverly Hills, eats lunch and plays golf at Bel-Air Country Club (just across Sunset Blvd. from the campus), takes Tracy and the kids shopping along Rodeo Drive, and has them (second) home-shop in Hermosa or Manhattan Beach, where they’ll spend their weekends, I can’t fathom that Stevens doesn’t give pause before waving it off.

The same reporter acknowledges:

There is no doubt, Stevens’ love of raising his family in Indiana, his love of Hinkle Fieldhouse, his love of his players, coaches and administration, his affection for everything about his position at Butler, is going to be tested if the UCLA Athletic Director calls.

Finally, he writes:

Stevens has always said “No, thanks” to job offers. And perhaps he will again. But an opportunity to coach UCLA is different. I told him he’d be crazy to turn it down.

I fully expect Stevens to say “thanks, but no thanks” again. And while he’d be a great coach, I’m actually rooting for him to stay off the treadmill. The writer is projecting his desire to live large in some place like Los Angeles onto Stevens. I suspect Stevens knows money changes you. Sending your kids to a Beverly Hills private school will definitely change them and probably not for the better. And if Stevens wanted a second house twenty miles from his primary residence, he would have probably jumped on the elite program coaching treadmill already.

Few’s the same way. Prefers Spokane, Washington over West Los Angeles. Some people are like moths, attracted to the bright lights of big, celebrity filled cities, but both Few and Stevens are reported to be “intensely private” and know there’s a cost to lost anonymity. Nearly everyone thinks they’d be a lot happier if they made a lot more money. A preternatural minority knows that’s not the case.

I applaud Few’s and Stevens’ self-understanding, wisdom, and willingness to not just say “no” to a lot more money once, but repeated times. Here’s hoping they keep daring to be different.

Ask yourself "What would Nike do?" and then do the opposite. Just don't do it.

Ask yourself “What would Nike do?” and then do the opposite. Just don’t do it.