Month: July 2012

Tainted Love

Carl Lewis was appropriately named Olympian of the Century. He won nine gold medals and one silver over four Olympic games from 1984-1996. No one in history has approached that level of dominance over that length of time in a sport as demanding as track and field. In context, he matched Jesse Owens performance in the 36′ Games then come back and won another five gold medals and one silver over the next three Games. Footnote for Owens, a small global tiff commonly referred to as World War 2 prevented him from competing in the Olympics again. Footnote for Lewis, he produced arguably the worst live rendition of the National Anthem in the history of singing.

Carl Lewis, though awarded the gold medal, lost the biggest race of his life, the 100 meter final in the 1988 Olympics. The race was the most anticipated event of the Games pitting Lewis and his Olympic pedigree against Ben Johnson, a Jamaican ex-pat running under the Canadian flag. Johnson won the bronze medal in the 1984 games, but came on thereafter beating Lewis four times in 1987 including the World Championships. Lewis beat Johnson before the Olympics in 1988, and brazenly declared he would never lose to him again. It was as hostile as a rivalry could be between two men running in parallel lanes without making physical contact.

Johnson was short, powerful like a running back, and exploded from the blocks. Lewis was tall, lean, and dominated the second 50 meters with his majestic stride. Johnson would likely lead from the blocks and the drama would be whether Lewis could catch and pass him. Their was palpable electricity in my living room, the stadium must have been so a hundred fold.

Lewis and Johnson got in the blocks. The gun fired. Johnson burst into the lead with Lewis following. As the second 50 meters unfolded, Lewis did not close the gap. 10 meters from the tape, Johnson thrust a triumphant fist in the air.

9.79. A world record. It was breathtaking, unfathomable, defiant and unforgettable. It exceeded all expectations, and redefined the possibilities of human performance. It was glorious.

Days, weeks, months, hell maybe a year later as I remember that race better than anything that followed, Ben Johnson would fail a drug test, and appeal, and ultimately be stripped of the gold medal, the record, and his fame became infamy. Lewis would be awarded the gold medal, and enhance his Olympic credentials with more medals in 92 and 96.

From that race on, any stunning performance, Bolt in Beijing or Ye in London, is met with equal measures of suspicion and admiration. In that way, it is all tainted, but what a spectacle it is.

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Michael Phelps and the Black Hole of Success

At some point on the flight back from Beijing, Michael Phelps exhaled, and if only for a moment, looked at his eight gold medals and thought…..what now?

His was by any standard a spartan life based on training and the goal of eight gold medals in Olympic swimming. Swimming is the quintessential Olympic sport. It is dramatic and easy to comprehend. It occupies the first week of the games, and Americans generally do well. In a poll, most viewers would acknowledge that they know how to swim and enjoy or plan to watch Olympic swimming. An overwhelming minority of these same people could give a crap about swimming at any time other than the Olympics or as necessary to save their own life. I am fairly certain a swimming federation exists and holds “world” championships on an annual basis, but to have any meaning beyond the confines of the competitive swim community, you must perform at your best in the Olympics.

In Beijing, Michael Phelps performed better than any swimmer in history. He became an instant celebrity recognizable anywhere in the world. For several months, he basked in his accomplishments with interviews, photo shoots, women, money and to some degree marijuana. Celebrity is temporary, and to be honest, Phelps doesn’t have much to offer the world beyond his swimming talents.

Inevitably, he finds his way back to the pool. It’s what he does best, and where he is most at home. Things are different though. There are no more goals to top what he has already done, and he doesn’t even have the immediacy of repeating or defending his achievements as the next chance is three and half years away. Absent, an obsessive personality on the cusp of mental illness, it is all, but impossible to swim with the same focus. His body released from it’s regiment for as long as it has ever been, and aged four years, may not ever be as it was in Beijing. He is a victim of his own success. His competitors, inspired by his game-raising accomplishments and hungry for the faintest trace of vulnerability, gain focus in what becomes an almost zero sum game.

This morning in London Michael Phelps swam again as an Olympian. He lost to rival Ryan Lochte, a result that many felt possible, even probable during these games. He lost to two other swimmers and did not medal. That was unexpected. There will be speculation as to fitness, illness or the like. He will swim again in these games, and may yet add to his gold medal tally, but today the black hole got him.

Jacque Vaughn

Jacque Vaughn is the new head coach of the Orlando Magic. My first recollection of him was as a point guard on Tear Drop Roy’s best Kansas Jayhawk team. Vaughn was the undisputed leader of a team that featured future hall of famer Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Scott Pollard. Dick Vitale loved him, named him one of his 100 or so “All-Americans” and speculated that his popularity was such that he could run for governor of Kansas and win. Tear Drop Roy’s Jayhawks lost in March as they always did, and I took perverse pleasure in his tears dancing around my living room cackling like Satan’s helper.

I didn’t think much of Jacque Vaughn as a player. He was short, not athletic by professional standards and couldn’t shoot. Despite his big name as I college player, I correctly surmised that he would fail to make a ripple in the NBA. All this being true, he somehow lingered in the league like a stale fart for an astounding twelve years. It is for this reason that I am optimistic about his tenure as the Magic coach.

Vaughn is by all accounts a personable and well-liked man. His longevity in the league as a deep bench player confirms this. Nobody needs a delusional, high maintanence moron on the end of their bench. It also speaks to an intelligent, realism that is critical to coaching. Vaughn bright enough to realize and accept his limitations as a player, but did not allow them to define his contribution to the team. His twelve years in the league evidence a love and passion for the game of basketball, and I suspect that the last half of his playing career was more a coaching apprenticeship than anything else, and during that time he saw some of the greats work firsthand in Doc Rivers and Greg Popovic.

Since retiring as a player two years ago, Vaughn joined Pop’s staff in San Antonio whereby Pop himself has anointed him a “star”. Pop is not one given to hyperbole so this in itself is high praise. The critique of Vaughn is a lack of coaching experience which is unavoidable given circumstances, but I do not rate this consideration very highly. The Magic are rebuilding, and can afford to allow Vaughn to learn on the job. He will make mistakes this season, the key will be what he learns from those mistakes.

I am optimistic because I see in Vaughn a young, intelligent and motivated man of considerable leadership qualities and underrated experience. He has been in winning situations his entire life, and always found a way to contribute something of value. This is an often intangible quality, but essential to coaching.

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It’s Monday…Why Not Kick Some Ass!

Well its another Monday morning, which for some of you means hitting the books, for others dragging your sorry ass out of bed grabbing a quick cup of coffee and hitting the weekly grind. But how about this Monday instead of waking up and looking forward to the weekend that seems light years away, you give yourself a metaphorical kick in the nuts and start looking at this week as an opportunity to put yourself that much closer to your goals and dreams. The sport of life is a 24 x 7 x 365 x forever and there is always someone out there who is working their way to the top while the rest sit by the wayside. Why can’t that be you? One of my favorite quotes to read before starting another work week is this “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure, playing small does not serve the world, there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people wont feel insecure around you, it’s not just in some of us it’s in all of us, when we let our self shine we unconsciously give others around us the ability to do the same”. Might be a little deep for a Monday morning but I digress. Whether you are involved in sports or not you will undoubtedly always be involved with a team that has a common goal. If you are an integral part of that team is solely based on your effort. It’s easy to judge effort by how many hours a day pass while you are at work or practicing. That’s the worst way to measure effort. Effort is measured by setting goals and getting results. Period. Like the great Bobby Knight once said ” Everyone has got the will to win; it’s only those with the will to prepare that do win”. I’m sure I’m not far off by assuming that most of you are not where you would like to be in life, just remember that whatever crummy job you have, you are getting paid to learn a real world education. Information and time are the two most valuable assets in the world. Never take for granted the time you have or information you receive. Education is a lifelong endeavor. So wipe the crust from your eyes, get a double shot of espresso, and kick todays ass! Take hold of your future starting today. Tell yourself that from now on your going to make the sacrifices and risks necessary to take you to the top of whatever it is you are involved in. Gain an edge on your competition every chance you get and above all have fun doing it. I’ll end with this simple fact of life and sport. It’s not whether the glass is half empty or half full, it’s all about who is pouring the fucking water!

Arrogant One: This post was contributed by Scotty Max, who played for me at Oviedo. He’s living in Indiana (Charm: and unfortunately an IU fan) where he continues to like trucks, dogs and women in roughly that order. He is best remembered for leading our team in technical fouls, no small feat given that he played less than the notably ill-tempered Jose Davila.

Is it in You?

“He had an inhuman focus when he dropped in on a ramp, a kind of desperate and almost violent grace.  Watching him skate, I sensed he had more at stake than anyone else.”  – Bret Anthony Johnston

The man is Danny Way.  He is a professional skateboarder.  His specialty is called the MegaRamp.  I had never heard of him until I read Bret Anthony Johnston’s article “Danny Way and the Gift of Fear” last week.  Though I have never cared for skateboarding, dating back to a face plant into the house of my grandma’s neighbor at age nine, I haven’t stopped thinking about him since.  I am afterall a fan of focus, commitment and ultimately greatness.  I am a fan of Danny Way.

Danny’s story strikes many familiar notes.  He comes from a broken home, saw and experienced drunken abuse, endured loss and found a sanctuary on a skateboard.  He displayed early talent, surpassed his older brother and became a professional as a teenager.  He earned money and fame, and at times did his best to lose both with drugs and injury.  There was always redemption with two feet on a skateboard staring down a ramp that few in the world would have the courage to try.

And it isn’t as if the ramp hadn’t bitten him either.  Behind the vertical, long jump and land speed records, even the times he dropped from a helicopter 0r off the Hard Rock guitar in on a ramp or jumped the Great Wall of China, there were crashes, hard crashes with consequences….broken bones, torn ligaments and scars.  Sometimes these crashes were played out in front of crowds, but mostly just practicing….trying something nobody had done yet.

Danny Way’s is a story of talent and toughness, but also of purity.  He does not skate for money or to be a global icon.  He skates because it is what’s in him to do.  Beyond titles and acclaim, he sees in skating possibilities and purpose.  In concluding, I ask you to watch this clip below in it’s entirety and reflect on your own focus and commitment to what you value.

http://youtu.be/K9MJi-o-YMk

Final Thoughts on Region III Camp

The final day of Region III Camp at the University of Alabama began with a 7:30 am kick-off against Tennessee 2. In hindsight the performance or lack thereof started mid-afternoon the day before when our team learned that despite going 2-0-1 up to that point, no one made the final night of pool games, and the individual player evaluations were by many accounts harsh. The sky was overcast. The players tired and indifferent. The game abysmal.

Midway through the first half Florida 3 conceded it’s first goal of the week, and trudged to mid-field with the enthusiasm of eleven dead men walking. It took less than two minutes to equalize, but our body language never recovered. We conceded a second goal, and a third before responding with one of our own. We fell 3-2. The cohesive passing and compact defense on display through the first three games was replaced by self-indulgent dribbling and irresponsible marking. It was a deeply disappointing display.

The sideline perception was that the spirit of the boy’s was crushed by the negative evaluations and apparent hopelessness of making the Region III pool. Hearing this made me think of two words: Fuck You. If, as is inevitable in this life, you are told that you are ordinary, or not good enough, you have three choices….1) find something else to do, 2) accept the indictment and in doing so make it true or 3) stand up and say Fuck You, I can do this and will expend every ounce of my energy proving your narrow-minded ass wrong. It is a shame I was not called upon to make the pre-game speech for the Tennessee 2 game. We would not have taken option 2).

Bryson’s teammate Mikey Lynch, of whom I have written before, was at the Region III camp playing with Florida 2. I watched Mikey play his first three games. His first game was by his standard poor. He was not called for a pool game. His second game was better, but again he was passed over. At this point, Mikey a very good player was undoubtedly frustrated by a sense of rejection. In his third game, he played better was selected to the pool game, and at the closing ceremony selected to the Region III holdover camp. A classic option 3) performance, which in my observation of him so far is his greatest quality as a player.

Bryson played in a pool game the first night, and had four solid games. At the closing ceremony, the Region III director called over 40 names of players making the holdover camp, and another 20 names to fill out the Region III player pool. I sat on a banquet chair in the back of the auditorium and somewhere in the final 5-7 names heard Bryson Pink. To the best of my knowledge I showed little outward reaction, but inside I was proud, happy, satisfied and thankful.

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The Return of Claude Makalele

Several years ago whilst Jose Mourinho was managing Chelsea, Bryson played on his older brother’s soccer team. He was two years younger than the rest of the team, and lacked the technical skill to be much of an offensive player, but he could win the ball and make simple passes. I started calling him “Claude” in practices in honor of Claude Makalele, Chelsea’s French holding mid-fielder. The players on that team had no idea what I was talking about, but “Claude” was a sufficiently funny name for a tiny player who had little or no interaction with his older teammates so it stuck.

With the passage of time, Bryson improved considerably and became a proficient offensive player and regular goal scorer. He has in the last several years played every position on the field. Personally, I preferred a more attacking role, but this week has undeniably brought about the return of Claude Makalele.

In the first game of the week, Bryson was part of a three man interchanging mid-field and flourished to the extent he was picked for a pool game that night. In the pool game, Bryson played the holding role exclusively. He retained possession, distributed and switched the ball and was selective I’m pushing forward. In the game this morning, he was again in the Makalele role and seemed to embrace it. I do not know the inner workings of the ODP system, but it was plainly evident that he is perceived in that role.

The team won comfortably this morning 4-0 over Arkansas. Whatever anxieties that the players and more likely the parents have suffered over this event and how it may or may not advance their son to the EPL or USMNT, it must be said that this group comprised of our state’s younger boy’s born in 1998 has played three very strong game dominating possession with no small measure of skill and cohesiveness. While regarded as the “third” team, they have not been out of their depth.

Teams are temporal existing in a space for a limited amount of time never to be seen again. Tomorrow this boy’s will play their final game as a team. There is no title to be won, but I hope they embrace their final game together as a chance to honor their collective talents. I have enjoyed watching them.

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