What Sports Taught Me

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On Saturdays or Sundays it’s hard to ignore the masses of SUVs gathering in stadium parking lots — large monuments honoring America’s lack of moderation where we over-feed ourselves with sodium-rich, fat-filled food and crappy beer at a four-hundred percent markup.

Indeed, Sports looks like our modern day gladiator games.  Sports is flawed, corrupt, greedy and vain.  Sports is the downfall of the republic.  How dare you, Sports.  Shame on you, Sports.

But wait: you can’t blame Sports.  It’s us — we made Sports this way.  The money, athletes, and media are too convenient to blame.

Sports is innocent.  I forgive Sports for flopping, Tim Donahey, steroids, and Donald Sterling — after all, those are all human problems.

I forgive Sports because Sports is trying like the rest of us.  Sports has ups and downs, but at its best, Sports is a magnificent teacher.  In fact, Sports is one of my most important mentors, and I want to talk about why.

Sports taught me about pain and anger

2505341415_2eb744d8d9_oSports taught me how to fail, get back up and try harder.  Thanks to Sports, I knew what it was like to get punched in the mouth, hit in the face with a baseball, elbowed in the teeth, sprain an ankle, and keep playing.

Because of Sports, I knew what it was like to get picked last.  I knew what it was like to get cut from basketball teams once, twice then three times before I made them.  I missed game-winning shots and had game-winning shots scored on me.  I learned how to get angry about it, dust myself off and get to work.

The pain and anguish of Sports, learning how to cope with them and overcome them, prepared me for life.  Sports kept telling me to get back up and fight.

Luckily, it became a habit.

There are no home runs, just inches

5286994825_2c3189051e_oSports taught me that what you do between games and in the off-season matters; that luck is the combination of preparation and opportunity.  Sports taught me that winning is about quality of effort and doing things the right way — that you aren’t a winner because of a trophy and there are no shortcuts.

Training, learning, studying and obsessing about your craft is how you excel.  Weekend warriors who waltz into the gym and expect to compete get busted.  Teams who focus on flair, authentic NBA jerseys, selfishness or retro Jordans get whipped.

A formative experience for me was making my high school team.  In my junior year of high school, I was cut from tryouts, second-to-last cut.  The next summer, between my junior and senior year, I was determined to make it.  I refused to get cut again.

For three months, I played for nearly 3 hours a day.  I frequented these courts:

I got my ass kicked every fricking day for a while.  I got made fun of, punched, pushed around, bullied.  I even got picked on for being (well, half) white, which was new.  People made fun of my hair, skin, face, shoes, shirt, school, game, passing, dribbling.  I didn’t listen.  I kept playing.

I grew tremendously.  I ended the summer having changed my entire jump shot, developed my handle, increased my vertical by 8 inches and drastically improved my court vision and quickness.  By the end of the summer I had the nickname “batman” for wearing a tattered Batman shirt with no sleeves and folks wanted to pick me up on their team.

Jump ShotAll of those battles added up over time made me a better player.  I started to win a lot of games, but there was no magical turning point — no home run was hit, no miracles.  Success, for me, was the sum of all the inches I clawed for through countless hours of practice and struggle.

Then, the next fall, I made the team.  I made it because Sports taught me to fight for all of those inches in the off-season and get back up every day.  There was no other way but to grind.  The willingness to grind and the feeling you have after is the stuff success is made of.

Value the journey

My dream wasn’t to become an NBA player, although I did fantasize about it occasionally.  I wasn’t too focused on long-term outcomes, I just wanted to get better.  I learned to value the journey.  When I look back, I miss the sounds, smells, feelings of just being there and learning.  I don’t think about milestones, I think about the little stuff.

There’s the sound of nylon swishes, the musty smell of the gym, the worn bleachers with spider webs and dust bunnies beneath it and the metallic simplicity of the water fountain.  The long nights spent playing 21 or HORSE at Oregon State with my buddy, endless games of 1-on-1 and playing pick-up games until nobody was left.

And there were so many firsts: a no-look pass, a perfect 28-foot shot, pinning someone’s layup against a backboard, dunking for the first time, etc.  All were tiny championships.

In life, I’ve come to learn, outcomes matter but not that much.  Tiny championships matter, or how you do things.  Do you play the right way?  Are you someone a teammate would want to go to battle with in the trenches?  Do you trust your teammates?  Will they back you up in a fight, and you the same for them?  Can you win together?  Can you lose — and lose bad — together?  Can you take feedback from your teammates?

When you start answering yes to those questions, you are winning.  Sports taught me that, and I try to reproduce the same thing whenever I can.  The quality of your journey and how you do things is what you’ll always remember.

Yay Sports

Sports is human.  Sports teaches, heals, unites and fills us with joy.  Sports can also divide, destroy, injure and defeat our spirit.  Sports is like us, and we are what we make of ourselves.  Sports is a reflection of us, for better and for worse, and I’m okay with that.

Sports, you’re alright.  Thanks for everything you’ve taught me.  I’ve got your back.

Heart statistics

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So I got this Garmin device that does GPS in hopes that it’d make me run more. So far it’s been successful. The GPS and Google maps mashups on their activity summary web app are super cool (see full example):
garmin

Over time, if you keep up with it you can see improvements in different categories:

  • Distance – you can run more as you get in better shape
  • Heart rate – peaks and average should normalize
  • Time – you’ll improve your time (ideally!) :)

Since I’m not a running super-beast and I’m not very fast, I have been pretty interested in the heart rate! I’m also interested in it because the first few runs were pretty tough because I’d run for a bit (at the speed I remember running at) and my heart would go nuts and I’d have to walk for a bit. For a while I’d have to keep doing that, and my heart rate chart showed why.

On my first run in about 2 years, I was getting owned:
first

After waking up this morning at 430am and going for a crazy morning run (which, if you knew me, is something I never do), I was happy to see this:
new

I still have to walk a bit in the middle of a 3 mile jog, but while I’m running my heart rate remains constant and it never felt like it was going to explode. I’m now able to sustain for longer and I also have less movement between 180 and 200 bpm (Note that the top graph was 1.5 miles and the bottom one was 3 miles).

As I was writing a blog about browsing statistics and how they can improve how we use the web, it made me think of this little Garmin watch and how knowing more about my own body can help me improve my life.

Data is good, knowledge is good. By itself, not so much — but if you use it right it can make all the difference.

Commonly Misinterpreted Basketball Rules

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People who play pickup games often don’t know the rules. Unfortunately they also think they are right when they get into an argument with me about the rulebook.

Yesterday I got into an argument with someone over whether or not you can catch your own airball. Guy on my team threw up a layup and it barely missed the rim. He picked it up and layed it up. Traveling?

Surprisingly, no, it’s not traveling anywhere except the NBA. Though in most games at Rucker Park I’m guessing they’d call it a travel.

So this made me think of other rules that I commonly get into arguments with people over. Here’s the top 5:

  • Catching your own airball is allowed if it was a legitimate shot unless you’re playing your pickup game according to NBA rules, which makes you a douchebag.
  • The top and side of the backboard is not out of bounds, only the back-facing plane of the backboard is.
  • Step-throughs are not traveling. An initial jump-stop with two feet makes either foot eligible as a pivot foot. Therefore the act of jump-stopping with two feet, choosing either foot to pivot and stepping through with the opposite foot is a totally legal move even though it may appear to be traveling to an idiot.
  • The playground hesitation dribble is a carry. You know that move that “all-star” ballers use on you? They bring the ball back, turn their hand over like they are going to shoot it and when you crowd them them resume their dribble and go around you. Well, that’s bullshit and it’s double dribble because they already picked up their dribble.
  • A player can’t touch the ball until they’ve established legal position. If I’m out of bounds and I jump back in, touching the ball before my feet hit the floor, I’m still out of bounds and I just turned it over to the other team no matter how much I complain.

Of course, none of this matters, because in pickup games the person willing to be the biggest bitch about something usually gets their way. Doesn’t make them right, though.

Porter Sucks

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After winning at home by 48 against a crappy team, instead of using it as an excuse to build his guys up, Porter says this bullshit, “… this win was definitely needed, from the standpoint of our confidence. Maybe we’ll start believing we’re a good team.”

Terry Porter, you are a massive tool.

If I was the coach of a struggling team, I would say something like this, “I knew we had this in us, and this shows that when we work hard we are the best team in this league. I am proud of my guys.”

But you see, Terry Porter is an idiot and silently resents his own players. That’s why they don’t try hard for him, and that’s why he won’t succeed in the NBA.

Why Terry Porter should be fired

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I’m not an angry person unless I have a reason. Terry Porter is that reason.

After watching the Suns’ efforts over the last two weeks, I am convinced that Terry Porter doesn’t know what he’s doing. As far as I can tell, here is his game plan:

  • give Steve Nash the ball and hope it works out
  • yell at the team to “keep up the intensity and make plays”
  • blame the personalities on his team for his difficulties

You have to do better than that, Terry.

It really hit me the other night when I saw Nate McMillan talking about his Blazers. Young team, lots of potential, starting to realize it with hard work and perseverance. It is a good time to live and cheer for Portland. I’m glad I live in this city and am able to see Blazers games. I am proud of them.

But Nate was talking about numbers. Fastbreak points, points in the paint, turnovers. He talked about what their goal was going in, and how they did against that goal. He had clear expectations and that night they met them — and they won. That creates confidence in the coach, and confidence in their system. Porter has no such clarity, and it shows.

It really boils down to this: Suns fans aren’t proud of their team.

Here’s why I think Terry has failed his team, and why the Suns subsequently suck major ass:

  • They don’t know how to enter the post. With a team centered around Shaq, you’d think they’d practice post entry. Don’t enter the post from the top of the key. Make bounce passes. Seal the defender. Re-post if you have to. They don’t understand how to post up effectively. And that’s just when Shaq is posting. When Amare posts, it’s an even bigger joke because he’s 10 feet away from the basket. He usually does some random crap, goes right, then either gets a charge or is forced into an crazy off-balance shot (which he sometimes makes). Sigh. My bet is that the majority of their turnovers are from crappy post passes trying to set up Shaq or Amare, or passes out of the post to another player that get intercepted or deflected. That is bad coaching. Fake the first pass, bounce it always, get the right angle. Set off-picks. You’re in the NBA assholes! You learned this in high school.
  • The #1 scorer symptom. Good defensive teams take away their opponents’ first option. The really great defensive teams shut down players like Kobe and Lebron on a regular night. Sometimes the superstars score anyway, but rarely. There was a stretch in Nov and Dec when Suns opponents went off on consecutive nights. Wade: 43 points, Harris: 47, Paul: 24 and 15, Dirk: 39. When you fail at stopping the other team’s best player, it means you suck at planning. Terry Porter and his idiot staff is responsible for preparing his team for these types of battles. He failed. And it’s not Nash getting beat off the dribble either — it’s a total and complete lack of help defense and understanding what other teams are trying to do. There’s no excuse for this. Do you think Popovich would allow this kind of bullshit to happen against his team? Fuck no.
  • Talent. Porter has an older, smarter team. They win games on experience and talent alone, but most nights they get embarrassed because they are grossly unprepared. If he had a bunch of fuckup teenagers with no real experience, I’d cut him a little slack. But he’s got some perennial all-stars mixed with young talent that has untapped potential. He is failing not only at coaching and preparing veterans, but he’s failing at helping young players grow. Both are egregious failures and should be reprimanded not only because of wins and losses, but because of the intangible costs to these players and their careers.
  • Defense? What defense, you sham? You preached about how you wanted to slow it down and become a balanced team. You can’t be the Spurs, you asshole. You’re the Suns and you have different personnel. Defense starts with preparation and time in the video room. You have no plan and expect your team to play great defense? I see this shit about Suns players not able to play good defense. Shut up. Shaq? Amare? Richardson? Nash? Hill? All better than average defenders if you coach them right. I’ll let you in on a little secret everyone: great defenders without help and rotations suck consistently. This is what you’re seeing in Phoenix. No rotation, no help, no communication, no preparation. What do you get? The other team kicking your ass all up the court and you feeling like shit.
  • They totally gave up on screen and roll. What the hell? It’s the only thing that has worked in this league consistently since illegal defense was instantiated. Even against psuedo-zones it still works. Even against 3-2 “we’re packing it in the paint as much as we can like high school” defenses can’t defend a good pick and roll on the wing. Amare or Shaq plus Nash is a deadly pick and roll. Why are you ditching it? Porter?! Amare is sitting on the weak side making a sandwich on most possessions because everybody stands around watching a poor entry pass into Shaq.
  • Matt Barnes. Go home, you tattooed freak. I’m tired of watching your stupid open court decisions and your overrated three-point shooting. You are too small to make up and under moves against good defenses and you’re not consistent enough to shoot it from outside. You need to go away, or maybe you need a coach to whoop your ass. Either way, I’m tired of you.
  • Amare Stoudemire. Sucks when a 36-year old 7’1″ man can show you how to play the game of basketball, huh? Well, he’s one of the 50 greatest players of all time. Show him some respect. You see how he gets rebounds and gets post position instead of settling for fadeaways? Hopefully you can learn from it instead of bitching about your team when you aren’t winning. You don’t get 20 and 10 every night because you are a whiner who doesn’t hustle. Marion could crash the weak-side boards and get 15 a night. Mike Morgan (yeah, me) could get more rebounds than you on the weak side just standing there. You can’t get more rebounds than a 6′ white Canadian point guard! Look at yourself, man. You’re the problem, not anybody else. I want to see you get 2-3 offensive rebound slams a night, because when Shaq is double teamed you have no excuse. But this falls on Porter, too — he doesn’t challenge you and slap your stupid face when you cry about touches on offense while simultaneously slacking on defense. You need some strong doses of Bobby Knight, kid. Stoudemire’s line tonight: 3 points on 0-7 shooting, 4 turnovers and 1 rebound. Eight players on the Suns got more rebounds than this jackass, but he made over $187,000 for that game. What a joke. Your worst moment of the season, though, was when McHale put Craig Smith in your face the other night against Minnesota and you couldn’t even guard him because your defense is so horrible. Any real power forward from the last 30 years would eat you up alive you fake superstar. It happens anytime you guard Rasheed, KG or Duncan. Instant foul trouble and the other guy gets 20 and 10. And you’re worried about not getting enough shots? Shut up.
  • Set plays. They have no set plays. Only play I’ve seen is Shaq post-up and do something or the back door cut with Grant. You suck, Porter.

So this is what happens when you take the most talented basketball team in the NBA and put a shitty coach on top of it. It’s like a trick chocolate cake. Should be a lot sweeter, should be the best thing ever, but it isn’t. It’s just a pile of shit.

Terry Porter, you are the owner of this turd cake. You’re fired.