Saturday, June 4, 2016

Parsing Opportunity’s Knock

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The NBA’s Western Conference finals, an epic showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder, was stuffed with intrigue and oozing sex appeal. 

Golden State entered seeking a second consecutive championship and, after a record-setting 73-win regular season, an impressive closing argument for their case as the best team, like, ever.  Within the context of the Warriors’ team, Stephen Curry, the unanimous MVP, looked to add to his burgeoning resume and Klay Thompson, his criminally underrated backcourt mate, was seeking his own spot on a star-studded stage.   

In the other corner, the Thunder, having suffered season-sabotaging injuries to stars Russell Westbrook, Prince George’s County native Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in recent years, was finally healthy - and it showed.  Westbrook, a breathtaking athlete, solidified his place among the game’s elite and Durant’s desperation for his first title was a tribute to competitive athletics.  Collectively, the Thunder, after being relegated to second-class Western Conference citizenry behind the regal San Antonio Spurs and champion Warriors, played like an insulted bunch starved for appropriate acclaim.

As of the due date for this piece, six games had been played to a 3-3 stalemate.  Every affair was a non-stop high-wire act.  Three-point shots rained from the heavens.  The pace was relentless.  Westbrook sliced to the basket with video game speed and abandon.  Warriors forward Draymond Green let his raw emotions roam – for good or ill.  The teams were two heavyweight fighters throwing haymakers in the middle of the ring.  Blood and sweat was everywhere.  There were epic collisions at the rim, kicks to the groin (literally) and bodies were all over the floor – all while the scoreboard registered with pinball machine glee.  It was just…exhilarating.

With that introduction, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the series’ most compelling storyline had nothing to do with the basketball played between the lines, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  Unless LeBron James, Michael Jordan or athletes of similar ilk lay eyes on this article, it’s unlikely any reader can relate to the unconscious shooting of Curry and Thompson, the silky-smooth, 6’11” Durant or dunking over seven-footers in traffic like Westbrook.  What is transferrable to the average-sized, modestly athletic mass of humanity is the journey that landed the two suits – Golden State head coach Steve Kerr and his Oklahoma City counterpart, Billy Donovan – on their respective sidelines.     

A career playbook for the ambitious would undoubtedly include the following entries: be dedicated and trustworthy; work hard; develop a diverse skill-set; exude a positive attitude; establish a strong reputation; create opportunities for advancement and seize them.  It would difficult to argue against any of these bedrocks of success; however, Kerr and Donovan’s pilgrimage to the NBA head coaching ranks adds an interesting caveat to the eager acceptance of opportunities.

See, Kerr and Donovan, neither of whom had previous NBA coaching experience, actually rejected other first-time NBA gigs before accepting their current jobs.  In May 2014, Kerr reneged on an alleged verbal commitment to coach the New York Knicks and reunite with Phil Jackson, his former head coach and current Knicks President, when Golden State offered up its head coaching position. 

Donovan took an even more methodical path to the NBA.  After winning back-to-back national championships as head coach at the University of Florida, Donovan accepted the head coaching position with the Orlando Magic in 2007.  He backed out days later and returned to Florida where he coached until accepting the Oklahoma City job last spring. 

The interesting point is neither Kerr nor Donovan blindly jumped on their first chance to ascend their profession’s summit – just to say they made it.  Instead, they critiqued all aspects of the opportunity – the timing, pay, organization, home city and roster talent – and rebuffed would-be suitors, confident that other doors would open and at peace if they didn’t. 


Their gamble paid off.  It is impossible to know what the Knicks job would have meant for Kerr’s career or the Magic job for Donovan’s, but suffice to say, both have found NBA success.  And isn’t success - more than pay, fancy titles and speed to goal achievement – the point?  

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Camera’s Always Rolling

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

There is no precedent for the start of Laremy Tunsil’s professional football career.  Tunsil, the 6’5”, 310-lb offensive tackle from the University of Mississippi was a consensus top-five selection entering this spring’s NFL Draft.  Even after the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles made trades to secure the two top overall picks – and quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively – Tunsil’s wait to hear his name called and realize his NFL dream would be brief.

But before Tunsil had a chance to don an NFL team cap and hug Commissioner Roger Goodell, his life was sabotaged.  As the draft began, Tunsil’s hacked twitter account promulgated a video depicting a young man resembling Tunsil smoking marijuana while wearing a smoke-filled gas mask.  It looked like Cheech and Chong movie clip.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the work of famous stoners; it was Tunsil, the blue chip prospect, goofing off amidst a weed-cloud.  Terrible look.  Horrible timing. 

With no context to the imagery and no time for research, the reaction by NFL executives was predictable and understandable: Tunsil plummeted to the Miami Dolphins at the thirteenth overall pick.  Frankly, only his prodigious talent prevented a greater fall.  Still, Tunsil’s tumble down the draft board cost him millions and was indicative of ultra-brand-conscious NFL front offices that would rather secure a low-drama/high character contributor than gamble on a potential All-Pro who once toked on a joint while wearing a gas mask.   

Was it fair?  Well, fair doesn’t matter in the high-stakes game of the NFL Draft.  It is a weekend where the course of franchises, the careers of executives and coaches and millions of dollars are on the line.  The NFL Draft builds or ruins reputations – period.  That said, put yourself in the position of NFL wonks: Would you hire a guy who you just saw smoking pot?  The answer is probably not.  Maybe “h-ll no.”  At pick 13, Miami could justify taking Tunsil because of the value.  But make no mistake about it, they invited a circus to South Florida for training camp this summer.  Take a seat.  Enjoy the show.

And then there’s the kid, Laremy Tunsil.  Not the athlete clad in a helmet and shoulder pads.  Not the massive human capable of physical domination on the gridiron.  Laremy Tunsil, the person.  Laremy Tunsil, the 21-year-old from Lake City, Florida.  He made a bad decision in his past to smoke marijuana.  He compounded the mistake by letting someone record it.  For that, what should have been the best night of his life was ruined and his professional reputation was eviscerated.  And for what?  For using a drug that is increasingly legal at the state level?  A drug that many former NFL players are advocating for pain management?  A drug that several current NFL players – including Le’Veon Bell, Trent Williams and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller - have used in the past and still scored huge contracts?

Is it fair, then, that Tunsil became the draft’s tragic hero? 

Absolutely not.  Tunsil wasn’t hitting a woman, driving drunk or brandishing a gun in the video.  He was sitting on a coach smoking pot.  Poor decision?  Without a doubt.  But whom among us hasn’t made a comparably dubious choice?  Not many, if we’re being honest.  Even our last three presidents did a little marijuana (Obama, Clinton) or drank too much at times (Bush).  That doesn’t excuse Tunsil, but it does make the penance he’s paying seem egregious. 


Three merciful weeks have passed since Tunsil’s public humiliation.  He’s done well to own his mistake and has begun to move forward with his career.  I hope he succeeds; regardless, he’ll likely never outrun the draft night controversy.  Maybe that’s his cross to bear for all of us sinners (as The Big Lebowski’s narrator might say).  In a world filled with smartphones and social media accounts, Tunsil-gate shouldn’t be forgotten - not by those job shopping, not by kids navigating adolescence, not by anyone who values their reputation.  Technology has created an unforgiving environment where revenge or just innocent indiscretion can cause anyone’s mistakes to be broadcast for a lifetime.  The unfortunate proof is Laremy Tunsil.

A Man in Purple, A Man in Red

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”

That’s the opening line to Prince’s classic song “Let’s Go Crazy”, a you-can’t-sit-still-to-this, guitar-drenched pep talk about taking life’s punches and returning a defiant and overwhelming flurry in return. 

Last year, the Nationals could have used The Purple One’s encouragement - regularly. 
Even by D.C. sports standards, the Nats’ 2015 season was a disaster.  The dead favorite to win the World Series, they failed to make the playoffs.  The campaign ended, essentially, with Jonathan Papelbon choking teammate Bryce Harper.  Officially, the Nats finished second in the NL East, but the meltdown was so disgusting that it cost skipper Matt Williams, the 2014 NL Manager of the Year, his job. 

The Nationals tapped Dusty Baker, a 20-year managerial veteran, to replace Williams. Forensic evidence indicates he wasn’t the first choice - that honor likely goes to Bud Black, former San Diego Padres manager.  But after reportedly offending Black with a low-ball contract offer and subsequently failing to come to terms, the Nats turned to Baker, the new top candidate, all baseball and financial factors considered.

Procedurally and politically, the selection was awkward, but nearly a month into the 2016 season, Baker’s on his the way toward changing the label on Nationals’ brass from “cheap and dysfunction” to “shrewd and brilliant.”  While April series’ against Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami and Minnesota haven’t represented the stiffest competition, Baker nonetheless has Washington in first place in the NL East with a 14-4 record through last Sunday.

A team’s record is, of course, its ultimate judgment, but there’s more going on in Washington than just wins and losses.  Williams won 96 games in 2014, his first as a major league manager.  But after losing in the first round of the playoffs that year and facing massive expectations in 2015, Williams lost his way and, ultimately, the team.  As the 2015 season disintegrated, Williams remained poised, professional and supportive of his players (all positive traits), but his inability to emotionally connect with players and build strong relationships – the kind that will survive a 162-game schedule and inevitable adversity – was apparent.  Despite obvious baseball acumen, Williams was a sterile leader, a man far more like Mr. Spock than Captain Kirk.  Simply put, baseball in D.C. wasn’t what baseball should be: fun.

Enter Dusty Baker, a master communicator with a natural way with people – the anti-Matt Williams. 

He wasted no time getting to work.

At his introductory press conference, Baker donned a Nationals jersey and struck a few playful model-on-the-runway poses.  When asked about his age, he offered this gem: “I don’t know how old I am sometimes – and it really doesn’t matter.  Not to sound cocky or nothing but I don’t see a whole bunch of dudes that look better than me now.”  Somewhere a perplexed Williams must have raised a curious brow. 

With the “endearing humor” block checked, Baker got more substantive.

When asked about his approach to winning, Baker cited advice he received from Bill Russell and Bill Walsh.  “They told me a team has to be close.  I can bring X’s and O’s…they said love was the key. I want to get this team together as soon as possible, top to bottom.  The great teams that I have been on and organizations I’ve been in…everybody had a positive attitude.”  It was a nameless acknowledgement of Williams’s greatest fault and exactly what Nats fans wanted to hear.

And boy has Baker delivered to date.  Nearly 20 games into the season, the Nats are playing loose, cheering teammates and routinely hugging Baker in the dugout (yes…hugging).  They are together.  They are positive.  They are winning.  In six months on the job, one man – Dusty Baker – has flipped an organization’s mood.  He’s human serotonin.  


Every now and then life intersects with an individual who shines a little brighter than the rest.  They break down barriers, bring people together and generally make any situation more fun.  Prince’s music had that effect.  He wore purple.  Dusty Baker has the magic too, and right now, he looks fabulous in red.       

Snow Days and Time Travel

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls have long held the NBA record with 72 regular season wins. As of last Sunday, they have company now: the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors.  With one game remaining on Wednesday night, we’ll know by the time this piece reaches print whether Golden State settled for a tie with the Bulls or re-wrote basketball history.

Golden State’s historical assault didn’t sneak up on anyone.  The defending NBA Champions started the season 24-0, an unbelievable streak that immediately and naturally prompted speculation as to whether these Warriors could surpass the mark set by those hallowed, Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen/Dennis Rodman/Phil Jackson-led Bulls.   

As the Warriors have assaulted the record in recent weeks, just how to interpret, historically speaking, a 72-or-more-win season has triggered a passionate debate.  Simplistically, wins are an objective, unemotional measure of performance.  So, with 72 in the “W” column, the Warriors should be considered the Bulls’ equal; a 73-win Warriors team would be better.  Right?  Well…

Yeah, it’s not that easy, not when human emotion, pride and tangible differences in eras are involved.  To many, the 2016 Warriors will never be the equivalent of those 1996 Bulls, no matter the final win tally.  The dissenters, a group that tends to be a little older and includes aged icons Oscar Robertson and Pippen (who predicted a Bulls sweep of the Warriors in a seven-game series), offer valid points.  The game was more physical in the nineties.  Defensive hand-checking was prevalent.  The pace was slower.  Big men still dominated from the post.  Players now, arguably, don’t have the same competitive fire.  These high-flying, three-point shooting, defensively-challenged Warriors would be roughed up, choked out and, ultimately, defeated.  That’s how the critique by players and fans of prior NBA generations goes, anyway.

Are Pippen and Robertson proud, grumpy former players incapable of acknowledging the Warriors’ revolutionary style; or, is the criticism accurate?  Yes.  Wait.  No.  I mean…

It’s a classic debate between romantic antiquity and a contemporary threat.  And it should sound familiar, like the running generational debate regarding the general difficulty of youth.  For generations, parents have lamented how life is so much easier for the “kids these days.”   I heard the same stuff (crap?).  Now a father of nearly 13 years and two times over, I shamelessly dish the woe-was-me dribble to my children. 

Snow days are a common trigger.  Today, it seems schools are called at the mere hint of more than a dusting, a perception that causes proud Generation-X parents to wax nostalgic about slipping and sliding through a few inches of snow to get to school.  Meanwhile, Baby Boomer grandparents scoff that they never missed school for snow, even walking when roads were impassable.  This, of course, sounds heroic until one recalls similar tales of great-grandparents from The Greatest Generation who claimed to have walked to school in blizzards wearing newspaper on their feet to protect the only dress shoes they owned from the elements.  I suppose with ten toes and but one pair of shoes, the former get sacrificed for the latter.    

What generation had the toughest childhood?  That debate is best left to simmer within individual families.  I do hope it’s getting easier; that should be every parent’s goal.  It is in some ways, but I’m not entirely convinced.  Kids today are afforded many conveniences, but they are growing up faster and navigate an exponentially more complicated world.  Social media and smart phones haven’t done childhood any favors.


As for that raging 1996 Bulls vs. 2016 Warriors debate, a definitive answer isn’t attainable, not unless Doc Brown’s flux capacitor-equipped DeLorean drops out of the sky to traverse the two decades between these great teams.  Who would I take in a seven game series between the two?  The Bulls, but it’s closer than vintage folks like myself would like to admit.  The difference, in my mind, is Jordan.  I’ve never seen a competitor like him in any sport.  Jordan would find a way to win.  He probably would have found a way to school too, no matter the conditions, even if it meant walking with his feet wrapped in newspaper.

It's okay if you're not a superhero parent

No, really, it is.  See my piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for tips on managing the guilt all parents feel when they inevitably fall short of unrealistic, superhero expectations.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

What you need to know when picking a pediatrician

Parents, in the market for a pediatrician?  It's a huge decision.  See my piece - here - in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for advice.



Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hey Neighbor

Published previously by The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The episode of Parts Unknown seemed like a time capsule from a bygone era.  Was this real?  The host, Anthony Bourdain, looked the same - slim, distinguishingly gray and weathered perfectly to command respect.  The digital television guide confirmed that I was indeed watching a fresh release of the CNN series, but little on the screen indicated this was a current-millennium stage.  The city’s infrastructure in the backdrop was dated and exposed an economic wound; the streets were flooded with American cars from the 1950s, most proudly showing the patina of 70 years of rugged use.  Despite the visual evidence, it wasn’t a movie set; it was a real life, real-time picture of America’s complex neighbor: Cuba.

Bourdain’s show did what it always does so well: explore the politics, culture and cuisine of the featured country.  Cuba, though, wasn’t just any subject.  Bourdain’s mere presence on the island, let along his shooting of an American television show, would have been unthinkable four decades ago.  That phenomena, rooted in America and Cuba’s chilly history and made possible by rapidly changing attitudes, appropriately dominated the show’s fascinating script.

Cuba is just 90 miles from Key West, Florida – 90 miles that for 50 years were an insurmountable diplomatic distance.  Between 1960 and 1962, Cuba and United States endured the Bay of Pigs Invasion, a full trade embargo and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The political upheaval put the neighbors’ relationship on ice – no trade, no travel, no diplomatic exchanges.  The North American cul-de-sac wasn’t at war, but the two neighbors became distant and distrustful strangers.    

Bob Dylan didn’t pen “The Times Are Changing” for Cuba, but the song fits the current United States-Cuba scene.  Since 2008, a year that saw Barack Obama move in just up Route 4 at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Raul Castro assume the presidency of Cuba from his brother and long-time American antagonist Fidel Castro, momentum for normalized American and Cuban relations has been tangible.  The last eight years have seen Obama relax travel restrictions, Raul Castro trim bureaucracy on exit visas, America remove Cuba from its list of terrorist sponsors and the two countries reopen embassies and restore diplomatic ties.

A shared passion delivered another sign of progress: Last week, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team played a baseball game in Havana.  The Rays won, but the score hardly mattered.  The game was the first of its kind since our Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game in Cuba 17 years ago and, since the Obama family attended, it marked the first time in nearly 90 years since a sitting U.S. president visited the island.

Significant change invites consternation and controversy.  Most Americans prefer breaking down remaining barriers with Cuba, but it certainly isn’t endorsed by all.  As Cuba and America thaw a vestige of the Cold War, some would-be American presidents are preaching increased isolation, including the construction of a wall - a physical manifestation of a very different approach to the future - along a shared border with another neighbor. 

Given the course of global events and the asymmetric threats to peace, democracy and religious freedom, strong, cooperative relations with international partners, particularly those next door, is crucial.  Walls aren’t cooperative.  Neither is maintaining sanctions against a neighbor for their one-time support of an American enemy, especially when said enemy – the Soviet Union – hasn’t existed in 25 years and the neighbor’s offending leader – Fidel Castro - has been out of power for nearly a decade.       


If achieved, history will be unable to quantify the contribution of a single baseball game to normalized relations between America and Cuba.  Diplomatic political shifts take time and an incalculable number of change-promoting events.  Nevertheless, the game inarguably furthered a positive trend.  There was also a moment before the game that illustrated the crossroads the two countries have reached: A one-minute moment of silence was observed for the victims of the Brussels terrorist attack.  It was a silent pause between two old enemies figuring out how best to shake hands instead of defiant fists, while quietly acknowledging an emergent, common enemy we’d be wise to combat together.