Friday, October 28, 2016

Dangerous Faction

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

I’m going to blatantly ignore the unceremonious end to the professional baseball season.  You good with that O’s fans?  Nats fans?  Thought so.  A furry mammal, a 30-year-old football team and a wig-wearing American legend is on the docket… 

The 1985 Chicago Bears are, for my money, the greatest NFL team of the Super Bowl era.  After a 15-1 regular season (11 of those wins were by double digits), the Bears won three playoff games, including Super Bowl XX, by a combined score of 91-10. 

Chicago’s offense featured future Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton, flashy but gritty QB Jim McMahon, and lightning fast WR Willie Gault.  The identity of that great Bears team, though, was its devastating and historic defense.  Middle linebacker Mike Singletary and defensive lineman Dan Hampton and Richard Dent are in the Hall of Fame.  Outside linebackers Otis Wilson and Wilbur Marshall wreaked havoc off the edge.  Defensive lineman Steve McMichael was a two-time All-Pro and safeties Gary Fencik and the late Dave Duerson were as good as any in the league.

More than a collection of talented football players, the ’85 Bears were a crossover pop culture phenomena.  Rotund DT William “The Refrigerator” Perry caught the nation’s fancy with his lovable girth and touchdown plunges.  McMahon was a professional wrestling persona in cleats.  Head Coach Mike Ditka was the perfect booming, unpolished personality to lead this band of bandits and brash defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan made sacks, turnovers and shutouts cool.   

Collectively the Bears played hard, won often and embraced fame.  They shot television commercials and, true to the MTV era of the mid-80’s, made a corny music video - The Super Bowl Shuffle.  Always a sports documentary in the making, ESPN recently made it official by featuring the ’85 Bears in a “30 for 30” episode.    

One question has lingered about those fabulous and fun ’85 Bears: Why did they manage just one Super Bowl appearance?  They had a nice run – five consecutive division titles from 1984-88 – but that single championship is a lonely piece of hardware for a roster with dynastic capabilities.
The answer was revealed in that “30 for 30” piece and explained by James Madison, unsuspecting football whisperer, in Federalist Paper No. 10 (a centuries old political document): The Bears were a fractured group. 

Ryan was hired as defensive coordinator in 1978, four full season before Ditka was hired as head coach.  His defensive unit was fiercely loyal, even lobbying ownership to retain Ryan in 1982.  By 1985, the defense was dominant, among the very best in league history; the offense was…okay.  The performance delta created tension between Ryan’s defense and Ditka’s offense and between Ryan and Ditka personally.  In a way, the defense was its own faction, existing and operating as an isolated entity.

So what does a founding father have to offer about NFL football?  Well, in arguing for a new form of government in late 1787, Madison, noting the human compulsion for factious discord, wrote, “A zeal for different opinions…have in turn divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.”  He went on to comment that “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities”, the new government shouldn’t seek to combat the cause of inevitable faction but only seek, “…the means of controlling its effects.” 

That is brutal commentary on our species, but it is, unfortunately, spot on.  The division within the Bears teams of the mid 80’s was insufficiently controlled and, ultimately, diminished its accomplishments.  There was too much defense versus offense and not enough prevailing, unselfish commitment to a common cause. 


Be it 1787, 1985 or 2016, and whether the test subject is a personal relationship, a professional team or our representative government, the challenge is to promote spirited, constructive debate and avoid rogue faction.  Our next big test arrives on November 9 when we will wake up either excited, disappointed or indifferent; but, regardless, we will still be Americans tasked with the responsibility of building a more perfect union.

You’re Making How Much?

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

The interview went well.  An offer was made.  The job was accepted.  You landed in cubicle village hungry to produce, earn respect and advance.  After learning the ropes and chatting up veteran members of your new work family, your suspicions were confirmed: your position or department isn’t highly valued in the organization and, even among your second-class peers, you aren’t making an equitable salary. 

With professional careers now spanning well over three decades and job-hopping increasingly common, this is a situation – feeling underappreciated and underpaid - nearly everyone will experience (unless, of course, you follow the path of a certain presidential candidate who has never struggled to pay a bill or spent a day chasing a middle-class life). 

There are perfectly legitimate reasons, of course, for such predicaments: an inaccurate assessment of market value, a new entrant to the workforce, a temporary gig, starting a second career or a financially hastened employment decision.  And legitimate or not - and at the risk of sounding na├»ve and dated – it can be a temporary state if the tried and true trilogy of hard work, a positive attitude and shrewd maneuvering is deployed.   

In the meantime, working harder while making less than the slacker in the adjacent cube, despite the same job description, can be demoralizing, a natural and understandable reaction that retards the employee’s potential and threatens the development of a successful organizational culture.

It is this common sense lesson on human behavior and organizational health which makes what is happening in professional sports so fascinating.  The financial landscape in the NFL, NBA and MLB is being redefined yearly.  Monopoly money is being thrown around: $200M contracts and $20M annual salaries are the new normal. 

It is an indisputably good time to be really good at sports.  But, the bonanza is concentrating wealth in just a few positions and producing salary structures within individual teams that are grossly misaligned with talent and production. 

Consider these statements.  Golden State G Stephen Curry is the fourth highest paid Warriors’ player and will make less than half of teammate Kevin Durant’s 2016 salary.  The top six MLB salaries and eight of the top 10 belong to starting pitchers.  NFL quarterbacks claim the 14 highest 2016 salary cap figures and are the most expensive player on 23 of 32 teams.

Closer to home, John Wall, the second highest paid Wizard, will make roughly $17M less than Bradley Beal over the next three seasons.  Bryce Harper’s salary ranks tenth on the Nationals.  Joe Flacco ($22.5M) and Kirk Cousins ($19M) have the highest cap figures for the Ravens and ‘Skins, respectively, and make exponentially more than all-world Ravens G Marshal Yanda ($4M) and ‘Skins RT Morgan Moses ($864K), two offensive lineman tasked with protecting those expensive quarterbacks.

Lies, damn lies and statistics?  According to Spotrac.com, all of it is true. 

With collectively bargained time-of-service-based salaries and structured free agency qualifications, this disparity is somewhat understandable.  Still, consider the environment such financial chaos creates.  Ultra-competitive athletes with an abbreviated career – those that last 10 years are rare – are asked to buy-in completely, give maximum effort and play hurt despite often either earning far below market value or a fraction of a lesser-talented or more valued teammates.

The point isn’t to prompt pity for offensive linemen or the Wall’s and Curry’s of the NBA; a professional athlete’s life is a glorious gig.  But those fortunate elite athletes are still human, manage a unique career arc and face the ever-present reality of an injury altering their career and financial outlook in a split second. 


It is amazing, then, and a credit to athletes and coaches (who no doubt double as psychologists), that holdouts aren’t prevalent and more teams aren’t compromised by the evolving business of professional sports.  Maybe players are just appreciative of the opportunity.  Of course that’s easy to do while making millions and hoping to make tens of millions.  Still, there’s something there, some hint of solace for the struggling cube dweller who is dutifully implementing the aforementioned trinity – hard work, a good attitude and strategic networking – and awaiting a deserved market correction of their own.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Borrowing From Our Future Selves

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Washington’s 38-16 Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a comprehensive destruction of a franchise desperately trying to sow some semblance of a winning culture.  Pittsburgh treated Washington like a Southern Maryland spring thunderstorm treats a freshly planted garden full of vulnerable vegetable plants.  When the hail and gale force winds subsided, it was a total loss. 

Washington was outplayed, outcoached and outclassed as an organization.  Whatever momentum Washington had from last season’s playoff berth and whatever mojo QB Kirk Cousins had after his record-setting 2015-16 campaign was completely eviscerated after three brutal hours of physical and strategic domination (and the fog carried over this week against Dallas). 

The Black and Gold are contenders; the Burgundy and Gold are pretenders.  It’s that simple.
Washington was universally bad, but its defense was horrific.  Pittsburgh ran at will, created explosive plays in the passing game, neutered Washington’s pass rush and routinely uprooted the line of scrimmage and shoved it downfield. 

Watching the destruction, I longed for perspective from Sam Huff, Washington’s tough-as-nails Hall of Fame middle linebacker and one half of the long-time “Sonny (Jurgensen) and Sam” must-hear game day color commentary.  Huff would have shredded this defensive abomination and, in doing so, validated the frustration of irate fans. 

But Dr. Huff, having retired in 2013, was unavailable.  Huff did make news in the week following the game, but it had nothing to do with a tongue lashing of the defense.  Sadly, it seems the icon is suffering from dementia and an ongoing legal dispute between his caregiver and daughter garnered the unfortunate attention. 

For former NFL players and their families, Huff’s story has become all too familiar.  While prior generations unknowingly put their long-term health in peril, the disturbing facts are now indisputable: Football increases the risk of degenerative brain disease.  Huff didn’t know that; current players do and with this knowledge comes confusion.  Do you stop playing a game you love?  Avoid it altogether?  And if you’re an NFL player, do you truncate a lucrative and rewarding career? 

In short, how do you balance today’s risks against tomorrow’s consequences?

With early retirements more common, it’s clearly on players’ minds.  After a particularly harsh beating during the season opener against the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton was asked about long-term health concerns.  Here is the reigning MVP's response: “I’m worried about winning.  That’s it.  Winning.  Winning football games.  That’s why I’m here.  I’m not here to worry about retirement plans.  I’m not here to worry about pensions.  I’m not here to worry about workers comp.  I’m here to win football games.  Simple and plain.  This is a contact sport.  This is a physical sport.”

Part of me loves that response - LOVES IT.  Passionate.  Competitive.  All-in.  Another part of me, a new conscience-laden version, worries about Newton and his peers and their post-NFL life.  A 2014 NFL report indicated that 30% of NFL players will suffer from degenerative brain disease, making them twice as likely as the general public to be diagnosed - and many will be diagnosed at disturbingly young ages.  Huff is part of the 30%.  Will Newton be?  It is a difficult outcome to consider.

But life is a thrilling, hazard-infused odyssey.  Living in a risk-free bubble – a place with no fried foods, red meat or alcohol, where sexual pursuits are closely legislated and where everyone drives the speed limit - sure would be a drag.  And even then, there are unavoidable stressors – relationships, careers, parenthood, etc. – that can be clear and present dangers to human health. 

Hunter S. Thompson captured our earthly journey well when he said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride.’”


That about sums it up, indeed.  Of course how that quote is interpreted and applied – how an experience today is balanced against a potential consequence tomorrow - is unique to every person, pro football quarterback or not.

E.T. Phone Earth…Please

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

On 26 August, San Francisco 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick did what backup quarterbacks do: He took a seat.  Then all aitch-e-el-el broke loose. 

Kaepernick didn’t sit quietly with a cap and a clipboard.  To raise awareness of persistent racism, the uneven extension of Constitutional rights and, more specifically, the recent killings of minorities by law enforcement, Kaepernick sat loudly in silence while the Star Spangled Banner played.

In a post-game interview with NFL Media, Kaepernick explained his anthem protest: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

The initial reaction to Kaepernick’s act - mostly unproductive, misplaced outraged – was predictable.  He was called un-America and told to leave the country.  His jersey was burned.  Former NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck lauded the end of his career as a starting quarterback.  Resident NASCAR hot-head Tony Stewart urged him to learn the facts before “running his dumb_ss mouth” and called him a “#idiot”. 

Former NFL safety Rodney Harrison produced this best-of-the-worst reactions: “I tell you this, I’m a black man.  And Colin Kaepernick, he’s not black.  He cannot understand what I face and what other young black people face, or people of color face on a every single day basis.” 

For the record, Kaepernick’s father is black and his mother is white.  To his credit, Harrison apologized profusely for his ignorance.

These impulsive reactions are indicative of an increasingly polarized society, one that is easily offended, quick to react and slow to listen and contemplate different perspectives.  Whether it’s a majority of people or just a loud, obnoxious minority that drowns out measured, objective thought, issues are increasingly classified in either black or white, yes or no, left or right terms.  Regardless of the political issue, scant shades of gray exist or can be developed through constructive debate.  No wonder Congress – representatives of the electorate – is so divided.    

Knowing this, maybe that’s why Kaepernick played the anthem card.  A few weeks ago, NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul and LeBron James collectively addressed this same issue during the ESPY Awards.  Despite the star power, the message lacked staying power.  But Kaepernick’s protest boiled blood.  While the words expressed by those NBA stars were important, the approach was too polite.  History indicates that social change is often only achieved through intense agitation.  Kaepernick agitated us and demanded an outcome all Americans should desire: equality and improved relations between communities and law enforcement.   

Whatever you think of Kaepernick’s protest, his vilification should raise concerns.  We are a nation founded on discord - it is as much a part of our fabric as the anthem itself.  The Second Amendment is vehemently defended.  The Thirteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments were secured, in part, by passionately using the same First Amendment rights Kaepernick exercised this past August.  Yet Kaepernick was personally attacked for his peaceful – albeit intentionally inflammatory - public protest.  And this while the state of Texas has been flirting with succession – the ultimate defiance of our American union - for a decade.    

This excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” is inscribed on the north wall of the MLK Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

Dr. King’s quote captures Kaepernick’s fundamental point: We have a problem that cannot be ignored.  We must address this American imperfection – this disconnect between reality and the promises of our Declaration and Constitution - and collectively work toward a common solution. 

That only happens if the message is received by open minds.  Maybe we need something other-worldly to remind us of our shared human cause.  Scientists did receive a strong extraterrestrial signal last week.  E.T., if that was you calling, your timing was impeccable.   

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Perfect 10 and an Absolute Zero

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

My daughter’s convinced that watching sports is a waste of time.  She lectures me about it and often uses it to rebut my suggestion that she’s neglecting her homework assignments while absorbed in her electronic devices and social life – an apparently far more noble pursuit than following competitive athletics.  In her mind, what’s good for dad is good for daughter, despite the gross imbalance of leisure time afforded by her middle-school life and my adult-with-multiple-kids life. 

But she’s 13, so there’s no winning the argument.  Frankly, I don’t need to; I just need to win the moment.  To do so, I recite a refrain my dad used on me: Do as I say, not as I do.  Once I layer on the threat of confiscating her precious electronics – the ones her parents procured and pay to keep connected to the outside world – for a frightening length of time (you know, like an hour), she reluctantly, if not silently, complies.  Deep down she knows I’m right.  I think.  I hope.

When she gets older, I’ll explain why I watch sports.  It’s still about the obvious: passionately rooting my teams to victory.  But at age 43, it’s not entirely about the results.  Sports are therapy now.  They are an old friend and a retreat to a comfortable place.  I watch seeking tangible examples of human excellence, elite performances under intense pressure, individuals overcoming adversity and teams reaching heights beyond what their collective talent would predict.  Despite being affixed to the couch with a remote, not a pick axe, in my hand, I am a desperate miner searching for golden nuggets of inspirational fuel for my journey and for moments when life fails to deal me aces and faces.      

Sports consistently fill my tank.  The Rio Games alone offered up Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Paul George and Kristin Armstrong (a fellow 43-year-old in slightly better shape than this writer) to rekindle the fire in our guts.  Sports are, however, nothing if not a cross section of society, so with the good comes the bad.  Watch enough sports, or even a little, and you will encounter unimaginable egos, rampant narcissism, cheaters and perpetrators of a myriad of crimes.

Oh, and don’t forget liars.

Remember when Ryan Lochte, a 13-time medal winner, was just the second most decorated male swimmer in Olympic history?  Wasn’t it great seeing the 32-year-old veteran winning gold with rival and long-time teammate Michael Phelps one last time? 

It was a storybook ending until Lochte went boorish frat boy, got hammered and destroyed property at a Rio gas station.  Then, for some reason known only to that ego-laden, self-serving space between his ears, Lochte concocted a fictitious account of the event that put his teammates at risk, dimmed the well-earned spotlight of other Olympians, embarrassed his country and laid waste to his reputation.
Lochte claimed he and three teammates had been robbed at gunpoint by a man dressed as a police officer.  In reality, he and his boys damaged property and urinated on the premises because, you know, they thought they could.  The truth, as it usually does in the information age, eventually surfaced which prompted Lochte to play the drunk/immature card and latently apologize for the “over-exaggerated” account of the night’s events. 

Lochte didn’t “over-exaggerate”.  He lied.  And this from a guy who was born on the exact day – 3 August 1984 – that Mary Lou Retton stuck her “Perfect 10” vault to win the women’s all-around gymnastics gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.  Who could have guessed the day that produced American perfection would produce an absolute zero 32 years later?

But I want to thank Lochte.  Seriously.  At some point I’ll be having a conversation with my kids and I’ll need evidence to illustrate the importance of respectfully diffusing a bad situation, being forthright and truthful and recognizing that a person’s reputation, while forged by countless acts, can be undone by a single error. 


Lochte will be perfect for those moments.  Maybe he’ll even help my daughter understand why I watch sports and realize it’s hardly a waste of time.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Negativity Bias and a Timely Tangent

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Olympians from country after country, including an inspiring team of refugees, strode proudly into a cheering arena.  NBA stars, well-known Olympians and anonymous athletes from all around the globe wore the same huge, infectious and uninhibited smiles. 

The Parade of Nations during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics last Thursday night was spectacular.  The organic joy and global comradery was a welcomed tonic.  If the moment grabbed you, it should have.  Frankly, it should have grabbed us all.  Our minds are under constant attack by real and important media bombardments of racial division, complex political struggles and worldwide terrorism.  This necessary but brutal truth threatens our faith in our species, our common humanity and the humble desire we all share: to live in peace and to cultivate a world for our children that is a little more decent than the one we navigated.  

To keep the gale force winds of corruption, violence and evil from extinguishing our flickering hope candles, it is important to remind ourselves that the vast majority of earthlings can’t fathom belittling, disrespecting, discriminating against or terrorizing another human based on differences in gender, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin or any other differentiating factor.  We want to live.  We want to love.  We just want to be. 

Most of us, that is, but not all of us.

The minority who do not, the peddlers of darkness who purposely cultivate fear and anxiety, often dominant the headlines.  The media has the responsibility to report, of course, but the human psyche and the economics of limited space and endless consumer options heavily influence the message.  Hate, horrific acts and apocalyptic declarations get eyes on papers and (more importantly now) entice clicks.  Shock and awe sells.  That’s why weather-dependent programs lust for any and every atmospheric disturbance and name storms (and embellish the impact) with anything over a 48-hour life expectancy. 

This is all evidence of what the psychology community would call the negativity bias - the human tendency to remember and to be impacted more significantly by negative than positive events.  Fighting this innate urge and maintaining a glass half full outlook while disturbing events are reported from sea to shining sea and all over the world is, quite literally, a mental wrestling match. 
Every time the compulsive negativity is restrained after processing the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Aurora, Colorado, Virginia Tech, Charleston, South Carolina, the Navy Yard and Baltimore, Maryland, there are more incomprehensible insults to our optimism.

Orlando.  Paris.  Dallas.  Nice.  Baton Rouge.  Turkey…

So yeah, every now and then, we need something like the Olympics, the opening ceremony and the Parade of Nations to combat the negative bias and remind ourselves of decency and spirit that still exists in the world and its most sophisticated inhabitants.  Obviously there’s much to criticize about these Rio Games – Zika, Russian doping issues, bacteria-filled waterways and the poor infrastructure that was slapped together just-in-time (or not-quite-in-time).  There is also the environmental stain left behind at past Olympic venues and the perpetual corruption of the International Olympic Committee. 

I get it.  I’m not blind to it.  Frankly, I started this piece with the intent of criticizing the choice of fellow Marylander Michael Phelps - he of two DUI arrests, a 2014 suspension from USA Swimming and documented marijuana use – as the flag bearer for the United States Olympic team.  There were better choices – literally hundreds of them.  Phelps, in his fifth Olympics, didn’t need the additional attention and despite his 22 Olympic medals (the most ever), he didn’t deserve to be the symbol for the United States Olympic team.  His swimming talent has raised Old Glory many times; his performance out of the pool didn’t warrant him raising it ahead of the Rio Games.  


But then the overwhelming beauty of the Parade of Nations – thousands of athletes from around the world celebrating their countries, themselves and global athletic competition – overwhelmed my negativity bias of Phelps, hijacked this article sent it in a far more important direction.  I’m thankful for the tangent.  Now there’s something I never said in geometry class.

Unlikely Prudence

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Washington QB Kirk Cousins pocketed $2.7M total during his first four years in the NFL.  This coming season alone, Cousins will earn $19.953M on a one-year franchise tag. 

Despite the unimaginable raise, the prevailing suggestion, given the lucrative quarterback marketplace, is that Cousins should be insulted by the team’s disrespect of his talent. 

His accomplishments are inarguable: In 2015, the final year of his rookie contract, Cousins led Washington to a division title, set a single-season franchise record for passing yards and provided a definitive exit from the disastrous Robert Griffin III era.  And for all this, Cousins got “rewarded” with a prove-it-again deal.  Preposterous.  Washington should have showered Cousins with a long-term contract and football riches reserved only for elite quarterbacks.  Instead, the organization slapped Cousins with the one-year franchise tag and ultimately failed to reach a multi-year contract extension by the July 15 deadline.

Washington did Captain Kirk dirty.

That’s the rhetoric being spewed by many media spin doctors.  The reality is there’s nothing to see here.  Two entities assessed a professional situation and made individual business decisions.  The world will continue to rotate.  Cousins will work hard and, barring injury, start at quarterback this fall.  Washington coaches will work intensely to ensure his and the team’s success.  Should Cousins thrive in 2016, the process will repeat itself again: Cousins will either play under the franchise tag at an increased 2017 salary of $24M or sign a long-term contract. 

While it is rare for franchised players to actually play out the one-year contract and almost unprecedented for quarterbacks to do so, this scenario makes perfect sense for both Washington and Cousins considering the root of the impasse: a volatile quarterback market.  This offseason, Andrew Luck set the bar after signing a six-year, $140M contract with Indianapolis.  Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler, an average signal-caller, inked a four-year, $72M deal with Houston that includes $37M in guarantees. 

Where does Cousins fall on the Luck-Osweiler continuum?  Well, it’s hard to say, hence the stalemate.  The dollars that Luck received provoked Cousins to bet on himself and another big season; conversely, the guaranteed money being commanded by quarterbacks and Cousins’s relatively shallow resume (he’s just 11-14 as a starter), gave Washington justifiable pause.
Nobody blinked during negotiations – so here we are.

Given Washington’s compliment of offensive weapons, its shaky running game and modest defensive talent, it is probable that Cousins will throw often and compile impressive numbers.  It is also probable that with each big statistical outing – victorious or not – Washington’s front office will be ripped for failing to lock up its quarterback. 

Fair enough.  Such debate moves the needle.  But not overpaying to reach a long-term deal was absolutely the right move.  With a salary cap of $155.3M and a 53-man roster to fill, if a team pays elite quarterback money, it must ensure it will receive elite quarterback play - and even if it does, the inequitable allocation of financial resources produces uneven results. 

Some of the best quarterbacks in the league – Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson – won Super Bowls on below-market contracts.  After slipping on their rings and scoring big deals, more Super Bowls didn’t always follow.  Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco is the most obvious example of the elite quarterback financial trap: After winning the Super Bowl in 2013, Flacco signed a six-year, $121M contract.  The Ravens have managed just one winning season since.  But he’s not alone: In 2012, two years after winning the Super Bowl, New Orleans signed Brees to a five-year, $100M contract.  In the four subsequent seasons, their record is 32-32.

Considering its decades of instability at the most important position in team sports, Washington should feel fortunate to have Cousins.  And the hunch is a long-term deal gets done next summer.  But there was no reason to rush to pay a relatively unproven asset this year.  Every team – athletic or otherwise - needs its quarterback, but individual positions don’t sustain success and win championships, teams do.  Washington’s prudent handling of the Cousins negotiations was true to this formula. 


Did I just use “Washington” and “prudent” in the same sentence?   

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Platform for Change

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Recent sports headlines have been dominated by an all-star NBA forward from Maryland.  No, not the ‘Skins fan from Prince George’s County.  Oh he’s gotten plenty of run after snubbing the Wizards, crushing dreams in Oklahoma City and inking a deal with the Golden State Warriors, the NBA’s first non-LeBron-James Evil Empire in years.  Pause The Kevin Durant Chronicles for a moment; a former resident of Baltimore, the land of orange, purple and Natty Boh, stirred up far more important publicity last week.

I’m not a fan of New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.  Yes, he’s a big-time scorer who can flat out drain the orange.  But he’s an obligatory defender, his effort is questionable and there’s no evidence that he makes his teammates better.  One dimensional.  Generally overrated.  Not my cup of tea. 

That’s Anthony the player.  But Anthony the man and unexpected political activist?  That guy has my attention.  That guy has my respect.  In an overwhelmingly sad week that saw police shoot and kill Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and Micah Johnson kill five officers in Dallas, Anthony took to social media to express his outrage.  Here are his paraphrased thoughts (the post is worth reading in its entirety):

“We need to steer our anger in the right direction…towards the system.  Shooting 11 cops and killing 5 WILL NOT work…we need to come together more than anything at this time.  We need each other.  I’m calling on my fellow athletes to step up and take charge.  There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore.  THE TIME IS NOW.  DEMAND CHANGE.”

When confronted with domestic or international turmoil, I often turn to Fareed Zakaria’s book “The Post-American World” for solace.  In it, Zakaria argues that, by historical comparison, we occupy a peaceful world, one whose cultural and economic interconnectivity largely mitigates dangerous political discord and ill-intended personal or national ambition.  The evidence is convincing: We’ve achieved unprecedented levels of trade and economic prosperity; cultural barriers are reduced by travel and information exchange, and; large scale war between superpowers, the kind that results in massive casualties and global instability, doesn’t exist. 

Still, with alarmingly frequent terrorist attacks and senseless killings, it is difficult to remain hopeful in humanity’s grand earthly coexistence, despite Zakaria’s logical, fact-based counterpoints.  Human nature as it is, it seems that stereotypes will corrupt the small-minded, greed will infect the ambitious and religious zealotry will distort the worship of a god into an instrument of pure evil. 

The tendency for decent, loving and well-intended individuals is to respond to social calamity by controlling what they can – personal attitudes and actions and the world view of youths they influence – and steadfastly remaining part of the solution.  The development of strategies that promote the world’s safety, progressive international relationships and the infrastructure for social fellowship and equality is deferred to a nation’s leaders, a term often synonymous with politicians.      
Given the scope of today’s challenges, that is mostly an understandable and defensible reaction.  For what happened in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas during America’s Independence week, it isn’t enough.  The world has a common opponent who is terrorizing free, peaceful people around the globe.  Yet here we are in America, the allegedly most diverse, open and tolerant nation in the world, struggling with senseless internal violence.  We have to demand better of ourselves, resist shameful stereotypes and appreciate and promote our common humanity. 


That is part of Anthony’s point.  The added layer is that while sports is a fun, joyous reprieve from the ugliness of everyday life, there comes a time when it should be more.  Anthony’s fed up and willing to use his NBA platform to be a change agent; he’s challenging colleagues to do the same.  We should all applaud his courageous activism and stand behind him, Knicks fan or not.  Otherwise we’re just individuals left rereading books or returning to other familiar outlets to soothe the pain of the latest crisis and retain hope in our flawed species.  For me, Anthony’s crusade is well-time; I need more than Zakaria’s wisdom to maintain faith in this world.     

Work v. Playtime

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The last week or so has been a struggle.  I’ve watched Australian Rules Football, random College World Series games and “Without Bias”, a 2009 ESPN documentary on the death of former Maryland Basketball star Len Bias, three times.  I’ve even trolled the internet like a pathetic TMZ junkie for 
Johnny Manziel chatter.  Is a 2 a.m. table tennis tournament next? 

The problem: I’m a sports addict without an adequate fix.  I need whiskey shots, but the only elixir available is Coors Light.  I’m pounding Silver Bullets but they just don’t deliver the desired effect.  Maybe I need to go “Old School”, channel my inner Frank the Tank and deploy a beer bong. 
I should have a compensatory protocol; this happens every year.  See, the moment the Fightin’ LeBron’s defeated the Golden State Warriors and exercised Cleveland’s demons, sports fans were tossed into a cold, harsh world with only one active major sport (MLB).  No frozen pucks or slap shots.  No touchdowns or daily fantasy football binges.  No more three point bombs.  This is how Aussie football ends up on one’s television.  I even caught myself reading about Great Britain’s departure from the European Union.  #Brexit!  Help…

Finding inspiration in these depressed athletic times is difficult, but a Norseman - by trade, anyway - managed to do so.  When asked during a recent ESPN interview about his remaining NFL shelf life, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, 31, offered an interesting reply.  “Training camp, going through the grind, OTAs and all that – that will definitely be a deciding factor.  Physically, body-wise, I’ll be good.  It’s just mentally…it’s so repetitive that it’s more suited toward the young guys…it gets kind of boring.”

For the average person who trudges into work five days a week for 40 years just to keep the utilities on and some connection to the middle class, Peterson’s comments sound like pouty, million-dollar-athlete syndrome.  Oh yeah, it’s torturous to throw some weights around daily, casually run mock football plays in shorts and spend a little time with coaches in the film room.  Poor Adrian Peterson.  How does he survive the toil?  He’s a working man’s hero. 

Pausing the sail down the river of sarcasm, a fair consideration of Peterson’s soundbite must acknowledge two points.  First, while Peterson might not be the best mentor for fathers, he is among the NFL’s hardest workers, having once rushed for 2,000 yards less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery.  He is a symbol of the year-round commitment to fitness the game requires and the death of the pot-bellied era of Sonny Jurgensen.  Second, and more significantly, football, as compared to other sports, demands arduous preparation.  Offseason programs begin in April.  Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are in May.  Training camps start in July.  Preseason games are played in August.  The regular season runs from September through December and includes obsessive strategizing between games.  And for what?  Sixteen games at three hours apiece - 48 hours of glory.  And the best of the best only play half (offense or defense).  That’s a lot of work for very little playtime and a far cry from the 162 MLB games and 82 NBA and NHL games per year.  No wonder there’s so much exuberance and passion on Sundays – it’s playtime!

In that context, Peterson’s point is understandable.  Football demands a lot of squeezing for very little juice.  Looking to real life for comps, I suppose it’s similar to the maturation of a complex weapon system, a process that takes years and climaxes with a few test events.  Or a presentation that takes weeks to develop, research and practice for a single, two-hour delivery.  Or maybe it’s even like writing, a process the great Red Smith described in these terms: “Writing is easy.  Just sit in front of a typewriter, open up a vein and bleed.” 


Heading into his tenth NFL season, I get Peterson’s boredom with the grind.  Am I sympathetic?  What with a metaphorical vein open and an early morning alarm for another 20 years?  No, not hardly.  Pro football’s still a comparatively good gig, even if gamedays are rare treats.  

Hating LeBron James

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Four games into The NBA Finals, Player A has averaged 21.5 points, five rebounds, 4.8 assists and one steal per game.  Player B has averaged 24.8 points, 11 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 2.3 steals.  Player A is reigning MVP Stephen Curry.  Player B is LeBron James.  Since Curry’s Golden State Warriors are up 3-1, he’s so likeable and his daughter is so darn cute, his mediocrity is getting a pass.  With the Cleveland Cavaliers on the brink of elimination, James is being eviscerated, again.  See when James’s teams lose, The King gets blamed, fairness and objectivity be damned.     

In her song “32 Flavors”, Ani DiFranco sings, “Everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room.”  James personifies this lyric, in part: He’s often the prettiest player on the court, but the hatred of him is no secret.     

James is inarguably one of the greatest athletes of all time.  He’s in the company of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Jim Brown and Jim Thorpe.  At 6’8”, 250lbs of chiseled granite, James is a tank on the court.  He jumps like Jordan, runs like Bo Jackson, dribbles like a point guard and has the quickness of an NFL cornerback.    

This confluence of athletic gifts anointed James “The Chosen One” before he could legally drink.  Twelve years into his NBA career, it would seem James has done little to disappoint.  His accomplishments include 12 All-Star selections, four league MVP awards, two Finals MVP awards, 10 appearances on the All-NBA First Team, five appearances on the NBA All-Defensive Team, seven trips to The Finals and two NBA championships. 

But that’s just James’s basketball resume; his personal resume is comparably impressive.  Despite arriving in the NBA as a teenager with more expectations than any basketball player ever, James has navigated the fish bowl remarkably well.  He is a gentleman on the court, respectful of the media and a willing criticism-absorber for un-King-like teammates.  And unlike so many professional athletes, James’s name isn’t associated with late-night club incidents, DUIs, assaults on women, drug use or gun-related debauchery. 

Still, the world loves to hate on LeBron James; admittedly, he has obliged critics with legitimate material to fuel the skewering.  James’s game and persona have warts.  Despite generational physical gifts, James is a reluctant bully (unlike some presidential candidates).  When the spotlight is brightest, James often chooses to defer to teammates instead of dictating play.  For many players, this would be called “unselfishness”; for James, it’s considered a chronic weakness.  James also struggles in his own head.  His talent is obvious to the viewer’s eye, but James’s confidence, on occasion, inexplicably wavers.  Further, he’s failed to submit himself to an established coach (like Jordan, Magic Johnson).  And he rarely does himself any favors on Twitter.  Ultimately, though, there is this haunting statistic: The King’s a very un-regal 2-4 in The Finals.  Down 3-1 to the Warriors, the sharks are circling again.

So he isn’t Jordan or Bill Russell.  But we knew this five years ago – at least.  The Decision – James’s ill-fated televised announcement of his signing with the Miami Heat - and disastrous pep rally that followed happened six years ago.  Shouldn’t we have gotten our pound of The King’s flesh and accepted his place in NBA history as “one of the best”, not “the best”?    

I can’t think of another athlete like James.  He’s had missteps, but I’ve never seen an athlete whose accomplishments are so disrespected and one so disliked for no meaningful reason.  Do his critics consider him a failure?  Do they believe they would have done better if blessed with his skills?  Both are laughable suggestions and disrespectful of elite competition and the great teams James has battled. 


Here’s a worse thought: The tired trolling of James is indicative of a non-specific, destructive habit.  Whether buoyed by social media, a pervasive inferiority complex or a decline in civility, fault-finders are a swelling mob.  Damn the good in anyone if an ounce of fault can be found.  Through that lens, the vitriol criticism of James says a lot more about his critics than it does about the constantly embattled player.

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.