Diana Taurasi visits Phoenix school to promote fitness (and milk)

. Saturday, May 16, 2009
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Diana Taurasi is looking forward to getting into a rhythm with the Mercury when the pre-season starts on Sunday.

In the meantime, she's certainly using her time wisely -- on Tuesday she visited North High School in Phoenix to promote fitness and nutrition as part of the NBA's Get Fit By Finals program.

In a political climate in which high-stakes testing and accountability have dominanted the national discourse about education, news of Taurasi’s visit is like a breath of fresh air.

While the explicit purpose of the visit was to promote fitness and nutrition, she implicitly promoted a model of good citizenship that is sorely lacking amidst a disastrous financial crisis. And of course, while the adults are busy bickering about vouchers, performance pay, and tweaking standardized tests, the civic and physical development of our youth is often ignored, if not openly dismissed

According to the WNBA website,

Adolescent obesity has tripled over the last two decades, so ’it’s never been more important for teenagers to make better food and physical activity choices, according to certified sports dietitian Tara Gidus, RD, a nutrition consultant to the Orlando Magic NBA team. That’s why Get Fit By Finals will call on teens of all activity levels to take simple steps to help improve physical fitness and nutrition – such as being active for at least 60 minutes a day and drinking 3 glasses of lowfat or fat free milk each day.
“Exercise and good nutrition helped me achieve my goal of playing in the NBA and maintaining the high-level of fitness required to stay at the top of my game, “said Taurasi. “Along with other top athletes, fitness and nutrition experts, I’m excited to help teens reach their own personal best and help them Get Fit By Finals.”

Apparently, Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever – the 2009 Rev. Charles Williams Award for youth service in Indianapolis -- also visited Cathedral High School in Indianapolis as part of the program.

So what is this Get Fit by Finals program?

And why is it important?

Get Fit by Finals

The program is based on the 2008 Federal Physical Activity Guidelines, which were signed back in September by the outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services (under George W. Bush). Those guidelines include aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening guidelines for youth, adults, older adults.

North and Cathedral High Schools are two of thousands of schools involved in the program that have received Get Fit activation kits that include NBA sponsored fitness and nutrition tools and tips as well as posters for school cafeterias and gyms. North High School also received a $1000 “got milk?” Get Fit Grant to help them implement health and fitness programs. There is an online “Personal Fitness Tracker” tool as well designed to help students log their progress and journal online.

Why is this program important?

The importance of the program is actually best articulated on the letter that came from former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt:
There is strong evidence that physically active people have better health-related physical fitness and are at lower risk of developing many disabling medical conditions than inactive people.

Prevention is one of my top priorities. Although physical activity is clearly vital to prevention, it is easy for many of us to overlook. These Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provide achievable steps for youth, adults, and seniors, as well as people with special conditions to live healthier and longer lives.
Although hardly a novel idea, an emphasis on the universal prevention of health problems instead of treatment would be a major step forward in our thinking about health policy. Starting with youth in schools through fitness promotion would theoretically save society money in healthcare down the line, especially for those on government programs.

While it’s great that sports leagues like the NBA and WNBA are doing this work, one would certainly hope that one day we as a country would value the future of our children enough to systematically promote healthy lifestyles as a means of preventing future health problems.

However, in the current economic and political climate, promoting health – not to mention citizenship (which is known to promote school engagement which increases the likelihood one might graduate) – in schools will clearly be a tough sell. Peter Levine writes the following about increasing youth media production in schools as a means of promoting youth civic engagement:
To influence educational policy, I believe we need randomized field experiments that measure the impact of digital media creation on relatively hard measures, such as high school completion or valid and reliable measures of skills.

If such experiments showed positive results, then NCLB and the standards movement that
it typifies would provide some leverage. But these laws also create a challenge by focusing on basic literacy and mathematics as measured by pencil-and-paper tests. That focus makes it harder to devote instructional time to media production; media skills are not directly tested, yet what is tested is taught. Nevertheless, NCLB and other current policies could accommodate youth media work if we could show that providing creative opportunities is an efficient way to keep kids engaged in school.
Certainly, if we could find a way to measure the impact of youth media or health promotion programs, it would be easier to influence educational policy.

Of course, the idea of hard science justifying youth development outcomes like skill acquisition or healthy lifestyles – clearly things that are difficult to quantify to begin with – is almost silly to the point of being counter-productive. Even with intensive longitudinal research, one would end up with sketchy and inconclusive data.

What counts as a healthy lifestyle? What about other variables that lead to “health problems” outside of an individual’s control?

At some point, we will just have to decide as a country that health promotion is just important enough to make a leap of faith and promote it on a wide scale.

Related Links:

Additional photos are available at Yahoo Sports.

Information about North High School.

Information about Cathedral High School.

Transition Points:

One question about the program: what type of follow-up support could/will the W/NBA provide to the schools that receive with grants?

I find it absolutely hilarious that Wolverine is also one of the celebrity sponsors in this thing. I mean, if you already have adamantium bound to your skeleton, do you really need milk that much? That just seems like a stretch. ;)

Please note that I’m not putting Taurasi on a pedestal – I actually already did that last year. Regardless she, Catchings, and the WNBA should be commended for their work with this program. Watch though -- I might start the MVDee campaign early this season...

Of course, it’s also worth noting that the whole Get Fit program is ultimately about promoting milk sales:
MilkPEP's 10-person staff manages an annual $90 million integrated marketing budget. In addition to the famous ad campaign, programs like the Milk Mustache Mobile tour and the NBA Get Fit By Finals program generate billions of positive media impressions a year. In-store promotions also give regular boosts to milk sales in retail outlets.
But come on – there are many worse things that the WNBA could be tied to…(e.g. Exxon).

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Blog clog

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Somehow, I've got all of these half-finished posts sitting on my computer waiting to be posted... and it seems like their shelf-life is running out... but I thought I would give a heads up before the barrage of "old news".

Here's the preview:

  • More on blogging and journalism
  • Some additional perspective on Malcolm Gladwell
  • A look at former black WNBA players coaching in the NCAA
  • My excitement about WNBA LiveAccess
  • My lukewarmness about the new Expect Great commercials (reflecting of course on the originals that inspired this blog)
I really wanted to get all of these things out of the way before the pre-season started (you know, when there's like actually basketball being played) but I didn't so maybe I'll save them for dead spots in the pre-season, thus letting their timeliness decay even further.... hmmm... that's uplifting and inspiring... ;)


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The WNBA "connects"! (Web 2.0 positive reinforcement)

. Wednesday, May 13, 2009
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As an educator, I believe in the mantra that for every negative comment you make about someone you should make three positive comments, to help reinforce and encourage positive interactions.

It's sort of hard to do, but I like working on it.

In a April 27th post, I wrote the following:

Yet I would argue the WNBA could still do some tiny things to better utilize the social media it is working with. Women’s Professional Soccer is still by far one the leaders in utilizing social media if you ask me.

It’s not just about having a Facebook/MySpace presence or having a YouTube page but making people aware of those things and, you know, actually making them seem like they are an integral part of what the organization does and how it builds community.

Case in point: from the front page of the WPS website, I can find 8 different ways to connect with the league on the main navigation bar. It’s a button even…that says connect.

The WNBA has both a YouTube and Facebook presence but you have to scroll down the page to find out about the Facebook link and after a few minutes of looking, I have yet to find a link to their YouTube page.
One negative.

Yesterday, I saw a link to the WNBA's new "Connect" page on RebKell...which is accessible from a button on the home page labeled "Connect"...

Three positives:

1. Thank you WNBA for making your social media presence more visible from your home page.

2. Thank you for consolidating the various social media presences you have in one central place.

3. Thank you for providing a link to your YouTube page.

(OK, #3 is sort of weak because it's really like 2b.... but I told you this is kinda hard)

I look forward to paying the WNBA a lot more compliments in the future... :)

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Would a “player cam” enhance the WNBA television watching experience…or just be an annoying gimmick?

. Tuesday, May 12, 2009
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Occasionally, you come across an idea that’s so…shall we say…out-of-the-box that you just have to pass it on.

I was perusing the basketball news yesterday when I found this article on the HalfCourtHeave blog about adding “player cams” to NBA games via TrueHoop:

And that’s where the “player cam” comes in. I propose the idea that players who wear a headband on a regular basis may volunteer to have a small/discrete camera lens installed into the front of it. You’re able to see the game through the “players eyes”. You can see what it looks like to dribble the ball up floor, beat a man off the dribble, and finish at the rim.

They put small lenses in all sorts of surveillance equipment. Hell, phone camera lenses are smaller than the size of a pinky fingernail. Of course, the NBA runs the risk of a player taking an elbow to the head and destroying the camera but for a multi-billion dollar enterprise, they can afford to try the experiment twice a week on national television for awhile. Picture quality would clearly be an issue given the size and discrete size of the lens, but that’s for someone with far more expertise than I have on that matter. I imagine it could be done so that a respectable video replay could be made for on-air reproduction. Headbands twist around, the lens would look ridiculous protruding slightly from the forehead, malfunctions would occur. I get it. But isn’t it worth a shot?
To put this idea in perspective, it would essentially be like watching basketball from the perspective of a first person shooter video game. And I know people who get flat out nauseated from those games.

Better yet, it’s like helmet cams in football…check out the ESPN feature below:

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

Before you laugh and dismiss this idea as absurd, do keep in mind that the growth of the NFL back in the day is often attributed to innovative camera angles to make Monday Night Football interesting.

So I thought to myself, would the WNBA give something like this idea a shot as a way to completely change the way we see sports?

A different camera angle might not draw in the people who are steadfastly indifferent to the league, but might be an interesting way to keep existing fans watching…

…or it could be a completely worthless gimmick that is hardly worth the time and money necessary to bring it to creation (see: NBA floor cam or free flight).

While helmet cams may be useful for analysis of football film, basketball relies so heavily on peripheral vision that I cannot really see a player cam giving us anymore of an authentic viewing experience. Plus the quality can't be that good and basketball heads should be constantly moving... it would seem like a pretty absurd way to watch a basketball game...

I really don’t see much middle ground on this…and I really don’t think the WNBA should be experimenting with gimmicks… but it’s sort of fun to think about anyway…and maybe imagine other innovative (or geeky) ways of presenting women’s basketball…

Transition Points:

The first time I ever heard of a helmet cam? I swear it was Bud Bowl 3 in 1989…seriously. Check this out (clips begins at 1:35):

Colorado University also uses a helmet cam

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Lisa Leslie's Mother's Day interview on ESPN....

. Monday, May 11, 2009
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Last night I was pleasantly surprised to see Lisa Leslie on Sportscenter discussing motherhood, whether women will ever play in the NBA, and her trip to the White House.

My first thought was, hey, this is great exposure for the WNBA, especially given that the pre-season is starting up next week.

My second thought was, wait, when was the last time they asked an NBA player – or any male athlete -- about managing fatherhood and professional sports?

My third thought was, whoa, they didn’t even mention that the season was coming up (training camps open May 17)…that’s odd…

OK, that’s not entirely fair – the interviewer did say, “Now with the season going on how do you handle being a mother with the season.” And Leslie did respond, “That’s why I chose to retire this year.”

But folks, I’m sorry – this is ESPN and I’ve seen plenty of these Sunday Conversations. They are typically about the athlete and the game. To not even ask a question about the WNBA’s upcoming season strikes me as odd. I won’t necessarily say it’s problematic because it was Mother’s Day afterall…but let’s just say… odd.

But then I reverted back to my second thought – what does it say about us as a society when male athletes who play longer seasons almost never mention bringing their kids along with them, much less sharing advice about taking care of their kids? Shouldn’t we have higher expectations for fathers at some point?

Which gets to the following point made by Full Court Press correspondent Sue Favor:
What it will likely mean is that there will be lots of children at practices and on road trips. Christofferson, an attorney, said it puts her and her players on par with mothers everywhere.

"The fact is that we're struggling with the same thing as women in all professions," she said. "In some ways it's easier because we have more flexibility in our schedules, but in other ways it's harder because we have to travel."
Yes, it does put them on par with women in other professions -- the expectation that women need to be superwomen with amazing juggling skills.

Oh well...ESPN is on a roll with their portrayal of WNBA players...

Transition Points:

I thought Leslie's response to the question of whether women will play in the NBA one day was interesting: "We hope not. Because there's no need for that...you would really need to be on something to make it out there." "Integrating" the NBA and supporting the WNBA is the difference between equality and equity. I am all about equity -- support a league for women to play in, not a few individuals riding NBA benches...

Malcolm Gladwell did an excellent job of firing people up about girls basketball. The latest to chime in is Brian McCormick who writes the Crossover Movement blog (among other things)...and he makes an interesting point:
As 12-year-olds, the press is fine. The problem, however, is that many girls in this league start at 8-years-old and they are unable to handle a press four years later. The problem isn’t the one team that presses with 12-year-olds: the problem is that for four years, players have done the same things playing with the same rules and they have not developed the skills necessary to make inbounds passes under pressure or pass out of a trap.

I question the coaching methods of the team because they admitted to making no attempt to develop their players’ skills. However, the other team’s complaints are unjustified, as players should have basic skills by 12-years-old. Defense will still be ahead of the offense, but if coaches teach skills each year, it starts to balance out.

The problem, I imagine, is that in previous seasons, the complaining coaches sat back in zone defenses and ran set plays and spent all practice memorizing set plays and different defenses to win their games, so their kids never developed basic skills either. When they faced a press, they were ill-equipped to handle the press.

Players need to develop skills. They need to be taught how to handle pressure and develop passing and ball handling skills. 12-year-olds should be developing proper shooting technique.
Somewhere someone must have written a spiral curriculum for age appropriate skills to teach young basketball players. And yes, if coaches were thinking in terms of developmental skill building, they should be able to handle a press by 12. But now I need to actually read this Gladwell piece rather than absorbing the opinions of others...

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Chuck Daly, Bill Laimbeer, and the formation of a basketball (junkie's) consciousness

. Sunday, May 10, 2009
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Occasionally when a sports figure passes away it sends us into a mode of collective reflection in which we recognize the full extent to which the way they have shaped the way we perceive, understand, and play the games we love.

When I heard that legendary Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly had passed away yesterday, I instantly felt the void left by his departure.

And it was that void that I felt that made me realize how much of an impact Daly had on my "assumptive basketball world" -- the fundamental assumptions, beliefs, and values that inform how I relate to basketball. Whereas a breakdown in one’s assumptive world is normally considered something to overcome in traditional psychiatry, I think in this situation it forced me to recognize just how important Daly was to the basketball world and simultaneously how underappreciated he was in comparison to his modern NBA counterparts.

Daly didn’t have the championships of Phil Jackson, the smoothness of Pat Riley, the longevity of Jerry Sloan, or the pedagogical ability of Larry Brown. Daly was never named coach of the year, despite ending the dominance of the Lakers and Celtics only to be dethroned by an emergent star named Jordan. And yet Chuck Daly is undoubtedly one of the most influential coaches in basketball history, as described by Phillip Zaroo of MLive.com:

Daddy Rich, as John Salley dubbed Daly because of his impeccable styling, melded the big egos of a group of alpha males, and authored the defense that literally changed the face of the NBA. He did it with class and integrity the entire way.
Daly (and staff) created the "Jordan Rules" strategy and the NBA eventually changed rules in response to the Pistons' physical style of play. Despite the mythology and surface level perceptions, the “Bad Boys’” style of play was not just common street ball thuggery, but a coordinated system of gritty defensive basketball that aimed to completely disrupt the opponents’ offense.

It was probably the ability to meld the egos of a team composed of Isaiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, and Rick Mahorn into a coherent unit and later leading the (real) Dream Team that made Daly great (Shaq should still be mad that Christian Laettner was added to that team over him…but one more supersized ego on that team might have even driven Daly mad). When considering the fact that so many people perceive the NBA as an ego-driven one-on-one exhibition, what Daly did with the group of egos he was given is quite remarkable.

The obvious WNBA connection to Daly is Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, the coaches of the Detroit Shock. While the defensive mentality of Laimbeer is likely influenced by his time with Daly, a major difference is that his ego sometimes seems to overshadow that of his team whereas Daly sort of let the players shine.

But as I started to wonder about Daly’s impact on the WNBA, I slipped back into my own personal basketball history. And since petrel wrote a little basketball history the other day on the Pleasant Dreams blog, I thought I’d copy him and write my own, a history that Daly is actually right in the middle of.

You had me at hello

I’ve previously referred to the importance of narratives that shape the way we understand the sports we love. This late 80’s narrative was undoubtedly the narrative that made me fall in love with basketball, even before my dad was ever compelled to take me to a game.

When I first picked up a basketball in 1988, the basketball world was dominated by the Showtime Lakers but on the cusp of the transition to the all-too-brief Bad Boys era. As a Californian, the Showtime Lakers were the center of my basketball universe – my dad (who I revere) rooted for them, they had a rad point guard named “Magic”, and an underrated shooting guard in Byron Scott (who quickly became my first favorite player).

That the Bad Boys not only challenged, but also dethroned the Lakers was enough to earn my 10-year-old respect. And on top of that, they were led by a guy who could dominate despite being the shortest man on the court in most cases – Isaiah Thomas.

The Bad Boys marked a huge shift in power in the NBA world, the emergence of “DEEE-TROIT BAS-KET-BAAALLLL” for an otherwise “uninteresting” Pistons franchise, and the introduction of a fascinating cast of characters into the annals of basketball history.

Think this is all over-dramatic nonsense? Not in the mind of a 10-year-old.

So the fact that Chuck Daly was at the center of this storm made him a larger than life figure in my mind.

The formation of a basketball (junkie’s) consciousness

The first blip on the radar of my basketball consciousness was actually sort of random –- the DePaul Blue Demons, the name of the first rec league basketball team I played for. While that sounds ludicrous now, they were actually a perennial NCAA men’s tournament team at the time. And the fact that my dad was co-coach for the team was even more reason to pay attention to the nuance of the game.

Dad was a college recruiter for a sales firm at the time so he told me where DePaul was and watched a game they played on television with me once or twice. I had previously watched basketball with friends and watched the dunk contest (when it was still worth watching) but I never had a reason to really pay attention to the game and internalize it. Dad talked strategy with me and often tried to find players I could model my game after.

From there, I started watching more basketball with dad…and that’s when I learned about the NBA. The Lakers became the center of the universe, the Celtics were this evil threat from across the universe, and then there’s that guy in Chicago (near DePaul) who can apparently fly based on his dunk contest performances. Then this team from some place named Detroit comes along and beats all of them led by Thomas, this little guy who never got the memo that the NBA is a game dominated by height.

I instantly fell in love with Isaiah Thomas. My second season in rec league basketball, I was determined to be #11. My younger brother – who ended up being totally indifferent to sports, despite being a pretty good soccer player – liked James Edwards, a guy who was just as tough as Laimbeer, Mahorn, and Dennis Rodman, but just did his job without a lot of fanfare.

But the Bad Boys as a whole just had so many guys to root for. There was the quiet defensive intensity of Joe Dumars. And of course you can’t forget about Vinnie “the Microwave” Johnson. John Salley was just a goofy guy. And at the time, Rodman was not quite a (public) nutcase yet, so you could still appreciate his hustle and energy.

No matter which individual on the team you liked best, what you had to appreciate is the way Daly got them to play as a coherent unit. Everyone had a clear role to fulfill, whether it be to score, defend, or rebound…or bust someone in the jaw with an elbow. From Zaroo again:
Those guys fought tooth-and-nail for every win, and they cherished each one like they'd never see victory again. They defined what a team should be about – winning, plain and simple. Though they weren't all best buds off the court, there was never any concern about who got the credit. The Pistons worked together as a team, and each knew he played an important role.
And as a budding basketball player who was rather scrawny and shy, this team was fun because they played tough and depended on the contributions of every single player to win.

There was a fearlessness with which the Bad Boys played that was just inspiring. They weren’t as flashy as the Lakers, didn’t have the (evil) tradition of the Celtics, and didn’t have a legend in the making like the Bulls. Bird, Magic, Jordan – those guys were pre-destined to win championships. And that’s what made this Pistons team fun to watch – they weren’t really supposed to be great; this team was like a disruption in a divine basketball plan. And as Jemele Hill reports, without Daly, none of it would have happened.

When I think about how I think about basketball, Daly’s legacy with the Bad Boys pretty much captures it.

The Daly-Laimbeer connection

But there’s still that nagging question of how exactly Daly influenced the coaching philosophies of players like Laimbeer. And at this point, I can’t find anything explicit. However, I find this quote from the AP article about Daly interesting:
Laimbeer, now coach of the Shock, said in 1990: "Chuck is our coach, but he is really our manager. He manages us. He doesn't know the X's and O's any better than anyone else, and his assistants know more about the game than he does. We do the playing, but he keeps us going. He manages all these personalities and brings out the best in us."
Daly has been caught a few times over the year’s praising Laimbeer’s potential as a coach. In fact, he even provided the Kings with an unsolicited recommendation for Laimbeer when the NBA’s Sacramento Kings were looking for a coach last year:
On why former Pistons center and current Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer can't land an NBA head coaching job: "I think it must be because Billy made a lot of enemies when he was a player. But I tell you what. He is as smart as a whip. Someone is going to get darn lucky in this league. They just have to take a chance. I talked to the Maloofs about him when they were looking for a coach (last year), and they would have talked to him. But Geoff (Petrie) wasn't interested."
But how has Daly’s legacy influenced the WNBA via Laimbeer?

Clearly, the defensive intensity that Daly (and staff) emphasized is readily apparent on the Shock. The Shock play with a very similar grit. And to some extent the frontcourt depth of the Shock is reminiscent of those Bad Boys teams.

But will Laimbeer ever have the same impact on basketball that Daly did? Probably not.

Daly’s skill at coaching and teaching made him bigger than life, whereas Laimbeer’s reputation really preceeded him…as a result of Daly. Nevertheless, one could certainly argue that Laimbeer’s mark on the WNBA in these early years of the league make him as important a figure in the expansion of professional basketball in the U.S. as Daly was for the expansion of the NBA worldwide.

Regardless, the WNBA needs a team with a catchy image who almost anyone – including a young Californian – can root for purely for the way the team plays the game. Yes, the Bad Boys were hated by many, but they also really took defensive basketball to a new level.

As much talk as there is about inter-gender differences in basketball, what made basketball great in that late-80’s/early-90’s era was the intra-gender differences in style – the Showtime Lakers, the Bad Boys, the Jordan Bulls, and the Celtics (shout out to the Blazers too) all played very different types of basketball. And as someone who loves the game in all of its forms – from 2nd grade YMCA leagues to high school championships to women’s professional basketball – I think it’s the variations in style and the individuals that make a style come alive that make the game of basketball great.

For me, Daly is as important to the basketball world as George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bird, Magic, and Jordan…and more recently, Kobe and LeBron. At a time when the league was increasingly emphasizing individual performance (and marketing), he was successful by subordinating individuals to the team concept. And that’s basketball at its best to me – harmony, balance, and continuity…and yes, a few elbows to the jaw as necessary (no blood, no foul).

You’ll be missed, Chuck.


An 80’s pop culture analogy: The plot of the late 80’s NBA is similar to Cybertronian Wars in the 1986 animated version of Transformers the Movie – the Autobots (the Lakers) and the Decepticons (the Celtics) have been battling for years. Suddenly along comes Unicron (the Bad Boys) just eating planets whole and dominating the entire universe. Then at the end, a young Hot Rod (Michael Jordan) gains access to the power of the Matrix and destroys Unicron…and banishes Galvatron (the evil Celtics) into the depths of space. Or something like that…

Transition Points:

Apparently Debbie Schlussel is also a fan of Chuck Daly…

My love for basketball really took off when my dad took me to my first Warriors game in 1991. It was against the Lakers. The only thing I remember is the Warriors losing and the following message flashing on the scoreboard as the clock wound down: "It's not LA. Why are you leaving?" Funny.

Update: upon re-reading, I realize that Sparks coach Michael Cooper was never really anyone I paid attention to on the Lakers. I was much more interested in Scott, Magic, Kareem, and AC Green and Terry Teagle (I have NO idea why). Even James Worthy didn’t grab my attention actually. What a weird kid I was…

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