Memories and lessons from the John Wooden Basketball Camp

14 Comments

wooden007.jpgFive days doing nothing but playing basketball. To me as a skinny little fourth grader growing up in Los Angeles, it sounded like nirvana.

The John Wooden basketball camp. I didn’t expect anything but a week of playing my favorite sport, and it was summer so I certainly didn’t expect to learn anything. That was for school and catechism. I expected to go and just have fun and show off my jump shot, which was way better than any of the other kids in my class. Wooden was going to be impressed.

“What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.”

My parents loaded me and a brand new pair of Pony high tops in the Chevy Nova and off we went to the Cal Lutheran campus in Thousand Oaks. Of course I knew who John Wooden was — he was the coach who didn’t lose. Or at least it seemed that way. Los Angeles loved UCLA basketball and worshiped Wooden. A guy who could have had anything he wanted in Los Angeles but luxuriated in a simple life with his family.

So there we were on the first day of drills, a couple hundred kids in a huge gym, and in walks Coach Wooden. This isn’t like so many camps today, where the name that draws kids to the camp walks in on the last day, gives a speech, shakes some hands, takes his check and moves on. Wooden was there, hands on, every day.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

We were ready for some basketball. We were ready to play. And he told us to sit down and take off our shoes and socks. What? UCLA legend Marcus Johnson would come to speak to us later and ask if he started the camp with learning how to put on our socks and shoes. He had done it, too. When the UCLA players showed up for the first day of practice, Wooden went through the same thing with his highly recruited players. Learn how to put on your socks and shoes properly so you reduced blisters and foot problems.

Start at the beginning and make sure you get the little things right. It is just one of the many lessons I still carry over to this day from those camps. Things I try to apply to my life now.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Two summers I went to the Wooden camp and it remains some of the best memories of my childhood. I remember friends and I playing jokes on each other at meals (leaving to go to the bathroom during breakfast was a big mistake, your food would not be edible upon your return). I remember the session spent going over the Pyramid of Success. I remember the Dallas Cowboys having training camp there at the same time and thinking I didn’t know people could be so big.

I remember Swen Nater speaking to us and halfway through the talk reaching up and grabbing the net with his hands — feet still flat on the floor — and leaning on it like it was a lamppost. At that point, he could have given us the secret to becoming an NBA player, the secret to making our parents feed us ice cream for dinner every night, and we never would have heard it. We were amazed and no words entered our ears.

And I remember the basketball. Lots of basketball. On indoor courts and outdoor ones, against players often better, but holding my own. I remember it was about sportsmanship after every game. I remember spending an hour with one of the young coaches reworking my jumpshot form. For Wooden, it was always about doing things the right way. To this day my form is pretty good. (Note: good form is no predictor of shot accuracy.)

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”

Years later, while working my way through college waiting tables in Northridge, I worked at a restaurant Wooden used to come in to semi-regularly. We were careful to sit him in a place where other guests would not bother him.

Like most people growing up in Los Angeles, I’m pretty unaffected by famous people. Wooden was different. I went up to him near the end of his meal and said thank you. He asked me about college and what my plans were and how I liked working part time as a high school sports stringer at the Daily News. I refilled his tea. He was the kind of person that when you talked to them you felt like the only person in the room. I’m terrible at that, but I remember that moment and try to be better about it.

Fast forward to this past Thursday night, me pushing to get stories done after Game 1 of the Lakers Celtics. I instinctively told myself, “be quick, don’t hurry.” Maybe my favorite and the most useful Woodenism. Many other ones that are part of the running dialogue in my head. I still think of those lessons.

Like so many people who crossed paths with John Wooden, I went in expecting one thing and came out with lessons that lasted a lifetime. Things that didn’t sink in to a fourth-grader but do to a guy still around the game every day in another capacity. To a guy who is a husband. To a guy who is a father. To a guy who wants to be a better person.

Thank you Coach Wooden. For everything.

Watch Jamal Crawford drop an effortless 44, hit game winner at Seattle pro-am

1 Comment

Jamal Crawford knows how to get buckets.

He does it against NBA level defenders, so put him in a free-flowing pro-am — let’s say the Seattle pro-am in his hometown — and he barely breaks a sweat dropping 44. And nailing the game winner.

Doc Rivers hopes to see a lot of that next season.

Report: Blazers re-sign Moe Harkless for four years, $40 million

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01:  Maurice Harkless #4 of the Portland Trail Blazers walks back to the bench during a time out of their game against the Golden State Warriors during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 01, 2016 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
1 Comment

The biggest restricted free agent left on the market is now off the board. Moe Harkless, who had a solid season in his first year in Portland, has agreed to a deal to return to the Blazers for four years, and $40 million, according to a report from The Vertical‘s Shams Charania:

It’s been an expensive offseason for the Blazers, who signed Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million deal and Festus Ezeli for two years and $16 million, as well as re-signing two more of their own free agents, Allen Crabbe (matching a four-year, $75 million offer sheet from Brooklyn) and Meyers Leonard (four years, $41 million). On Monday, they agreed to a four-year, $106 million max extension with C.J. McCollum that begins in the 2017-18 season.

They’re going to be in the luxury tax now, but after last year’s unexpected playoff run, Blazers GM Neil Olshey has decided to go all-in on this group and see if that success can be replicated. The fit of Turner is still a bit of a question mark, but the Blazers have kept their core together and should still be a playoff team in the Western Conference. If Paul Allen is willing to pay the luxury tax, and there’s nothing to indicate that he’s not, it’s worth it.

Amar’e Stoudemire signs with Knicks, retires

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks stands on the court in the first half of their game against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2014 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Getty Images
6 Comments

When Amar’e Stoudemire signed with the Knicks in 2010, it was supposed to precede bigger things — both for New York and Stoudemire.

The Knicks were still in the running for fellow free agents LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Stoudemire was just 27 and had already made an All-NBA first team and three second teams.

But it wasn’t to be.

LeBron and Wade picked the Heat. Stoudemire had only one monster season in New York before being overcome by injuries. After teaming up with Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire won just one playoff series with the Knicks.

Stoudemire returns to New York, but this time, there are no grand expectations. Just a quiet ending.

Knicks release:

NBA great Amar’e Stoudemire announced his retirement as a player in the National Basketball Association today, after signing with the New York Knickerbockers for his final contract in the league.

“I want to thank Mr. Dolan, Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] for signing me so that I can officially retire as a New York Knick,” Stoudemire said. “I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that. Carmelo [Anthony], Phil and Steve have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, Always a Knick.”

Stoudemire might think of himself as a Knick, but many of us will remember him with the Suns. He spent eight — and most of his best seasons — in Phoenix.

Entering the NBA straight from high school, Stoudemire faced numerous questions about his maturity and readiness. He answered those by winning Rookie of the Year.

Eventually, Stoudemire became the center for Mike D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Suns, thrashing opponents inside with Steve Nash as a pick-and-roll partner. Stoudemire got a bigger stage in New York, but his body broke down, and he became known for his albatross contract.

He spent the last couple seasons with the Mavericks and Heat, seemingly erasing memories of his early dominance.

Stoudemire has a decently strong Hall of Fame case. At his peak, he was in the running for the league’s best center behind Shaquille O’Neal. Retiring at age 33 won’t give Stoudemire many longevity points, but because he jumped straight from high school, he still played 14 pro seasons.

As distance grows between Stoudemire’s career and the present, we’ll gain perspective and think more about his prime than his decline. History will treat Stoudemire well.

Kings’ new arena to be on street named after David Stern

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  NBA Commissioner David Stern received the key to the city from former NBA player and now Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson during an NBA gam between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2013 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
3 Comments

Former NBA commissioner David Stern pitted Sacramento and Seattle against each other. Sacramento made a more lucrative offer, so it kept the Kings.

For that, the Kings are honoring Stern.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings will announce Tuesday that they are naming the street leading to the front door of the new downtown arena in honor of former NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose persistent, decades-long efforts helped keep the franchise in Sacramento.

Officially, the address of the Golden 1 Center – to be submitted to the city Tuesday for approval – is 500 David J. Stern Walk.

“When I learned we would have the option of naming the road, it was a no-brainer for me,” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “There were no other names on my list. David took the NBA to the global level and started the WNBA, but he is about so much more than basketball. He is one of the greatest leaders in the world, and on top of that, the team would not be in Sacramento without David Stern.”

OK.