Memories and lessons from the John Wooden Basketball Camp

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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.

Space Jam 2 closer to reality: LeBron reportedly teams with Black Panther director

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Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James — and, we can dream, Boban Marjanovic as one of the new Monstars — could be filming next summer and in theaters in 2019 or 2020.

This has been in the works for a while. LeBron James’ production company has a development deal with Warner Bros. and a Space Jam sequel was always at the heart of it. While there had been rumors about the project for years, you knew there was some substance the talk when Warner Bros. extended its trademark on “Space Jam” a couple of years ago.

In a sign this movie is going to be a reality, LeBron has found a producer — the guy who last directed Black Panther. From the Hollywood Reporter:

In his first project since directing the record-breaking Black Panther, Ryan Coogler is teaming with LeBron James on the anticipated follow-up to the Michael Jordan-Bugs Bunny hit Space Jam, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Coogler will produce the Space Jam movie and Terence Nance – who created HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and directed the experimental film The Oversimplification of Her Beauty – will direct. Production on the Warner Bros. film is tentatively slated for 2019, during the NBA offseason. It will be James’ first starring role after a successful turn as a supporting character in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck…

“I loved his vision” for Black Panther, James tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that when he was a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, there were no black superheroes. “So for Ryan to be able to bring that to kids, it’s amazing.”

That’s a good team to make a movie, although we are all curious about the script.

Not that the original Space Jam starring Michael Jordan was winning a writing Oscar, but the move was a cultural phenomenon. It had MJ going head-to-head with aliens in a battle for Earth. Kid me loved that movie, adult me re-watched it and…

I didn’t love it as much as Patrick Patterson, who wrote: “To make a sequel to Space Jam would be like trying to paint the Mona Lisa again. Sure, you can probably do it, but why the hell would you want to?”

A lot of the older generation will say that, but if it’s a good movie it will do better than Uncle Drew. (Which, honestly, was better than I expected.) It could be a marketing coup for LeBron, plus add to his legacy of NBA titles and gold medals. Not everyone can put “saved the earth from annihilation” on their resume.

Report: Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau ‘has no interest’ in trading Jimmy Butler

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Jimmy Butler reportedly requested a trade from the Timberwolves to the Knicks, Nets or Clippers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For now, however, Timberwolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau has no interest in trading Butler and wants to try and return to the playoffs with him in the lineup, league sources said.

Minnesota is resistant to immediately honor the trade request, especially given Thibodeau’s tenuous status with owner Glen Taylor, league sources said.

That seems… untenable.

Butler and younger teammates like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins had tension last season, as Butler came in and bristled at those who didn’t match his work ethic and competitiveness. Of course, that didn’t always sit well with those teammates. To be fair, everyone got along well enough for Minnesota to end a 13-year playoff drought. But how will Towns and Wiggins handle Butler’s intense and demanding style if they believe he’ll be gone in a year? And how would Butler react to even more resistance from teammates who’ve accomplished less than him?

Lame-duck leadership probably won’t work.

And Butler can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Chancing losing him for nothing – especially if the results next season underwhelm – would be a huge risk.

But my assessment considers only the overall health of the Timberwolves. The franchise isn’t a self-running entity. Rather, it’s a collection of individuals with their own agendas.

Thibodeau can be quite stubborn. Maybe he just doesn’t want to give into a trade request. That inclination could be pushed even further by a desire to impress Taylor, who reportedly isn’t sold on Thibodeau. The simplest way to do that is win, and Butler – chemistry concerns aside – is an elite player. He’d likely contribute more to winning than anyone Minnesota could trade for at this point.

Of course, this could be a bluff to maximize Butler’s trade value. If the Knicks, Nets, Clippers and other interested teams believe Thibodeau is inclined to keep Butler, they might offer more to pry him loose.

Cuban to donate $10 million to women in workplace programs as part of Mavericks’ harassment deal with NBA

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The environment for women on the Dallas Mavericks’ business side was described as “Animal House” or like a Mad Men episode. One employee reportedly watched porn at work and showed the pictures to co-workers. Reports of misogyny and predatory sexual behavior ran wild, and if women wanted to report it, well, former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery was one of the worst offenders, and the head of human resources was just trying to cover it all up.

Franchise owner Mark Cuban said he was unaware, and now that lack of knowledge of what was going on under his own roof going to cost him. A lot.

When all of this became public, started by a Sports Illustrated investigation, the Mavericks hired an independent investigator and that was overseen by the league, not the team. The results of that were released in a report Wednesday, along with the restrictions on the Mavericks.

Cuban will contribute $10 million to “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.”

In addition, Dallas must:

• Provide the league office with quarterly reports regarding the recommendations outlined in the report and their implementation;
• Immediately report to the league office any instances or allegations of significant misconduct by any employee;
• Continually enhance and update annual “Respect in the Workplace” training for all staff, including ownership; and
• Implement a program to train all staff, including ownership, on issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.

Cuban had already hired Cynthia Marshall as a new CEO, and she implemented a massive overhaul to improve the organization’s workplace culture. The league requirements primarily follow up to make sure those steps take place and the situation is not allowed to slide back.

Cuban himself, however, was not aware of the situation, according to the report. From the NBA: “The investigators found no evidence that Mr. Cuban was aware of Mr. Ussery’s misconduct. None of the 215 witnesses who were interviewed stated that they informed Mr. Cuban of Mr. Ussery’s actions, the investigators found no documentary evidence of such a communication, and Mr. Cuban stated that he did not know about the conduct.”

The NBA did not take away draft picks from the Mavericks, keeping the penalties on the business side. The reports showed that the basketball operations side — including players and coaches — were not part of the problem and were not accused of harassment.

But there was plenty of harassment on the business side. From the NBA:

• The investigation substantiated numerous instances of sexual harassment and other improper workplace conduct within the Mavericks organization over a period spanning more than twenty years.
• That included improper workplace conduct toward fifteen female employees by the Mavericks’ former President and CEO Terdema Ussery, including inappropriate comments, touching, and forcible kissing.
• Two acts of domestic violence perpetrated by former Mavs.com reporter Earl Sneed, including one against a team employee.
• That there was a “lack of internal controls” and that “the Mavericks executive leadership team failed to respond adequately” to multiple situations.

That this was allowed to go on is despicable. You can be sure it had 29 other NBA teams looking at their business and making sure any issues were dealt with fast.

Reports: Jimmy Butler requests trade from Timberwolves; wants to play for Clippers, Nets, Knicks

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Tom Thibodeau went all-in on Jimmy Butler, trading Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and swapping first-round picks with Chicago (which became Lauri Markkanen) to land the All-Star wing. On the surface it worked, Minnesota got 16 games better and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, while Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

However, in the locker room things were not smooth. Butler is a Tom Thibodeau guy, and Karl-Anthony Towns is not, and there was a disconnect and tension between the two stars. Throw in Andrew Wiggins regressing after getting a big contract and frustrating everyone, plus nobody being happy with Tom Thibodeau grinding the starters into the ground, and you had one unhappy locker room.

How unhappy? How frustrated is Butler heading into a contract year? In a meeting with Thibodeau Tuesday in Los Angeles, Butler asked to be traded, reports Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Butler may have wanted assurances he was the No. 1 priority of Minnesota in the future, but while he is a better player than Towns today Butler is also six years older, has battled injuries, and has Thibodeau miles on his body.

That’s why Timberwolves put a five-year max rookie contract extension on the table in front of Towns on July 1, he is the future. However, Towns has yet to sign it. The Butler situation is reported to be the key reason. Once Towns signs the deal, he is the player in Minnesota with the power, and that’s not ideal for Butler or Thibodeau.

The timing of this is brutal for the Timberwolves. Thibodeau reportedly doesn’t want to trade Butler — he bet a lot on him and is close to Butler, this is his biggest allies — but may not have a choice. Eventually. This likely will drag out beyond when training camp opens next Tuesday, which is going to be a mess.

If (when?) the Timberwolves trade Butler they are not going to recoup near what they gave up to get him, not even close, but they may need to get something back. Butler wants to go to the Nets, Clippers, or Knicks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Minnesota is under no obligation to send Butler where he wants to go, they need to get back the best deal they can. However, leaking this could discourage other teams from jumping in with a big offer (not always, see Kawhi Leonard and Toronto or Paul George in Oklahoma City). Other teams — the Sixers, the Lakers — may well have interest and could even reach out about a trade, but both are more likely to want to get Butler as a free agent. (The Sixers have the assets to make an attractive trade offer if they wanted, the Lakers would have to trade Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball right now to make the financials work because all those veterans on one-year deals can’t be moved until Dec. 15.)

However, if the report that Butler is willing to talk contract extension with those three teams — which at its max is $29 million total less than he could sign for as a free agent with another team — it could encourage the Clippers, Knicks, and Nets to go big and try to get a deal done. This could move faster than expected. But probably not because Thibodeau wants to see if he can get the Minnesota locker room to sing kumbaya.

Either way, the drama in Minnesota has started before training camp has even opened. And media day next Monday is going to be awkward.