Week of November 20, 2020

“One step forward, two steps. One step. Two steps. Three. …” Last week, Chris Kikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run in under 17 hours (the cut-off). As inspiring as the accomplishment is, the story leading up to that finish line is even better in this story from Kurt Streeter.  The story details the challenges for a child with Down syndrome. The number of surgeries, the amount of time it took Chris to learn tasks that other kids would figure out in a day or two. For instance, it took him months to learn how to swing his arms when he ran. To learn to tie his shoes took years.  Sports was the one area he didn’t feel like he was reminded about the limitations or being excluded. He took part in the Special Olympics, and – after learning how to ride a bike, the idea of a triathlon came up.  Such a feat would not just put him in the record books. It would also prove to himself and those around him that he could, in fact, do big things. And if he could do big things, then maybe one day he would be able to fulfill his ultimate dream: to live independently and have a wife and a family of his own. So what did the family do? Made a plan. They found a coach, started in on the work. A kid who won’t quit on learning how to tie his shoes knows something about sticking with it, of grinding it out. They turned the dream into a plan on that big whiteboard shown in the photo up there. He trained for over a year. 

Something was changing. He added muscle to his stocky, 5-foot-10 frame, but it was more than that. Everyone around him noticed that as he grew fitter he seemed mentally sharper, more attentive and confident.

Chris competed in the race tethered to his coach, and despite a run-in with some red ants and falling on a downhill on the bike, things were going well until mile 10 of the marathon, the last of the three sections of the race. Chris hit the wall and was barely moving. And that’s when the following scene unfolded. I’ve read it several times now, and the tears pool every time. “Nik Nikic clutched his son, drew him close and whispered in his ear: “Are you going to let your pain win, or let your dreams win?” Every time. I know it sounds corny. I don’t care. Maybe it’s because the idea of being a dad isn’t so abstract anymore. It must be such an incredible feeling to watch your child achieve something hard. Something they really had to reach for. Knowing that feeling yourself, and watching them experience it for themself. I’m looking forward to it.  As Streeter says, “Take a bow, Chris Nikic, for holding tight to your dreams, for your patience and hopeful perseverance and guts. We could use a little more of that in this world.” Such a powerful and inspiring story. – PAL 

Source: Chris Nikic, You Are an Ironman. And Your Journey Is Remarkable”, Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (11/16/20) 

TOB: Great story, great read. Incredible what he has achieved. Also, major kudos to the volunteer coach, who put in probably hundreds and hundreds of hours to help make this a reality for Chris. Also, to Chris’ parents. Raising kids is not easy under the best of circumstances. I can only imagine the nights they cried about how difficult things were. But they only showed him love and support, and this is the result.

PAL: Totally, TOB. Daniel Grieb is Chris’ coach who was his partner in the race.

Punting is Not Winning*

Just hours before this week’s NBA Draft, in which the Warriors would pick second overall, some ominous news started circulating on Twitter: Klay Thompson, who missed all of 2019-20 after tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, suffered a significant lower leg injury during a pickup game. The details were scarce, but from the deepest bowels of the internet came bubbling that ugly word for every athlete: achilles. The Draft had to go on, and the Warriors took James Wiseman, a 7’1 freak of an athlete who has the potential to be very, very good. The choice was necessary – the Warriors are crazy short in the front court, with almost no depth, and their road to a title goes through a gauntlet of the best big men in the game, including Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic. Wiseman will face unfair expectations out of the gate, especially for a player who played all of two games in college before being declared ineligible.

But back to Klay. With the Warriors’ title window rapidly closing as Curry and Draymond get older, they cannot afford to run the ball out there with a lineup of Curry, Draymond, Wiggins, Wiseman and…I have no idea what else. The injuries to Klay and Curry last year gave them the benefit of an extended look at their other options, and for the most part, with the possible exception of Paschall and Looney, they head into the coming season with very little outside of their top 4, now that Klay is out. The problem, of course, is that it would seem difficult for Golden State to improve. They have no assets they can afford to give up that anyone would want in a trade for a star. And they have no cap room. They do have a $17M trade exception, allowing them to take back up to $17M more in trades than they send out. Certainly, this seemed useful – but it seemed they’d need to be willing to take one team’s bad contract in order to get a useful player along with them. 

The problem, even with that plan, is that the Warriors are so far over the cap that such a move would crush them in luxury tax payments. The Warriors are already paying a $66 MILLION tax bill this year, with the roster as is. Every dollar they take on at this point is taxed at 4x. No one would blame owner Joe Lacob for saying, “No, we’ll punt this year.” I feel confident saying every other owner in sports would have done so.

Lacob, for all his flaws, does not punt. Instead of dredging the bottom of the barrel for bodies at the vets minimum, the Warriors went out the day after the draft, just hours after confirming that Klay Thompson indeed tore his achilles and would miss the whole year, and used that trade exception to land Kelly Oubre, Jr. – a talented, productive, young, and expensive player. The Warriors only gave OKC a heavily protected first round pick. But they gave a whole lot more.

Yes, that’s right: Oubre’s $14M salary will cost the Warriors an additional $68 million in luxury taxes, bringing their tax bill (so far!) to ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR MILLION.

And this in a year where the Warriors will not have fans in attendance, the same week the City of San Francisco blocked Lacob’s attempt to allow a few thousand fans at each game. What’s crazy is that I don’t think this makes the Warriors a title team by any stretch – but it will make them competitive. That’s how much Lacob is willing to pay to ensure that. You may have wondered about the story title here. This is an old Rick Neuheisel reference. One year UCLA’s offense was so bad, Neuheisel started punting on third down. It was a total surrender. When asked about it at halftime, he said, “Punting is winning.” He did not last much longer at UCLA. Like I said, Joe Lacob does not punt. -TOB

PAL: I love a TOB original (notice there’s no link to a story on this one) Man, Lacob and the Warriors were banking on that brand new Chase Center in the Dogpatch to be cash machine, and then everything it was built to host was shut down to fans – sporting events and big concerts, namely. 

It seems to me that Lacob’s ambition is long-term with the Warriors, to build the Death Star Yankees of the NBA, and I wonder how much of that bravado comes from a lightning-in-a-bottle Warriors team from 2015- June 13, 2019 (KD’s achilles injury in the Finals). For a historically bad team, all of a sudden everything broke the right way for the Warriors, and we were asking if it was the greatest team of all-time. This injury to Klay comes at the absolute worst time. Steph Curry will be 33 in March, and Draymond will turn 31. It’s not a given that Klay (31 in February) will be fully healed in a year, and it’s not given that he’ll ever be the same player he was before the injury.

The end is easily visible through the windshield. While Klay and Steph will be able shoot until they die, the movement, the defense (Draymond and Klay), the pace with which the Warriors play is in jeopardy unless they fill some key roles with draft picks. Wiseman needs to hit. 

The Spurs run was so long and impressive because they were able to reload three times through non-lottery draft picks to put around Tim Duncan (1st, 1997) who then turned into hall of famers: Manu Ginobili (57th, 1999), Tony Parker (28th pick 2001), and Kawhi Leonard (15th, 2011). If the Warriors hope to extend their run, then they’re behind on the reload.  With all of that in mind, with their salary cap situation, the injuries, the empty arena, I wonder why they don’t punt this year, as much as it would suuuuuuuck to waste another Steph in his prime year. That is a lot of money for Kelly Oubre, but I wonder if the losing last year was that painful for a franchise that was historically great just two years ago. Maybe Lacob and Bob Myers have something up their sleeve. It better be a doozy. 

Kim Ng’s Journey To Making History This week, the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as the team’s next General Manager, making Ng the first female to hold the position in any of the major men’s leagues in North America. Many also consider her the most qualified first-time general manager. Tyler Kepner and James Wagner detail her journey in this story. This much is certain  – Kim Ng loves baseball and was determined to become a general manager.  In her 30-year career in Major League Baseball, Ng has worked as an assistant GM for several teams, oversaw scouting and player development, she’s worked in the league office, she’s negotiated contracts, and she was a chief architect on international signing protocols. She’s seen the game through more than a few lenses.  Ng, pictured with her four sisters and mother, is second from the left.  And the person that hired her – Derek Jeter – seems fitting, too. After she was hired, Ng showed her mom and sisters an old video: 

Ng played a video clip from 2000 on her iPad. On the screen, a young Derek Jeter, the star shortstop for the reigning world champion Yankees, presented Ng with an award from an organization for women in the business of sports. She was the Yankees’ assistant general manager at the time, and now, all these years later, the man in the video was giving her a chance at the top job with his own team. 

Of course, it shouldn’t have taken this long for a woman to be hired as a general manager for a major mens sport team, but we still ought to celebrate its happening, especially when the person seems so fitting of such an honor. 

Another story this week about perseverance. – PAL  Source: Kim Ng Has Been Ready for Years”, Tyler Kepner and James Wagner, The New York Times (11/18/20)

TOB: When this news broke, I saw a lot of tweets from Asian Americans, and especially Asian American women, discussing how important it was for someone who looks like them to get a job like this. Representation matters. That is apparently hard for a lot of people, mainly white males, to understand. I was puzzling on why that is, in the shower of course, when it hit me: this should not be difficult for white people to grasp at all:

A great player, yes. But his popularity among white people in the 1980s was due in large part to the fact that for the first time in a long time, one of the best players in the NBA looked like them. This shouldn’t be so hard to understand.

Video of the Week (a year too late for TOB’s wallet): 

Tweet of the Week: 

Song of the Week: Willie Nelson – “The Man With The Blues”

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I think I’m being very clear what I’m asking. Would an average-sized rowboat support her without capsizing? It bothers me that you’re not answering this question.

-Michael Scott