Week of December 19, 2021

The Case for Patience with Coaches

As most of you probably know, I am a Cal football fan. Cal is not a blue blood program, though they were a national powerhouse in the 1930s! Since then, there have been random good years and lots and lots of bad ones. Still, I became a Cal fan in the modern golden era – the early Jeff Tedford years. And this requires a bit of history.

Tedford had been the offensive coordinator at Oregon when they first became nationally relevant. Prior to that, he coached at Fresno State. He coached four first round pick quarterbacks in a short span: Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, and Joey Harrington. Then he took over a 1-10 Cal team and turned Kyle Boller into a top 10 pick, while turning the team around to 7-5. Then they went 8-6, led by JUCO transfer Aaron Rodgers, with that season peaking with a win over eventual national champion USC, and culminating in a bowl win over a very good Virginia Tech team. 

The following year they had a little buzz and I said I thought they could go undefeated. I was close. They went 11-1, with the lone loss being a close loss at #1 (and again eventual champion) USC – a game they outgained and outplayed the defending national champs, but lost after four straight failed plays with goal to go. 

The next five years were uneven. Some good years, some very disappointing years. Then, because of Tedford’s early success, the school was able to build a new training facility and renovate the stadium. But Tedford only lasted one year in the new stadium – he opened with an awful loss to Nevada, and the season did not go up from there. The team seemed to quit late in the season, and to top it off the team’s academics were so bad Cal was close to a bowl ban. After that 2004 season, Tedford’s teams went 8-4, 10-3, 7-6, 9-4, 8-5, 5-7, 7-6, 3-9. There’s an obvious downward trend there. I was sad, but even I agreed Tedford had to go.

But the interesting thing about Tedford is he didn’t stop coaching, despite serious and recurring health problems. Most notably, he returned to his alma mater, Fresno State, and turned a moribund Bulldog program around. The 2016 Bulldogs went 1-11. Tedford arrived after that season and they went 10-4. The next year, 12-2. In his third year, they went 4-8 and he retired due to those same health issues. Interestingly, he just returned to Fresno. We’ll see how it goes.

But what I find most interesting about Tedford’s return to Fresno in the last half of that last decade is the question it begs about his coaching ability and what happened at Cal. Why did he struggle so badly in the last part of his Cal tenure? He obviously didn’t forget how to coach: he proved that at Fresno. There are lot of theories among Cal fans, but I am not here to settle that debate today.

Instead I am here to wonder what might have happened had Cal been more patient with Tedford. What if they had allowed him time to right the ship, both athletically and academically?  No one can say for sure, but I can’t help but wonder if he would have been like Kirk Ferentz, who has been the Iowa coach for over twenty years now. First, Iowa and Cal have similar histories. The programs are, if not equal, close. The similarities between Ferentz and Tedford are even more interesting.

Ferentz and Tedford are similarly aged and were similarly successful early on in their careers, though Ferentz a bit more, perhaps. Ferentz is five years older than Tedford and started at Iowa three years before Tedford started at Cal. Ferentz didn’t start as hot as Tedford, going 1-10 and 3-9 in his first two years. But then he went 7-5, 11-2 (with an Orange Bowl appearance), 10-3, and 10-2. But then, like Tedford, Ferentz hit a lull. From 2005-2007, where he went a combined 19-18, and then particularly from 2010 to 2014, where he went 8-5, 7-6, 4-8, 8-5, 7-6. Since then, he’s 63 wins and 23 losses in 7 years, including two conference championship appearances. Could Tedford have done the same? I don’t know. But I do know this: there are lots of Cal fans unhappy with the current head coach, Justin Wilcox. 

Wilcox took over a program in dire straits – a terrible defense for the entirety of the Sonny Dykes era, Cal football had become, for me, unwatchable. Even the good wins (Texas, twice) were exasperating. Wilcox turned things around immediately – what had been an historically bad defense was suddenly tops in the conference. Wilcox’s early teams struggled on offense. But heading into the 2020 season, Cal fans expected big things: almost every starter from a pretty good team was back, including quarterback Chase Garbers who suddenly looked like a very good QB. 

And then COVID hit and things fell apart. Cal got only 4 games in 2020. Many Cal fans wrote off the 1-3 record to the pandemic – Cal had multiple games canceled; they even had to travel to UCLA on 24 hours’ notice after ASU had a COVID outbreak, before getting stomped. But they beat a very good Oregon team and fans were cautiously optimistic – especially because the NCAA declared 2020 a non season for player eligibility. And then Cal started 2021 1-5 and many fans jumped off the bandwagon. Many wanted him fired. Most wanted him to take the UW job or the Oregon job (Wilcox’s alma mater) when those opened up.

But Cal is not USC. It is not Alabama. It is not Texas. Cal is Iowa. And Cal needs to be patient with a good coach, learning on the job, who wants to be there. Oh, yeah – that’s an important part here: Wilcox was offered the Oregon job last week, and he turned it down. Oregon made a second run at him, he slept on it, and he turned it down. When asked why he turned down his alma mater he said he likes it at Cal and has unfinished business there.

Yes, Cal has instiutional barriers that make it harder to win at than many other schools. So Cal needs a coach who doesn’t shy away from that; who embraces it. Wilcox is that guy, without a doubt. Now, can he be Cal’s Kirk Ferentz?  Can he be another Jeff Tedford? I don’t know – but I think Cal needs to be patient and find out, and not make the possible mistake they made in firing Tedford. -TOB

Counterpoint: Urban Meyer Deserved to Get Fired After 13 Games

Urban Meyer was fired this week, just 13 games into his NFL coaching career. Defector’s Samer Kalaf gives a great run down of Meyer’s horrific tenure:

Though the team hadn’t played since Sunday—a 20-0 loss to the Titans—the midweek firing seems to have been prompted by Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times report in which former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo said Meyer kicked him at a practice during the preseason and called him a “dipshit.” When Lambo told him never to kick him again, Meyer allegedly said, “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want,” and later told his kicker not to complain about it in front of the other players.

Kicking an employee was possibly the most actionable thing Meyer did as Jaguars head coach, but he packed a lot of mortifying behavior within his incomplete season. An NFL Network report Sunday morning uncovered a handful of terrible decisions: Meyer treated his players like children and pissed off receiver Marvin Jones Jr., a guy who’s difficult to piss off; he called his assistant coaches “losers” in a staff meeting; and he benched running back James Robinson, then pushed the blame onto his RBs coach. That was one report. There were so many more.

Urban Meyer hired, then fired a racist strength coach. He brought in Tim Tebow, presumably so that at least one person respected him in the locker room. He called for an onside kick, and the opposing team returned it for a touchdown. He lost a Thursday night game in Cincinnati, stayed in Ohio while the team flew back to Jacksonville, and showed up in his own steakhouse with his hand in a woman who wasn’t his wife. He looked like the biggest fucking sadsack in the subsequent presser, and basically every presser after that.

The Lambo kicking incident should be required reading for any NFL owner considering hiring a college coach:

“It certainly wasn’t as hard as he could’ve done it, but it certainly wasn’t a love tap,” Lambo said. “Truthfully, I’d register it as a five (out of 10). Which in the workplace, I don’t care if it’s football or not, the boss can’t strike an employee. And for a second, I couldn’t believe it actually happened. Pardon my vulgarity, I said, ‘Don’t you ever f–king kick me again!’ And his response was, ‘I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want.’”

When reached by Stroud, Meyer denied the kick and said Lambo’s characterization of the incident was “completely inaccurate.” Lambo said Meyer “cornered” him the next day in the practice facility and told him to smile, which Lambo said he would do if his coach stopped kicking him. Then Meyer allegedly threatened to cut Lambo if he ever talked back to him again. “You’re the first player I’ve ever let speak to me that way in my career, and if you do it again, you’re gone,” Meyer said, according to Lambo.

That is the kind of thing you can get away with as a sleazeball college coach, when dealing with young, unpaid players. But when dealing with grown men who make lots of money? It’s not going to fly.

My favorite part of Urbant’s NFL career was…well, ok, it was the pictures of him out at a club in Ohio. But my second favorite part was this press conference, about the above mentioned reports about how awful he is:

Incredible. Who does this guy think he is? A military general? I think he really does. The worst part about his firing is that he’ll probably go back to a high paying gig at ESPN which will mean I’ll have to look at his dumb, lying face way more often. Dang. -TOB

Source: Jaguars Give Urban Meyer The Boot,” Samer Kalaf, Defector (11/16/2021)

PAL: That kick might be the most expensive kick in history. If that helps the Jags fire him for cause, then they don’t need to pay him the remaining (gulp) $50MM on his contract, and it sounds like the team doesn’t intend to pay him (but the two sides will likely negotiate a middle ground).

The Cal-Iowa comp is right on, TOB. Dead-on. There are, what 10 schools that can look in the mirror and say they have a legit chance to make a national championship run at least once a decade? There are a lot of programs who foolishly think they are on that list. Add the University of Minnesota to likes of Cal and Iowa. As least Iowa recognizes what it is, and what it’s not. I feel like deep down, amongst those KFAN listeners in MN, folks still think the Gophers could compete with Ohio State if they just found the right guy. Or maybe I’ve been wrong about used car salesman P.J. Fleck. Maybe he wants to be a cheesier version of Ferentz for the Gophers.

14 Peaks Review

“Giving up is not in the blood, sir. It’s not in the blood.”

There are 14 mountains in the world over 8k meters. The fastest to summit all 14 was seven years. Nimsdai Pursa and his team of Nepali climbers set out to do it in seven months. A must-watch documentary.

The advent of the drone and super high quality small cameras has captured the magnitude of some of these incredible outdoor documentaries (Alone On The Wall, 100 Foot Wave, The Dawn Wall), but the most compelling parts remain the personal stories. Why does Alex Honnold want to climb El Cap without a rope? What compels Garrett McNamara, on the wrong end of 50, to tow into a monster wave and let go of the rope? The exploration of these questions, coupled with the sweaty-palmed beauty of the footage, is what makes for an exhilarating viewing.

At the center of 14 Peaks is one of the biggest, most positive bad-asses to come across my TV. Before becoming a superstar of the mountaineering world, Nimsdai Purja,  was a special ops for 16 years, first as a Gurka, and then as the first Gurkha ever to join the UK Special Ops. 

There’s a part in the doc when Nims gets hooked up to some sort of oxygen thinner machine in a lab in what I think is London. They have him get on the stationary bike to measure his endurance and decision-making skills as he pushes harder and harder while the oxygen thins. Nims has a pot belly. You can tell the guy is strong, but he’s not “ripped”. He proceeds to flabbergast the scientist with his decision-making while charging on a bike with little oxygen. He goes for 3 minutes, while world-class triathletes tap out in under 1 minute. 

His military comes into play on more than one occasion when ‘Nims’ and his team come across other climbers in serious trouble on the mountain. This dude is breaking records and saving lives at the same time.

Of course, ‘Nims’ can’t do this alone, and he has a team made up exclusively of Nepali climbers. In sport where historically Nepali climbers are helping clients up the summit, it was cool to see them pursue the crowning achievement for their people. 

Nims charges so hard, but he also seems so happy to be alive. There’s a real joy pursuing such an audacious goal. Whereas someone like Alex Honnold’s achievement and skill inspire me, I feel so far away from whoever he is as a person. With Nims, the dude’s spirit is so goddamn infectious. I really loved watching him and his team risk their lives one day, and celebrate life (with a bit of booze) the next, then climb again the day after that. – PAL 

More Good Stuff

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I don’t need you to tell me what I don’t want, you stupid hipster doofus.

Elaine Benes

Week of December 10, 2021

Chef’s kiss.

Greatness Is Not A Number

By the time you read this, there’s a solid chance that Steph Curry will have made more 3-pointers in his career than Ray Allen made, which will make Curry the NBA all-time leader. I challenge anyone outside of TOB to tell me the number Ray Allen made, because the NBA 3-point record ain’t exactly .406 or 9.58

The local broadcast is trying to make a thing out of it – counting down with every Curry 3 with a little graphic in the lower corner of the broadcast. Rightly so, I guess, but I can’t muster up any real interest in the countdown. To what are we really counting down? 

There’s no real argument: Curry is the best shooter the NBA has ever seen, and so Curry passing Ray Allen record doesn’t solidify anything new when it comes to Curry’s legacy. And, as Oakland’s favorite curmudgeon Ray Ratto so perfectly addresses, to be awed by a number Curry passes is to miss the point of what makes him so spectacular. OK, here’s one stat for context: It took Allen 1,300 games to make 2,973 3-pointers; Curry will get there and beyond in less than 790 games. 

Ratto nails it with this: 

Just as long as whatever happens is within whatever Curry decides is the flow of the game, because on this one item, he is more trustworthy than Basketballreference.com. They do numbers. He does moments, and one does well not to try to quantify the work of a true mother of invention.

Good read, per usual, from Ratto. – PAL

Source: Counting Will Get You Nowhere With Steph Curry,” Ray Ratto, Defector (12/08/21) 

The Propaganda Playbook

Last week we shared three stories from the NY Times about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, her shocking accusation of sexual assuault by a high-ranking government official, and the Chinese government’s response. This week, The Times teamed up with ProPublica to show, piece by piece, post-by-post, pic-by-pic, email-by-email, etc. of the government’s attempt at cover-up. 

The allegation reached the heights of Beijing’s opaque political system, and officials turned to a tested playbook to stamp out discussion and shift the narrative. The tactics have helped Beijing weather a series of political crises at home in recent years, including the 2019 protests in Hong Kong and its initial response to Covid-19.

This time, according to analyses by The New York Times and ProPublica, China began a multifaceted propaganda campaign that was at once sophisticated and clumsy. Inside the country, officials used internet controls to scrub almost all references to the accusation and restrict digital spaces where people might discuss it. At the same time, they activated a widely followed network of state-media commentators, backed by a chorus of fake Twitter accounts, to try to punch back at critics abroad, the analyses show.

The effort didn’t always succeed. This is how China reacted — and how it stumbled along the way.

This is a must-read story. Having a single person, Peng Shuai, at the center of this helps someone like me better understand the dangers and complexity of censorship in Beijing, and why the United States and other nations are imposing a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics. – PAL

Source:Beijing Silenced Peng Shuai in 20 Minutes, Then Spent Weeks on Damage Control,” Paul Mozur, Muyi Xiao, Jeff Kao and Gray Beltran; The New York Times & ProPublica (12/08/21)

Non Sports Stories of the Week

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t only read about sports. This week, I read two particularly interesting articles that I think you’ll enjoy.

First, the New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall Roy in Succession. If you watch the show, I highly recommend you set aside some time and read this. You will laugh out loud at him at least a half dozen times. -TOB

Source: On ‘Succession,’ Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke,” Michael Schulman, New Yorker (12/05/2021)

The second article is about the grapefruit. It begins with a long history of the grapefruit and other citrus fruits, which is itself fascinating. And then it gets into a discovery made about twenty years ago that the grapefruit can interact with certain drugs by multiplying the standard efficiency of the drug, which can cause people to overdose. It’s a great read. -TOB

Source: Grapefruit Is One of the Weirdest Fruits on the Planet,” Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura (10/6/2020)

Video of the Week

I am way late to this, but it’s too good not to share, even if you’ve already seen it. – PAL

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Week of December 3, 2021

The College Football Arms Race Just Went Nuclear

The amount of money in college football, whether it is spent on facilities or coaches or food, while players remain unpaid for their brain-destroying labor, has long been obscene. But the last week or so got wild.

Michigan State extended its coach, Mel Tucker, to a 10-year, $95 million contract. To be clear; this is Tucker’s third season as a head coach. His records are: 5-7 (at Colorado), 2-5, and 10-2. That’s a combined 12-7. $100M. At Michigan State. Ok.

Well, Tucker evidently set the market. Because over the weekend, USC went out and hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. A coup in and of itself. But the amount USC committed is staggering:

10 years, $110M. Plus $1M for the Oklahoma homes, $6M for his new home, and unlimited use of a private jet. WOW. 

Editor’s Note: The Oklahoma houses thing has been debunked but I still think it’s funny so I am leaving it there.

And then LSU hired Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame, for a reported 10 years, $95M. 

And baby, we are just getting started. How will Oklahoma and Notre Dame respond? What will they pay? And what will the teams they pull from pay to their next coach? It’s wild. And it’s kind of insane. And very gross. 

I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled that USC might become USC again, but ultimately it’s probably good for west coast football and the Pac-12. The conference hasn’t had a team make the playoffs since 2016 and it hasn’t really had a team get close. The playoff and social media also seems to have greatly changed recruiting – Oklahoma, Ohio State and the SEC now routinely take the vast majority of California’s best players, because those players want to play in the playoff, and those schools are the ones to get you there.

Sometimes, you need a great program to raise the tide for all boats. Plus, they are fun to hate. Eff SC, ya know. -TOB

Peng Shuai

The following is a tough and sad story, but a great example of the power of a team of journalists pursuing all the angles. 

The lede, ℅ Amy Qin and Paul Mozer: 

When the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top leader of sexual assault earlier this month, the authorities turned to a tried-and-true strategy. At home, the country’s censors scrubbed away any mention of the allegations. Abroad, a few state-affiliated journalists focused narrowly on trying to quash concerns about Ms. Peng’s safety.

First and foremost, there is what has been accused, and there is Ms. Peng’s safety (there is some debate as to where she currently is and the Women’s Tennis Association has tried and failed to communicate with Shuai without the government). The ramifications of this story ripple globally.  The Winter Olympics, in Beijing, is fast-approaching, and the W.T.A. has just suspended all tournaments in China. 

Many feel this conference call with the IOC was staged with Beijing no doubt overseeing it.

Closer to home, fans are finding ways around the censorship. In another story from the NY Times, Amy Chang Chien and Alexandra Stevenson reported:

 To evade the censors, Chinese tennis fans have started to use obscure references to call more attention to Ms. Peng’s silence. Instead of identifying her Chinese name and specifying the details of her allegations, some people have used vague references like “a tennis player” and “the spat.”

There was a seemingly unrelated post about art that used the expression “hitting an egg against a rock.” It echoed a line in Ms. Peng’s original allegation, in which she wrote that going up against someone as powerful as Mr. Zhang was like “hitting a rock with an egg.”

While the Chinese government’s approach to problematic statements in the past has been to simply make them (and the people who make them) disappear from its state-run internet, they can’t do that so cleanly with Ms. Peng. 

On China’s social media platforms and other digital public squares, the censors’ meticulous work has left almost no sign that Ms. Peng had ever accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Like a museum to a previous reality, her social media account remains, without new updates or comments.

These tactics have worked for China in the past, at least at home. In recent years, officials have relied on heavy censorship and a nationalistic narrative of Western meddling to deflect blame for issues including the outbreak of Covid-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

This time, though, the #MeToo accusation from a lauded and patriotic athlete implicating a top leader has no simple solution from Beijing’s propaganda toolbox. Any new narrative would most likely have to acknowledge the allegations in the first place and require the approval of top Chinese leaders.

And in a third NY Times story, Matthew Futterman shed light on the man at the helm of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, and why he and his league were willing to take a stance against China (and its money) in a way no other sport has done, including the N.B.A.:

Simon’s refusal to accept China’s authoritarian stance on human rights once it directly affected one of his players stands in stark contrast to several high-profile leaders in sports who have repeatedly bent to the desires of the Chinese, including Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Simon has been concerned about Peng’s physical safety but also believed, as did the members of his player council and others he communicates with regularly in a player chat group, that the silencing of Peng and her sexual assault allegation amounted to a direct attack on the principle of equality upon which the WTA was founded.

Excellent work by The New York Times. All three stories are worth a read. – PAL 

Sources: China’s Silence on Peng Shuai Shows Limits of Beijing’s Propaganda,” Amy Qun & Paul Mozer (11/30/21); “‘Where is **?’: Fans in China Elude Censors to Talk About Peng Shuai,” Amy Chang Chein & Alexandra Stevenson (12/02/21); “Putting Principles Before Profits, Steve Simon Takes a Stand,” Matthew Futterman, (12/02/21)

A Reminder: Don’t Trust the Billionaires

This week, the MLB owners locked out the players. My buddy Kevin asked me yesterday to explain the lockout like he’s a child, and here’s what I came up with:

“Well, we don’t really know exactly what they’re in disagreement over. But most expect that the players want a salary floor for each teams so teams can’t tank, and a higher luxury tax ceiling so teams will spend more. The teams want the opposite.”

To elaborate, though: this has been building for years. As Michael Baumann succinctly puts it:

Under the just-expired CBA, players generally made more money as their careers progressed: Rookies make the league minimum or close to it; players with three to six years of experience get gradual raises through arbitration; and players with more than six years of service time become free agents. Only these established veterans have the freedoms afforded workers in almost every other sphere of American commerce: the freedom to choose the organizations for which they work and to sign the largest deals they can find.

Basically, there was a wink and a nod going on for years – the teams paid players cheaply until they were about 30, and then pay you a lot if you’re good. Then they got smart and realized – ahhh, we players actually get worse after 30 and we don’t have to pay them so much and salaries flatlined. Consider that Alex Rodriguez got $25.2M per year in 1999, and 20 years later Bryce Harper signed for $25.3M per year. Revenues keep rising, but player salaries are falling behind as a share of revenue. Teams are doing all they can to reduce player earnings:

Teams have refused to promote talented young players specifically in an attempt to delay their free agency. They’ve used artificial salary depression early in players’ careers as leverage to convince those same players to sign away their most lucrative earning years for pennies on the dollar. And teams like the Pirates and Orioles have used the guise of rebuilding as an excuse to run rock-bottom payrolls, lose 100 games a year, and turn a profit by cashing revenue sharing checks. 

So, how is this going to shake out? It’s hard to know. The MLB Players Union is generally the strongest in sports, but workers always have an uphill climb. However, as Baumann points out, they have a strong negotiating tool:

The other major negotiating advantage the union has is that the league wants to expand the playoffs. That’s where the most lucrative TV money is (a league presentation to the union last year put the value of postseason baseball at $787 million in national TV money alone, a number that would only increase with more games), and since players don’t get paid their normal salaries during the postseason, it amounts to almost pure profit for the league. But because a revamped playoff format would represent a change to working conditions, the league needs the union to agree to the change. In exchange, the MLBPA would naturally want the league to make concessions.

If the owners want to expand to 14 playoff teams, as has been floated, they’re going to have to make some concessions. In my opinion, players should fight for fewer years of player control – get players to arbitration and free agency quicker so they can get paid while they’re still in their prime. They also need to fight for a salary floor to avoid tanking and less punishment for exceeding the luxury tax.

However it ends up, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be an annoying winter reading about this. -TOB

Source: All the Questions—and Answers—About the Most Important Details of the MLB Lockout,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/02/2021)

For Klay, An Almost Three-Year Wait is Almost Over, But Not Soon Enough

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 2 ½ years since Klay Thompson last played in an NBA game. When he tore his ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, he had 30 points in the third quarter. Had he not gotten hurt, it’s not outlandish to suggest the Warriors win that game, and perhaps Game 7 as well. But he did and they didn’t. 

About a year and a half later, Klay was working his way back for the start of the 2020-21 season when he tore his achilles. He was 29 the last time he played; he’s almost 32 now. In that time, the Warriors got bad – Steph and Draymond got hurt; Steph and Draymond looked cooked; Kerr seemed to lose the team; they traded for a ball dominant point guard who didn’t mesh with the team, and traded him for a Charmin-soft former #1 pick wing who had largely been seen as a bust; the team drafted a big man who many declared an immediate bust…and then the team suddenly got very good – Steph is better than ever; Draymond, too. They developed young talent, like Jordan Poole, drafted a guy in Jonathan Kuminga who everyone loves, and that soft former #1 pick suddenly looks like a beast. 

At 18-2, the Warriors are the best team in basketball, again, by a wide margin, again. And like an old surprise wrestling visit, you can hear Klay Thompson’s entrance music firing up from backstage, as he’s begun scrimmaging with the team and even playing a rehab stint in the G League. 

But he’s not back yet. And even though he’s close, it’s still difficult for him. Last weekend, after the Warriors beat the Blazers, Klay sat on the bench, a towel draped over his head, for 35 minutes. Here’s Marcus Thompson II, on what Klay has gone through to get here:

He began hunched over in his seat, his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped together as he stared at the hardwood in front of him. The remnants of fans not yet cleared out of the arena began chanting his name. “Thomp-Son! Thomp-Son!” His head nodded to their cadence. He pumped his fist to a yell of “Klay, we love you!” from the rafters, tapped his heart in response to another adoring shout. Eventually, he returned back to still, gazing at the court. Perhaps visualizing himself on that very floor, which he has yet to christen.

You just know he can feel the ball slide through his hands as he transitions from catching to shooting. See the defender flying at him, obscuring his view of the rim and forcing him to rely on technique and muscle memory. You know he can almost taste the adrenaline rush of anticipation as the ball spins in the air.

But he can’t actually experience it. Not yet. It’s still just a vision, one crafted from memories and so profound within Thompson it weighted him down right there on the bench. For 35 minutes, he sat.

This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away. For Thompson, it was then placed close enough to smell but too far to grasp. And he is just genuine enough not to hide in these moments. Vulnerable enough to share this aspect of his trying journey. While he may not be doing such intentionally, Thompson’s willingness to be this transparent allows a fan base to suffer with him. And there is no better preparation for his triumphant return than being able to sit with him in his low moments. Mourn with one who mourns, then rejoice with one who rejoices.

The first line of that last paragraph really hits: “This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away.” It’s a thought we all can relate to, or at least imagine. For almost three years, Klay has been denied the ability to do the thing he was born and raised to do. To do the thing he loves. He’s been betrayed by his body twice – the same body that made him so great at it. Three years is such a long time, in the prime of his career, too. Hurry back Klay! -TOB

Source: Klay Thompson Has a Vulnerable Moment After Warriors Win,” Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/27/2021)

PAL: Good pick, TOB! I’m back on the Dubs wagon, watching most games, and I can’t wait to see Klay back in action. 2.5 years is a long time to be away from the thing you’re supposed to do. Every story about this guy makes me root harder for him. 

A Round of Golf With Kenny G

Fascinating article. Many of you already know saxophonist Kenny G is a really good golfer (at one point a +1 handicap). In this story, Paul Thomson drew what must have been the best assignment The Ringer handed out in recent history: play a round of golf with Kenny G at the uber exclusive Sherwood Country Club. 

As Thompson highlights, Kenny G approaches his golf in the same manner he approaches his profession: 

For Kenny, the allure of golf is not the pressure of those high-stakes situations—the reactivation of nerves that would inevitably dull after thousands of live performances—but the monastic approach to practice that it requires. Kenny practices his saxophone, without fail, for more than three hours every morning, working on specific aspects of his playing each time: tonguing one day, hitting perfect high notes the next. 

Kenny’s mind does not stop with the tinkering with technique. With his saxophone, the dude still wakes up and practices 3 hours every day…he’s been doing that for 50 friggin’ years. His expectation with the saxophone is perfection; he’s slightly less demanding when it comes to his swing: 

Like any golfer, he says he has realistic expectations for how consistent he can be (“I’m going to hit bad shots—the pros hit a lot of bad shots”); also like any golfer, his voice suggests he doesn’t quite believe this.

And finally, after decades of playing at incredible clubs and with pretty much every famous person, he’s got stories to tell. 

He also tells an incredible story about Tiger Woods: Once, Tiger and Kenny were playing here when Tiger, who had reached a green under regulation, missed what appeared to be a half-hearted putt. When Kenny asked if Tiger had missed it on purpose, the superstar admitted he had. “He said he doesn’t like to make eagles on practice days,” Kenny recalls, shaking his head at the embarrassment of riches.

Such a fun read, and I can’t wait to watch the new Kenny G doc on HBO. – PAL 

Source:Kenny G in Deep Concentration,” Paul Thompson, The Ringer (12/02/21)

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