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Back in the early ’90s I was waiting for an elevator one night at a high rise hotel when I was joined by a group of Miami heat basketball players and Jack Ramsay, who was then most famously the former coach of the Portland Trailblazers, a team he led to an NBA championship in 1977. But he had coached a number of other teams, including the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers) during my former schoolmate Bob Kauffman‘s time there. So I thought, “Oh. Jack Ramsay is coaching the Heat now.” Back in those days Miami was not a great team, and even as a fan I was paying no attention to them. But the team was paying attention to Dr. Ramsay. That much was clear.

We got on the elevator together. The tallest players, 7-foot Matt Geiger among them, had to cock their heads toward one shoulder to avoid bumping the ceiling. I was crowded into a corner like a piece of luggage. The team had just lost a game. For the whole trip up to the Nth floor, Jack talked to the guys about what you can learn by losing that you can’t by winning — in useful detail. It was obvious that the old guy was still a great coach, and that the players had great respect for him. By that I mean, they weren’t just being nice. They were listening, carefully.

It was only later that I learned that Jack was not the coach, officially. His job was color commentary on Heat broadcasts.

All basketball fans by now have learned something from Doctor Jack, who went on to share his wisdom and experience over ESPN and other outlets. The man always had something interesting to add to the time-filling blather that comprises most of sports commentary.

So I just learned that the good doctor passed this morning, at age 89. I also learned that he enlisted for service in the U.S. Navy at age 19 during World War II, and shortly thereafter became the platoon leader of an underwater demolitions team — the forerunner of today’s Navy Seals. I suppose he was younger during his service than most or all of the players he taught in that elevator. Tougher too, I’m sure.

Ghandi said we should learn as if we’ll live forever and live as if we’ll die tomorrow. Jack Ramsey was clearly one of those guys who did both, for all his life.

I love watching basketball. Loved playing it too, back in the Millennium. I grew up a Knicks fan. In my North Carolina years (’65-’85) I was a fan first of Guilford College (my alma mater), then of the ACC’s Big Four (Carolina, Duke, State and Wake). I have many family connections to Wake, lived in Chapel Hill, worked at Duke, and loved the way Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano coached State. When I moved to California in ’85 I became a Golden State Warriors fan, and for several years had shares of season tickets. They were good years too. (e.g. Run TMC.) After moving to Santa Barbara I got into the Clippers a bit, but mostly followed the game itself. Then, when I got the Berkman gig in ’06, I became a Celtics fan. More about that after the next paragraph.

I’m no better a judge of teams and their management than the next fan, and possibly worse. Like, when Mike Krzyzewski replaced the much-loved Bill Foster at Duke, I said “there’s nothing about that guy that a blow-dry and a sense of humor wouldn’t cure.” (For that to make any sense, you had to be there.) Anyway, it became something of a meme, which was mean and unfair, as well as wrong. Coach K’s job at that time was re-building a team that wasn’t playing much better than .500 ball. He never smiled and seemed to spend whole games doing nothing but snapping at officials. Who knew he was building the most solid and productive program in all of college basketball? Or that he would become the winningest college coach of all time? Not me.

The Celtics under Doc Rivers were easy to like, especially after they put together the Big Three: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They won a championship in ’08 and came close twice after that. Garnett and Pierce were, respectively, the heart and soul of the team. It was a bummer to lose Ray Allen to the Heat in ’11, but the team stayed strong, and got another solid outside shooter with Jason Terry. If they hadn’t lost Rajon Rondo to an injury this season, they might have made a run at the championship. But it was clear, after getting wiped out by the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs this year, that the Celtics had to re-build. The only question was how. The answer came a few days ago, when GM Danny Ainge traded Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a first-round draft pick, and then sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Nets for three more first round picks and a collection of second-string players. Now the Celtics have nothing but promise, and the Clippers and Nets are richer by far. How does this make sense?

In sports media the decision by Celtics GM Danny Ainge gets a lot of bad reviews, because he seems to have given up a lot of something (including their heart and soul) for a literal nothing — at least until they draft well, in future years. But Danny had no choice. He had to rebuild with what he had, which was trade bait. If he continued to ride his old horses into the ground, he would have had nothing to deal with. So he got the most he could while they were still valuable. As for Doc Rivers, who can blame him for not wanting to coach a losing team through the rest of his contract? I don’t envy whoever gets the Celtics coaching job; but I do like Danny’s chances of building a good new team, especially if Rajon Rando is a capable leader. Remember this: basketball players keep getting better and better. There will be no bad players among Danny’s draft picks.

The Nets look good for now. With Pierce, Garnett, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams they have the best starting five in the game. Yes, Pierce and Garnett are both old and bound to run out of gas, but they’re still all-stars, and make the Nets a solid franchise. Jason Kidd as a coach is an unknown, but I suspect he’ll mix well with the new talent, who are guys he knows well and respects. You can bet Jason Kidd counseled Brooklyn GM Billy King on trading for the three Celtics players. Billy clearly wants to make the boldest possible moves for at least the next year. Which won’t be easy. Not only are the Heat still the best team in the league (and champs the last two seasons), but — with the Bulls, Pacers and Knicks — the East is still the strongest division in the game. And Brooklyn is now a marquee franchise, up there with the Knicks in New York and the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles. Great players from lesser cities will want to play there. This will help after Garnett and Pierce are gone in a year or two.

So, hanging as much as I do in New York and Boston, I expect watching basketball in both will be plenty of fun this next year.

As for the Clippers, they got a great coach. I’ll miss Doc, but I wish him luck.

Bonus link.

 

Interested in the NBA all-star game? Go to the latter (at that link) and you’ll see a panel for AllStarBallot.NBA.com. Go there and you’ll find Step 1:

Sign in or create an account as an NBA.com All-Access member.

SIGN IN TO VOTE

CREATE AN ACCOUNT

Click the second link and you’ll find a pop-over form with lots of personal stuff to type in to boxes, followed by this:

   

By clicking the Sign Me Up to Vote button, (1) you acknowledge that we may communicate with you at the email address you have supplied regarding your membership benefits and that we reserve the right to change membership terms, benefits and access at our sole discretion and (2) you accept and agree to our Terms of Useand our updated Privacy Policy..

Yo, NBA. Let me talk a little trash here.

First, creating an account is fine, even if it’s very 1995.

Second, don’t pre-check something to make opt-out look like opt-in. That move doesn’t sell anything to my defense.

Third, you’re not scoring shit with that small print. Yeah, I know it’s the usual stuff. I don’t care. It gives me nothing but junk mail and exposure to stuff I don’t want, including stuff I don’t even know I don’t want until it happens and I may not even be able to tell it happened because you let it happen. Enough of that crap.

You want to crowd-source all-star voting by fans? Let them come up with their own system. This one is as old-fashioned and broken as the no-dunk rule.

Apple TV (whatever it ends up being called) will kill cable. It will also give TV new life in a new form.

manhole coverIt won’t kill the cable companies, which will still carry data to your house, and which will still get a cut of the content action, somehow. But the division between cable content and other forms you pay for will be exposed for the arbitrary thing it is, in an interactive world defined by the protocols of the Internet, rather than by the protocols of television. It will also contain whatever deals Apple does for content distribution.

These deals will be motivated by a shared sense that Something Must Be Done, and by knowing that Apple will make TV look and work better than anybody else ever could. The carriers have seen this movie before, and they’d rather have a part in it than outside of it. For a view of the latter, witness the fallen giants called Sony and Nokia. (A friend who worked with the latter called them “a tree laying on the ground,” adding “They put out leaves every year. But that doesn’t mean they’re standing up.”)

I don’t know anything about Apple’s plans. But I know a lot about Apple, as do most of us. Here are the operative facts as they now stand (or at least as I see them):

  1. Apple likes to blow up categories that are stuck. They did it with PCs, laptops, printers, mp3 players, smartphones, music distribution and retailing. To name a few.
  2. TV display today is stuck in 1993. That’s when the ATSC (which defined HDTV standards) settled on the 16:9 format, with 1080 pixels (then called “lines”) of vertical resolution, and with picture clarity and sound quality contained within the data carrying capacity of a TV channel 6MHz wide. This is why all “Full HD” screens remain stuck at 1080 pixels high, no matter how physically large those screens might be. It’s also why more and more stand-alone computer screens are now 1920 x 1080. They’re made for TV. Would Steve Jobs settle for that? No way.
  3. Want a window into the future where Apple makes a TV screen that’s prettier than all others sold? Look no farther than what Apple says about the new iPad‘s resolution:
  4. Cable, satellite and over-the-air channels are still stuck at 6MHz of bandwidth (in the original spectrum-based meaning of that word). They’re also stuck with a need to maximize the number of channels within a finite overall bandwidth. This has resulted in lowered image quality on most channels, even though the images are still, technically, “HD”. That’s another limitation that surely vexed Steve.
  5. The TV set makers (Sony, Visio, Samsung, Panasonic, all of them) have made operating a simple thing woefully complicated, with controls (especially remotes) that defy comprehension. The set-top-box makers have all been nearly as bad for the duration. Same goes for the makers of VCR, DVD, PVR and other media players. Home audio-video system makers too. It’s a freaking mess, and has been since the ’80s.
  6. Steve at AllThingsD on 2 June 2010: “The only way that’s ever going to change is if you can really go back to square one and tear up the set-top-box and redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI, withall these different functions, and get it to the consumer in a way they are willing to pay for. We decided, what product do you want most? A better tv or a better phone? A better TV or a tablet? … The TV will lose until there is a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem.” He also called Apple TV (as it then stood) a “hobby”, for that reason. But Apple is bigger now, and has far more market reach and clout. In some categories it’s nearly a monopoly already, with at least as much leverage as Microsoft ever had. And you know that Apple hasn’t been idle here.
  7. Steve Jobs was the largest stockholder in Disney. He’s gone, but the leverage isn’t. Disney owns ABC and ESPN.
  8. The main thing that keeps cable in charge of TV content is not the carriers, but ESPN, which represents up to 40% of your cable bill, whether you like sports or not. ESPN isn’t going to bypass cable — they’ve got that distribution system locked in, and vice versa. The whole pro sports system, right down to those overpaid athletes in baseball and the NBA, depend on TV revenues, which in turn rest on advertising to eyeballs over a system made to hold those eyeballs still in real time. “There are a lot of entrenched interests,” says Peter Kafka in this On the Media segment. The only thing that will de-entrench them is serious leverage from somebody who can make go-to-market, UI, quality, and money-flow work. Can Apple do that without Steve? Maybe not. But it’s still the way to bet.

Cable folks have a term for video distribution on the net Net. They call it “over the top“. Of them, that is, and their old piped content system.

That’s actually what many — perhaps most — viewers would prefer: an à la carte choice of “content” (as we have now all come to say). Clearly the end state is one in which you’ll pay for some stuff while other stuff is free. Some of it will be live, and some of it recorded. That much won’t be different. The cable companies will also still make money for keeping you plugged in. That is, you’ll pay for data in any case. You’ll just pay more for some content. Much of that content will be what we now pay for on cable: HBO, ESPN and the rest. We’ll just do away with the whole bottom/top thing because there will be no need for a bottom other than a pipe to carry the content. We might still call some  sources “channels”; and surfing through those might still have a TV-like UI. But only if Apple decides to stick with the convention. Which they won’t, if they come up with a better way to organize things, and make selections easy to make and pay for.

This is why the non-persuasiveness of Take My Money, HBO doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. The ghost of Steve is out there, waiting. You’ll be watching TV his way. Count on it.

We’ll still call it TV, because we’ll still have big screens by that name in our living rooms. But what we watch and listen to won’t be contained by standards set in 1993, or by carriers and other “stakeholders” who never could think outside the box.

Of course, I could be wrong. But no more wrong than the system we have now.

Bonus link.

Another.

I enjoyed watching the Kentucky-Kansas NCAA Championship game last night, but not nearly as much as I have earlier finals, such as the Butler-Duke game two years ago. That game was in doubt even during the final second, when Gordon Hayward came inches away from winning it for Butler with a 45-foot shot released microseconds before the buzzer.

Here’s the difference. Duke-Butler was a college basketball game. The stars were college players, most of which might have had NBA fantasies, but only four of which were drafted: Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler. Three still play in the NBA. Singler plays in Europe. Of the NBA players, only Hayward is a starter. [Later... see corrections in the comments below.]

The Kansas-Kentucky final was a pro game. By that I mean that the game showcased a lot of future NBA talent. “What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders on this team.” Kentucky coach John Calipari told the LA Times. “We were the first program to have five, let’s have six.” On the Kansas side, there’s Thomas Robinson for sure. Others likely to be drafted, when available, are Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson. Another way of looking at it: Kansas-Kentucky was a college-pro game. Kansas was the college team, and Kentucky was the pro team.

But still, all the perennial high-seed college teams — including Kansas — have become showcases for NBA-bound talent. UNC, which many (including President Obama) expected to win it all this year, just saw three of their starters declare for the NBA draft. Last year’s top draft pick was Kyrie Irving, who played less than one year for Duke (he was injured some of the time). Austin Rivers, a freshman star at Duke this year, has also just declared for the NBA draft.

Part of me wants to believe that every great team takes years to assemble, even given the yearly attrition of talented underclassmen and graduating seniors. Yet the Kentucky team that won the championship this year was a very tight, well-coached and utterly unselfish team. They played some of the best team defense I’ve ever seen. I’d bet that John Calipari could put together an all-freshman team and get more than 30 wins in a season. Of course talent is required, but so is coaching, and a program that’s geared for one-and-done players prepping for their NBA careers by putting in a year at Kentucky. Even though most of those players won’t last, even if they do get drafted.

The 2012 Early Entry List at NBAdraft.net tells a story by itself. A handful of the the 107 players listed there will make it in the NBA. And that makes the unspoken sub-story of the tournament even more poignant. The Onion, as usual, surfaces those stories, with Totally Predictable Ending To Wild NCAA Tournament Prepares Student-Athletes For The Rest Of Their Miserable, Ho-Hum Lives and Nation Abuzz With Prospect Of 18-Year-Old Boys Having Their Dreams Crushed.

Which means that the NIT is now the only true college tournament, because — being comprised of teams that couldn’t make the NCAA playoff cut — they feature few future NBA players. Stanford won this year, and none of its players are on NBAdraft.net‘s list.

I’m not wringing my hands over this. Only pointing out a fact that just became clearer.

The Knicks just beat the Pacers, 102 to 88, in Indiana. Jeremy Lin had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He only had two turnovers — his one problem stat.  But that problem will end, because Jeremy Lin is a learner. That’s the second reason why he won’t be relegated to the bench from whence he came only six weeks ago. The first reason is that he’s clearly way better than the average NBA point guard, and better than many other starters as well. A lot of other teams would very much like to have Jeremy Lin starting for them.

Many in the media had written off Jeremy Lin after the Knicks hit the skid that ended with Mike D’Antoni’s resignation as head coach. But Jeremy has participated in the Knicks’ three straight wins since then, as a starter. I listened to the fourth quarter of this game, and he was the Main Man down the stretch, grabbing rebounds, getting steals, distributing the ball, drawing fouls, and hitting four straight free throws without a miss.

Not many people have visited the possibility that Jeremy Lin went undrafted because he wasn’t this good then. He got this good by playing against better competition, and learning every step of the way.

Look at his stats across four years at Harvard. When he arrived, recalled a Harvard coach, he was physically the weakest player on the team. Lin fixed that, and he’s still fixing it. All his stats went up, for the most part steadily. Yet most weren’t as high as he’s achieving now as a starting pro in the NBA.

Some players are already great in high school. A lot of those stay great through their few years in college, and a relative few make it in the NBA. And many of those are done growing as players, once they get there. They become like chess pieces. You know what they’re good for, and use them for that.

But others are on trajectories that start later and grow in a more linear way. Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon didn’t play basketball until he was fifteen, the same age at which Michael Jordan didn’t make the cut for his high school varsity team. Both men improved steadily through college and in the NBA. The main difference with Jeremy Lin is that he improved later.

My wife’s business partner, who was a mentor twenty years her senior, was one of the smartest people I ever met. And one of the wisest as well. When I asked her why she wanted to go into business with my wife, she said, “because I could teach her what she didn’t know, and she already knew what I couldn’t teach.”

I think the same thing applies to the best athletes. They are talented, but teachable. They can learn what they don’t know, and improve what don’t do well enough yet.

Jeremy Lin is that kind of player. Unless he gets injured, he’ll be fine. And so will team he plays with, if they’re ready to catch the ball.

When this is done, Linsanity will mean Lin sanity.

Check the Arbitron radio listening ratings for Washington DC. You have to go waaaay down the list before you find a single AM station that isn’t also simulcast on FM. But then, if you go to the bottom of the list, you’ll also find a clump of Internet streams of local radio stations.

You’ll see the same pattern at other cities on this list from Radio-Info.com. FM on top, AM below, and streams at the bottom.

Together these paint an interesting picture. At the top, Innovators, at the bottom, Dilemma. (Some context, if the distinction isn’t obvious.)

Note that Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM and other radio-like streaming services are not listed. Nor are podcasts or anything else one might listen to, including stuff on one’s smartphone, ‘pod or ‘pad. If they were, they’d be way up that list. According to Pandora CEO Joseph Kennedy (in this Radio INK piece),

…we have transitioned from being a small to medium sized radio station in every market in the U.S. to one of the largest radio stations in every market in the country. Based on the growth we continue to see, we anticipate that by the end of this year, we will be larger than the largest FM or AM radio station in most markets in U.S. As a consequence, our relevance to buyers of traditional radio advertising in skyrocketing. We have already begun to see the early benefits of this dramatic change. Our audio advertising more than doubled to more than $100 million in fiscal 2012.

Back when I was in the biz, public radio was a similar form of dark matter in the ratings. If you added up all the stations’ shares, they came 10-13% short of 100%. If one went to Arbitron’s headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland (as many of us did) to look at the “diaries” of surveyed listeners, you’d find that most of the missing numbers were from noncommercial stations. Today those are listed, and the biggest are usually at or near the top of the ratings.

But today’s dark matter includes a variety of radio-like and non-radio listening choices, including podcasts, satellite radio, and what the industry calls “pure-play streamers” and “on-demand music services.” Together all of these are putting a huge squeeze on radio as we knew it. AM is still around, and will last longest in places where it’s still the best way to listen, especially in cars. In flat prairie states with high ground conductivity, an AM station’s signal can spread over enormous areas. For example, here is the daytime coverage map from Radio-Locator.com for 5000-watt WNAX/570am in Yankton, South Dakota:

WNAX Daytime coverage

And here’s the one for 50000-watt WBAP/820 in Dallas-Fort Worth:

WBAP coverage

No FM station can achieve the same range, and much of that flat rural territory isn’t covered by cellular systems, a primary distribution system for the data streams that comprise Internet radio.

True, satellite radio covers the whole country, but there are no local or regional radio stations on SiriusXM, the only company in the satellite radio business. To some degree rural places are also served by AM radio at night, when signals bounce off the ionosphere, and a few big stations — especially those on “clear” channels — can be heard reliably up to several thousand miles away. (Listen to good car radio at night in Hawaii and you’ll still hear many AM stations from North America.) But, starting in 1980, “clears” were only protected to 750 miles from their transmitters, and many new stations came on the air to fill in “holes” that really weren’t. As a result AM listening at night is a noisy mess on nearly every channel, once you move outside any local station’s immediate coverage area on the ground.

Even in Dallas-Fort Worth, where WBAP is the biggest signal in town (reaching from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico, as you see above), WBAP is pretty far down in the ratings. (Copyright restrictions prevent direct quoting of ratings numbers, but at least we can link to them.) Same for KLIF and KRLD, two other AM powerhouses with coverage comparable to WBAP’s. News and sports, the last two staple offerings on the AM band, have also been migrating to FM. Many large AM news and sports stations in major metro areas now simulcast on FM, and some sound like they’re about to abandon their AM facilities entirely.WEEI in Boston no longer even mentions the fact that they’re on 850 on the AM dial. Their biggest competitor, WBZ-FM (“The Sports Hub”) is FM-only.

But while FM is finally beating AM, its ratings today look like AM’s back in the 1950s. FM wasn’t taken seriously by the radio industry then, even though it sounded much better, and also came in stereo. Today the over-the-air radio industry knows it is mightily threatened (as well as augmented, in some cases) by streaming and other listening choices. It also knows it’s not going to go away as long as over-the-air radio can be received in large areas where data streams cannot. It’s an open question, however, whether broadcasters will want to continue spending many thousands of dollars every month on transmitters of signals that can no longer be justified financially.

One big question for radio is the same one that faces TV. That is, What will ESPN do?

ESPN is the Giant Kahuna that’s keeping millions of listeners on AM and FM radio, and viewers on cable and satellite, that would leave if the same content were streamed directly over the Net.

Right now ESPN appears to be fine with distributing its programming through cable and local radio. But at some point ESPN is likely to go direct and avoid the old distribution methods — especially if listeners and viewers would rather have it that way.

On cable ESPN’s problem will be that the distribution will still largely be through cable and phone companies that will wish to be paid for the carriage. That’s a two-sided model that applies now only for TV and satellite radio, but not for anything traveling over the Net, which the cable folks call “Over The Top,” or OTT. (I’m guessing that ESPN already pays for that, in a limited way, through Akamai, Level 3, Limelight and other Content Distribution Networks, or CDNs, which serve a role you might call, in broadcast terms, of local transmitters. Some cable companies, I am sure, do the same. It’s a complicated situation.) If, say, Comcast and Verizon start offering mobile Internet services that are just Facebook, Google+, Twitter and ESPN, they will have kept ESPN from going OTT, and brought Facebook, Google+ and Twitter into the bottom. And, in the process, we will have moved a long way toward the “fully licensed world” I warned about, two posts back. (Interesting that ESPN and others want Arbitron to do “cross-platform measurement”, even as it continues to help make the case for AM and FM radio.)

Regardless of how that goes, AM and FM are stuck in a tunnel, facing the headlights of a content distribution train that they need to embrace before it’s too late.

Why Jeremy Lin suddenly such hot stuff?

Last night I listened to sports radio from ESPN, WFAN in New York, KNBR in San Francisco, and WEEI in Boston, as well as to KOVO here in Provo, Utah (where I’m hanging this week). One of the talkers put it best, saying something like this: “Let’s face it. There is no other story right now. Jeremy Lin is all we can talk about, because he’s too damned interesting.”

Tonight the saga continued. Jeremy Lin scored 27 points with 12 assists (and 8 turnovers) as the Knicks beat the Raptors in Toronto on a 3-point shot by — of course — Jeremy Lin. Also this: he made the winning shot with half a second on the clock. And that was after tying the game up a few seconds earlier with a drive to the basket in heavy traffic, drawing a foul, and making that shot too. That’s two three-point plays in a row. Great stuff. Legendary, considering that he’s done this kind of thing night after night, though a career that’s just six games long, so far.

So let’s pause to look at what makes a story — especially one so irresistible as this one:

  1. A character. That is, a protagonist. Somebody you can identify with, because they’re interesting and unique. Ideally, they aren’t from Central Casting. And they have flaws as well as positive qualities.
  2. A problem. That is, a challenge or a struggle that keeps you interested. (Turning the page, coming back for the next episode, whatever.)
  3. Movement toward a resolution. That is, the clear sense that this is all going somewhere, no matter how bad things might be now, or how complicated the plot lines thicken and braid.

Jeremy Lin scores big on all three. Like all of us, he’s not typical. In his case, especially for basketball. He’s 6’3, but that’s about average for a point guard. He’s also skinny, not bulging with muscles, not covered in tatoos. He’s also Chinese, in the ethnic sense, though he’s an American kid who grew up in Palo Alto. You don’t find many Chinese (or even Asian) players in the NBA, or even at the college level. He’s also a devout Christian who is quick to thank God, though not so quick as Tim Tebow.

He also has a problem: until just a few games ago, he couldn’t get much respect.

While he was named Player of the Year by many for leading Paly High to the state championship as a Senior, and was first team all-state in California that same year, he wasn’t recruited by any major schools, or even many minor ones. He ended up going to Harvard, which doesn’t give athletic scholarships and where he played four solid years of ball before graduating with a degree in economics and a 3.1 GPA. He was first team all-Ivy, and got kudos from many coaches, including Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun (on whose team he dropped 30 points and grabbed 9 boards), but went undrafted by the NBA. After excelling in an NBA summer league, he found his way to the end of the bench for the Golden State Warriors, his home team growing up. They cut him. Then he surfaced at the Houston Rockets. They cut him too. Then the New York Knicks picked him up off waivers from Houston. They were ready to cut him too, but needed help from deep in the bench after their two starting stars couldn’t play.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the rest is history. Lin played only 55 minutes in the Knicks’ prior 23 games, most of which the team lost. Then he came off the bench in a game on February 4 — remember, this is just ten days ago — and scored 25 points with 5 boards and 7 assists. The Knicks won. The Knicks have gone undefeated since then, with Lin as their point guard. He’s scored more than 20 points in all of those games, and hit the winning shot in two of them. He also out-scored Kobe Bryant, with 38 points, in a game against the Lakers.

So it’s a triumphant story, but it’s not over. What keeps us tuned in and turning the pages is that we don’t know what will happen next. Is he really that good? Can he keep it up? If the answers to either of those questions is yes, how many other Jeremy Lins are out there, unrecognized?

We don’t know, and that keeps us interested too.

In my case, I’m interested in Jeremy Lin as a character because both my older kids went to Paly High when we lived in Palo Alto. My son and I probably played basketball on some of the same courts Jeremy played on later. I also watched Jeremy play when he was at Harvard. I remember one game where it was clear that Jeremy was the best player on the floor. But the next night we went to a Celtics game and couldn’t help comparing the two games. The difference was extreme. I couldn’t imagine any of the players I saw at the Harvard game playing in the NBA, Jeremy Lin included.

But here he is. I’ve watched some of his games, and it’s clear that he’s a solid point guard without a lot of flash, reminding me of Steve Nash, Derek Fisher and John Stockton in their primes. Good penetrator. Good shooter. Great at sharing the ball and running the floor. But I think there’s more going on than talent and style. Basketball, like all sports, is a head game. Skill isn’t enough. You’ve got to have your head straight. Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest players of all time, and the only one ever to score 100 points in a game (when there were no 3-point shots, not that he would have taken any), was a notoriously bad foul shooter. Yet in practice, I’ve read, Wilt was terrific at foul-shooting. He just choked in games.

What I’m saying is that Jeremy Lin is a head-case in the positive sense: he’s broken through into a zone where his head is level and his emotions are positive. He believes in himself, and he believes in his team. He has the poise of a player who has been a starter for ten years. The other players he makes look good include Bill Walker, Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries and Steve Novak, none of whom are big stars.

Can’t help loving it. The story is too good not to.

[Later...] Well, the Knicks played two more games since I wrote the above, winning one and losing the other. Jeremy Lin scored 10 points with 13 assists in the first, and 25 points with 5 assists and 4 steals in the second. Alas, he also had nine turnovers in that one. Protecting the ball is a weakness of his — and now he’s not overlooked by opposing defenses. Still, you can’t win them all. He’s clearly a solid NBA player on a team that was tanking without him and now has strong shot at making the playoffs.

So I want to add two more points to the ones I made above.

One is that Lin’s ethnicity, while it adds spice to his story, has nothing to do with his qualities as a basketball player. On this issue lots of commentators are quite wrong. Says Walt Frazier in this USA Today story, “This league is dominated by African Americans. What are the odds of an Asian guy coming on and having this impact? It’s amazing. It’s inexplicable.” No, it’s not. The chance is very small that the next NBA player coming through a door will be Asian, but the NBA has hundreds of players spread across 30 teams. It should be no surprise that an Asian guy would show up every once in awhile, especially if he’s an American who grew up playing excellent high school and college ball, as Jeremy Lin did. And his impact has everything to do with his skills as a player and nothing to do with his name or his looks. The only influence those had (I say, in the past tense) was on talent scouting. A big reason he escaped notice was that he didn’t look like a typical basketball player. This is now a mistake that scouts are less likely to make. (By the way, Lin’s agent is black, and Lin has a great sense of humor about his unique non-basketball qualities. I mean, you’ve gotta see this video.)

The other is that Lin has clearly worked on his game. By that I mean he is not the player we saw at Paly High, at Harvard, or even in games for the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets. He has improved. Practicing with NBA players has made him a better player. Also, at the Knicks, he has been learning a new offense under Coach Mike D’Antoni. Remember how well D’Antoni did in Phoenix with Steve Nash at guard? That’s why the Knicks recruited D’Antoni. Turns out Lin is a lot like Nash: a smart non-egotistical high-energy player who runs the floor at high speed, can navigate through traffic, looks to pass before he shoots, and plays tough defense that forces a lot of turnovers. That’s why other players like to have him on the floor. The coach too.

Some links from Zemanta:

I grew up in New Jersey and New York, rooting for the Giants. (And, in the Namath era, the Jets too.)

Then, after 20 years in North Carolina (mostly as a college basketball fan), I lived in the Bay Area for 25 years, and rooted for the 49ers there. One daughter lives in the Bay Area, and most of my wife’s huge family lives in the Bay Area, and most of them are hard-core for the Niners. We were out there a week ago and got some great hang time watching the Niners beat the Saints.

However, I’ve worked and lived in New England for five and a half years now, and have been rooting for the Patriots here. Our fourth kid lives here too and pulls for the Pats.

One of our kids lives in Baltimore, along with both of our grandkids. Another kid lives in Maryland too. That’s our Ravens connection.

So I won’t mind too much if the Ravens beat the Pats. Very close game so far.

But I do want the Pats to win. Niners too. We’ll see how it goes.

[Later...] Pats won, on a heartbreaking field goal miss by the Ravens. Feel bad for that kicker. Also for the whole Ravens team, which I thought played better than the Pats. Would have been a good overtime game.

Now the Niners are up by seven in the rain. A Niners-Pats game would be terrific. Hope it happens.

[Later still...] Giants take it in overtime, off a Niners fumble. A hard way for the Harbaugh brothers to lose: on late errors, after well-played games.

Pats-Giants will be a good game. I’m picking in the Pats, but it’s hard not to respect the Giants after the run they’ve had late in the season. Wow.

 

 

Hassle House poster panel

That’s what many thought when they first saw the poster for Hassle House, in Durham, North Carolina, back in ’76 or so. As soon as any of the posters went up, they disappeared, becoming instant collectors’ items. At the time, all I wanted was to hire the cartoonist who did it, so he could illustrate some of the ads I was creating for a local audio shop. That cartoonist was the polymath Ray Simone, who went on to become the creative leader of Hodskins Simone & Searls (HS&S), the advertising agency I co-founded with Ray and David Hodskins, in 1978, and which thrived in North Carolina and Silicon Valley for the next two decades.

When I put up Remembering Ray, which (among much else) expressed my wish to re-surface the Hassle House poster, Jay Cunningham said in a comment that he could scan his copy. Which he did, and the results are here. In another comment Rob Gringle gives more of the back-story than I had known at the time.

Before HS&S, David and Ray were both with a small “mutilple media studio” called Solar Plexus Enterprises, which grew out of the Duke Media Center. Also there was Helen Hudson Whiting, who was a first-rate epicure as well as the fastest and most capable typesetter I had ever known. I just looked Helen up and found this nice write-up from Duke Magazine Books:

In Helen’s Kitchen: A Philosophy of Food


By Helen Hudson Whiting. Regulator Bookshop, 2000. 241 pages. $17.95.

In the text below is this:

Helen Hudson Whiting ’75 was, among other things, a bookseller and co-owner of Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, a reader, a writer, and an amateur chef. For nineteen years, she wrote food commentaries for Triangle area publications: first for WDBS-FM’s The Guide, and then for The Independent.

In Helen’s Kitchen, organized posthumously and edited by her friends and colleagues, features an eclectic selection of these columns, as well as remembrances from people who knew Whiting and cherished her enterprising, adventurous culinary attitude and her zest for pleasure and her keen intellect.

I worked with Ray, Helen and David at Solar Plexus before we founded HS&S, and Helen continued to work alongside the new agency, doing most of our typesetting. So she became a good friend as well.

But that’s not my point here. My point is that ours was a special community, and at the beginning of many things, although we didn’t know it at the time.

At Ray’s memorial gathering in Pacifica last Sunday, Steve Tulsky made that point beautifully. He said our artsy-hippie community in Durham and Chapel Hill back then was a special group. Much was born there, in music, art, performance, writing, publishing, business, events, and other fields. The Independent, modeled by The Guide, is still going strong. So is the Regulator Bookshop. WDBS is long gone. So are WQDR and WRDU (as what they were then, anyway), which carried forward the radio torch WDBS lit when it went on in 1971. But their spirits survive in Good Radio everywhere. The Festival for the Eno, still going strong, began as the Folklife Festival, in 1976, on the country’s bicentennial. WDBS was highly involved, as the station broadcasting the many musical acts playing there. (Perhaps some old tapes still survive.)

While I was working with David, Ray and Helen at Solar Plexus in ’77, I also worked with the Psychical Research Foundation, which studied scientifically evidence for life after death, and was located at Duke University. The PRF spun off of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, led by J. B. Rhine, who launched the whole parapsychology field out of research he conducted at Duke in the 1930. Among the many decendents of that work is the Institute of Noetic Sciences, headed by Marilyn Schlitz, another member of our community back in the decade.

Here’s another weird connection. One of the central institutions of that time in Durham was the Durham Bulls single-A baseball team, which played at an old athletic field surrounded by brick tobacco warehouses. It was a special team at a special time and place. You might remember the movie about it.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring back to the foreground some of what we’ve lost or forgotten from that wonderful formative period in so many lives, and in so many ways.

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