John Wooden was 99 years old.
He coached his last game at UCLA three years before I was born.
I have no particular affinity for the UCLA program or any of the players who have graduated from it.
Yet, for whatever reason, I find myself somewhat emotional about the coach’s death.
The question is why.
I think it comes down to this: John Wooden’s greatness was that he wasn’t great. He was a basketball coach. He wasn’t a President or a General or one of the great minds of his generation. He was simply a coach. A man dedicated to making sure his players were prepared from game to game, and through that, prepared for life.
My biggest complaint about sports has always been how serious it takes itself. (Yes, I acknowledge the inherent hypocrisy of my saying that while spending a good portion of my time trying to think up clever things to say about sports in exchange for no money.) John Wooden knew his relative importance and the relative importance of what he did for a living. He was a disciplinarian who had rules for his players. But they were rules for life. He never acted as if the game was the most important thing. He did not compare basketball to war. He didn’t demand that players hold it in their hearts above family or friends or god. It was basketball. Take the lessons you learn on the court and apply them everyday. Hopefully, you’re life will be better for it.
It’s a lesson every ridiculous coach should keep in mind, while he’s screaming till his face turns red and he has spit hanging off his chin.
For the second week in a row, the Magazine’s first half is unremarkable. There’s a somewhat interesting piece on Dr. James Andrews’ quest to better educate parents about overuse injuries in young athletes. But, let me ask you this, Dr. Andrews. If you’re so troubled by performing Tommy John surgery on 11 year olds, why not stop performing Tommy John surgery on 11 year olds? If parents realize their kids pro careers could be over before they start, chances are, they’ll do more to prevent catastrophic injuries.
Now, I’d like to turn your attention to the ad on the back page of this magazine. Its a Chaps advertisement (the company, not the cowboy/gay man pants.) A handsome gentleman standing with 5 adorable kids, all apparently ready to play some baseball. That’s great. What’s more American than that? NOTHING. One problem, though. None of these children are wearing socks.Â SIR, THESE CHILDREN WILL BE GOING HOME WITH BLISTERS ON THEIR FEET TONIGHT. That is not good parenting.
Kobe’s Final Challenge by Lee Jenkins
Kobe Bryant likes to win. We know this. There is no new ground being broken within the pages of this article.Â What is most striking, in my opinion, is how many assistant coaches the Lakers have. Chuck Person, Brian Shaw, Kareem tutors the big men, there’s even a guy who’s title is “director of athletic performance.”Â I don’t know what it means, I just think it’s worth noting. Anyway, they’re going to win the title. Despite a great last month, the Celtics are an old team who won’t be able to keep up with the Lakers. Ignore what the “experts” (like Ian Thomsen) say. I’m right and they’re wrong.
City of Second Chances by Andrew Lawrence
A great feature article. Marion Jones and Nolan Richardson are trying to rebuild their sports lives by uniting on the roster of a WNBA franchise relocated to Tulsa. It’s interesting to read about, and intellectually, it’s an experiment who’s outcome I would like to know about. That being said, I will NEVER watch this team play. A WNBA franchise in Tulsa, Oklahoma? That sounds like the basis for a bad UPN sitcom.
Also, look at Nolan Richardson. Does he look like fat Fred Sanford or black Colonel Sanders?
Two for The Road by Lars Anderson
I skipped it.
The Mullet That Ate Chicago by Sarah Kwak
Sarah Kwak was told to write a profile of Patrick Kane, but had trouble coming up with a hook. Thus, the discussion of his playoff mullet. It wasn’t necessary.Â Just write about how the city is excited about the Blackhawks and how Kane is symbolic of that excitement. Kwak’s job was made significantly more difficult by the fact that Sports Illustrated profiled Kane’s linemate, Dustin Byfuglien, just last week. Sometimes you need to let a team breathe a bit, to allow story angles to come up organically. Otherwise, you’re left with haircuts.
Wave of the Future by Tom Verducci
The Major League Baseball draft gets some attention. Verducci turns his attention to teams building through the draft. A fine article, but nothing really of note in either writing style or subject.
What Took You So Long? by Joe Posnanski
I like this a lot. Instead of profiling Stephen Strasburg for the 8ooth time, Posnanski profiles the hysteria surrounding the first great Nat. He discusses the impact Strasburg had on his minor league teams and what his major league team is hoping he’ll mean to them. And he manages to do it without going overboard on the rhetorical flourish.
Good Isn’t Good Enough by Joe Posnanski
I started reading this article without much interest and with the intention of skimming the majority. But the first paragraph caught my attention.
Landon Donovan cannot move. Well, this is Kansas City. Nobody can move. The Wizards’ field is the bane of American soccer. Carved into a minor league baseball stadium, CommmunityAmerica Ballpark, it’s way too short and way too narrow. Playing here, as Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena will say, is like playing big league baseball with the bases 75 feet apart. The field smothers creativity. There is no open space. There are no clear angles. It is soccer in a Chevy Equinox.
I recognized that writing, then looked at the name of the author and realized why. Joe Posnanski has a very specific and unique style that I really admire.Â He can paint a word picture as well as anyone I’ve ever read. But that doesn’t mean this piece is without fault. It’s main thesis is based on the false premise that Landon Donavan was some sort of child prodigy. He was a great teenage soccer player who dominated games played by other teenagers. The article is peppered with quotes about Mozart, Bobby Fischer and Itzhak Pearlman. These men showed unnatural acumen at their given vocation at preternaturally early stages of their lives. They are child prodigies. Landon Donavan was just really good.
All Americans by Grant Wahl
I’ve been dreading this issue of Sports Illustrated for the last couple of months. But, the World Cup Preview isn’t as bad as I expected. It only takes up about a third of the magazine, and features a couple of actual articles written in language the average non-soccer enthusiast can understand. I have one question though. What’s a cap? Seriously, I’m asking. If you know, explain it to me in the comments section.
Bangers and Bolognese by Grant Wahl
I think Bangers are a type of English sausage. Bolognese is Italian meat sauce. Bangers and Bolognese sounds like a redundant dinner. Too much meat.Â As for the article, the English team has an Italian coach. That’s apparently a big deal.
Group Previews and Tournament Prediction by SI Staff
Sports Illustrated always does well with preview issues. I’ve said before that my two favorite issues every year are the NBA preview and the MLB preview. They apply the formula well here. Did I read it closely? No. But if you want to, you will be well served.
THIS IS GREAT! The case of Mackey Sasser is one of the great unexamined stories in baseball history. His efforts to reach out to Jarrod Saltalamacchia are well chronicled here. This is a must read.