Ending all this March Madness (watching with my kids, in April).

March Madness is my favorite sports season. It’s quick, exciting, and provides good conversation with friends near and far, because one doesn’t have to follow the teams all season long to have an opinion. It’s an easy on-ramp to accessible sports to end the winter and bring on spring. Plus, there appears to be a genuine “love of the game” displayed out there on the court. Of course, the genius of March Madness is the filthy amounts of money in it. TV ads sell at a premium for all the broadcasts of the field of 64 (or now, 68). There’s a different love of the game at play for those wearing suits instead of jerseys.


For the last two weeks you’ve probably heard about the big business of college sports. Bloggers calling for accountability with the NCAA, the governing body lining its pockets with gold and sweat from the players’ brows. Beat writers giving the behind-the-scenes interviews with disaffected student-athletes dishing on being special recipients of cash, pleasure or good grades. Even a new awareness of why the term “student-athlete” is the preferred lingo across the land. (If they are students and athletes, and not employees, there’s no responsibility to provide workers compensation—both in insurance, and renumeration). Kevin Ware’s horrific broken-leg injury on Easter Sunday brought more of these issues to the limelight. Will he ever play again? Will a scholarship be waiting for him next year? Will he resurrect his playing career? (I won’t link to a photo of the injury; almost threw up when I saw it happen live in front of the Louisville Cardinal bench.)

These are calls for justice, even in the arena of sport.

(Maybe you’ve heard it. I listen to a bit of what I jokingly call “conservative sports talk radio.” It’s the only radio programming I can stand, because the personalities on political talk radio seem to dumb it down too much and talk at us like we’re all idiots. Well, maybe we are, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Back to justice in sports …

People get really amped up when their beloved past-time (read: way of checking out and coping) suddenly feels rigged. We like things to be “pure,” and somehow act surprised when things aren’t as they should or appear to be. From the public outrage over Beyonce lip-syncing at the Presidential Inauguration, to wardrobe malfunctions during the Super Bowl halftime show, to the time you suggested an old favorite movie to watch with friends or your kids and realized, “Oh no, this isn’t as ‘clean’ as I remember it was!” (News flash: the storyline and innuendo in the nice feel-good romantic movie “Dirty Dancing” is appropriately disclosed in the title. It’s not so much a movie about “dancing.”) I’m the same way. It takes stepping back and recognizing the good-and-bad mixed together, especially when it comes to entertainment.

Tonight I will probably watch the National Championship basketball game, the climactic end of this run of March Madness. (My bracket is in shambles, as I somehow thought Gonzaga would shine brightly in their moment of recognition and make it through the gauntlet as a #1 seed.) I say “probably” watch because I first need to check with the boss on that.

If we watch, our kids and I will sit in the home office on the big chair and snuggle and spill popcorn. During the commercials we’ll do some pretty important things together: go feed their new goldfish, get ready for bed, pick up the loft, brush our teeth, and so forth. Not without protest.

Bedtime means the end of the day of fun. Yet the protest could have other special reasons tonight. The timing of our breaks may lead to some disagreement. There’s something subconscious that happens during the breaks in the game action. See, my son’s favorite part of television is the commercials. If we had it on much he would wish to only see the commercials, not the shows, and would spend the rest of his days reciting the mantras of his favorite ads. One time at bedtime he remarked that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because … well … “it’s where magic happens!” (I’m sure he learned that at his grandparents. 😉

When bedtime comes around—likely before the game is over and the nets are cut down—we’ll snuggle and laugh and talk about the highlights and lowlights of our day. It’s a drawn-out process, as much as the kids have a say. The stories of adventure, questions of what fun things happened today (and tonight, probably about the television ads) fill the dimly lit room.

It’s during those times I long to be a good father. Of course, part of telling these stories is to buy more time before having to fall asleep. And part of it, the cute part, the part I will never miss as a father, is the way in which their curiosity and learning is seeping out of them. It’s always my favorite time of the day, the least “productive” yet most rewarding. Even when tired, it’s the most wonderful time of the day.

20130408-045607.jpgAs for the game: apparently there is a method to all this madness. The NCAA recognizes the money to be made in advertising, and while they sell the product promote the student-athletes on the court, many suitors have shown up on their porch (at the door of CBS, TBS, TruTV, and the online streaming broadcasts of the games) to promote their wares in ad space. They are buying time. A basketball game is actually a pretty short contest. There’s a reason for all the stoppage of play, timeouts, and long breaks. Ben Cohen reveals the numbers on the sports blog for the Wall Street Journal:

“In fact, basketball accounts for just 29.4% of a basketball broadcast. The rest is devoted to stoppages like media timeouts, which are extended in the NCAA tournament and take up 20.5%, and halftime, which is more than 22 minutes on average. The stoppages starting with the last media timeout, at the first whistle after the four-minute mark of the second half, averaged over 17 minutes. The total time of rest after whistles is more than 12 minutes. And the wait during free throws accounts for 13.2% of NCAA tournament broadcasts, or almost 18 minutes. In fact, the median break for free throws in these three games lasted 50 seconds—enough time to think of everything else you could be doing with your time.”

My question for you: what will you do with all that extra time? If the game lasts three hours, and about 30% (54 minutes) of it was actual game action, how will you fill the remaining two hours and six minutes?

I’ll be there, remote it hand, to mute or turn off the TV, asking our kids questions about their thoughts and feelings. The real action will be thousands of miles from the game in Atlanta. It will be right in the room, with plenty of time to make sense of the madness.

Who’s playing again?


Getting #Linsanity: waiting for your big shot.

20120221-031836.jpgWhat do you think of Jeremy Lin’s story? Are you caught up in #Linsanity?

The power of his story has almost single-handedly saved the lockout-shortened NBA season, and reminded us of the pure joy we find watching players who make everyone around them better, lead by being generous more than prideful, and the team becomes a more powerful force than they could be as a random assortment of stars.

“The Lin story has broken out into the general culture because it is aspirational in the extreme, fulfilling notions that have nothing to do with basketball or race. Most of us are not superstars, but we believe we could be if only given the opportunity.”

David Carr (via New York Times), adding:

“We are, as a matter of practicality, a nation of supporting players, but who among us has not secretly thought we could be at the top of our business, company or team if the skies parted and we had our shot?”

Do you secretly have those same thoughts? Are you patiently waiting for your ‘big shot,’ toiling away in obscurity while embodying faithfulness and perseverance, on the path toward gaining godly wisdom?

Source: Getty Images


Flying football.

Alaska Air commercial featuring Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer:


Here in the States we call this game “soccer,” and instead call “football” a game that only involves using one’s feet to kick in the margins of the game: to begin halves (kickoffs), when you’ve given up your turn (to punt), want to grab a few points (field goal), or just scored (point-after-try and then another kickoff). All of the kicking in football happens in “special teams.” In professional American Football (the NFL) those teams practice separately, have special coaching staffs, and run their own special plays. It’s kind of an oddity. Football fans like to crack jokes about “soccer” — that the game is boring, there’s not enough scoring, and the game is too long. In reality it is our “football” that is a little bit silly; consider there are only about 11 minutes of game action in an NFL game. A whole lot of grown men standing around; and then running into each other.

Even over here in little America there are avid football fans. (And by “football” I mean “soccer,” which is the true football). Listen as Portland Timbers fans all join in together for a chant: “You Cannot Stop Us … We Are The Rose City”:
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4,178 days: Gritty, gusty, tough and resourceful.

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks for becoming the 2011 NBA Champions. The Dirk Side won over the Dark Side.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle used terms such as grit, guts, mental toughness and resourcefulness to describe his team, saying the men he coached embodied those attributes more than any other team he’d been around. (That’s saying a lot; he played on the ’86 Celtics.) [See a great article by ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande.]

The most outspoken and fan-like owner in sports was especially silent during this trip to the NBA Finals. After the game he said:

“I learned chemistry matters, that it’s a team game. That you have to have players that believe in each other and trust each other and trust your coach. And that it’s a process. And that it doesn’t happen overnight.”
—Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (breaking his media embargo for the NBA Playoffs and Finals); via the Daily Dime on ESPN.com

MavsThere are few shortcuts in life. Sports and business commenter Darren Rovell noted that Mark Cuban had to wait 4,178 days for a title. Perseverance and faithfulness pay off. This morning he had company on the plane back to Dallas. I don’t know much about Mark Cuban, but it appears the man is growing in humility and gratitude, which is helping him muster the courage to be generous towards others.

Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team LeBron James left last July in “The Decision” to “take [his] talents to South Beach” after six years together, tweeted that there are NO SHORTCUTS. There may be some shortcuts, but ultimately we won’t be successful in life over the longhaul if we take the easy road.

Let’s be clear: neither road for either team was easy.

The constant scrutiny, the overplayed commentary on the faux coughs (D-Wade and LeBron apparently mocking Nowitzki, caught on local media). Some would say they did this to themselves. I agree. But it still has to be an overwhelming ordeal, self-inflicted or not. They began the year celebrating themselves, long before the season. And today the Miami Herald has a Macy’s ad offering Heat championship gear. Oops.

The Miami Heat of 2010-2011 have been together for about 340 days. Under Cuban’s leadership the Mavericks invested 4,178 days pursuing a championship. That should be celebrated. It’s not so much that they waited so long. It’s that the persevered so diligently.

I wasn’t able to watch game 6, but was rooting from afar for the Mavericks. Something about their non-superstar superstar Dirk Nowitzki makes we want to root for him and their team. (And not just because we were born two days apart.) His whole adult life is wrapped around pursuing the great prize, and in the off-season he holes up in a gym and works on his game. Gritty, gutsy, tough. No excuses. During interviews he grabs the mic and speaks eloquently, never deriding the opposition or mocking them. The young man from Würzburg, Germany seems like a class act to me. One of those people who is the same from far away as when you see them up close.

The fallout from the Heat’s loss will be as big a story as the Mavs win. The Heat were supposed to win; they almost bought themselves a championship, and the fear was this would become the new norm. The Mavs took a different route, and though they too are spending millions there are no easy fixes. After the game LeBron James commented on those who were rooting against him:

“At the end of the day, all the people rooting for me to fail, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live. . . . They can get a few days or a few months on being happy about not only myself but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

He’s right. We all woke up to our same mediocre lives. He woke up to the same personal problems he had yesterday as well. That’s true of all of us. Sports give us a mini-escape from reality, but we must face our problems and persevere through them. We are all witnesses to the challenges of life.

In the face of Dirk’s brilliant fade-away jumper, the Miami Heat probably wish the criticism would just go away. Of course they will rebound. Life treats talented people very kindly, especially those who are a business-in-and-of-themselves; LeBron’s ‘brand’ will take a hit, but after next year’s pending lockout he’ll have another chance to courageously pursue faithfulness and perseverance.

Actually, during the lockout, when the games are not televised or scrutinized — that’s when one must persevere and be faithful. If we would be awesome when everyone’s watching, we must do the daily work when no one’s there to see. If we’re honest, that’s the title we desire: to be called faithful and courageous. It takes grit, guts, and resourcefulness. A ring is just bling; becoming a faithful person who perseveres is the real deal.

All of it makes we want to get a new shirt.

[Thanks to @darrenrovell for most of these links.]