Thursday, August 28, 2014

WNBA 2014 Final Power Rankings*

The “measuring stick” is explained at the bottom.

No. 1 Phoenix Mercury (6)
[13-week ESPN rating: 1
9-week Abacus rating: 1
6-week Abacus rating: 1
3-week Abacus rating: 2
2013 Abacus Rating: 4]
29-5, .853; 1st seed West / 1st overall
KK:  +12; (13 Road Wins – 1 Home Loss) / No. 1 overall
CQ:  +62; (.515 - .453) / No. 1 overall
SPOR-t:  +63; (540-499) / No. 3 overall
Abacus Revelation: Tough not to be best in the league when you’re tops offensively and defensively in both Efficiency and Field Goal shooting. The only areas where the Mercury grade out poorly are Offensive Rebounding (No. 11) and forcing Turnovers (No. 10).

No. 2 Minnesota Lynx (8)
[13-week ESPN rating: 2
9-week Abacus rating: 2
6-week Abacus rating: 2
3-week Abacus rating: 1
2013 Abacus Rating: 1]
25-9, .735; 2nd seed West / 2nd overall                                          
KK:  +8; (10 Road Wins – 2 Home Losses) / No. 2 overall
CQ:  +45; (.508 - .463) / No. 2 overall
SPOR-t:  +53; (552-499) / No. 2 overall
Abacus Revelation: Gotta love the Lynx – model franchise on and off the court. But you also gotta start to think that their window of championship opportunity will close in direct proportion to the rise of the dominance of Brittney Griner. I expect Maya and her crew play with some extra passion this go-round.

No. 3 Atlanta Dream (10)
[13-week ESPN rating: 4
9-week Abacus rating: 2
6-week Abacus rating: 2
3-week Abacus rating: 6
2013 Abacus Rating: 4]
19-15, .559; 1st seed East / 3rd overall
KK:  +2; (6 Road Wins – 4 Home Losses) / No. 3 overall
CQ:  +17; (.478 - .461) / No. 3 overall
SPOR-t:  +54; (539-485) / No. 1 overall
Abacus Revelation: Atlanta has everything needed to be an elite team – skilled and athletic bigs, a take-over-the-game star (and perhaps another, tiffany Hayes, in-training), quality if under-sized guards. Post-All-Star break, they were the league’s second-worst team in CQ. Confounding!

No. 4 Los Angeles Sparks (19)
[13-week ESPN rating: 8
9-week Abacus rating: 4
6-week Abacus rating: 7
3-week Abacus rating: 5
2013 Abacus Rating: 2]
16-18, .471; 4th seed West / 4th overall (tied)
KK:  -1; (9 Road Wins – 10 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  +12; (.484 - .472) / No. 4 overall
SPOR-t:  +16; (527-511) / No. 4 overall
Abacus Revelation: The enigmatic Sparks were dead last in successful 3-point shots (89) and No. 10 in free throw attempts (573).

No. 5 Indiana Fever (25)
[13-week ESPN rating: 6
9-week Abacus rating: 5
6-week Abacus rating: 6
3-week Abacus rating: 7
2013 Abacus Rating: 7]
16-18, .471; 2nd seed East / 4th overall (tied)
KK:  -1; (9 Road Wins – 10 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -12; (.4- .486) / No. 8 overall
SPOR-t:  +4; (516-512) / No. 6 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Fever are the third most accurate 3-point shooting team (.346) in the circuit and are second-best in defending it (.305). Good combination in today’s game, huh?

No. 6 Washington Mystics (26)
[13-week ESPN rating: 3
9-week Abacus rating: 6
6-week Abacus rating: 9
3-week Abacus rating: 4
2013 Abacus rating: 6]
16-18, .471; 3rd seed East /4th overall (tied)
KK:  -1; (8 Road Wins – 9 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -8; (.460 - .468) / No. 6 overall
SPOR-t:  -15; (501-516) / No. 9 overall
Abacus Revelation: Though offensively challenged, Coach Mike Thibault’s troops rank second in Opponent FG% (.412) and third in Opponent 3-point FG’s (144).

No. 7 New York Liberty (30)
[13-week ESPN rating: 9
9-week Abacus rating: 9
6-week Abacus rating: 12
3-week Abacus rating: 10
2013 Abacus Rating: 9]
15-19, .441; 5th seed East / 8th overall (tied)
KK:  -2; (5 Road Wins – 7 Home Losses) / No. 8 overall (tied)
CQ:  -7; (.459 - .4676/ No. 5 overall
SPOR-t:  -10; (484-494) / No. 8 overall
Abacus Revelation: Little wonder that a Bill Laimbeer-coached squad would box-out efficiently, limiting opponents to a league-worst .233 Offensive Rebounding percentage. The Liberty were above .500 (11-9) in their last 20 games. Are  better times on the horizon?

No. 8 San Antonio Stars (32)
[13-week ESPN rating: 7
9-week Abacus rating: 7
6-week Abacus rating: 8
3-week Abacus rating: 8
2013 Abacus Rating: 11]
16-18, .471; 3rd seed West / 4th overall (tied)
KK:  -1; (8 Road Wins – 9 Home Losses) / No. 4 overall (tied)
CQ:  -28; (.472 - .500) / No. 11 overall
SPOR-t:  -35; (514-549) / No. 10 overall
Abacus Revelation: The Stars had the fewest (97) missed free throws, the most successful 3-point FG’s (226) and rank second in combined shooting (including FT% and 3FG%). Still, as the league grows bigger and more athletic, Appel and Adams need more help up front.

No. 9 Connecticut Sun (34)
[13-week ESPN rating: 12
9-week Abacus rating: 8
6-week Abacus rating: 4
3-week Abacus rating: 12
2013 Abacus Rating: 12]
13-21, .382; 6th seed East / 10th overall
KK:  -4; (4 Road Wins – 8 Home Losses) / No. 10 overall
CQ:  -15; (.467 - .482) / No. 9 overall
SPOR-t:  +11; (531-520) / No. 5 overall
Abacus Revelation: The young and pesky Sun rank best in the “hustle” categories of Offensive Rebounding (3rd) and forcing turnovers (4th). Since WNBA rookies have little if any prep time for their season, expect better production from their No. 2 & 3 players in total minutes, A. Thomas and C. Ogwumike respectively.

No. 10 Chicago Sky (35)
[13-week ESPN rating: 5
9-week Abacus rating: 12
6-week Abacus rating: 10
3-week Abacus rating: 3
2013 Abacus Rating: 3]
15-19, .441; 4th seed East / 8th overall (tied)
KK:  -2; (6 Road Wins –8Home Losses) / No. 8 overall (tied)
CQ:  -10; (.470 - .480) / No. 7 overall
SPOR-t:  -48; (492-540) / No. 11 overall
Abacus Revelation: Pokey Chapman’s Sky rank third in both Opponent FG% (.420) and 3-point FG% (.315) .

No. 11 Tulsa Shock (40)
[13-week ESPN rating: 11
9-week Abacus rating: 10
6-week Abacus rating: 5
3-week Abacus rating: 12
2013 Abacus Rating: 9]
12-22, .353; 5th seed West / 11th overall (tied)
KK:  -5; (4 Road Wins – 9 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)
CQ:  -20; (.498 - .518) / No. 10 overall
SPOR-t:  -6; (567-573) / No. 7 overall
Abacus Revelation: The young and entertaining Shock are third-best in Offensive Efficiency and No. 1 in Offensive Rebounding and SPOR-t.

No. 12 Seattle Storm (47)
[13-week ESPN rating: 10
9-week Abacus rating: 11
6-week Abacus rating: 11
3-week Abacus rating: 10
2013 Abacus Rating: 8]
12-22, .353; 5th seed West / 11th overall (tied)
KK:  -5; (4 Road Wins – 9 Home Losses) / No. 11 overall (tied)
CQ:  -41; (.451 - .492) / No. 12 overall
SPOR-t:  -95 (442-537) / No. 12 overall
Abacus Revelation: Coach Brian Agler’s crew made the second-most 3-point FG’s and were third=best in “boxing-out.” Wonder who he’ll want with that first draft pick?

Our team-ranking tool utilizes four elements. Two scales are based solely on team wins and losses; the others are measures of the efficiency of team performance in comparison with the competition. First, we’ll simply use win-loss record irrespective of conference.
The second criterion will be the difference between a team’s road wins and its home losses. Since this cute little metric is said to be a personal favorite of long-time NBA coach George Karl (now at ESPN), let’s call this the Karl Kount (KK).
Criterion No. 3, Conversion Quotient (CQ), involves the rate at which a team converts its possessions into a successful field goals or free throw attempts. Like the KK, the computation is simple subtraction—a team’s rate of offensive efficiency minus that of the opponent.
Lastly, please allow Abacus to introduce the “SPOR-t” score. SPOR-t stands for “Shooting Plus Offensive Rebounds minus turnovers.” Add a team’s FG percentage and its offensive rebounding percentage (o. boards divided by missed FG’s). Then subtract the percentage of a team’s possessions lost to turnovers. For example, a team shoots field goals at a .488 clip, its offensive rebounds account for .199 of its missed field goals, and .143 of its possessions result in a turnover. So its SPOR-t is (488+199-143) or 544. Once again, our measurement will be the difference between the SPOR-t scores of a team and its opposition.

We’ll rank the teams from 1 to 12 in all criteria and simply add up the rankings. Low score wins, naturally. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Basketball Efficiency, or How Do You Measure Knowing How to Win?

Suppose you and I are playing a game. We each get ten chances to achieve the object of the game. If you succeed seven times compared to my five, your higher rate of proficiency means that you win.

Given that basketball is a game of alternating possessions (except, of course, for “make-it-take-it” on the schoolyard or driveway)…

And applying the same logic we’d presumed in our hypothetical little competition…

Then the team that converts its scoring opportunities at a higher rate of efficiency should win a basketball game, right?

Not only is this conclusion syllogistically valid – there’s a good bit of data that offers confirmation.

Nevertheless, there are occasions where a team that plays less efficiently manages to score more points than the other guys. Consider this recent example:

Team “A” converted 48.7% of its possessions (37) in scoring a moderate 67 points at home. Team “B” tallied 33 conversions (45.2%) but 71 points and a victory.

Such an illogical outcome (in which a team “plays better” but loses) is invariably explained by missed free throws (too many) and/or made three-pointers (too few). Team “A” misfired on seven of 15 foul shots, essentially squandering three “successful” possessions. Team “B” was near perfect on free throws and added six treys, essentially adding three “successful” possessions. Now the adjusted conversion count is 36-34 in favor of Team “B” – a four-point victory. Hmmm.

[This game actually happened, fittingly enough in a New England casino, earlier this month.]

For fun, I thought I’d rank the league by fewest missed FT’s this season:

San Antonio – 97 (FTA, No. 11; FT%, No. 1)
Los Angeles – 116 (FTA, No. 10; FT%, No. 4*)
Washington – 116 (FTA, No. 9; FT%, No. 4*)
Seattle – 119 (FTA, No. 12; FT%, No. 7)
Chicago – 123 (FTA, No. 5; FT%, No. 3)
Phoenix – 129 (FTA, No. 4; FT%, No. 2)
Minnesota – 131 (FTA, No. 6; FT%, No. 6)
Connecticut – 156 (FTA, No. 8; FT%, No. 11)
New York – 156 (FTA, No. 7; FT%, No. 10)
Indiana – 173 (FTA, No. 2; FT%, No. 9)
Tulsa – 174 (FTA, No. 1; FT%, No. 8)
Atlanta – 186 (FTA, No. 3; FT%, No. 12)

Now, the other pertinent statistic in these anomaly games is successful three-point field goals. Let’s try a ranking by these raw numbers:

San Antonio – 226 (3FG%, No. 1; Opp. 3FG%, No. 6*)
Seattle – 201 (3FG%, No. 5; Opp. 3FG%, No. 8)
Tulsa – 183 (3FG%, No. 10*; Opp. 3FG%, No. 12)
Phoenix – 178 (3FG%, No. 2; Opp. 3FG%, No. 1)
Washington – 178 (3FG%, No. 8; Opp. 3FG%, No. 5)
Indiana – 175 (3FG%, No. 3; Opp. 3FG%, No. 2)
Atlanta – 153 (3FG%, No. 12; Opp. 3FG%, No. 11)
Connecticut – 151 (3FG%, No. 7; Opp. 3FG%, No. 6*)
Minnesota –128 (3FG%, No. 4; Opp. 3FG%, No. 9)
Chicago – 119 (3FG%, No. 6; Opp. 3FG%, No. 3*)
New York – 103 (3FG%, No. 10*; Opp. 3FG%, No. 10)
Los Angeles – 89 (3FG%, No. 9; Opp. 3FG%, No. 3*)

Clearly, San Antonio enhances its adjusted efficiency most significantly – the equivalent of 67 possessions, essentially two per game. New York’s misfiring most negatively impacts performance, 23 possessions worth.

Here’s one last ranking (if you can stand it), for the number of conversions gained or lost when adjusting efficiency as we’re discussing here.

San Antonio – 67 to the good (2013, No. 3)
Seattle – 43 to the good (2013, No. 1)
Washington – 34 to the good (2013, No. 7)
Phoenix – 28 to the good (2013, No. 5*)
Tulsa – 8 to the good (2013, No. 2)
Indiana – 5 to the good (2013, No. 4)
Minnesota – 2 to the good (2013, No. 8)
Chicago – 1 to the good (2013, No. 5*)
Connecticut – 1 to the good (2013, No.9)
Los Angeles – 11 to the bad (2013, No. 11)
Atlanta – 12 to the bad (2013, No.12)
New York – 23 to the bad (2013, No. 10)

While I can’t quite get my head wrapped around it, I think there’s something in all this mess of numbers that shows why Brian Agler’s team, with or without star-power, is always in the mix some kind of way. If Magic really wants a contending team, there’s the guy to whom to hand the “keys to the jeep.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

In Hoops, There are Turnovers, and Then There are Turn-overs – or Are There?

I discovered a useful little statistical anomaly recently – it pertains to turnovers, offensive errors that result in a change of possession.

In box-scores these days, each player’s official miscues (from offensive fouls to ball-handling blunders) are compiled, and frequently fodder for opinion/analysis – of both the saber-metric and bar-stool variety.

But if we look further down in a box-score, we’re also provided a Team Total for Turnovers, as well as the opponents’ offensive benefit therefrom. Often the Team Total for Turnovers is the same as the sum of the players’ individual totals; never is it less than that sum.

However, with some frequency, the Team Turnover Total exceeds the tally of all the players’.

What specifically constitutes such an “unassigned” turnover? A 24- or 10-second violation? If a team is unable to in-bound a dead ball and thus loses a possession, does the unsuccessfully-inbounding player get a “black mark” in the book, or does the Team?

The useful piece of information, at least to this Stat Geek, is that the Total of Team Turnovers (for Opponents, as well) at basketball-reference for the 2014 WNBA regular season includes only TO’s charged to an individual player.

The turnover numbers at’s team sites are higher than those at basketball-reference – and do correspond precisely to these “extra TO’s” cited in the box scores.

For what it’s worth, here’s how the teams rank in committing and causing this type of turnover. Whatever it is, it happened 377 times this season.

Fewest Committed / Most Forced

New York (7) / Phoenix (43)
Atlanta (14) / Los Angeles (42)
Chicago (22) / Atlanta (40)
Minnesota (25) / Connecticut (37)
Phoenix (26) / Indiana (33)
Los Angeles (28) / Seattle (33)
Seattle (36) / Minnesota (30)
Tulsa (39) / New York (28)
Indiana (42) / Tulsa (26)
Washington (44) / San Antonio (25)
Connecticut (47) / Washington (22)
San Antonio (47) / Chicago (18)

You know, I just might have something here – if I only knew what I was talking about.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Two Idle WNBA Thoughts While the Lynx and Mercury Tune-Up the Band

As the WNBA’s 2014 Post-Season Sprint to its Championship embarks, Abacus will presume to offer a couple of thoughts/observations about the league and sport in general.

[Not to imply that either notion is some sort of elixir, nor that these are my only “notions” on the matter – for example, I’m among the few who view last year’s adoption of the “ten-second” rule not as an “About Time” up-grade, but rather as the removal of an element of the women’s game that made it distinctive, both aesthetically and strategically … like that funky trapezoidal three-second lane they used for international/Olympic ball back-in-the-day. End of digression!]

Creative Convolution the First: The WNBA should outlaw the dunk. Let the players have their fun and entertain the fans during warm-ups. But if a player chooses to attempt to dunk during a game and succeeds, the basket should be dis-allowed.

In reality, such a change in policy would impact one and only one player – similar to the manner in which the imposition of such a rule in men’s college ball about half a century ago was aimed in the direction of a particular player. And doesn’t being “that player” add to the legend and legacy of such an icon?

I expect Brittney Griner to have as much impact on her game as Abdul-Jabber, Chamberlain and Bill Russell had on theirs – have felt that way for some time and for a variety of reasons. Here’s a way to let “talk media” help sell the product by inviting these kinds of comparisons.

Besides, it’ll minimize those “Sports Follies” videos like the widely-circulated “lob” pass from this summer’s otherwise wildly-entertaining All-Star Game.

Creative Convolution the Second: The league needs to stop scheduling teams to play on consecutive nights. Whether due to the un-relenting year-round grind of the lifestyle, whether due to the in-season travel arrangements and accommodations … whatever the cause. Catching a team on the tail end of a back-to-back…can you spell “easy pickin’s”?

During the just-completed 2014 Regular Season, an even 30 of the 204 games matched a team on “tired legs” (i.e. played the day before) against a team on “fresh legs” (i.e. didn’t play the day before). The Fresh Legs prevailed exactly 70 percent of the time (14-for-20 at home, 7-for-10 away).

As a means of comparison, home-court advantage for 2014 checked in at 57.8 percent (118-86), down slightly from 2013’s 60.8 percent. In 2013, Fresh Legs defeated Tired Legs twelve times in 14 opportunities, nearly 85 percent. (Let the record show that an additional ten of the last 408 games involved teams who had both competed the previous day.)

Is not one of the primary rules of marketing, at least the sincere variety, to safeguard the quality of one’s product at all times and above all else? (I hope that’s a rhetorical question.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Old School 101: Situational Irony, or How Did THAT Happen?

Sometimes, a close connection arises from dissension.

I enjoyed one of the most pleasant and supportive associations of my “teacher days” for nine years with a lady who told the world’s biggest lie the first time I ever laid eyes on her. Hell…insisted that a room full of my colleagues “chant” it along with her.

Not only was the “good doctor” joining the staff … leaving the staff to a better gig was the Assistant Principal who’d “mentored” my early years – and would later provide more sagacity, but I digress.

Over weeks, then months, finally two or three years (which included a change in school leadership), Doc and I took what may have been initially a superficial though amusing amiability to trust. I can’t think of a time she ever refused me a moment of her time and thought when I came a-knockin’. Even steered me to the next significant influence (the “Pure” Teacher) I seemed destined to find in my path.

Every so often in the course of the dialogue that finds its way into a classroom, I’d feel the need to offer to the discussion (certainly more concisely, though perhaps with a bit more tone) the odd-ball notion that “getting’-told-about-oneself” should be looked upon as an honor, not an insult. A person who thought you might “listen” brought you some information. Awareness is Step 1 in turning a stumbling block into a stepping stone.

If I was feeling particularly verbose or if the pace of our public school day seemed to need some fleshing-out, they might get my Coach Buckley parable.

The man under whose principal-ship Doc and my paths first crossed was a curious dude, to say the least … but I’ll never forget one thing he said – he was right, too.
These parents are sending us their best kids – they’re not just sending the bad ones and keeping the good ones at home.
Of course, it’s one thing to “talk the talk” … quite another to “walk the walk.”

In her own typically flamboyant manner, that’s exactly what Doc did – to the chagrin of some; to the benefit of countless – wearing a whole lot of different hats (both literal and figurative) along the way.

Best of all, there was no trace of superficiality in our rapport – occasional hostility, sure, but the kind that seems to fit with that “odd-ball notion” of mine.

Shared alumna-status and an acquaintance-ship that pre-dates my “awareness” of either keep Doc and my better-half buddies in some cyber-sense. Her rather distinctive first name, on the heels of a “Hey, I heard from …” never fails to bring a smile to my spirit, nor soon after a roll to my eyes.

Fitting “denouement” for a tale of dissension, digression, odd little notions, even irony of situation, eh?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Family Connections

JJ, our year-old grandson, and Dee haven’t too long moved back home when he gets sick.  The route our geographically challenged daughter lights upon in her trek to the doctor’s office passes Paradise North Cemetery on West Montgomery Road.  Slowing and glancing briefly to her right, Dee performs a personal silent ritual in remembrance of two sisters buried there in Baby Land.  Out of the corner of her eye, from his perch in the back seat of the truck, she spots her son smiling and waving into the graveyard at….someone or something he seems to feel connected with.

For over ten years almost all of my reasonably direct routes between home and work utilized all or some of West Montgomery Road, and sadly the daily hustle and bustle of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness had dulled my sensitivities, sensibilities, maybe even my plain old common sense relating to the cemetery and its special occupants.  As circumstance has altered my situation and habits, my only occasional sojourns to West Montgomery elicit bittersweet reflection and what-ifs.  That reflection is my personal silent ritual.  I should probably start telling Dayna and Devin that JJ says “Hi.”

Dayna and Devin would be JJ’s teenage aunts.  Teenagers!  Holy Moley.  When my Dad first got to know my step-kids (Dee and her younger brother), they were 9- and 7-years old.  He complimented them, then cautioned me, saying, “Pretty soon they’ll be teenagers and there will be times when you’re going to hate them.  But they do turn back into real people.”  Proved to be useful, often reassuring advice, and many’s the parent of a teenage student with whom I’ve shared it.  The frustration of raising adolescents reminds me of another of Dad’s expressions.  About unpleasantries he would sometimes say, “That’s just like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, ‘cause it feels so good when you stop!”

By the way, JJ is nicknamed after his great-grandfather, John Joseph Sullivan, Jr.  JJ actually has more names already than he’s ever gonna need.  He’ll proudly tell you that he’s Jayden Michael Walter, but legally he’s still Jonathan Ryan Prewitt, Jr., even though Sr. (ironically not JJ’s biological father) has not been in the picture since the previously mentioned move back home.  Names and namesakes notwithstanding, the less than five pound bundle of joy who prematurely joined us three years ago now is emerging more and more with his own personality and peccadilloes.  As fond of and fascinated by him as I am, I don’t want to repeat my West Montgomery folly, when I allowed something of great significance to just blend in with a bunch of other generic scenery.  I want, almost to the point of obsession, my grandson to know why he’s called JJ.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Old School 101: A Teachable Moment – Maybe My Finest

While entering Houston’s Minute Maid Park for the opening night game four months ago, standing at the gate poised to scan the sheet of paper that nowadays passes for a ticket is a familiar face. From my mouth, pretty much of their own accord, spring the words, “Hey, I know you, I taught you!” The young lady gave me a big smile and called me by name. A steady stream of fans – yes, at an Astro game – spared me the discomfort of “chatting up” someone whose name did not come immediately to mind. I did, though, learn that she’d become a middle-school Math teacher. The name came to mind halfway to our seats, and she and I did get to “visit” briefly after the game.

That’s one of the pleasant perks of the teaching profession. I can still recall the “Wow!” I felt the first time a kid told me that he now had a classroom to call his own.

I don’t know what influence, if any, I may have had on the career choice of these two young adults. I do know that I genuinely enjoyed going to work every day, and I’d like to think it showed – far more often than not.

In the old days, teachers were believed to serve “in loco parentis” – that is, “in place of the parent.” And wise parents know that the most crucial results of their work reveal themselves over time, not immediately.

Once in a while, though, some evidence appears more promptly. Let me give you a “for instance.” It involves a boy whose name I’ll never struggle to recall.

Robert was a pistol from Day One – tall, athletic, handsome and plenty bright, accentuated with a charm that bordered on arrogance. He’d evidently breezed through his prior schooling, so the effort and discipline required in a demanding college-prep engineering magnet program was foreign to him. Thus, he was not a “happy camper” and it showed – in various shapes and forms.

I’d met his Mom early on at our Open House, and we’d chatted on several subsequent occasions, even at a couple of football games. She was a very nice and pleasant young lady, but clearly the frustrated parent of a teen-ager. (Is that redundant?)

After school one day early in the spring semester, I stepped into the classroom of a colleague for some reason or other. A handful or so of upperclassmen were wrestling with some calculus. There, too, were Robert (a student in this instructor’s lone freshman Algebra class) and his Mom. The scene and words were all too familiar, student wiggling and jiggling uncomfortably. But when I saw Robert roll his eyes for the second time in about 30 seconds time, I decided to intervene.

Offering a quick apology to my co-worker (a former college prof slightly older than me), I turned to Robert and said the following: “Robert, you’re a real snotty-assed little brat. And you’re going to stay a snotty-assed little brat until the day you realize that the best friend you’ll ever have is standing to your left.”

With that, I informed the teacher I’d come back a little later and returned to my classroom directly across the hallway. About ten minutes later, a head peeped into my room. “Thank you.” It was Robert’s Mom.

I haven’t crossed paths with Robert or his parent since the end of the 2006-2007 school year – he didn’t return to the program for his sophomore year. (To quote the illustrious high-school basketball coach Bob Hurley, Sr., “What we do here isn’t for everyone; that’s why doors have hinges.”)

Robert’s class was on schedule to graduate from college this year.

Who knows … maybe he’ll become a Math teacher.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Silencing of Steven A.

I appears that, seventy-two-or-so hours into his one-week suspension from ESPN, Steven A. Smith is taking his licking like a man, ala the great and classy Bob Ryan some years ago. Let’s hope that Mr. Smith will be looking back on this incident some years from now, perhaps from an ESPN platform, using his experience as precautionary perspective, again ala Mr. Ryan.

But let’s have no misunderstanding here … Steven A. Smith made a serious error in judgment during last Friday’s First Take while debating the NFL’s shameful handling of one of their player’s literal handling of his then-fiancé. He was wrong, dead wrong – from a sensitivity standpoint; from a logical standpoint; hell, from a forensic standpoint.

In point of fact, there’s more than ample shame to go around stemming from this unfortunate and very ugly situation. ESPN’s imposition of disposition was clunky and reeked of “Reactionary Gotcha”! NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hiding under some rock and delegating a subordinate to try to evade a series of “Yes-or-No” questions on Mike and Mike was downright cowardly. And the hasty marriage of the now-Rices, with a honeymoon spent in counseling, seems immature and just backwards.

None of these faux-pas, however, opened a door for Mr. Smith or anyone else to insert the notion of provocation into the discussion of THIS case. How in the world can a 200+ pound, fit-as-a-fiddle, premier athlete feel “threatened” by a young lady the size of this victim? Feel angry, even irate? Sure. But feel physically in danger – to the point of striking out? Come on, now.

Domestic violence is a blight on our “civil-ization,” one that stains individuals of all races, colors, creeds, lifestyles and (yes) genders. All human behavior is situational, and anyone accused of criminal impropriety is deserving of the presumption of innocence. Additionally, it would be naïve to contend that provocation by the ultimate victim never occurs.

The argument that Steven A. was attempting to communicate, however clumsily, would/could be a valid point in a more general discussion of this troubling and confounding human foible. But NOT in this case – whatever the now-Mrs. Rice may have said or done at that time and in that place did not and could never justify the disturbing end result. That would imply that Mr. Rice had no alternative but to strike out, a deduction that stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.

Steven A. Smith’s remarks last week were insensitive to the far too many victims of domestic battery or other forms of assault, who far too frequently face doubt and inquisition, or are simply intimidated into silence.

And finally, in a debating sense, just where was he trying to go with this line of “thinking”?

Mr. Smith had been one of the few commentators who gave voice to the thought that the NFL’s reprimand, a mere two-game suspension, was sufficient punishment for this soiling of The Shield, an institution that has been decidedly pro-active and stern in dealing with the off-field indiscretions of its players, criminal justice system be damned.

A casual Facebook acquaintance, a college student and sports journalist-in-training, offered the opinion a couple of days ago that Steven A. had said nothing wrong. I don’t mean this as a criticism of a young man I perceive to be an overall honorable kid, but that was the seed that spawned this rant. The schoolteacher in me offered these words, verbatim:

A few years ago at school, I noticed one of my favorite kids sporting an extreme version of the style of the day -- saggy, baggy and extra florescent. Only partly in jest, I pointed out to him that the day would come when he'd look back and say, "What was I thinking?"... For your sake, young man, I hope and pray you've just had one of those moments in regard to an issue far more critical than fashion!!

Steven A. Smith is no longer in his early-twenties. His “day” of reflection should be now. The response to his reprimand is a promising beginning.