Jun 14

Best of All-Time?

[This started as a comment on a friend’s Facebook page… but it’s the longest thing I’ve written that wasn’t a work memo in months… and I love basketball, so here it is.]

So… after going 16-1 in the playoffs, three straight finals appearances, two championships in three years, and now – Kevin Durant – a lot of folks are claiming that the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors are the greatest team of all time. I think they are certainly in the conversation, but I’d love to see the Warriors play against any of these teams.

1996 Chicago Bulls:

Amazing squad. I HATED them, but they were must watch TV, and Jordan was simply incredible that year. I love the style GSW plays more than the Bulls (I mean – I love GSW’s game more than any other team I’ve ever seen…) but no team brought it with intensity every single night the way this team did. MJ created the conditions where there was no excuse but to win.

C – Longley is an upgrade over Zaza. Luc was actually pretty serviceable.
PF – I would pay a great deal of money to watch Rodman and Salley (who was only on the team for the last portion of the year) cover Durant. Like – lots and lots of money. They were masters of their craft. And I think that’s what they would have done defensively – especially every time GSW went small and took their traditional centers out of the game.
SF – Pippen was actually underrated because he was known as Robin to Jordan’s Batman. Pippen was a brilliant two-way player.
SG – Jordan – ’nuff said.
PG – Ron Harper – serviceable starter who played about 25 minutes a night and provided a steady hand. They would have hid him defensively when he was in – probably on Iggy… possibly on Green because he was a big guard.
Bench – Kukoc, Bill Wennington, Salley and Kerr were the main bench players. All amazing role players.
Coach – Phil Jackson at his Zen Master-est. The triangle worked to perfection.

I have no idea who would win this series. I know I’d watch every single minute of it. Twice. Maybe three times. I can imagine Jordan, Pippin, Durant and Curry playing “Top this…” with shot after shot after incredible shot. Maybe this one comes down to Jordan driving and dishing to Kerr who always seemed to hit the clutch three when Jordan drew the defense to him.

1986 Boston Celtics:

Not a deep team other than Bill Walton as a super-sub, but what a starting five. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish in their primes with Denis Johnson and Danny Ainge in the back-court. The Celtics were the team I hated the most as a Sixers fan, but they were amazing that year – and throughout the 80s. And a side note here – that’s what’s so easy to forget about the 1980s NBA. The decade started with the Lakers, 76ers and Celtics pushing themselves to greater and greater heights, and it ends with the ascendancy of the Isiah Thomas Pistons and the coming dynasty of the Bulls. The level of play in the NBA was incredible.

C – Parrish would have owned the paint against GSW. He was a presence – offensively and defensively. He gets overlooked but he was amazing.
PF – Kevin McHale – the classic “I hate him unless he’s on my team” kind of player. He shot 57% from the field for the year with some of the nastiest low and high post moves you’ve ever seen. Sharpest elbows in the game.
SF – Larry Bird – Bird averaged 26/10/7 for the year and was just unreal. As a Sixers fan, he was public enemy number one. But dang, he could play. And Parrish – McHale – Bird might just have been the best front court of all time.
SG – Danny Ainge – God I hated him. But he hit so many clutch shots and was a total pest on the court.
PG – Dennis Johnson – defender / distributor. I always respected him because he played a “Philly PG” style of game.
Coach – K. C. Jones – underrated smart coach who got this team to gel. Because he was only a head-coach for a short time (he retired), people forget how good a coach he was.

I think Klay is the match-up problem here for the Celtics. I can see him going off against this team, but this front court had the depth and length to hassle Durant and DJ v. Curry would be a blast to watch. And they have Bird. His game was so good. GSW would switch Iggy and Klay on him a lot, but he was just impossible to stop.

1987 Los Angeles Lakers:

Again… so incredibly good. Riley coaching Showtime. And this team was so balanced. Only Magic played more than 35 minutes a game, and eight players played 19 minutes or more. And they scored every time. The team shot 52% from the field for the entire season. Even GSW “only” shot 50%.

C – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – older, but still dominant. The sky-hook is the single most unstoppable shot in NBA history. Period. Full stop. And who was going to stop him? Zaza? Green? McGee? No way. Kareem could score 25-30 against this team every night because no one could stop that shot.
PF – A. C. Green – toughness and defense. He’s a lesser Draymond Green.
SF – James Worthy – so good. So silky smooth. So unstoppable when he got the feed from Magic.
SG – Byron Scott – solid contributor. Probably the weak link of the starting rotation but that’s a heck of a weak link.
PG – Magic Johnson – made every player he played with better. Has the length that they’d have to have Klay guard him. Maybe the best passer I ever saw.
Coach – Riley – one of the most adaptive coaches in the game. Showtime in SLA, Bullyball in NYC, a hybrid style in Miami. He was a brilliant tactician who also was a players’ coach.
Bench – Michael Cooper – every bit Iguodala’s equal as a super-sub. Mychal Thompson (Klay’s Dad) – 10PPG off the bench as a front court sub. Kurt Rambis – the enforcer. He was good at that. Edge to the Lakers.

This series would come down to one thing — The Warriors can’t stop Kareem. And I don’t think they can stop the Lakers offense. As much as the Lakers were known for their Showtime run and gun, Magic was an incredible “walk-it-up” half-court point guard too. This squad might present more of a match-up problem than the Bulls or the Celtics because of Kareem.

Mid 60s Celtics – between 1957 and 1969, the Celtics won 12 of 13 championships. I’m too young to have seen these teams play, but historically, lots of folks claim that the ’65 team was the pinnacle of the run. So let’s look at the 1965 Boston Celtics. They had five Hall of Famers – Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinson and John Havlicek. Coached by Red Auerbach. Russell *averaged* 24 rebounds per game. He is probably the greatest defensive center of all time. Jones and Havlicek were amazing scorers. And they were in the middle of the most incredible dynastic run in NBA history. It was a different game than today’s game, but watch the old footage. This team could play.

And all that said – I love this Warriors team. I have never seen a team move the ball around the court the way they do. And I love that they were actually a tough defensive team, even as most folks only saw the offense. And Curry has the fastest shot I have ever seen with the longest range I have ever seen. It’s possible that they win every one of these series. But all of these teams would make for a great match-up, and I think every one of these games would come down to a Game Seven for the ages.

Jul 07

Gender Equity and Schools – One Easy Change

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have watched many… many… hours of the recently concluded Women’s World Cup. The soccer was just brilliant, and of course, seeing the US win their third World Cup was just awesome.

And as a former Girls Basketball coach (and huge soccer fan,) it was incredible to see so many people get excited to watch a women’s soccer match. And while FIFA’s behavior – from turf fields to ridiculously unequal and inequitable monetary awards – shows we still have a long way to go for women’s sports, this was a fantastic moment for all of us who care about seeing women’s sports get the respect they deserve.

And there’s an easy change our high schools can make to take this further:

We can stop calling the girls’ teams at our schools the “Lady <Mascots>.”

This matters more than it seems. When we make the girls teams have a qualifying descriptor but we don’t make the boys teams do the same, we send a none-too-subtle message about which team is the “real” school team. And that message can serve to undermine all of the incredible lessons students – young women and men – can learn from playing on a high school team. In too many schools, the girls teams have had to fight for court time, field time, fans, legitimacy, or even the right to exist. No longer should they also have to fight to have their team name be the mascot of the school with no need to qualify it.

Our language matters, and I’ve yet to see the school that has “Gentlemen <Mascots>” on their uniforms. The era of high school girls teams having “Lady” in front of their name or worse “-ettes” at the end of it needs to end. Our girls teams are Tigers and Rockets and Lancers and Falcons. They need no qualifier in their names. There’s no reason anymore to send the message that the boys teams have any more claim to legitimacy than the girls teams do.

There’s no reason other than tradition not to change, and if the past weeks have taught us anything, it is that tradition cannot be a reason to resist change.

Apr 10

Share Your Passion – Learn Your Best Teacher Self

This afternoon, the SLA Boys Varsity Ultimate found themselves with a home field for a game and no opponent. So the boys split up and scrimmaged in a game filled with some really amazing plays and more trash talk than I have heard in an Ultimate Frisbee game since I played in New York Summer League. The game was awesome – it was sixteen boys doing something they loved with people they love.

I got to coach the game. I love it in a way that is visceral.

Most mornings, you can find me coaching Ultimate. We don’t have fields or a gym at SLA, so all three of our Ultimate teams (Girls Varsity, Boys Varsity, Junior Varsity) practice from 6:30 am to 8:00 am in the morning. So does our softball team and our girls basketball team, and I think our track team is about to start. Our Students Run Philly Style team is going to go for a ten-mile run tomorrow (Saturday) morning.

Our debate kids are flying to Florida for Nationals with their coach, Jason Todd. Matt Kay’s poetry team is brilliant, and they write and perform after school what seems like every day. Doug Herman spends somewhere in the neighborhood of four zillion hours doing film projects with kids. Our robotics team…

You get the idea.

So… after-school activities. In most schools, they are the things that kids love most. It’s what they get to choose. That’s nothing new.

But I don’t know that we talk enough about what we as teachers can learn by doing after school activities with kids. In fact, I’ve heard teachers talk about how they are so different with their after-school kids than they are with their students, to which I always think, “Why?”

I think there’s a ton we can learn from the teacher-selves we are when we do are sharing something we love with kids who have chosen to be there too.

Years ago, when I was at Beacon and coaching girls basketball, there was a student teacher who asked to assistant coach with me. She was awesome. She had an incredible rapport with the kids. She was knowledgable. She laughed easily with the girls, and she could get them to push themselves to greatness.

So I was shocked when her cooperating teacher told me she was struggling deeply as a classroom teacher. I went in to watch her teach, and I didn’t recognize who I saw. She was tentative, unsure of herself, and deeply unsure how to bring out the best in the kids. After the class, the three of us sat down and talked about her teaching and her coaching. We told her simply, “Teach like you coach.” And it made all the difference for her. She really unpacked what made her successful on the court and found the ways to bring that into the classroom.

If we want “the curricular” to be infused with as much joy and passion and energy as the extra-curricular, we have to examine the role we the teachers bring to the student experience of extra-curriculars. And, yes, it is easier to be joyful and passionate and playful when everyone is choosing to be there together, but what if we brought that same persona to our classrooms?

The best teaching I ever did was on the fields and on the courts at 6:30 am. It was there I discovered my best teacher-self. It was in the relationships I developed with the kids who shared that time with me that I learned how to listen and be the adult the kids needed me to be. It was in the dedication of the kids who showed up every morning to practice that I learned what it meant to feel the need to work hard enough so that you never let down the kids.

All over the country, every day, teachers and students collaborate after (and before) school in service of a shared goal and passion, be it Ultimate frisbee, drama, robotics, the school newspaper. In doing so, students and teachers often find the best versions of themselves. The stories of what those activities do for teachers and students are multitudinous.

But maybe it’s time to unpack the people we are when we do those things so that we can take the best of who we are in those moments and bring them back our classrooms every day.

I’d argue that the people we are in those moments are our best teacher-selves. I think everyone wins if that version of ourselves found its way into the classroom every day.