Monday, June 18, 2018

J-Speak: The Mental Health of Former Houston Rocket

This Thursday night from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY on ESPN, 60 of the most talented collegiate and international basketball players will realize their dream of being drafted into the NBA. All their hard work and perseverance will get have that once in a lifetime moment to hear their name called by National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver. That was the case for a cannot miss prospect out of Iowa State University and from Minneapolis, MN in 2012. While he heard his name called as the No. 16 overall pick six Junes back, these days this well-rounded player is playing professionally, but North of the Boarder in Canada because of what he believes is the NBA inability to deal with an issue that has been at the forefront in recent months. 
In the 2012 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets selected forward Royce White with the No. 16 overall pick out of the Iowa State University. 
White brought to the table the kind of skill set where he can score, rebound, and pass in such a way that it reminded those that watched basketball closely a resemblance to the likes of Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Larry Bird, in terms of skill set on the hardwood. 
That unthinkable talent White had the Rockets hoped would make up for some troublesome health issues. 
Leading up to the 2012 draft, White was tagged by as the “mystery pick” due to his NBA ready physique, point-forward skills, and his public disclosure of what was called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which was diagnosed during his one season with the Cyclones. 
The 6’8’, 260-pound forward never missed a game during his collegiate career first with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers or with the Cyclones. While he never had any issues physically but was and still is by his own account “mentally ill.”
That illness unfortunately not only drove him out of “The Association,” but unthinkably out of the United States of America. 
These days White plays in London. No, not the place with the big clock tower Big Ben in England, but in London Canada for the Lightning of the National Basketball League (NBL) for the equivalent of peanuts. 
In his rookie season with the Lightning last, he authored four triple-doubles, including one in the playoffs and on May 11, 2017 was named the 2017 NBL Canada regular season Most Valuable Player. 
This season he is the league’s leading scorer and on June 5, had 34 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists leading his Canadian squad to their third NBL Canada championship since the league was formed seven seasons ago. 
When asked by HBO’s Real Sports Bernard Goldberg that if all it came down to is a player’s ability to just play on the hardwood that he would be in the NBA at this very moment, White’s response was, “There’s no doubt I can play in the NBA.” 
Goldberg then asked if White if would want to play in the NBA, White said, “For sure I want to play.” 
But when he followed by asking if he would ever get back, White’s response was, “well no.” 
It is hard to believe that this is the same guy that 72 months ago was a star in the making. While his averages of 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and five assists on 53.4 percent from the field are not eye popping, this guy seemingly authored double-doubles with ease. 
White’s game was incredible and so was the confidence he displayed when he was on the collegiate hardwood. 
How confident of a player was White, one time in a game he said, “I am the best player in the country.” 
Goldberg asked White in an interview with him for “Real Sports” in 2013 that did he really believe that at the time. White said that he knew that at that moment. 
Fast forward to 2012 after being drafted by the Rockets, White refused to play for the team that goes by the mantra “Clutch City” in reference to the 1994 and 1995 back-to-back championship teams. 
He spent a majority of his rookie season alone, secluded by himself in a gym shooting a ball. 
On the surface, White seemed fine and functioning, but the issue was in his mind, a mental disorder. He had a history of panic attacks that were so serious that just playing basketball could lead to his death. 
White’s counter to that was that he feels Rockets fans and the organization would not want to hear that the presumptive 2018 league MVP James Harden broke his ankle either. 
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD is a disease where he worries about all sorts of things like flying, which White very much does not like at all. 
“The sweaty palms come. Faster heart beat comes.” White said to Goldberg are some of the things White has experienced when he has flown on a plane.
White who also said that he has thrown up before was getting nervous just when Goldberg even brought up the subject of planes. He went so far as to equate flying a plane to being 35,000 feet in the air in a steel death trap. 
With the issue out of the bag, White solution that he gave the Rockets that someone needed to drive him to as many road games as possible, which he said he was entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 
After a while the Rockets agreed, but just getting around in a car was not as simple a solution either. 
White said that driving makes him uncomfortable because of the uncertainty. That there are a lot of people on the road. That in the age of texting and driving, White says that he worries that if he sees someone texting and driving is someone else on the road either behind him, in front or on his left or right is doing the same. 
This is what made a lot of NBA general managers if they wanted to risk a First Round pick on a very talented player that has a lot of mental problems. 
On the night of the 2012 draft, his agent in a telephone conversation said to him that the Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Oklahoma City wanted no part of White. 
“Mental health is uncertain right now,” White said about why those teams passed on him. “It represents a lack of awareness and a presence of very serious, very detrimental stigma.”
Things were looking not too good for White until the Rockets took that leap of faith and selected White with the No. 16 pick. 
Just a few months later though that joy disappeared because the league had no procedures in place to deal with mental illness and White demanded no team had ever heard. 
White demanded the Rockets agree to a four-page list of rules, which was called a Mental Health Protocol, with the key prevision of known as Medical Point Person, where he could have an independent doctor. 
That doctor, not the team doctor to have the final say on when White was healthy enough to play to play and when he was not. 
“The only difference is you can’t see mine,” White said about the difference between a guy with a physical injury and the mental illness he has. 
“Why does my worth have to be measured by how many rebounds I’ve clocked? If I’m saying something true, why does it need a rebound accompanied with it?”
Goldberg answered back because White is a basketball player, and his response was, “No. I’m a human being.” 
While that is true, White is a talented player that is not in the NBA at this moment. He is not out on an NBA court this year dominating players like he did as a collegian. He is not putting himself in the conversation as one of the most talented all-around players in the league. 
As mentioned earlier White played in all 34 games in his only season for the Cyclones. He even flew with his teammates for an exhibition game in Italy. That occurred because White said he trusted his coaches led by head coach Fred Hoiberg. 
For White it comes down to this. He is a person who needs things to be predictable. That certain things will take place at a certain at all times with no implications of something going astray. 
To bring this point into context, White showed Goldberg his closet where the hangers are up and spaced immaculately. His suites are facing the same way. 
If you have not figured it out, along with GAD, White also suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCPD). 
Besides his suites being neatly hung in his closet, Goldberg saw shoes properly placed in the closet where some of his Polo Ralph Lauren’s were neatly still in their respective boxes. His shirts were properly folded and places neatly and his dress hats were properly hung on the wall. 
After several attempts to fix their standoff with White, the Rockets and GM Daryl Morey eventually sent him a letter saying that they “bent over backwards” trying to appease him and that nothing was working. 
When White still refused to play for them unless he got that independent doctor the Rockets who declined to speak with “Real Sports” suspended him and ceased paying him his $3 million contract. 
“If I was to play in the NBA now as it is without the protocols. Without the safety measures I would be risking my health. I would be risking my life,” White said. 
He went on to say that a person who is not treated for their mental health issues are alcohol abuse, marijuana abuse, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior. Those are things White said he is not willing to risk of playing in the NBA, and the fame, and money that comes with it. 
Eventually the Rockets gave up on White and while he had other chances with the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers. One-by-one though, they too gave up on him. 
The one team that gave him a chance came from the previously mention London Lightning of the NBL. He has fit in and has displayed the kind of ability that made him the unstoppable force that he was in college. 
“I’m fortunate enough to play for a team whose owner views anxiety as very common,” White said to Goldberg on why he is flourishing both personally and professionally. “He doesn’t see supporting my condition as anything strenuous or overbearing.” 
White went into more exemplified context of the support he gets from the Lightning front office by saying the owner does something very simple as having a conversation with him. 
The ultimate reason White said that he and the Lightning have cliqued is because he trust their leadership just like he trusted the leadership in place at Iowa State, led by current Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg. 
So much so that White who as mentioned earlier has a fear of flying flies with the team and says he played Game 6 of the NBL’s Championship series last season while undergoing a panic attack. White in that contest scored 34 points in leading the Lightning to the title. 
While that was perhaps White’s highest moments with his team, there have been some low points. 
During his two years in Canada, White has been suspended on six occasions for horrendous conduct on the hardwood from clotheslining an opponent in a game; pushing another opponent to the floor; and forearming one in the throat. 
One particular moment got so bad that bodyguards had hold White back from an opponent that he wanted to have a piece of. 
During this postseason for the NBL, White was hit with a 10-game suspension for arguing with the league’s deputy commissioner on the sideline. 
“I’m physical and I’m passionate, and I have no regrets about that,” White said are the reasons for those moments he lost control.
When asked by Goldberg are you knocking people on their rear end because he is angry about not being in the NBA? 
White’s answer, “I’d be knocking people on their [expletive] if I was in the NBA.” 
“I saw a clip. I’m not sure when it was but Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony got tangled up. You know, shoved each other. Got in each other’s faces.” 
The difference between the back-to-back Finals MVP of the Golden State Warriors and the perennial All-Star of the Oklahoma City Thunder is their mental health is intact. 
White’s outbursts the past two seasons in the NBL has called into question his mental health, which he consistently sees through every prism. 
The difference from when he was first introduced to the public six years ago and today is the NBA and its players are speaking about mental health issues too. 
On Mar. 6, NBA champion and All-Star forward of the Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love came out in “The Players Tribune” and said in the team’s 117-115 home loss versus the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 5, 2017 that he had a panic attack at halftime. Instead of brushing the situation off, the Cavs helped Love to find a therapist. 
All-Star guard for the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan revealed to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star that he struggled with depression and said he was more than happy to be a “sacrificial lamb” for the mental health cause. 
NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver and co-host of FOX Sports 1’s “First Things First” Cris Carter said on the Mar. 7 praised both gentlemen for coming out about their inner struggles. 
“I love to see strong men be able to reach out and make themselves vulnerable, because more people are out to get help when they hear stories of DeRozan. They hear Kevin Love.” 
Love said of speaking out to the next day, “I thought yesterday was a great chance to be able to help people and that’s why I set out to do it.” 
DeRozan and Love coming out about their struggles did not please White at all because as he said once in a statement Goldberg read to him, “They are not pioneers on this. Their trying to take credit for it. Where were they five years ago when I was speaking out. DeRozan had the audacity to call himself a ‘sacrificial lamb.’ You’re not a sacrificial lamb. I was.”
White says that DeRozan and Love coming out about their inner struggles was the equivalent of a diary entry. He challenged policy, which he said was within his rights. 
Last year led by Commissioner Silver the NBA began The Mental Wellness Program, something that White had been calling for right from the beginning. 
The big question is with this new program in place why White is not trying to return to “The Association?” 
Perhaps it is because no matter how much the NBA tries to address the issue of mental health it will never be quite enough in his eyes. 
“I think there’s a false premise that because Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have come forward that there’s an actual chance towards mental health and that’s just not true,” White said. 
“It’s not true because in addition to the players, a total acknowledgment of mental health on behalf of the league would also involve the fans. Who would argue that the amount of alcoholic beverages that are consumed at those games should be monitored. Is that not the mental health question? How man fans are leaving those arenas drunk? It is really a family event if you can come there and get blasted with your kid? That’s the mental health conversation, that’s why I’m not in the league.” 
Six years ago, Royce White entered the public spotlight as a talented basketball player. However, because of GAD, his NBA career was short lived as he went from a First-Round pick, with a cup of coffee in a few others stops to playing in Canada. While he was able to find a team that took him even with his mental hurdles, he still had issues controlling himself and while he was a help to his team the Lightning, his last horrendous act of shouting down the NBL’s Deputy Commissioner earned him a 10-game suspension. 
The question now is what happens with Royce White and his basketball journey. Well Goldberg reported in his synopsis with “Real Sports” host Bryant Gumbel that the once No. 16 pick of the Rockets that he will not return to the NBL and that he put out in a tweet that he wants to play in the NBA for “FREE.” 
If that is the case, the only possible destination would be with as mentioned the Bulls where White’s former college coach in Hoiberg coached him. 
That said it takes their front office wanting him and they will have to answer two big question. Is Royce White reliable? Will he show up? 
“I think he will,” Goldberg said. “I think he’s beyond what he was five years ago, but I don’t know if the GMs in the NBA think that. This is one of those let’s wait and see type of situations.” 
Whether Royce White comes back into the NBA or not, he did bring something out of the closet that was important for the NBA and our society to tackle, mental health. DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love came out bravely and spoke out their inner demons they were dealing with, but what helped them is that when they got onto the hardwood they performed. 
It is very tough that it takes someone having to hide in the shadows when it comes to dealing with their inner demons regardless of what it is and that when they do finally come out when the conditions are right they are not meet with the figurative back hand of society. 
We as a nation have made progress, but we have a long journey ahead of us when it comes to dealing with tough subjects like mental health. We at least are having the conversation now and the NBA in this instance has made strides to tackle the issue of mental health with their players. That said not all of society has embraced this and some will and some will not and for people like Royce White they will suffer the consequences unless we all can put down our skepticism and put in the work to provide a place for all people with a place for them to take on whatever struggles they have and give them the chance to be their greatest selves and thrive in this great, sometimes crazy world. At least the next person who had the inner demons White was dealing with before he entered the NBA and even after will not perhaps a hard time seeking out help to take on any of their own mental hurdles. The question is how the league can help that particular individual?
Information and quotations are courtesy of 5/23/18 edition of HBO’s “Real Sports,” with Bryant Gumbel, with report from Bernard Goldberg; and

Sunday, June 17, 2018

J-Speaks: The Passing of an Iconic Basketball Player and Coach

Some of the current stars of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) like Maya Moore, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tina Charles, Candace Parker, Elena Delle Donne to name a few all know and have acknowledge there are not in the position they find themselves in without the hard work, sacrifice and success of their predecessors like Hall of Famers Ann Meyers Drysdale, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper. Another pioneering person that took the women’s game to the level it stands today is a woman from bornin Ridgewood, NJ who rose to greatness as a player on the collegiate and international hardwood and help to mold players of greatness as a coach at the collegiate, professional, and international level. In the middle of last week, the basketball world suddenly said goodbye to this remarkable legend. 
On Wednesday, Hall of Famer Anne Donovan who won a national title at the University of Old Dominion, two Olympic Gold Medals as both a player and a third as a coach passed away from heart failure in Wilmington, NC. She was just 56 years old. 
In a statement, WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement released on Wednesday about the sudden passing of Donovan, “A decorated player and trailblazing coach, Anne Donovan played a seminal role in the growth of women’s basketball. For all she accomplished in college, the WNBA and on the international stage during her Hall of Fame career, Anne will also be remembered as a valued mentor and dear friend to so many in the game. On behalf of the WNBA, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Donovan family during this difficult time.” 
The last know appearance by Donovan according to a story on was last weekend at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, TN, where she was part of the inaugural class in 1999. Four years prior to that, Donovan was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and in 2015 was inducted into the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) in 2015. 
Donovan’s journey to being immortalized in basketball began at Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, NJ. The then 6’6” then high schooler led Lady Paladins to consecutive undefeated seasons and helped them win two state titles. As a senior, Donovan averaged 25 points and 17 rebounds. 
When it came time to pick where she was going to college, Donovan, who grew to 6’8” had her pick of the litter receiving offers from more than 250 schools, which included a recruiting pitch from the late head football coach of Penn State Joe Paterno. Donovan decided to continue her education and basketball career at Old Dominion University, the same institution that Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman attended. 
In her first collegiate season, Donovan led the Lady Monarchs to the 1979-80 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) championship, there second straight. She averaged that season 17.1 points, 12.9 rebounds and six block shots on 63.0 percent from the field in helping her team to a 37-1 mark that season. 
In her sophomore season on Dec. 11, 1980, Donovan scored a school record 50 points against Norfolk State University. She had the best season of her four years in 1980-81 with averages of 25.1 points, 16.2 boards and 5.7 blocks on 63.8 percent shooting. 
In her senior season of 1982-83, Donovan led the Lady Monarchs to a 29-6 record in the regular season and they advanced to their second straight appearance in the Final Four as the host city at the Scope in Norfolk, VA, but were defeated by their arch rival Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 71-55 in the National Semifinal. The year before, they lost in the East Regional Semifinals to Kansas State.  
When her collegiate career was done, Donovan averaged a double-double of 20.0 points, 14.5 rebounds and 5.9 blocks, on 63.1 percent from the field.
She set ODU career records for points (2,179), rebounds (1,976) and blocks (801), which was also the best in NCAA history.  
As a senior she won the 1983 Honda Sports Award and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Player of the Year Award. 
“Throughout her college and professional career Anne was one of ODU’s best ambassadors both for the institution and Lady Monarch basketball,” the school’s athletic director Wood Selig said on Wednesday. “Anne’s legacy will be permanent and everlasting and will forever remain as the foundation upon which the Lady Monarch brand became national and synonymous with success.” 
With no WNBA yet and very few pro basketball opportunities in the U.S., Donovan continued her basketball career for Chanson V-Magic in Shizuoka, Japan and Modena, Italy from 1984-89. 
After her retirement, she returned to the U.S. and became an assistant coach at her alma mater for the next six years. She then moved on to be the head coach of the East Carolina Lady Pirates from 1995-98. 
During her time, she helped to lead the Lady Pirates the Colonial Athletics Association finals against ODU. 
Donovan then for a brief time coached in the pro ranks with the American Basketball Association’s (ABL) Philadelphia Rage in 1997-98. 
When the league folded, she joined the WNBA, the ABL’s then rival as an assistant coach for the expansion Indian Fever in 2000. 
That position opened up because then head coach Nell Fortner was leading the U.S. Women’s Olympic team. 
Donovan then moved on to coach the then Charlotte Sting from 2001-2002. In her first season, the team lost 10 of their first 11 games, but rallied to finish the season 18-14 to make the playoffs as the No. 4 Seed in the Eastern Conference. 
In the postseason, they upset the No. 1 Seeded Cleveland Rockers in the opening round, followed by the No. 2 Seeded New York Liberty. They won each series 2-1. 
The Sting advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history but were swept 2-0 by the Los Angeles Sparks. 
The Sting finished the next season under Donovan 18-14, but were swept 2-0 by the Washington Mystics in the First Round. 
In 2003, Donovan was hired as the second coach in the history of the Seattle Storm in 2003, where she inherited a squadron consisting of the last two No. 1 overall draft picks in Australian Lauren Jackson and University of Connecticut star lead guard Sue Bird. 
After narrowly missing the postseason in Donovan’s first year in 2003, in 2004 when she became director of player personnel as well as head coach and the team went 20-14 during the regular season. They swept the Minnesota Lynx in the opening round 2-0. They took down the then mighty Sacramento Monarchs 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals. In the WNBA Finals, the Storm led by Bird, Jackson and eventual Finals MVP Betty Lennox defeated the Connecticut Sun 2-1 to win not just their first title in franchise history, but the city’s first professional sports title since the then Seattle Supersonics defeated the then Washington Bullets in five games to capture their only Larry O’Brien trophy in franchise history in 1979. The victory also made Donovan the first female head coach in the WNBA history at the time to win the league’s ultimate team prize. 
“She was a lot of fun to play for. Very easy to play for,” Bird said of playing for her then head coach. “She really understood what it was like to be a player and I thought that was really valuable.”
Jackson echoed those same sentiments saying of Donovan, “She was definitely one of my good friends and she taught me a lot. She worked really hard on broadening my offensive game. She was a great coach.” 
That great coach the next season became the first female coach in WNBA history to reach 100 wins. On Aug. 6, 2006 Donovan passed former Sparks and Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper for the third most wins in league history, trailing only the 211 of the all-time leader Van Chancellor, who earned all of his with the then Houston Comets, who he led to the first four titles in league history and 134 of former Liberty and Mystics head coach Richie Adubato. 
“Anne Donovan will always be remembered as a championship coach and a championship person,” the Storm, who won their second title in franchise history in the summer of 2010 said in a statement. “Her dedication, passion and winning spirit set the tone for Storm Basketball. We are deeply saddened by her passing and shar our heartfelt condolences with her family.”
On Nov. 30, 2007 Donovan resigned as head coach of the Storm and two years later on Apr. 28, 2009 was appointed as an assistant coach for the Liberty. Three months and three days later, she assumed the position as interim head coach replacing Pat Coyle. 
That stint was brief as in Mar. 2010, she accepted the head coaching job at Seton Hall University. 
Her stay was for just three seasons as she resigned from her position with the Lady Pirates in Jan. 2013 and accepted the same position with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun where she spent three seasons until her resignation on Oct. 1, 2015. 
Along with her accolades as a player in college and overseas and what she did as a head coach, Donovan made a legendary name for herself as a representative of the Red, White, and Blue of our nation. 
She helped lead Team USA to Gold in the 1984 and 1988 games in Los Angeles, CA and Seoul, South Korea respectably. 
Donovan qualified for the 1980 in the Soviet Union, but due to the American-led boycott did not compete. In 2007 though, she was one of 461 recipients to earn a Congressional Gold Medal that was created particularly for spurned athletes. 
Donovan also helped Team USA earn Gold in the 1983 and 1987 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela, and Indianapolis, IN respectably. She also helped them capture Gold in the 1984 Renato William Jones Cup Taipei, Taiwan in 1984. 
In 1998, Donovan was named assistant coach of the U.S. National team, under Fortner. They captured Gold in the FIBA World Championships in 1998 in Berlin, Germany and in 2002 in China. They took Gold in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. 
In 2006 Donovan took over as head coach of the Women’s National team, coaching the likes of Leslie, Bird, Parker, Taurasi, Fever legend Tamika Catchings, reigning WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles and current WNBA color analyst for ESPN Kara Lawson. 
That team would capture Gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, which gave Donovan her third Olympic Gold Medal overall. 
“She used to say she bled red, white and blue,” USA Basketball said in a statement on Wednesday. “As much as we remember her accomplishments in the game, we mourn a great friend who will be greatly missed.” 
There are a lot of things that can be said about Anne Donovan. She was a Hall of Famer as a player, who dedicated herself to the game and was a legendary on the hardwood and made her team, her school of Old Dominion and the community better. As a coach she made the players she coached individually and collectively better. Every player if you heard them over the past few days have high admiration, appreciation, and unwavering respect for her. 
During her postgame press conference, Hall of Famer and Liberty (3-6) head coach Katie Smith, who played for Donovan on several of those Olympic teams and saw her at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame at her induction as a part of this year’s class, which also included Donovan’s high school coach Dr. Rose Marie Battaglia said of tragic loss after the team’s 78-63 setback to the expansion Las Vegas Aces on Wednesday night, “it’s tough, it’s tough.” 
“Anne was a giant in very sense of the word, and I know the women’s basketball community is saddened beyond words by this tragic news,” were the words of the first president of the WNBA Val Ackerman. “She was a pioneer and icon in the women’s game and made a profound and lasting impact at all levels as a player, coach, colleague and friend.” 
Along with having an impact on the players she coached, Donovan had an even bigger impact on some of her peers in the coaching ranks like current Texas Christian University (TCU) Lady Horned Frogs head coach Jennifer Raegan Pebley, who too expressed what Donovan meant to her during intermission of the FOX Sports Southwest broadcast of the Dallas Wings (5-4) 77-67 win versus the Aces (3-8) on Friday night. 
“When you talk of Anne Donovan, every significant mark of women’s basketball’s timeline, she’s been a part of,” she said. “Some of the best that have played our game have been coached by her Dawn Staley, Tina Thompson, Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson.” 
Pebley also said while holding back tears said that Donovan was the first woman she saw that provided her what she said the “a-ha moment” of what she can do with the game of basketball, and the work ethic and her height of 6’4”.  
That girl, who grew up in Orem, UT and whose father during her formative years took her to gyms where she played against boys as well as just watched boys play basketball went on to play at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1993-97 and graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. She was drafted by the then Utah Starzz in the third round. After playing just one season for them, followed another with the Rockers, she was an assistant at George Mason University from 1997-99 and then at Colorado State from 1999-01. She then was the head coach at Utah State for nine seasons (2003-12) and then at Fresno State from 2012-14 and as mentioned is currently the women’s head coach at TCU and since the summer of 2016 serves as the color analyst of Wings games alongside longtime sportscaster Ron Thulin.
On Wednesday the basketball world as a whole, not just the women’s basketball community lost one of its great pillars in Anne Theresa Donovan. She was a giant in every sense of the word as previously mentioned as a player and coach. More than that she was a friend, a leader, who worked hard at her craft on the hardwood and as a leader of women on the sidelines. Her career was one of making everyone around her better not just as basketball players, but as people. She was someone who respected the game and in turn earned the respect of all those that played with her and watched her. 
“Anne Donovan changed the game,” Lieberman said. “She was intelligent. She was a team player. She was a factor on both offense, defense, unselfish. Really a great teammate to have. She was one of the best to every play and she proved it. She’s the ultimate winner.” 
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 6/13/18 story via “The Associated Press,” “Hall of Famer, former WNBA Coach Anne Donovan Dies,” by Doug Feinberg; 6/14/18 6 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Ro Parrish and Steve Smith; 6/15/18 8 p.m. NBATV broadcast of Las Vegas Aces versus Dallas Wings on FOX Sports Southwest with Ron Thulin and Raegan Pebley and Alexa Shaw;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; and

Sunday, June 10, 2018

J-Speaks: The End of the Cavs Season and Possible the End of LBJ in Northeast Ohio

Counting the 2018-18 regular season and the 2018 postseason, the one constant for the now four-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers has been four-time league MVP LeBron James. In season No. 15 he put incredible numbers and was a major reason the Cavs fought through a lot of turmoil both on and off the court; having their roster changed in a major way back in Feb. 8 and managed to win 50 games, capture the Central Division again and at least have home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. James carried that same drive and efficiency from the regular season into the postseason and drove the Cavs all the way to the 2018 NBA Finals. Unfortunately, that sheer will and determination was not enough to get the Cavs past the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors and the boys from “The Land” saw their season end right on their home floor on Friday night and the question then came to fruition for the second time about if this was the last game for James in a Cavs uniform?
In his supposed final game as a Cavalier, James had 23 points, seven rebounds, eight assists on 7 for 13 from the floor and 9 for 11 from the free throw line in 41 minutes as the Cavs lost Game 4 of The Finals versus the Warriors 108-85 to fall in the series 4-0 and see the now four-time defending Western Conference champions win their second straight Larry O’Brien trophy; their third in the last four seasons and the second one clinched on the Cavs home floor. 
It marked the first sweep in The Finals since 2007 when a 22-year-old James and his team was swept by the mighty San Antonio Spurs of future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and head coach Gregg Popovich in his first of nine finals appearances overall in his eventual Hall of Fame career. 
James, who said that he played the final three games of the series with a major bone contusion in his right hand, which he injured out of frustration when he according to Sam Amick of USA Today following the tough loss in Game 1 after he punched a white board spent the final moments of Game 4 on the sidelines figuring out what went wrong for him and the Cavs and perhaps contemplating his next move as he will opt out of the final year of his contract and become a restricted free agent in July. 
“Self-inflicted postgame after Game 1,” James, who had a brace on that injured hand said during his postgame presser after the loss. “Very frustrated for a lot of different reasons. Understanding how important a Game 1 is on the road for our ball club. What it would have done for us. The way we played. The calls that was made throughout the course of that game.” 
“I had emotions on the game was taken away from us. I had emotions of, ‘You just don’t get an opportunity like this on the road,’ versus Golden State. To be able to get a Game 1 and I let the emotions get the best of me, and pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.”
Whether it was the injury to his hand or something else, James was not his usual enthusiastic high energy self on either end of the floor, particularly in the second half. 
There were times that when he went to the hole he left his shot short, which is very rare for a guy that is built like a locomotive. There were a couple of times when he went to the hole, he was called for an offensive foul. 
On top of that, he displayed the kind of body language of a player that looked defeated. In one of the timeouts, he really got after his teammates, which is not unusual but he did in the kind of way to where he just simply got frustrated that his team was not following the game plan and allowing the Warriors to get whatever they wanted at the offensive end and not making them work at the defensive end. 
To bring James struggles offensively into context, he did not have a field goal made from five minutes left in the second quarter until five minutes left in the game. 
Also, he did not take the challenge of defending perennial All-Star Kevin Durant, who in the Game 4 clincher had his first playoff career triple-double of 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, with three blocks on his way to earning his second straight Finals MVP. 
If nothing else, this game put a conclusion to all those who argue that the legendary Michael Jordan and LeBron James are in the same conversation or that James is better than Jordan. 
If this was Michael Jordan on the verge of being eliminated in The Finals he would have gone down swinging and he would have made sure his teammates did the same. 
He would have taken a shot nearly every time on the offensive end; try to snare every rebound; get his teammates involved if that is what the defense was going to allow and above all, he would have gotten into the shirt of the guy that was lighting his squad up at the offensive end. 
LeBron James is an incredible player. A guy who can score with the best of them. Who can run the team from the forward spot, shoot from distance and find the open man. 
That said, an important part of being a great in the land of professional sports is making your teammates better and having them rise to the moment when it is called upon. 
As good as James is that did not happen and while in the early part of Jordan’s career that was also the case, he eventually figured it out and so did his teammates. 
Goof ups like what JR Smith had at the end of regulation in Game 1 where he does not know the time and score cannot happen if you want to win titles. 
Not trying to slow down perennial All-Star Stephen Curry of the Warriors who hit a Finals record nine three-pointers in the 122-103 win in Game 2 is inexcusable. 
Then in Game 3, Durant in the late moments of the contest with you down three basically walks into a three-pointer that sealed the win. 
“Any media person that I see in person for the rest of my life who try to tell me LeBron James is as good as Michael Jordan I’m just going to slap the hell out of them right on the spot,” were the words of Hall of Famer and NBATV/NBA on TNT analyst Charles Barkley about people feeling James is a better player than Jordan. 
He added after a couple of expletives, “No questions asked. The next person who walks up to me and says, ‘LeBron, whose amazing is as good as Michael Jordan or competes like Michael Jordan,’ I’m just going to slap the hell out of you right on the spot, and I’m going to take chances with the judicial system.”
Future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant echoed those same sentiments, all be it not to that degree when he said on Instagram that his supporting cast was not like the ones he had in the past. 
To an extent that is true because he did not have Kyrie Irving, who the Cavs traded to the rival Boston Celtics back in the summer of 2017. 
Say what you want about George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr., and Rodney Hood, who the Cavs acquired at the Feb. 8 trade deadline or All-Star Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Jeff Green, the previously mentioned Smith, and Kyle Korver. The best player on the team and the leader of the team when push comes to shove rises up and takes on all comers. That is what James is and when push came to shove in Game 4 he did not bring to the table the kind of effort, energy and focus he did when the Cavs faced elimination early on this past postseason. 
In Game 7 of the opening round versus the Pacers on Apr. 29, a 105-101 win, James had 45 points on 16 for 25 from the floor and 11 for 15 from the charity stripe with eight boards, seven assists and four steals in 43 minutes to lead the Cavs into the Semifinals. The Cavs swept the No. 1 East seeded Toronto Raptors 4-0. 
In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Celtics, James in 46 minutes nearly had his fourth triple-double of this postseason with 46 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists with two block shots to lead the Cavs to a 109-99 win to tie the series at 3-3. 
James who was 5 for 7 from three-point range in the season saving victory had the most points in his career when facing elimination. 
He made two back breaking triples in the final moments at the end of the shot clock and had a banker where he drew the foul. 
In Game 7 at the Celtics, Green, Thompson, Hill, Smith, Nance, Jr., and Korver combined for 52 points and James had 35 points with 15 rebounds, nine assists and two blocks on 12 for 24 shooting and 8 for 11 from the foul line, playing all 48 minutes in the 87-79 series clinching win on May 27. 
“It was a tough season. We went through a lot, but I think it made tougher. Made us stronger,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue, who playoff record is 41-20 said after the Game 4 loss, including a 5-11 mark in The Finals. 
“The new guys who had a chance to play in the playoffs for the first time. The new guys who had a chance to experience The Finals, what you dream of doing when you were a kid. They had that experience, but I told those guys now they see what we have to do to get better and take that next step.”
That being said, the focus and persistence to go down swinging James had in early moments when the Cavs needed regardless of how the rest of the team played in Game 4 on Friday night was not there. 
It is inexcusable for Hood to have the most shot attempts as he was an abysmal 4 for 14 from the field for 10 points with eight boards in 27 minutes. Love managed just 13 points with nine rebounds on just 4 for 13 from the field. 
With the 2017-18 NBA season now in the books, the biggest question as the 2018 off-season begins is what where will James end up next season? 
When asked about that by Joe Vardon of, James said, “I have no idea at this point. The one thing that I’ve always done is consider obviously my family.” 
“Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I got a teenage boy; a pre-teen and a little girl right now that wasn’t around as well.” 
“So, sitting down and considering everything you know but my family is a huge part of what I’ve decided to do in my career, and they will continue to be that.” 
Whatever James decides to do when it comes to his free agency, there are two things he can take solace in. 
First, he played in all 82 games in the regular season for the first time in his career and in all 22 postseason contests. He did this in season No. 15, leading “The Association” in minutes both in the regular season (36.9) and the postseason (42.0). 
In those minutes he did play, he put up averages during the regular season of 27.5 points, which was third in the league and his highest since his final season with the Miami Heat in 2013-14. His 8.6 boards equaled a career-high, which he set last season and set a career-high of 9.1 assists, which was second only to the league leading 10.3 of reigning league MVP of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s perennial All-Star Russell Westbrook. His field goal percentage of 54.2 was the fourth highest of his career and his three-point percentage of 36.7 represented the third highest. 
Also, during the regular season, James ranked fifth in the NBA in double-doubles with 52 and only the 25 triple-doubles by Westbrook were more than the 18 by James.
James was even better in the postseason where his 34.0 scoring average led the NBA and was the highest since his 35.3 in the 2009 playoffs. His 9.1 rebounds per game is the fourth highest of his postseason career and his nine assists are a career postseason best. His 53.9 field goal percentage was the third highest in his postseason career. 
In this postseason alone, James authored eight games of 40 points or more; 15 double-doubles; four triple-doubles and scored 20-plus points in 21 of the 22 Cavs games this postseason. His 748 points in the 2018 postseason were just 11 points short of the 759 Jordan had in 1992 in leading the Chicago Bulls to their second of their first three-peat. 
When James, who averaged 34.0 points, 10.0 assists, 8.5 rebounds in the 2018 Finals was asked by ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, host of “NBA: The Jump,” about how he would characterize this postseason for him and the team, he characterize it as their entire season as “the unknown.” 
He added, “I wondered if we could hit a switch in the postseason? I figured if I stayed laser sharp. If I came in with the right mentality. If I came in with the right mindset that I could help fast track this.” 
“It’s never a success in the postseason when you lose, not for me. For me personally being reliable to my teammates. Being able to play the game at a high level with as many games and as many miles that I have on my body and put together a run like I had in the postseason it’s something I can kind of remember. The ending is obviously still fresh and still new, and you never want to lose. Especially in this fashion being a competitor but it is what it is, and like I said I punch my clock every day.”
Wherever LeBron James goes, whether it is staying with the Cavs, or departing supposedly to L.A. to play with the Lakers or the Philadelphia 76ers, he will have an impact. 
If he stays put, the reality is the Cavs and their front office led by owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman will have a lot of work to do to make this roster better to compete with the Warriors. 
That will be hard with no projected salary cap space this off-season to sign middle of the road free agents. They have to decide to keep Green who is an unrestricted free agent and Hood, who is a restricted free agent. 
If nothing else, the Cavs if James returns can no longer coast through the regular season and they have to be healthy. Not having Love early on after the new additions at the previously mentioned Feb. 8 trade deadline was of no help as the team could not build the kind of cohesion and continuity necessary to become the type of team that can be a real threat to win a title.
While they were able to get things together it was not easy and this run of then three straight trips to The Finals could have ended against the Pacers or the Celtics. Those teams along with the Sixers are going to be better and if the Cavs do not bring a better mentality into the regular season next year if James returns, their run in the East has a great chance of concluding. 
“The most important is health,” James said when asked by ESPN’s Cavs’ reporter Dave McMenamin building a team from scratch like the Cavs did on many occasions in 2017-18. 
“You need to build chemistry so fast and comradery so fast on the floor, and if you have multiple injuries or you have multiple bodies out. When you’re starting fresh its too hard, and I think with this season that’s what you kind of saw.” 
“The difference between this season and the difference between my first one in Miami we didn’t have many injuries at all. We were definitely fresh together with myself and D [Dwyane]-Wade, and [Chris] Bosh, UD [Udonis Haslem], Mike Miller had a few injuries, but [Mario] Chalmers was available…We were pretty solid as far as being injury prone.”
If James leaves, the Cavs would go to rebuild mode and we all saw when that movie played from 2011-14. They were abysmal without James until he came back in 2014-15. 
While the Cavs have the No. 8 overall pick in the upcoming draft, the last time a player chosen in that position that became an All-Star was Vin Baker, who was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks 25 Junes ago, making the All-Star team four times in his career. 
To illustrate this point even further, the prior player to Baker that was of worthy note to be chosen No. 8 was Detlef Schrempf taken by the Dallas Mavericks in 1985. He was named an All-Star three times; made the All-NBA Third Team in 1995 and was twice named Sixth Man of the Year in 1991 and 1992. 
In the other two choices of the Lakers and the Sixers, the reality is neither one of those teams is ready to take over the East and contend for championships. If he goes to the Lakers, they would see the Warriors at least four times in the regular season and their chances would be very low to take them down in the postseason. In Philadelphia, Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons is the man ball handler and creator with no consistent jump shot to speak of and All-Star center Joel Embiid cannot play the role All-Star Chris Bosh played when he, James and Wade teamed up with the Heat where he basically became a jump shooter and occasional three-point shooter. 
He has been the greatest player of his generation. He has been great individually and has gotten his team whether it is the Miami Heat or the Cleveland Cavaliers to the door step of greatness and in 2012 and 2013 with the Heat and in 2016 with the Cavs captured Mr. O’Brien. 
“At the end of the day I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” James said when asked by Nichols about what it meant to have a second stint with the Cavs. “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and the fashion that we had is something that I will always remember.”  
James hopes that as his career continues hopefully in Northeast Ohio if you talk to Cavs fans and that they can reach The Finals again and hopefully with a better squad win it. 
If James goes somewhere else, whether the West Coast or staying East, he is happy with his choice and that team can be molded into one that can dethrone the Warriors. 
If nothing else, he wants to make better on his 3-6 mark in the Finals, which consists of a 1-3 record in the championship round against the Warriors. 
Since the 2011, James is a combined 24-0 in the first three rounds of the Eastern Conference postseason, but just 3-5 in The Finals, which included the just mentioned record versus the Warriors.
Only Hall of Famer, and the NBA logo Jerry West with eight and Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor with seven have more losses in The Finals than the six by James. 
“For me I so much to give to the game,” James when asked by Jason Lloyd of The Athletic if winning one championship with the Cavs constitute unfinished business. 
“When you have a goal and you’re able to accomplish that goal it actually for me personally made me even more hungry to continue to try win championships and I still want to be in championship mode, and I think I’ve showed this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”    
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 5/15/18 5:30 p.m. edition of “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon; 5/26/18 1 a.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter,” with John Buccigross and John Anderson; 6/8/18 NBA news from ESPN’s Bottom Line news crawl; 6/8/18 9 p.m. presentation of Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals presented by YouTube TV on ABC with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke; 6/8/18 11:45 p.m. edition of NBATV’s “Live at The Finals Postgame,” presented by YouTube TV with Casey Stern, Grant Hill, Chris Webber and Charles Barkley; 6/9/18 news from NBATV’s news crawl;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; and