Bare legs disappearing in today’s basketball

basketballlegs1ibasketball legsIf you’re a fashionista, you might have noticed that the legs of male basketball players are disappearing from view these days. The New York Times had a lengthy article last Sunday in its sports section on this subject. Where once fans might have seen almost three feet of Wilt Chamberlain’s legs, today’s fans often see only the barest glimpse of flesh on players’ legs.

 “Skin is no longer in,” the Times announced, noting that players are increasingly covering up because of a changing fashion sense, a desire for protection and a touch of prudish modesty. The in-look today includes shorts hemmed below the knee, socks raised to the calf and a base layer of tights underneath.

I can’t say this look was on display among the over-40 crowd playing basketball Monday afternoon at the Capital Athletic Club in Sacramento. I saw only one player in tights. Most wore shorts hemmed slightly above the knee or barely covering their knee-operation incisions. Socks were mostly a boring white and bunched up above the tops of well-worn basketball shoes.

I don’t elevate the sartorial level of the over-40 crowd much, except that I invest more money in fancy basketball shoes. I’m intent on avoiding another bout of plantar fasciitis and am convinced that switching shoes every four months provides continuing heel support and cushioning. I regularly wear brightly colored Nike shoes, assuring that my defender will always know where I am.

By contrast, the Saturday morning games at the club bring out players in their late 20s and 30s, several of whom look as though they’ve just come from a fashion shoot. Interestingly, these peacocks with a good sense of color coordination are also the better players. I don’t know whether this holds true outside the CAC. The Times article didn’t analyze appearance and performance at the college and pro level.

When I was growing up in Queens, real ballplayers didn’t waste time dwelling on their appearance. The teenagers who came up to Braddock Park to play basketball in their mohair sweaters and chinos had their minds on girls and were relegated to the pebbly asphalt courts. As a player at Van Buren High School, I was given white Converse sneakers, then a status symbol, and admonished never to wear them outdoors. We had short shorts and sleeveless jerseys for game wear.

At the park, I wore inexpensive Thom McAn sneakers that wore out quickly on hot summer asphalt. I stuck pieces of cardboard in the soles as soon as holes started to appear. We all wore long pants, even on the hottest days. Shorts at the park were unmanly.

The Times traces the disappearing-leg look to the early 1990s and Michigan’s “Fab Five.” The five black freshmen popularized baggy shorts to the knee, black socks and shaved heads. They talked trash and played a street-style game. They looked ready to rumble and detractors called them thugs. Their talent on the court, however, made them a force in the game, and their radical attire spread through the basketball world.

I won’t be transitioning to the modesty look on the court, but, frankly, I always felt a little embarrassed in the old-style uniforms, especially with girls in the stands. Shorts slightly above the knee are just right with me and seem appropriate to this stage in my life.

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Old sprinkler pipes induce fear and trembling



Tree roots had bent the old, corroded metal pipe.

Tree roots had bent the old, corroded metal pipe.


New PVC pipe is attached to the old galvanized steel pipe.

When I saw water streaming over the sidewalk from one of the front sprinklers, my heart sank. I knew there would be no quick fix. My front yard has a network of galvanized steel pipe that goes back decades. It’s covered with corrosion. Even removing a sprinkler head is a major challenge. Put a wrench to it and the pipe below may crack.

I’ve been living in this Land Park house in Sacramento since 1999. I had professionals install a new sprinkler system in the backyard because I was building a koi pond, and things were torn up anyway. I chose to stay with the old system out front because it costs a lot of money to start updating everything in a home built in 1937.

In years past, when I needed to replace a couple of sprinkler heads out front, I enlisted the help of a handyman friend. I did the grunt work of digging out the area so he could successfully apply one pipe wrench to the sprinkler head and a second wrench to underlying pipe to stabilize it. Who would have thought you needed two wrenches to do the job? Not me, that’s for sure.

This time around, assuming a leaking pipe, I consulted with neighbor Bill. He seems to know the official name of every tool and displays no anxiety about going to Home Depot. First, I wanted to know if, theoretically, one should join galvanized steel and PVC pipe. A warning bell had gone off in my mental storage bin.

“You’re thinking of galvanized steel and copper pipe. That’s a problem,” he said. “PVC pipe is fine.”

“So I could cut out a leaking section of steel pipe and replace it with PVC?”

“You could,” Bill said, “but maybe you should think about replacing the whole system.”

Ouch! I’m finishing up window-replacement this spring. New tile in the kitchen would be nice. I’d rather get a few more years out of the front sprinklers.

Bill outlined what needed to be done. I consulted a few YouTube videos. I picked up the term “Dresser coupling” and drove off to Home Depot. I found the 4-inch connectors used to join threadless steel pipe and PVC pipe. I picked up a half-inch T and a PVC riser.

Back home, I started digging a trench at the edge of the sidewalk. It wasn’t easy, not with a big valley oak just 30 feet away. A one-inch-thick root was pressed hard against the metal riser pipe. Smaller roots flourished nearby. I used a bypass lopper as much as the shovel. The underlying half-inch pipe was thick with corrosion. I used a geologist’s pick to knock off the thick crust and to dig out the roots and soil beneath the pipe. Four hours passed.

 When I turned on the sprinklers, water spurted from beneath the T and three other spots on the pipe. About two feet of old pipe would have to be cut. Neighbor Bill came over with his Sawzall reciprocating saw. He volunteered to handle the technical work. He cut the pipe and attached the Dresser couplings. The first test was less than successful.

After undoing the connectors, sanding the old steel pipe to a smooth finish, applying pipe dope and reattaching things, the leaks stopped. Or so it seemed. After I refilled the trench and replaced the pipe cap with the sprinkler head, a thin stream of runoff trickled over the sidewalk. I suppressed my discouragement, drove to the hardware stuff and bought a new brass sprinkler head. I noticed the rubber gasket was about twice the size of the old one, which must have worn away over time. The next test was a success.

I breathed a sigh of relief. The immediate problem was fixed, but how many more are waiting to gush to the surface? Do I want to risk an untimely geyser eruption or slow death by leak after leak? And what about the 16-year-old air conditioner? The 10-year-old water heater?

I ask myself: What price peace of mind?

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Keeping score where it counts in the NCAA basketball tournament

Harvard is listed as a 500-1 shot to win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; North Carolina has odds of 40-1. When the two teams meet today, I won’t be betting my retirement savings that Harvard will pull an upset.

But my alma mater easily beats the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the graduation success rate of its basketball players. Harvard racks up 100 percent; North Carolina stands at 88 percent.

These figures come from a report titled:  “Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Teams.” The report was done by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida.

The institute annually puts out a comprehensive analysis of the graduation rates of basketball players at the 68 colleges in the NCAA basketball tournament. The figures are computed by averaging annual class graduation rates over the preceding six-year period.

The institute’s report gets a lot of attention because of widespread concern over exploitation of athletes and corruption of academic standards in college basketball programs. For the record, an academic scandal involving athletes at North Carolina went on for 18 years before a whistle-blower sounded the alarm. Harvard, alas, had a cheating problem a few years ago that was minor by comparison but still enormously embarrassing to the Ivy League school.

The report’s major finding was this: 93 percent (63 teams) of the 68 tournament teams graduated 50 percent or more of their men’s basketball student-athletes in the preceding six-year period, up from 87 percent in 2014. Thirteen schools, including Harvard, showed a 100 percent graduation rate.

The report takes a special look at the graduation success rates of white vs. black athletes. The 2015 report finds an enormous 24 percent gap between the graduation rate of white basketball players vs. black players, institute director Richard Lapchick said. Equally alarming, he said, were figures showing that 41 percent of the men’s teams had a racial graduation disparity greater than 30 percent, and 28 percent of tournament teams showed a disparity greater than 40 percent.

At Harvard, the graduation rate is 100 percent for both white players and African American ones. At North Carolina, it’s 100 percent for whites and 83 percent for blacks.

The undefeated University of Kentucky Wildcats, a 6-5 betting pick to win the tournament, showed an 89 percent overall graduation rate, with 100 percent of white basketball players graduating vs.83 percent of blacks.

Interestingly, the institute’s study found that African American basketball players from schools in the tournament graduated at a considerably higher rate than male black students who weren’t athletes. The figures were 68 percent vs. 41 percent.

Bringing up the bottom of the list was the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which had an overall  40 percent graduation rate for players. The breakdown was 0 percent of blacks and 67 percent of  whites graduating.

At Indiana University, Bloomington, 42 percent of the male basketball players graduated, with blacks constituting 50 percent and whites 0 percent.


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Kings arena art acquisition exudes the color of money


An illustration of the sculpture by Jeff Koons proposed for the Kings arena plaza.

An illustration of the sculpture by Jeff Koons proposed for the Kings arena plaza.

In Sacramento, what the one-percenters want, the one-percenters get. They use their money, power and influence to tell the rest of us how things are going to be. Their manipulative ability extends from plopping a Kings arena into the middle of downtown traffic to acquiring an $8 million status symbol to plop in front of it.

That’s the real reason why local residents are angry about the planned purchase of a glitzy Koons sculpture for the arena site. The one-percenters are flaunting their wealth and power and reminding the hoi-polloi who runs this town.

Forget the nonsense you read in the Bee about an artistic controversy. Forget the cheap shots about greedy local artists. Those are smokescreens generated by promoters and our local press intent on furthering their own self-interest.

In a front page Sunday Bee story headlined “A Matter of Taste,” the real story behind this meretricious episode could be deduced from a paragraph noting that Koons “runs in a circle of wealthy and glamorous patrons, and much of his work is in the possession of private collectors.” One such patron reportedly paid $14 million to commission two Koons sculptures for an oceanfront condo tower he is building in Miami. The royal family of Qatar is said to be another patron.

In Sacramento, we have royalty of a sort in Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive and a wealthy arts patron in Marcy Friedman. Unsurprisingly, both names are mentioned in the Bee’s explanation of Koons’ “journey to the center of a Sacramento controversy.”

Last September, Friedman and her family toured Koons’  New York studio, and the world-famous artist was sweet enough to spend a whole hour with an arts patron from little Sacramento. “We were all blown away by how genuine he was. … He could have been arrogant and he was not,” Friedman told the Bee.

A few weeks later, Ranadive – a client of Koons’ gallery, Gagosian – sent word to a panel exploring the arena art choices that a sculpture in the “Coloring Book” series might become available for the arena, The Bee said.

 Friedman became an ardent supporter of getting the Koons sculpture. As she informed the City Council, which was debating whether to approve buying the sculpture: “We have a rare opportunity for Sacramento to snare an extremely important piece of art by an internationally acclaimed artist. It’s destined to become the most photographed image in Sacramento history.”

Here a few other things to keep in mind about this power play that excluded local artists from getting a shot at the big prize:

  • Friedman’s son Mark is both an investor in the Kings and a developer overseeing design and construction of the $448 million arena.
  • Ranadive and two minority owners of the Kings added $1 million apiece to the $5.5 million art fund generated from the arena construction budget (half of which is public money).  
  • Marcy Friedman donated $1 million to placate excluded local artists.
  • The Kings will get to own the sculpture.

That’s how business gets done by the high and mighty in Sacramento.  If you don’t like it, you can just shut up and pay your taxes.


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Why grammar school was a special time

I’ve been thinking lately about my grammar school days. That’s because I’ve been exchanging emails with a friend who started in the first grade with me at Our Lady of Lourdes in Queens. We went through all eight years together. I hadn’t seen or heard from Frank since the early 1960s. Then he searched the Internet and found this website.

Frank said he remembered how Sister Philomena, our first-grade nun, used to pinch my cheeks because she thought I was so cute. Really? I recall that she called me “grandpa” because she thought I moved very stiffly. But I did know that Sister Philomena thought I was wonderful, and what a way that was to start grammar school.

I went to O.L.L. from 1951 through 1959. Having 60 kids in a class didn’t seem strange. That’s how it was in Catholic school. One nun with a yardstick could exert a lot of discipline. But I rarely got in trouble. I was a good student and athlete, and eager to go to school. I felt alive being out of the house and in the company of my pals. I can still see many of their young faces in my mind’s eye.

What strikes me now is how I assumed back then that we were all cut from the same cloth. Sure, we had a pecking order, a smart group, the not-so-smart kids, the ones who took the bus and those, like me, who walked a few blocks to school. But these seemed like minor distinctions compared with the seeming equality of childhood. We were all starting out on the road of life together. We had the same religion, lived in similar houses and shared similar values. The societal values and standards that would divide us in later life didn’t seem to apply.

In Woody Allen’s movie “Annie Hall,” there’s an elementary school scene in which the kids announce what becomes of them in later life – one a big success, another a drug addict and so on. It’s funny because it’s hard to imagine these kids in adult guise. They seem like eternal children making up fantasies.

I think it was in the sixth grade that a popular kid named Teddy was out of school for months. Our nun had us praying daily for him because he had something called rheumatic fever. Then he returned, seeming little different from how he had been before. But he would die from heart problems in his mid-40s, the first of my O.L.L. classmates to go, as far as I knew.

Looking back, I imagine the deck was stacked against a number of kids in that class of 60. There wasn’t time for individual instruction or special help for those with physical disabilities. No one could figure out why Freddie got 60-minus averages but could sing all the latest songs word for word. Mental illness wasn’t much of a concept back then, unless you meant the crazies in nearby Creedmore Hospital.

Similarly, there were some of us who had the advantage of stable, well-educated parents who knew how to keep us on track and inculcate the values that would translate into college admission and a ticket to ride.

I went away to college and then headed west. I’ve lost track of most of my classmates from Lourdes. I still have our 1959 graduation album. I like to think life turned out well for all those young, innocent faces. It beats the alternative.

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