Ray Ratto

Kerr's war against happy feet carrying us through NBA's dog days

Kerr's war against happy feet carrying us through NBA's dog days

In these dog days of December/January/February/March/April in which the only really intriguing thing about the Golden State Warriors is margin of victory, there is something comforting about Steve Kerr playing a more avuncular version of Captain Nostalgia.

In other words, yes, he talked yet again about the death through neglect of the traveling call.

The last time he did so, the National Basketball Associating eased his troubled conscience by the weight of $25,000, so he spent nearly as much time repeating his claims that the traveling call no longer exists as a deterrent as he did begging not to be fined another $25,000, or $50,000, or $75,000 by mean old hall monitor Kiki Vandeweghe in the league office.

But then Memphis’ Mike Conley took five steps before converting an and-one the other night against the Los Angeles Lakers, and then Kansas’ Svi Mykhailiuk took four in preparation for a buzzer-beater against Kansas State Tuesday. Suddenly, the death of dribbling was a topic again, and with an innocent question before the Warriors' 125-117 victory over Portland about the increased pace of play as the trigger, Uncle Good Old Days took the bait up to the reel.

“As far as the individual stuff (about teams playing faster), the only other thing I can offer is that the rules are so heavily weighted for the offense. You can carry the ball and travel and you can’t put your hands on a guy. I shouldn’t get fined for this (author’s note: KA-CHING!). I’m just making an observation. I’m not complaining. I watch tape, I watch League Pass every night. The game has changed so heavily to the offense’s favor. Similar to the NFL where you can’t put your hands on a wide receiver. It’s harder to guard than ever before. You have a generation of young players that have grown up playing with this style of being able to handle the ball anyway you want and turn it over and carry it and travel. Again, just making an observation (author’s note: KA-CHING!), but it’s the truth. It’s really hard to guard people when they are able to do all of that stuff. I think that has something to do with it.

And then, because tempting the third rail with your tongue is so very I think the league really made some good changes with the illegal defense rule and allowing you to zone and kind of encouraging pace and flow. I like where the league is. I think it’s a very entertaining game. I would, as you can tell by my comments, I would like to have a better way to defend. We have given the offensive player enough benefit. I was watching last night; I had to text Luke (Walton), that Mike Conley took five steps on the play and got an and-one. Not only will we let you travel, but we will give you the benefit of that touch at the end. We have to adapt to that. It’s harder to guard, but it’s easier to play offense. These are all trends that the league is going in. Again, Kiki (Vandeweghe), if you are listening, it’s just an observation not a complaint. Don’t fine me.”

Author’s Note: Kiki, he’s daring you. He’s sticking his chin out at you. You have to drop the hammer here, just because we need something to amuse ourselves between now and the January 16 game against Cleveland.

But here’s the kicker. The NBA is experimenting with four- and five-official crews in selected games involving the Long Island Nets, Brooklyn’s D-League team, and while it seems like an ideal way to make officiating 33 to 67 percent worse, Kerr had an adjunct thought.

“Maybe if they had one who could watch the feet, that could work,” he said with a wry smile after his formal remarks.

Truth is, right now, none of the three officials watch feet, let alone count their employment by the player in possession of the ball, as they have other matters they consider more pressing. It is part of the general deterioration of the art that began with the league’s demand for strict standardization and uniformity of a game that simply cannot provide it.

Add the three-man crews that increased the number of officials by 50 percent, none of the added officials being better than the worst of the officials in the two-man crews.

Then came the don’t-talk-to-the-players era, the find-a-spot-and-hold-it-no-matter-what-happens-on-the-floor era, and now the running-start era which tilts Kerr’s table so.

It must be noted here that the Warriors take full advantage of the traveling “suggestion” like everyone else. To be sure, Stephen Curry can happy feet with the best of them, so this isn’t Kerr playing the aggrieved victim.

It is, however, him trying to strike up a cause last engaged without success by your grandfathers, who used to say at holiday gatherings, “I liked basketball when there was no walking or double dribble or guys standing the key for five seconds. Now go get me a beer.”

And frankly, we are willing to spend at least a couple of hundred thousand of his best dollars watching him tilting at the ever-spinning windmill between now and the start of the postseason.

Well, okay. Running at the ever-spinning windmill, a few steps -- and a few certified checks addressed to 645 5th Avenue, attention Mean Old Kiki Vandeweghe, The Guy Who Hates Pivot Feet.

One useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend in NCAA Tournament


One useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend in NCAA Tournament

College basketball peaked last week, as it typically does. There were 52 games, many of them hilariously delightful, only a few of them viewing slogs, and the sturdiest pillars of the narrative temple as it relates to the remaining 16 teams are:

* A 98-year-old nun who also functions as an unpaid assistant coach.

* A head coach who curses on air, gets soaking wet after wins and confesses that he worries about peeing himself on the sideline.

* A new version of the old debate about whether your view of Syracuse’s zone defense defines you as a basketball fan.

* Your dead bracket.

The nun, the glorious Sister Jean of Loyola Chicago, is new, and so is Eric Musselman (except in northern California, where he’s had pretty much every available pro job). But Jim Boeheim’s murderous zone defense, which he has employed since the Hoover administration, remains the litmus test about how you like your college basketball served.

Think of it as your AARP ID, if you must. It’s old-fashioned, it isn’t easy to watch, but it works.

And all the fun of a bracket that has more teams below the 4-seed than at or above it . . . well, Week Two is when most of that traditionally self-corrects. Even this year, there is the very real possibility that the gutty little underdog in San Antonio could be . . .

. . . wait for it . . .


And no, this is not the proof that the selection committee got it wrong. Not that they got it right – they’re pretty much not qualified based on work experience to do the job anyway, and their ability to ignore logical criteria at will to get a desired team or result is a long-standing tradition of this three-week bacchanal.

But if there is a useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend, it is that it is not yet a sign that the revolution is underway or that the meek are inheriting the earth. If you ignore the seed math and look at the names next to the seeds, you still see the same basketball powers. In other words, the bracket will normalize as it always does, the power in the sport is never far away from the seat of that power, and those of you who root for the meek – well, your hope that charm can beat muscle rests on Eric Musselman and Sister Jean.

And the NCAA Tournament is not the vehicle to bet that prop.


For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference


For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference

If you’re a progressive thinker, the only thing that can save the Pacific 12 Conference from the grossest form of humiliation is for one of the six schools it sent to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament – Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona State – to make a deep run. In Stanford’s case, to become the first four-seed to win a title.

If you’re a more desperate type, it is to hope that Oregon, Stanford, USC or Washington wins the NIT. Nobody will know it, but we did say “desperate.” And if you need to get to Utah in the Women’s NIT . . .

Well, you get the point. The Pac 12 is the first conference to bow out of the NCAA Tournament before the first weekend since the Big 12 was first formed in 1996-7. And because nobody remembers this sort of stuff year to year, it wipes out last year, when the conference went 9-4 and sent Oregon to the Final Four.

And when we say “sent,” we mean no such thing. In the NCAA Tournament, and in college sports in general, teams achieve. Conferences just get their cut.

Still, as the college sports industry is still covered based on the rules of tribalism, where the keeping of scores breaks down by laundry first and then by affiliation, the Pac-12 has been historically God-awful, which for things referencing the deity is a considerable stretch. Not only did they send only three teams to the NCAA Tournament and saw them evaporate before Friday dawned, they were 1-8 in bowl games, the worst record of any major conference since forever.

Plus, there’s the FBI, plus there’s the ongoing sense that the Pac-12 is the last of the Power 5 and getting worse, plus there’s the fact that it isn’t in the Southeast or Midwest, where this stuff really matters.

But we noticed it on Thursday because people kept bringing it up, especially after Arizona was owned by Buffalo despite having the putative top draft pick in DeAndre Ayton and specifically because a Sean Miller-coached team was so poor defensively.

And now comes the fun of watching the 12 conference university presidents panic as the other presidents make fun of them in the mahogany playground in which they all play. And don’t think that doesn’t happen. College sports is a big business played by kids for the financial benefit of older kids who keep score on things like this.

So the women start Saturday, and in a just and fair society that would get sufficient attention and play enough games to make the conference members feel better about themselves. We don’t have that society yet, so for the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference, and won’t get a chance to prove otherwise until December.

But hey, at least their task force on the structural future of college basketball was received . . . well, with a tepidness unknown to mankind. So yeah, they're on a hell of a roll.