Tag Archives: NBA Playoffs

Father & Daughter On The Mother Road

66banner166banner266banner3If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way — take the highway that’s the best.

Get your kicks on Route 66.

66-1When my daughter Emilia and I made our plan to motor west from Chicago to Los Angeles over the course of two marathon days in May, it was her desire that we get our California-bound kicks on that legendary highway — Route 66.

Well, it winds from Chicago to LA,

More than 2,000 miles all the way.

Get your kicks on Route 66.

I’d first driven the 2,150 miles from Chicago to LA – south on I-55 and west on I-40 along the path of the old U.S. Route 66 – back in 1991 when I planted my flag in Southern California to stake a claim in the television biz. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, I was winding my way from Chicago to the west coast with the girl whose birth in ‘91 was one of the primary catalysts for our relocation to more lucrative employment in Hollywood.

66-24Emilia was gung-ho for the trip, eager to check off each of the ten cities listed in songwriter Bobby Troup’s much-covered classic. Troup wrote the song in 1946 on his own journey toward a career in the western Mecca of the entertainment business — immortalizing an itinerary of stops along The Mother Road, spanning the western two-thirds of America from the Windy City to the City of Angels.

Now you go through Saint Louis

Joplin, Missouri,

Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.

66-29You’ll see Amarillo,

Gallup, New Mexico,

Flagstaff, Arizona.

Don’t forget Winona,

Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Nearly 70 years ago, when Bobby Troup made his pilgrim’s progress westward, the Main Street of America was just a series of two-lane blacktops: various State Routes snaking their way through the heart of each of the municipalities mentioned in Troup’s celebrated, syncopated lyrics. As postwar traffic along Route 66 increased and peaked over the following decades, the towns it traversed adapted and grew to meet the demands of highway travelers.

66-12aIn the years after President Eisenhower launched construction of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, the wide concrete belts of I-55 and I-40 mostly skirted the various city centers, bypassing many of the roads that had made up old Route 66. And while the driving time from Chicago to LA was reduced dramatically – so, too, was the colorful, unique local character of the Route 66 experience.

66-18You can still find original sections of the Mother Road – many of them just off an exit, running parallel to Ike’s great Interstates — the old motels, restaurants, gas stations, and roadside attractions in varying degrees of dilapidation, dowdiness and decay. Yet, some towns have managed to maintain carefully preserved stretches of old Route 66, doing a brisk trade in food, fuel, lodging, and nostalgia.

Won’t you get hip to this timely tip?

When you make that California trip

Get your kicks on Route 66.

As we set out from Chicago,geocaching_desktop_by_dusterbed_zps0ca7e9ed Emilia put just one other item on our two-day road agenda: geocaching. You may not know this, but millions of people around the world have hidden even more millions of small treasures called “geocaches” in interesting locations across the globe — challenging fellow geocache enthusiasts to find them, armed only with a set of GPS coordinates. Emilia was determined to find at least one geocache in every state along the way in which she hadn’t already logged a find. So I knew we’d be poking around odd corners just off the highway in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Now you go through Saint Louis…

66-8The drive south along I-55 through the prairie and farmlands of Illinois toward St. Louis is long, flat and straight. There are few curves in the road and even fewer hills. We made good time through the Land of Lincoln, our progress interrupted only once – when a sudden cloudburst drenched the highway in sheets of rain through which we couldn’t see more than 10 feet ahead. Luckily, the downpour ended as quickly as it began, and we rolled into St. Louis, Missouri under blue skies.

Sighting The Gateway Arch which dominates the St. Louis skyline, we exited I-55 to take the first of our selfies to commemorate our arrival in each town name-dropped by Bobby Troup.66-4a

Joplin, Missouri…

66-6aThere’s not much to say about our Joplin experience as it’s one of those towns that have been bypassed by Ike’s Interstate. Thus, what we saw of Joplin was similar to what we passed driving through lots of communities along the modern Mother Road: franchise restaurants, sequences of tacky roadside signs extolling the virtues of various upcoming gift-cheese-fireworks-souvenir-gun-knife-Indian trinket shops, and truck stops like Mother’s – where we paused to look for a CD of “Cracked Rear View” by Hootie & The Blowfish – and actually found it!

Oklahoma City is mighty pretty…66-10a

66-8aIf Oklahoma City is pretty at all, we couldn’t tell. Emilia was at the wheel and the weather turned foul as we made our way through OKC. Rain fell from the cloud-darkened sky, illuminated by sudden flashes of lightning and the sound of distant thunder that doubtless gave the city’s NBA team its name. Emilia did a great job negotiating the heaviest stretch of traffic we saw on the trip – and the weather broke just long enough for us to collect our selfie.

66-7And now that we were in Oklahoma, it was time to find our first geocache – which Emilia located near the parking lot of one of those ubiquitous truck stops. We grabbed a fast food dinner, I went back behind the wheel, and we listened to the Houston Rockets regain some measure of respect in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

You’ll see Amarillo… 

It was near midnight when we pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express in Amarillo, Texas – after driving more than 1,000 miles during our first day. We grabbed five hours worth of sleep in a couple of very comfy beds – then got back on the road by 6:00 AM the next morning.

66-11aWe took our Amarillo selfie – and before long, Emilia found her Texas geocache. Those were the two highlights of our rather dull, flat, straight drive across the windswept Texas panhandle, marked by herds of cud-chewing cows and farmlands that extended far into the horizon without a hint of a hill to be had. Luckily, the speed limit for most of I-40 in Texas is 75 MPH – and I took every advantage of the opportunity to race through Ted Cruz’ state just as fast as we (legally) could.

Gallup, New Mexico…66-13a

66-14aAs we crossed from Texas into New Mexico, the landscape soon developed new contours: hills, then bluffs, then dramatic red rock mesas. The chaparral was still quite green and the combination of brilliant blue sky, white clouds, red rock and mountain greenery were a joy to behold.

66-15We scored our New Mexico cache at another truck stop.

This time, I was the one who discovered the tiny two-inch long aluminum tube, dangling from a thin chain into a hole in the ground next to a weathered wooden post holding up what was left of a battered old sign.

Flagstaff, Arizona…

Our family has been to Flagstaff before (and to nearby, magical Sedona) on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon.

66-16aEmilia was about 7 years old at the time, but the week we spent exploring this part of Arizona made a deep impression. And speaking of deep impressions, Emilia and I could drive past the famous Meteor Crater just east of Flagstaff because we’d already seen that prehistoric wonder.

66-19We turned off the road to get a snack, refuel and find Emilia’s fourth hidden geocache.

I was glad that the geocaching phase of our expedition was a success — and that my daughter could now log onto the Geocaching website and earn a badge for each of the four new states in which she found a cache — but I must admit that I was in a hurry to get to Williams, Arizona, just 35 miles west of Flagstaff on I-40.

Bobby Troup didn’t put Williams, Arizona in his song, but it’s a “don’t miss” destination for those seeking retro Route 66 ambience.

66-25Since we left Chicago, as we passed various Route 66 highway signs along the road, I’d been telling Emilia that we’d have an ample opportunity to score the mother load of Mother Road signs when we got to Williams, AZ. And we were not disappointed.

The last town bypassed by 1-40, Williams has preserved more than vintage signs. It boasts a town center featuring a half-dozen blocks of restored Route 66-era buildings facing an original stretch of the pre-Interstate road. The local shopkeepers – mostly mom and pop’s — trade on the look and flavor of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Here, you can get a sense of how it might have been to journey westward through the heart of such towns rather than whizzing passing them at 75 miles an hour.66-26

66-27Williams has a special relationship to Route 66 and I-40. In fact, it was the last town to have its section of Route 66 bypassed. But the people of Williams didn’t give in to President Eisenhower’s great highway project without a fight. Their lawsuits held up the last section of I-40 for nearly three decades until a settlement gave Williams three highway exits: an outsized number given the town’s modest size. Williams was finally bypassed on October 13, 1984 – 15 years after Ike passed away. The next year, Route 66 was officially decommissioned. From then on, the Mother Road existed only in memory, legend and song.

66-15aDon’t forget Winona…

Oh, yeah. Here’s another timely tip. Winona, Arizona actually comes before Flagstaff when you’re driving west. A songwriter like Bobby Troup can be granted poetic license, but he disqualifies himself as a navigator. When Emilia and I took our required selfie we were still 15 miles east of Flagstaff.


66-20There was still plenty of sunlight left as we descended more than 3,200 feet in elevation over the 115 miles of 1-40 from Williams to Kingman, Arizona. We were driving hard for California at this point – and Game Four of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals would be on the radio soon – so, we only spent enough time in Kingman to gas up, get a bite, and try to dial up the Cavaliers versus the Hawks. I’m a Clevelander born and raised. Listening to LeBron James and the Cavs close out the Atlanta Hawks would be an ideal end to this adventure.66-17a


At first, as we burned up the high desert miles toward San Berdoo, our radio delivered a strong AM signal – and the Cavs were beating the Hawks handily. But there’s not much in the way of civilization between Kingman and San Bernardino (though we did stop in Barstow, CA for our requisite selfie) and as the sun went down, so did our radio station signal. At times we abandoned the faint, faltering, static-strangled broadcast and Emilia read the play-by-play on her NBA Gametime app.

San Bernardino…

UnknownIt was around 10:00 PM when we drove past San Bernardino in the heaviest traffic we’d seen since Oklahoma. It wasn’t easy to find a safe location for our selfie, so Emilia and I agreed to settle for a shot taken through the car window as we continued homeward.

The local Los Angeles area sports talk radio channels were starting to come in loud and clear – and while my legs were cramping after long hours of driving, listening to excited post-game discussion of the Cavs’ victory gave me all the fuel I needed to power through the last stretches of the 10 and the 101 freeways.66-18a

My daughter and I had traveled Route 66, covering more than 2,000 miles in less than two days. We touched base in every city in the song – and found a geocache in every state we needed to find one. We listened to two great basketball games on the radio and played “Cracked Rear View” and John Fogerty’s “Revival” several times.66-3

We got to know the country a little better along the way – and we also got to know each other better.

It was, as Bobby Troup would say, a kick.

Now, sing along with Emilia and me:

760272Won’t you get hip to this timely tip?

When you make that California trip

Get your kicks on Route 66.


Filed under Adventure, History, Music

Survivor: The NBA Playoffs

“Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.”

Starting with its second season in 2001, I’ve been an avid, devoted fan of CBS’ long-running reality competition series, Survivor. There’s nothing on television to match Survivor’s gripping mix of offbeat characters, team drama and cutthroat competition — as 16 castaways on a tropical island contend to outwit, outplay and outlast each other in order to win a million dollars.

Unless it’s the 16 basketball teams filled with millionaires contending for a championship in the NBA Playoffs.

Like the contestants on Survivor, the NBA playoff teams run a prime time gauntlet in which only one contender takes the prize. (Though unlike Survivor, backstabbing teammates is not a good strategy for winning the NBA playoffs.) Yet, the best NBA playoff teams are those that can outwit, outplay and outlast their opponents.


Strategy is key on Survivor but often overlooked in the NBA – a league filled with spectacular athletes who can do marvelous, almost miraculous things on the basketball court.

In the 7-game series format of the NBA playoffs, brains can often outweigh brawn – and savvy game strategy, mental discipline, and smart decisions on the court take on added value.

Great coaching is key. According to conventional wisdom early this season, the old, fading stars on the San Antonio Spurs had little chance to go deep into the playoffs. But head coach Gregg Popovich is a basketball genius with more playoff experience than any coach who will oppose him.

In the NBA playoffs, where a mental edge matters, Coach Popovich is a difference maker. So is Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers – another guy who’s kept an aging ballclub in contention.

As for players who can outwit opponents, there are point guards like the Spurs’ Tony Parker and the Clippers’ Chris Paul who can dissect a defense on the fly, break it down, and create shots for either themselves or their teammates – all in a series of split-second decisions. LeBron James can do it, too.

It’s called “basketball IQ”, and champions have it.

Then there are those talented players who are undone by their lack of mental discipline. Even a smart guy like Boston’s Rajon Rondo – who has a relatively high basketball IQ – managed to hurt his team by chest-bumping a referee with just 41 seconds remaining in a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, earning him an automatic ejection – and a suspension for Game 2.

Los Angeles Lakers power forward Meta World Peace (aka Ron Artest) momentarily lost his (volatile) mind in the last game of the regular season and sent Oklahoma City’s James Harden crashing to the floor with a vicious elbow to the head. The league hit World Peace with a 7-game suspension, sending The Lakers into the first round of the playoffs without him.

In another mad mental breakdown, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, took out his frustration after the Knicks’ Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat by putting his fist through the glass door of a fire extinguisher case. Stoudemire’s lapse of judgment required 15 stitches in his left hand, and his status for Game 3 – and beyond — is in doubt.

The NBA playoffs are a mental endurance contest, and Rondo, World Peace and Stoudemire are prime examples of what happens when players let their emotions overwhelm their judgment.

Remember when the legendary Dennis Rodman played relentless mental games with less-disciplined players and baited them into foolish fouls?

Rodman won 5 NBA championships by getting into his opponents’ heads.

In another sign of the importance of the mental game, Chris Paul led the Clippers to an historic come-from behind victory after falling behind 27 points late in the third quarter of Game 1 against the Grizzlies in Memphis.

When Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro tried to rest Paul early in the fourth quarter of what appeared to be an inevitable losing cause, his All-Star point guard urged his coach to keep him in the game. “Give us a chance,” he implored De Negro. That attitude proved infectious.

Later in the quarter, with less than nine minutes in the clock and The Clippers trailing by 24, the team huddled – and reserve forward Reggie Evans stepped up to say, “C’mon, man, we’re not quitting.” And, according to Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin,  “That was the attitude we had the rest of the way.” It was an attitude that Chris Paul reminded Griffin about when he stepped to the line to shoot two critical free throws in the closing moments of the game. “Give us these two. Just give us a chance,” Paul told Griffin – and the usually unreliable free throw shooter knocked them both down to cut Memphis’ lead to one before the Clippers closed out the Grizzlies 99-98 to steal home court advantage in the series.

The Clippers kept their wits about them – and the Grizzlies lost theirs. Thus, the Clippers survived.


Contestants on Survivor talk a lot about wanting to be respected as players of the game. But to be a great Survivor player, you’ve got to excel at both sides of the game: in the challenges and back art camp. A skilled and athletic player can win rewards and immunity in a challenge – but if they don’t watch their back at camp – where alliances are made and schemes are set in motion — a treacherous blindside might await that player at Tribal Council even if he or she has won immunity.

There have been few challenge players better than big, strong James on Survivor: China in the show’s fifteenth season.  James managed to win one immunity idol and he found another – but he was a lousy strategic player in camp and got blindsided in spectacular fashion: getting voted off the island while holding both immunity idols because, overconfident and out-of-the-loop, he failed to play one at Tribal Council. It was the first (and probably the last) time that happened to anyone on the show.

The best Survivor challenge competitor ever, Ozzy, won five out of six individual immunity challenges on Survivor: Cook Islands. At the final Tribal Council, he was praised for his physical skills, yet criticized for being a loner at camp. So, despite the fact that host Jeff Probst said Ozzy had dominated physically like nobody ever has, he finished in second place. On Survivor: Micronesia, after dominating the challenges again, Ozzy managed to get himself voted out while holding an immunity idol.

In Survivor, champions must excel on both sides of the game.

Likewise, the NBA Playoffs require great play on both ends of the floor: offense and defense.

You don’t make it to the NBA Playoffs if you can’t play. At this level, everyone on the floor is a skilled player. But if you want to win an NBA title you must play at a high level consistently, minute-to-minute, quarter-to-quarter, game-to-game – on both the offensive and defensive end. You’ve got to do the pretty work and the dirty work.

Why are the exceptionally talented Oklahoma City Thunder, blessed with the young and gifted Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, struggling to stay just one lousy basket ahead of the aging Boston Celtics? Because The Thunder doesn’t bring intensity to the defensive end. And on offense, The Thunder is not doing the hard work of getting into the paint, drawing contact, and taking the ball to the rim. Jump shooting is nice. 3-point shots are really cool. But NBA championships are won by hard-nosed play in the lane.

Everyone knows the Miami Heat have great players. In fact, they have three of the league’s best in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But it’s not Miami’s highlight reel offense that wins games – it’s their suffocating, athletic defense. As amamzing as LeBron James is on the offensive end – he plays even bigger on the defensive end, often taking on the role of stopper against the other team’s best player. That’s not something you’ll see The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony do. And that’s among the reasons you won’t see Carmelo getting a ring anytime soon.

The Lakers’ playoff chances rise when their defense stiffens – and their title hopes soared when their mercurial center Andrew Bynum blocked 10 shots in their Game 1 victory over Denver. Bynum doesn’t always play defense (or offense) with that kind of intensity. He’ll have to play consistently at a high rate on both ends of the floor if the Lakers hope to have a shot at the title – despite how well Kobe Bryant plays. (And you know killer Kobe will bring his A-game each and every night.)


The third key to Survivor and NBA Playoff victory is not always in the player’s control: just like when this season’s nasty, scheming villain Colton was forced off Survivor island due to appendicitis.

Colton was carried off on a stretcher by the Survivor medical team — still clutching his now-worthless immunity idol.

Sometimes, an NBA player, like Stoudemire, will take himself out of the playoffs with an injury he could have easily avoided. But far more often, fate deals a shockingly cruel blow – as it did to Chicago’s star point guard, Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in the closing moments of the Bull’s Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, ending his season and, perhaps, the Bulls title hopes in 2012.

Later that same day, The Knicks’ valuable rookie guard Iman Shumpert injured his knee during their brutal 33-point Game 1 loss to the Heat, tearing both his anterior cruciate ligament and his meniscus. (Ouch!)

Without Stoudemire and Shumpert (and Jeremy Linn who’s also out with a severe knee injury) it doesn’t look like The Knicks will outlast anyone in these NBA playoffs.

The Clippers resounding comeback victory in Game 1 against The Grizzlies was marred by a late-game injury to their starting forward, Caron Butler. A key piece of the Clipper’s winning puzzle, Butler is set to miss the next four to six weeks with a broken left hand, which he caught in an opposing player’s jersey. It was a freak injury – and a blow to the Clippers’ playoff hopes.

A team has got to stay healthy to outlast the field in the NBA Playoffs.

Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.

That’s what I love about Survivor – and the NBA Playoffs.

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