Finally in the Black Hole in Oakland County Stadium

Anyone who knows me will tell you I have been a crazy Raiders fan since the 3rd grade, my only football team during good times and bad. Being a left-handed quarterback in our neighborhood street football games, who else could I have loved except Kenny Stabler?

I have everything Raiders in my basement, I see them every chance I get, and bought one of the first personal seat licenses in the new Las Vegas stadium on the night they opened the lottery. The lady said, “you are our only Kentucky customer so far!” This might make me Kentucky’s biggest Raiders fan!

Back in the 1970’s, the Raiders were one of the best professional franchises in all of sports labeled by, “The Just Win Baby” and “Commitment to Excellence” – all part of the epic founder, Al Davis, folklore. Davis, the beatnik owner who was a mysterious football guru who never followed status quo and seemed to defy conventional wisdom year after year.

Honestly, at 8 years old, it was Stabler initially but then it was the colors– black and silver; the colorful coach, John Madden, storming the sidelines in short sleeve shirts in the snow, and it was the culture to just win at nearly all costs that had me never miss a game on TV forever. And their Monday Night Football winning percentage record was unmatched for decades.

As a young boy, having your team be led by a vocal owner you could almost touch, players perceived as a bunch of unlawful bandits wearing mat black and pushing boundaries the entire game, plus the craziest fans of all time dressed in pirate customs and face paint filling up your TV screen – how could you not like them?

Being a Raiders fan in the late 70’s and through late 80’s, were some of my best childhood memories any fan could ever experience. I cried myself to sleep after the Immaculate Reception against the Steel Curtain, danced in my basement after the first Super Bowl win against the Purple People Eaters. I watched second chance Plunkett shock the league with an epic performance in Super Bowl XV, drank at my first Super Bowl party when Allen slaughtered the Hogs and all the way through until the tragic injury to Bo Jackson that seemed to end our amazing run. It has never been the same since!

Al Davis became out of touch as he aged and had constant coaching changes demanded by him to win tomorrow. There was undisciplined football by rogue players, constant threats to move the team, and a weak organizational management team underneath the mercurial owner that seemed to taint the black and silver.

There were decades when opposing teams feared coming to town because they were going to witness the craziest home fans anywhere in the world. But the two-decade decline took a toll on the franchise and fans today just see a crazy fan base and don’t fear the Silver and Black as they once did. Outside of the Gruden, Gannon, Brown run to a blowout Super Bowl loss, it has been continuous tough times.

However, when you are a true fan of any team you love the bad times because it thins the fan base, tests the loyalty of the fringe fans, and makes you hold on to the amazing memories that defined your childhood.

For all of us who are part of Raider Nation, this year is still a sad one because it is the bitter end for our Oakland historic roots, so everyone is rushing to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (that is sadly shared with the A’s) to cheer like never before because we move to glitzy Las Vegas next year.

A few weeks back, when I realized our GLI Glide Trip would take us out to San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Wine Country, I had to sneak away one night because it was Monday Night Football, Opening Night, in Oakland verses the Denver Broncos, and it was time to enter the BLACK HOLE even if it was by myself because this is the END.

If you want to make your own pilgrimage, go to StubHub and pick the section called the BLACK HOLE. I found one ticket still for sale, row 7, near the end of the row and a childhood dream was finally coming true!

On this night we cheered from the parking lot while tailgating with chants, the whole way entering the gates, and never even sat down once as we played masterfully this night picking the Broncos apart with Derek Carr looking like a right-handed Kenny Stabler. Prior to this night, I watched the Raiders on TV for 45 years and was envious every time of the true fans covering my TV screen that created the BLACK AND SILVER culture, and I finally got the chance to be one of them.

You can definitely go alone but you will leave with dozens of new friends from all walks of life. I hugged and high-fived everybody I met in my section, becoming one of them. My old teenage envy turned into true joy because, finally, I was home on Monday Night Football and a childhood dream came true!

Vegas may be the greatest football stadium ever built, and I will be there whenever I can make it out there, but it will never be the Oakland Raiders County Coliseum BLACK HOLE ever again where the football grit, the renegades, the regular people dress up like it’s Halloween and cheer like it is life and death for four hours!

This is your last chance to see it, make the journey, be part of history, go alone if you must, but please go! #bucketlist #raidernation #blackhole #justwinbaby #committmenttoexcellence

Why The NBA needs Louisville and they don’t even know it yet!

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There are bigger and crazier sport fans than I am, but I would still weigh in on the “serious supporter” side of sports enthusiasts, and the recent NBA talk around the city has really peaked my interest.

First, I want to be transparent upfront: since I returned to the city seven years ago, I’ve dreamed of a NBA team in my favorite city almost daily, and I push every chance I get to win over dinner party friends when the conversation heads that way.  I would actually invest my “first communion” money in this dream if I thought it would help secure a franchise just to position Louisville and the Commonwealth as the potential “Basketball Capital of the World.” This would be the first thing I would brand out if I were Mayor or Governor. We are a city and state on the verge of breaking out especially when considering the news this week that we are a “top 10er” for best U.S. cities for jobs! The NBA if nothing else is a magnet for talent recruitment, an economic driver to enhance our growing workforce needs which will make the difference for more global industry relocation in our state—a “common” “wealth” goal for our city and state leaders!

Second, I am throwing my personal support as a community leader to help organize grassroots efforts, along with others, to bring professional basketball back to where its deepest roots were seeded decades ago by Kentucky pioneers, way before the NBA ever thought about becoming one of the most recognized brands in our first “Dream Team” World Tour in 1992!

Like you, I watch and listen, and I do understand the growing appeal of soccer around the world, and have been to many games locally myself. But it seems farfetched when most of us can’t even name the MLS All Stars from last season, and if we will ever get a Major League level team here. The recent MLS city selection process proved just that anyway.

On the other side, I get our beloved Bats deep roots that take us back to the Louisville Colonels at Parkway Field.  But we knew we were only a minor league town and properly embraced it. As an avid baseball fan, I still see baseball on a slow death across the country and it needs to be structurally overhauled to keep future generations engaged in it, or it will look like Catholicism in Europe in a few more decades.

But regarding basketball, it’s a different story – we love it, we understand it, we breathe it, and we embrace it in any way we can get access to it.

First I am a diehard University of Louisville fan and consider my UofL ticket package as my “stay vacation” because I have loved our Cardinals irrationally since birth, like many of us. I can go back to my grade school days praying my Catholic prayers on my knees at the side of my bed where I would slide in a few Cardinal prayers, asking God if he would help us get our first NCAA title just to “shut up” my Big Blue classmates for once.

In my slowing maturity, I learned to love the Kentucky Wildcats years later when I moved away and quickly realized we need less “hate in this state” about our best Commonwealth assets, while outsiders across the country look at us with envy.  I finally had the revelation that we need to shift our mental mode from “bitterly divided” to a theme of “unification and abundance” and just own our very aspect of “BASKETBALL INC” so we can celebrate basketball in any form! In the end, we just need more things to cheer for in Kentucky in general with the “theory of abundance.”

As a supporter, I think I understand the resources required to support our Two Crown Jewels of NCAA college basketball that are only 70 miles apart…and how blessed we are to have that “world class college” experience any time we want it or need it!

Both programs are revered around the country and I feel great pride traveling in my day job and talking them both up every chance I get! I often say Kentucky Wildcat Alumni could field the first two expansion teams by themselves with nearly 30 former Wildcats tearing up the NBA with Kentucky roots. That would be another world record again for us that we should claim!

On the flip side, many Commonwealth basketball enthusiasts are too busy cheering on their own respective teams, that they don’t realize our small state has held every major basketball title! The dynasty runs deep! In 2011 alone Bellarmine University won their first NCAA Division II title, the University of Pikeville Division III, not to mention UofK’s NCAA championship victory, and our Lexington-based Georgetown University winning the National Independent Association basketball title—all in the same year, along with the Universities of Louisville and Kentucky both with their steady top 10 annual presence—the state is already a basketball mecca—just needing to be claimed!

What other state in the U.S. could ever hold possible the honors of the “U.S. Title State for All Basketball” and “Most NBA Players from One State”?

We have many negative people saying no one would buy NBA tickets. Are you kidding me? We sell any real sporting event like no other place in America verified by the Breeders Cup and any PGA event including the Ryder Cup, despite being hard to get to by travel standards.

Personally, I have attended NBA games in over half the cities in the U.S., preferring basketball over food on my travel per diem since the early 90’s. In many markets, an NBA game is just another social outing option for many, or a corporate thank you gift to a vendor or management team, or your family ticket package divided with your church group, but here in Kentucky, “Basketball” is a TRUE RELIGION and SHOULD BE!

Perhaps it is silly but I actually believe that the NBA needs their Green Bay type city where the franchise has a kind of religious experience with everything they play and NBA watchers worldwide could see “true fanatics” that this game creates. We already have that in our DNA, from our intergenerational connected heritage, our elder’s storytelling passing the torch over family dinners, and in our daily lives where it is embedded in every day conversation because we ALL know BASKETBALL like no other city, state or country in the world!

To keep it simple, I don’t really understand the heated political debate about it, the complicated venue debate either, or the economic argument around something so fundamentally simple that we should claim ourselves as “The Basketball Capital and Basketball Mecca” for the world to find! Especially with our horse heritage in the Kentucky Derby, our expanding art community, new business “landings,” the bourbon explosion—our city is on the verge of breaking out into a top city in the nation and a destination spot to live in! Let’s be not only the greatest “two minutes in sports” but the greatest 48 minutes in basketball in the world!

We all need to just start celebrating great basketball all around us and move beyond our own bitter basketball rivalries. Go see a Bellarmine University game and tell me their energy isn’t better than anywhere in the country for D1 or D2.  Even if you don’t like UofK or UofL, go to a home game at the other venue and observe the passion, or watch our crazy parents in youth basketball games and realize we love basketball for the essence of what it symbolizes to all of us!

This sport is a cultural experience that displays lyrical team chemistry when played correctly and is a game that can be played with cost effective economics without barriers to entry. It can be mastered by any size person, we learn life lessons about winning and losing, but more importantly to play by the rules and leave everything you have on the court!

We need to take back “our” basketball legacy, especially its capacity as one of the biggest future economic-drivers and brand it out:  “NBA to Louisville,” “The Basketball Capital of the World,” “The Basketball Title State,” and “The Pro-Basketball Training Center.”  All we ask is that they return our World Champion Kentucky Colonels back to us so one day we could be the first place in the world to hold all the important basketball titles in one state! And everyone can be a fan!

Please embrace the possibility of it, dreaming of something bigger than ourselves, imaging the greatest athletes in the world entering the Basketball Capital of the World. Let’s get serious about it because no matter what rumors you’ve heard, if “we build it they will come,” it is our own “field of dreams” because the NBA knows they have a brand on fire that must grow and breed success – and, as we know, there is no place like Kentucky in the world!

Blog 45:  Being “up close and personal” with Bellarmine Greatness and understanding better now where it comes from!

Blog 45: Being “up close and personal” with Bellarmine Greatness and understanding better now where it comes from!

I am going to make a bold prediction: Bellarmine earns 2nd National Title in less thanjs-bellarmine-honor-captain-2-0217 45 days because this team may not have the star power of the previous, led by Braydon Hobbs and Jeremy Kindle, but this team may even have more depth, greater talent distribution, two top GLVC players (Number 5 Guard Rusty Troutman and Number 1Forward Adam Eberhard), and the love of each other that you can rarely find in college sports and the secret sauce that defines “mastery of confidence”! 
 
First, I was a scholarship aid athlete at Bellarmine as a golfer for Coach Lally in the late 1980’s and we won quite often and seemed to help move the program to another level. My teammates were some of the best men I ever knew but I am more excited about this year’s men’s team because they could win the 1st national championship in men’s golf ever at BU! The whole place is on fire!!
 
Second, I was at Springfield when Bellarmine won their 1st National Championship in js-bellarmine-honor-captain-5-0217Men’s Basketball in an epic battle with BYU-Hawaii that came down to the wire and left all of the Bellarmine fans exhausted when the horn finally rang and we had our first. The mayor took a few of us out afterwards and we cheered and celebrated like it was 1999 again! What made that so special for me was
 
1.      There were Alumni from the first graduating class and early star athletes like former AD Jim Spalding and many others sitting next to us who were in tears when it happened.  It seemed like this victory cemented the “BU have arrived nationally” to many of the early pioneers of the university who chose Bellarmine as an early risk taker who knew it was going to be “a special place”.
2.      Being on the Board of Overseers for over 8 years, I remember the first day they brought Coach Davenport to our board meeting to introduce him as our new men’s head coach. We had been a “non factor” in college basketball for quite some time, but we knew Coach could bring true passion to the program. Most of us knew it was just a matter of time and it would happen at the highest integrity, because Coach Davenport always wins at all levels and plays by the rules. 
 
Since then, we have stayed in the Top Nationally year in and year out and almost take it for granted, but the other night, I had the great opportunity to be the Honorary Captain of the 2016-17 men’s basketball team. To be up close with this special group of young men, I noticed that they just seemed very different, which took me a while to reflect and define it. 
 
Then it hit me, yes, Coach D and his staff prep a game like very few in the D2 circles, but it was the “unselfish love and unity” that really surprised me.  They have BIG stars, but it was “the 15 Strong” tag line memorialized by Pat Riley in his last coaching championship with the HEAT that I witnessed. And Bellarmine had that exact same js-bellarmine-honor-captain-4-0217element where you can’t tell the difference between stars and role players.  
 
You see it in warm ups, you see it in the body language that shows through in each player, you witness it with Patrick McSweeney presence around the locker room that reminds all of the players to “cherish your time” and “to play for something bigger than yourself” and there are no guarantees in life except the “here and now”, which resonates throughout the locker room. 
 
There has been much research on mental toughness and team dynamics in regards to what makes individuals and teams perform at our optimal level.  I realized this team has that high mental confidence level that is that “X factor” that is hard to label.  
 
I thought about Dr. Gio Valiante, the famed Rollins College psychology professor, who found that perfect intersection where athletes who establish the perfect blend of “humility and gratitude” as the primary drivers and motivators to develop the deepest confidence levels at a high correlation level.  These athletes regularly overcome pressure with somewhat ease, which he attributes that the “gratitude” helps the athlete maintain a high level of joy, even under great pressure.  
 
js-bellarmine-honor-captain-6-0217Those two mental modes – gratitude and humility – were hardwired in the game day practice (as players explained their routine), the dinner before (celebrated with grace), the loose but intense warm ups, and in every aspect of the game by each player coming in and out of the game – they all played with great humility and deep gratitude that was the difference maker between this team and everyone else in the country. 
 
I have seen many individual athletes have it, but never on one unified entire team until last week – Bellarmine has it! 
 
Come to Sioux Falls, South Dakota on March 25th and watch them cut down the nets with gratitude and humility!