Sunday, June 28, 2015

93-year-old Jeff Gordon fan watches Farewell Tour from afar

SONOMA, CA -- The typical NASCAR fan is male, married, about 40 years old, knows the King as Richard Petty not LeBron James and wears 50 shades of redneck.

Phyllis Gould is not your typical NASCAR fan. No siree. She is female, widowed, 93 years old … Did I say 93 years old? Yup. She thinks Jeff Gordon is the bomb and she has been in the Oval Office in the White House.

OK, she doesn’t much care for brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch which doesn’t make her an atypical NASCAR fan, but you get the point. 

When Jeff Gordon’s Farewell Tour stopped with its “Hometown Hero” kissfest in Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, Phyllis was home in Fairfax, California getting sentimental from the comfort of her living room, watching the race on TV. She could have gotten a ticket to go and she can still drive her 1987 Ford Ranger pick-up with a five-speed stick shift any place she pleases, but Phyllis doesn’t do NASCAR race days.

“I like all sports and the older I got, the more time I spent watching TV, and NASCAR kind of punched my button,” Phyllis told me nine years ago we first met. “It kind of seeped into my being.”

For the past 15 years, Phyllis has religiously watched stock car races from start to finish and she has followed Gordon all the way since she was first taken by the bright, colorful No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet car he drove in his “Rainbow Warriors” days. It was NASCAR love at first brake.

“That kind of drew me in,” she said. “The more I watched him, the more into the whole thing I got.”
Phyllis even had a Jeff Gordon poster tacked above her bed.  Seriously. This sort of fanaticism caught the attention of John Cardinale, the late, great media relations guru at Sonoma Raceway, who in 2006 arranged for Phyllis to come to the track to meet her favorite driver in person.

To Phyllis, then 84 years old and grandmother of seven, this was akin to a pre-teen girl meeting Taylor Swift. Phyllis posed for a photo with the Wonder Boy and turned the photo op into a personal custom-made T-shirt. 

Four years later, Phyllis and Gordon met again in the garage area at Sonoma Raceway and he autographed that very T-shirt, therefore potentially increasing its value exponentially on eBay.

“Actually,” Phyllis told me this week, “I was as excited to see you as I was him.”

However, when it comes to fantasy meetings, Gordon now takes a back seat to Joe Biden. Last year, Biden answered a personal letter Phyllis, who is a four-year cancer survivor, sent to Vice President suggesting that she and the five other surviving members of the industrial workers dubbed “Rosie the Riveters” – female riveters who worked for $1.25 an hour as welders, electricians and draftsman at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, CA during World War II – be acknowledged and recognized by the U.S. Government. Biden replied and invited Phyllis and her fellow “Rosies” to Washington, D.C.

“He said he would have lots of surprises and, oh man, did he!” Phyllis told me.
Biden took Phyllis on a tour of the White House then led her to the Oval Office where she met President Barack Obama and posed for yet another unforgettable photograph. The next day, Biden invited Phyllis and fellow “Rosies” to his house for breakfast.

Jeff Gordon never did that.

However, Phyllis doesn’t begrudge the one-time Boy Wonder. In fact, she suspects she and Gordon will meet again, even though Gordon said he is retiring from full-time NASCAR racing after this season.

“He’ll race some more races,” Phyllis predicts. “His little boy (son Leo, who is almost five years old) is just on the edge of remembering him racing. I know Jeff would want his son to win a race.”

And Phyllis would root for him all the way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Was LeBron's mystery motivation aimed at mocking MVP Stephen Curry?

The Golden State Warriors are 2015 NBA Champions and there is only one unanswered burning question remaining.

OK, one question other than is Stephen A. Smith ever wrong.

That would be: What was LeBron James’ “secret” motivation?

Remember after LeBron erupted in ball-slamming, teammate-hugging, primal-yelling elation after the Cleveland Cavaliers won Game Two in Oracle Arena? The Cavs had been dismissed faster than Donald Trump as presidential candidate after losing Game One and Kyrie Irving. LeBron was obviously pissed about that and it served as bulletin board motivation for Game Two.

But then the Chosen One, perhaps euphorically drunk sensing a dramatic sway in momentum and fate, inexplicably decided to drop this hint that there was “some other motivation” for winning that game and possibly the series.

The King was asked about the mystery motivation again after the Cavs’ Game Three win in Cleveland, but he coyly avoided an answer. "The Decision" maker gave a wink and hoped for two more wins to make his revelation. His "Answer."

Of course, that was the last game LeBron won in the NBA Finals so we may never know.

I have a theory on what is was.

Remember in Game Two when, in the final minutes, LeBron stole a pass telegraphed by the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and then looked at Curry and pointed at his King-sized head? It was LeBron – nay, Glee Bron -- showing up Curry by, figuratively speaking, telling Curry and the world that he had basketball smarts. It was a game-clinching heads-up play by LeBron and that it was a crucial turnover by Curry was a way for LeBron to make a statement to the Warriors’ pretty boy and new face of the NBA.

I’m still smarter than you. Deal with it.

My guess is LeBron was/is miffed that Curry was the league’s MVP during the regular season and LeBron was pretty much an afterthought in the voting. By winning Game Two and making Curry look like a fool in the process LeBron also made another statement.

I’m still better than you. Deal with it.

Which brings us to Game 5 post-game. Curry went on a tear at the end of Game Three, helped the Dubs win Game Four in Cleveland to even the series, and then went bonkers with his best game of the series in Game 5.  Curry was once again the darling of the media and NBA universe and LeBron was left trying to figure out whatever happen to Matthew Dellavedova’s magic. Delly Belly wound up with more floor burns than 3-pointers in the series.

It was at this precise time that LeBron chose to drop this B bomb: “I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world.”

Duh. We already knew that then why would the Chosen One say that? He is the best player in the world and I don't doubt it.

The pundits and talking heads suggested LeBron was merely trying to motivate his teammates, inspire them with Game of Thrones-like guff. 

Really? The Cavs players pretty much wore the same bland expression as Kevin Love did all series sitting on the sideline. The only thing that motivates J.R. Smith is the ball in his hands. David Blatt’s desperate motivational speeches at halftime and during timeoutrs had everything but “was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

Frankly, I think the Warriors were more motivated by LeBron’s curious remark because they interpreted it as a slap in the face at Curry. He was mocking their guy.

My theory? I think LeBron was/is jealous of all the attention and focused being heaped on Curry and needed to make a statement – this time with a bold, arrogant proclamation instead of a finger to the head – to remind everyone that he is still the King.


Now I understand that this series was not a fair fight and LeBron’s team was seriously undermanned, but the Atlanta Hawks were far from full strength when they were swept by the Cavaliers two weeks ago. No one talked about that.

But all we heard about from the media and from LeBron himself following Game Six was how hard he played and how he left everything out on the floor. Basically, LeBron willed his team like Hercules willed stone columns to collapse.

Well – and I hope I’m not the only one to notice this – but with about two minutes left in the game on Tuesday night LeBron, seconds after missing an uncontested canyon-wide-open 3-point shot, found himself as the only person between Curry and the basket. Curry, on the left wing, decided to drive right at the hoop and LeBron's "Braveheart" persona.

It was another chance for LeBron to make a statement and summon the energy and pride to emphatically block Curry’s shot out of bounds, sending Cavs fans to the exits with one last hurrah.
Instead, LeBron made no effort whatsoever to guard Curry.  He froze and fretted. Curry drove straight to the basket and made an uncontested layup and LeBron just stood and watch.

At this moment, LeBron, the self-professed leader of the Cavs and knighted savior of Cleveland, decided to quit.

ABC/ESPN analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, who had been mildly critical of LeBron’s defense during Game Six, said nothing. There was no replay of this moment as action continued and the Warriors played out the final minute and cameras focused on the impending celebration.

I was all in on LeBron before that. He is the most scrutinized athlete, perhaps of all-time, and I honestly thought he might win the MVP award in the Finals. But not after that.

In the end, the image-conscious LeBron tried to be a good sport and was praised for his “class” when he strolled down the sideline to congratulate Curry, Steve Kerr and the Warriors. That was for show.

An hour or so later in the Cavaliers’ post-game press conference/morgue, LeBron presented himself as a gallant yet deeply disappointed champion. Imagine the Kings’ hurt: Curry carrying around the NBA championship trophy with his cute kid, Andre Iguodala carrying around the NBA Finals MVP trophy even though LeBron averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the series with Igoudala mostly guarding him, and the City of Cleveland carrying around the losers’ baggage of no team sports title for 51 years.

If LeBron was trying to make us feel sorry for him, I’m not buying it. He boasted about “The Decision” and left Cleveland to play with two other superstars and win multiple world championships. Then, encouraged by his kids, he came back to Cleveland to win a title and the Cavs put two more superstars around him – and they both got injured when LeBron needed them the most.

Unfortunate? Yes.

Karma? Yes. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.