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Friday, March 1, 2013

Sam Old, Same Old from Mr. Brian Burke

BOSTON, MARCH 1, 2013 -- The jokes were stale, the comments the same old, same old. Yes, the panel had a catchy new name, but the participants did little to impart knowledge and did a lot to alienate their bright, ambitious and super-smart audience as they cast an incredibly sour and negative light on the world of a big time sports front office man. If The Daily Show were taping the panel, they could've gone split-screen and put the former Toronto Maple Leafs GM, now Senior Advisor to the Leafs (wink, wink) presentation right next to the former Anaheim Ducks GM's presentation of 'circa 2008. It was five years old, five years stale and it could be served up on a silver platter why the new ownership at Maple Leaf Sports (MLSE) decided to part ways with one Brian Burke.

Former Leafs GM Brian Burke set a sour tone at MIT/Sloan
Former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy, he with the same body language of Madison Square Garden chief James Dolan, regurgitated the tales of why the Orlando Magic left him at the alter, weaving his version of conversations past but, at least, he stated the fact that he literally told the Magic hierarchy to let him go.  For that, I must give Van Gundy, a hall pass.

As ESPN-hired moderator Jackie MacMullan tried to steer the ship, the HMS Ships Be Sunk, only former Indianapolis Colts frontman Bill Polian and Boston Celtics Managing Director Steve Pagliuca could set sail. Polian had a bevy of fine comments and entertained the audience of some 2,700 Masters Candidates and other sports business types with insight into the NFL with comments like;

(On trading players) - "Your players bleed for you, give you everything they have.  there's a bond there."

(On coaching career/tenure) - "Coaches with recognized talent that can prepare the players are the ones that last."

(On the issue of analytics and role in sports) - "There's a human element in sports that can not be quantified."

(On a long season in NFL) - (Buffalo head coach) "Marv Levy used to tell me, I could get the players motivated four times during a 20-game season. Talent and preparation carry it."

But, written between the lines of those statements was the fact the Indianapolis media and the NFL hacks were all writing that Polian was encouraging owner Jim Irsay to trade Peyton Manning in a year when he threw some 49 TDs. So, take it all with a grain of salt as the rest of the panel stunk up the joint near the "No Name" seafood restaurant with Burke acting as the Master Chef.

The point here is there is a definite shelf life for professional coaches, GMs, front office people and the players they coach, sign and promote. Former NBA Commissioner (the late) Larry O'Brien once said that he never thought a man should work more than seven and a half years at one job, noting it was just under the eight-year term for most of the important political appointments, outside of the Mayor of Boston. O'Brien believed the creative juices and the power of entrepreneurial spirit would leave a man upon his seventh year.

I agree, with one exception and that is the place that the NBA found itself in 1980-81. That was place where an entrepreneurial spirit and a 22-23 hour work day would reward workers with yet another 20-22 hour work day because there was so much to do, so much to learn and so much experience to gain. Yet, in another MIT Slaon Sports Analytics conference panel, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban continued to rip the NBA for its longstanding slow, methodical ways - born from a gaggle of lawyers running the joint (my words, not his). Cuban chose to lay-out a former NBA team owner, although he did have the courtesy to not name names, but to only note the former team owner had since passed away.

Cuban spoke of getting "lit-up" in one of his first NBA Board of Governors meetings by a team owner who was nearly senior amongst the team owners in the room. "I used to go to the meetings and they would yell at me," said Cuban of former Washington Wizards (Bullets) owner Abe Pollan once schooling him on proper protocol and etiquette when you are just one of a group of joint partners in a room. (And it was fun to see Cuban in a situation where he knew he wasn't amongst the smartest 50% in the room).

Pollan was trying to instill a sense of history, a worthy and valuable viewpoint as an owner of a league-pillar franchise when franchises weren't worth the $12 million the expansion Dallas Mavericks were valued at in 1980 when Donald Carter put on his Cowboys hat and plunged Big D into the world of pro basketball for the first time since the Dallas Chaparrals were tossing it around with the Pittsburgh Condors in the old ABA. Then, in Pollan's final years and after he had personally funded and built a jewel of an arena in downtown Wash DC, the "new" breed of NBA owners crept in and submarined their older joint-partners. Cuban's deep pockets allowed him to raise the ante in every poker room in the NBA, gradually trying to buy his way to the title with cutting edge tech, comfy chairs instead of a bench and fawning on his players to help attract a free agent bonanza.

Cuban admitted his ways to over spend on certain areas in hopes that other teams, his rivals and partners, would tire of spending and the Mavericks would end up with an edge.  However, that has continued to backfire and now Cuban is having far less fun and equates his team to a business that is floundering. Yet, his pockets and his competitive spirit, which certainly needs to be applauded, will keep him in the good graces of free agents, out of work coaching candidates and a host of other celebrity "shark Tank" opportunities, far more than to feed his Texas-sized ego. And, that's okay. It'll actually be good for the NBA as Cuban feeds a fan frenzy youthful audience, all who like his brashness and his bank account.

The sad part of this Sports Analytics conference is Burke, he of old jokes, ruffled neck-tie and decades-old cliches. It was uncomfortable to listen to his smack. It was hard to hear the same jokes he told to the same group in 2008. ("Statistics are like a lamppost to a drunk. Useful for support but not for illumination.") or ("If you're drafting a guy solely on statistics, I hope you're in my division.") It was sad to hear his viewpoint on new media ("Talk radio was the worst thing that ever happened to sports and the Internet is talk radio on steroids.") and old-style media ("When you're losing, the sports pages only have value if you own a puppy or a parakeet.")

Well, Mr. Burke, I hope you have a puppy because it'll be a cold day in Moose Jaw before another franchise takes a shot at you, although the "If it's not you, it's me: Break Up in Sports panel will be happy to have you tell the same old stuff in 2018.

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