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Good News Friday: Trump slams Kaepernick, QB donates to Meals on Wheels. National Puppy Day is a good excuse to run puppy videos. And NBA players’ secret weapon: Peanut butter and jelly

And a Happy Friday to you all! The March Madness games last night were mostly terrific (though that hideous West Virginia-Gonzaga game practically made my eyes bleed), I’m very impressed with Kansas and Oregon, and I think we’ve got great Elite 8 games coming this weekend.

We start off Good News Friday with that old lightning rod of controversy, Mr. Colin Kaepernick. You can have whatever opinion you want about his decision to kneel during the national anthem last year, but what he did last week was pretty phenomenal, and selfless.

During one of his masturbatory “rallies” that our President seems to need to have every few weeks, Donald Trump bragged about shutting down the free speech of an American citizen. He rambled about a story he read (by Mike Freeman in Bleacher Report) saying that Kaepernick, an NFL free agent, remained unsigned because some NFL owners feared a powerful, negative Tweet from Trump if they signed him.

Ridiculous, of course. Kaepernick is unsigned at the moment because he’s just not very good at playing quarterback in the NFL. Anyway, Kaepernick heard Trump’s taunt and responded beautifully: He donated $50,000 to Meals on Wheels, one of the incredibly vital programs Trump’s merciless budget proposes to cut.

This after Kaepernick also helped a Turkish Airlines plane deliver supplies to a much-needed, and ravaged, area of the world: Somalia.

Kaepernick, in association with a charitable effort known as Love Army for Somalia, has helped convince Turkish Airlines to donate the use of a 60-ton airplane to help ferry necessary food and supplies to war-torn regions in Somalia.

Two beautiful, selfless acts that will help people in need. Good job, Colin.

**Next up, apparently Thursday was National Puppy Day, and I’m here to tell you if you lived in New York City like I do you’d think EVERY day was National Puppy Day, since there are more dogs than people in this fine city. (And let me tell you, no dogs anywhere are pampered like NYC dogs. I’m telling you, some of these pooches have bigger wardrobes than I do.)

Anyway, in honor of this hugely important annual event, I present to you a video of puppies frolicking, because it’s Friday and it’s pretty impossible to watch this video and not smile:

**Finally today, I thought this was such a fun story and a serious story and a well-written story and a brilliantly-executed story. Baxter Holmes, a writer for ESPN, has investigated the biggest trend in the NBA: The incredible rise in popularity of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches among players. From the Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett nine years ago starting to eat them before games, to now, where basically every single team has most players eating them, PB&J has completely swept the NBA.

As a connoisseur of peanut butter and jelly for most of my life (I prefer Smucker’s Grape and Skippy creamy, if you must know), I found this story wildly entertaining. Holmes delves into why they’re so popular (instant energy, the nostalgic feeling of comfort food from childhood) and all the different ways NBA teams provide them, at home and on the road.

Really, this is a wonderfully fun story to read, and it made me happy, and gave me some good news, that such a simple snack is so beloved.

My favorite quote is from a team nutritionist, Dr. Cate Shanahan: “The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is absolutely never going to not be in the NBA. And I feel confident saying never.”

** All right fine, here’s another puppy video. Enjoy…

 

Kids are using drugs less, because smartphones are more addictive. A mariachi band follows around a baseball player on the field. And Scotland gives vacation and pay for new puppy adoptees

So I think we’d all agree that a drop in drug use among teenagers is a good thing, right?

I mean, a little marijuana is fine in my book, but not when you’re a teenager and don’t know any better. So a report last week that drug use had declined is a good thing, right? Obviously the educational programs and “don’t use drugs” messages in the media and the rerun of that great “Saved By the Bell Episode” where the gang finds out their hero Johnny does “dope” is having an effect.

Yeah, no. None of that seems to be the reason drug use is down; the National Institute on Drug Abuse says pot use for 8th and 10th graders has declined, while cocaine, hallucinogens, ecstasy and crack usage are all lowering, too, along with heroin.

Why? Smartphones, of course. According to this New York Times story, experts in the field say that “the novel notion that ever-growing phone use may be more than coincidental is gaining some traction.

Dr. Volkow described interactive media as “an alternative reinforcer” to drugs, adding that “teens can get literally high when playing these games.”

Dr. Silvia Martins, a substance abuse expert at Columbia University who has already been exploring how to study the relationship of internet and drug use among teenagers, called the theory “highly plausible.”

“Playing video games, using social media, that fulfills the necessity of sensation seeking, their need to seek novel activity,” Dr. Martins said, but added of the theory: “It still needs to be proved.”

Wow. I mean… yes, of course it’s better if kids use Snapchat instead of hitting the crack pipe or plunge a needle with heroin in it into their arms. But as we have all seen, kids and phone addictions is also a serious problem. Listen to this quote from a high school senior:

“Alexandra Elliott, 17, a senior at George Washington High School in San Francisco, said using her phone for social media “really feels good” in a way consistent with a “chemical release.” A heavy phone user who smokes marijuana occasionally, Alexandra said she didn’t think the two were mutually exclusive.

However, she said, the phone provides a valuable tool for people at parties who don’t want to do drugs because “you can sit around and look like you’re doing something, even if you’re not doing something, like just surfing the web.”

“I’ve done that before,” she explained, “with a group sitting around a circle passing a bong or a joint. And I’ll sit away from the circle texting someone.”

Again … wow. This whole article kind of blew me away. Look, phones are certainly much, much better for your physical health than doing drugs. It’s just… a different kind of addiction, and we don’t know what the long-term effects will be.

**Next up today, I enjoyed this video so much, and the idea that spawned it. The Seattle Mariners baseball team is trying to have more fun this season, apparently, so manager Scott Servais and some players decided that in honor of outfielder Leonys Martin’s 29th birthday, they’d do something special:
No, they didn’t buy him a car or a plane or send him on an exotic trip: They hired a mariachi band to follow him around all day at spring training a few weeks ago.

Oh, and they gave him a sombrero.
This is so great. I only wish they’d been on the field during an actual game, so that when he made a nice catch or got a double into the gap, they could play a happy song.

 

**Finally today, you think people love their pets here in America? We’ve got nothing on Scotland, apparently. Or at least, nothing on a Scottish bar named BrewDog, which just started a new policy for employees.
Get this: If a BrewDog employee adopts a new puppy, they get a week’s paid leave to help with the house training process.

BrewDog actually has pubs (and pugs) around the world, so this policy applies to 1,000 employees. The owners of the original bar in Scotland love dogs and want to encourage everyone to become a dog owner.

Sounds a little crazy to me, but hey, since I’m not a dog owner, maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here (sorry, I had to. I’ll see myself out. Tip your waiters).

 

March Madness was quiet for two days, then quite mad this weekend. The most polite hockey fight you’ll ever see. And R.I.P. Jimmy Breslin, who wrote the best newspaper column ever

Well, that was a pretty miserable ending to the first four days of the NCAA Tournament for your humble blogger. A Tournament that had very little drama for the first two days had a ton of it over the weekend.

Villanova, who everyone thought would get to the Final 4, lost in a shocker to Wisconsin. Florida State, who certainly looked good in the first round, got smacked out of March by Xavier.

And of course my beloved Duke team, who I know everyone else hates, played an absolutely miserable game Sunday night, on the road against South Carolina, and got beat soundly.

I have to vent about Duke for a minute; I don’t expect any sympathy. That was a terrible performance at a terrible time for the Blue Devils. They turned the ball over an unfathomable 13 times in the first half, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum, the two best players, were invisible for long stretches of the game, and South Carolina played out of its mind. How does a team score 23 points in the first half, than sixty-five in the second half? Beats me. But between playing in front of a home crowd (and this is NOT the reason Duke lost, but it is a little strange that a No. 7 seed gets to play 90 miles from its campus against a No. 2 seed), getting major defensive pressure on its opponent, and then just hanging on with great FT shooting down the stretch, the Gamecocks were fantastic Sunday.

So Duke is out, and America is happy. It’s been a strange first few days of March Madness, first time in a long, long time no 13, 14 or 15 seed won. Cinderella just decided not to show up this year, I guess. Still, some great storylines developing as we head into the Sweet 16 (Kentucky-UCLA, anyone?)

A few thoughts from a mostly manic-free weekend of games:

— Shhh, don’t tell the CBS cameramen, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a son who plays for Northwestern!
My goodness, in the tone of Chandler Bing, COULD they have shown her in the crowds any more? I mean I understand she’s a celebrity and all but do we need a reaction shot from her every time anything happens?

— Ask my friend Tony, I hardly ever complain about basketball refereeing. One call here or there doesn’t lose games, and people who constantly bitch about officiating are sore losers.
That said, these first four days of the Tournament have seen some awful, awful calls. I mean, really terrible ones, like the one that screwed Northwestern, one that hurt Seton Hall, a few against Duke last night, and more that I can’t remember right now. I mean, just awful officiating.

— I got seven of the Sweet 16 correct in my bracket. Is that bad?

— Villanova’s loss is obviously shocking, never thought Wisconsin would be able to score enough to beat them, but it did. As many people said, the Badgers were grossly underseeded, they should’ve been at least a 4 or a 5.

— So I go to a sports bar Friday afternoon to watch the early games before I had a game to cover Friday night. This bar, Brother Jimmy’s, was two blocks from Madison Square Garden, and had college pennants and jerseys hanging all over the walls. And yet, I had to basically nag the bartender to put the first NCAA Tournament game on, then harass her a few times to put on the second game. Seemed she and the manager had absolutely no idea it was March Madness. You run a sports bar two blocks from MSG, this tournament happens every year, and you don’t have TV’s set up for March Madness? The mind, it boggles.

— Finally, Taco Bell can run that ad promoting its awesome breakfast menu 1,000 times a day (and it seems like they are). I would still rather starve than have to eat Taco Bell at 8 a.m. No restaurant I’d rather eat at less at that hour.

And now, the most polite and friendly hockey “fight” you will ever see. May we present Brenden Dillon of the San Jose Sharks, and Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators, who hugged and threw a few punches during a game last week, then had a delightful chat from the penalty box about improving their cardio in the offseason.

I loved this so much. Hockey players are the best.

**Finally today, I must say a few words about the passing of newspaper journalism legend Jimmy Breslin, who died Sunday at 88. He may not have been as famous outside of New York as others, but this man was an absolute giant in my field. Breslin was a hard-scrabble, take-no-BS writer who didn’t suffer fools, or lying politicians, or anybody trying to screw over the little guy, at all.
His prose was beautiful without being flowery, direct and to the point and always written with heart.

But Breslin’s lasting legacy, what he will be remembered for more than anything else, will be his column when he interviewed the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave. That article is taught in journalism schools across the country, reminding writers to not always just look at the obvious story. Don’t do what everyone else is doing; find someone who’s off to the side, who’s maybe overlooked, because those are the people with the best stories to tell.

Here’s the lede to that column, I urge you to read the rest here.

Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by eleven o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did.

He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

A new edition of “The Daddy Chronicles,” starring my 2-year-old who turned into the devil for 3 weeks. But he’s fine now

And a Happy Friday to you all! It’s March Madness time, I’m sure some of you already lost your office pool after one day, not to worry, that’s happened to me too.

As I’m consumed with all things hoops right now, I thought it was time for an update on my little guy. It’s been an … interesting few months since I last wrote about him. Nate turned 2 1/2 last Friday, which means he’s halfway to 5 (sniff, sniff, it’s going TOO fast) but also means he’s fully embraced the Terrible 2’s.

Let’s start there, with the latest edition of “The Daddy Chronicles…”

— So yeah, about a month ago, we took Nate to “Sesame Street Live,” and I swear the kid who went to the show and the kid who woke up the next morning were two different boys. I’m not saying Elmo or Big Bird sent a laser through the theater and zapped my boy’s brain and turned him from a delightful, hassle-free toddler into a tantrum-throwing menace, but something happened that day.
Because my sweet boy went on a three-week bender of bad behavior that Gary Busey or Charlie Sheen would approve of. Suddenly everything was a fight, and screaming and yelling was ever-present. From not wanting to get dressed, to crying hysterically because I took my phone back, to refusing to go to new places, my boy embraced the Terrible 2’s in all their glory. I was prepared for the worst, especially when our pediatrician helpfully said “The Terrible 2’s actually peak at 3.”

And then about a week ago, the sweet child returned, mostly. He’s about 90 percent back to normal, being the helpful, inquisitive, happy boy he was before. He’s becoming a little too addicted to watching YouTube videos of Sesame Street featuring celebrities (Adam Sandler and Jason Mraz are current favorites) but otherwise, he’s great. It was just a weird, weird few weeks.

**So this was amusing: We went to see some friends in South Jersey a few weeks ago, and they have twin 10-year-old boys and a 7-year-old girl. In the backyard of their house they have a small swing-set, just a slide, a couple of swings, a tire, nothing fancy but perfectly fun.  While we were getting ready to leave their house and go to a nearby playground, Nate was out there for a few minutes. When it was time to go, he resisted.

“No. I want to stay at this playground!” he said, over and over. We tried to explain this was just our friends’ backyard, but he was unmoved. Hey, to a NYC toddler, a swing and a slide is a playground!

— New accomplishments include: He’s able to identify all colors and almost all shapes (the rectangle still trips him up; he calls it a square, a totally understandable mistake), he can count to 20, and he’s able to open and close the front door to our apartment. So that’s fun.

— He’s very big with the phrase “I need” right now. Ten times a day I’m hearing “I NEED to watch “Sesame Street,” or “I need to to look at Daddy’s phone,” or “I need to find out how you grownups let Donald Trump get elected President.” (Hey, he’s my kid. OK, I made that last one up.) He is so sincere with it that I think he might actually perish if he doesn’t watch TV at that very moment.

— He has three sets of pajamas that he loves the most: A set of New York Rangers pajamas, a set of Duke pajamas (he wears them on game nights, when Daddy suggests it) and pajama pants that have the logos of all 30 National Hockey League teams. When we wears the Rangers ones, he says “Let’s go Rangers!” When he wears the Duke ones, he says “Let’s go Duke!”

And when he wears the hockey pants, he happily shouts “Let’s go hockey pants!”
First time he did it the wife and I almost fell on the floor laughing.

**Here’s Nate and his girlfriend Keira, just about his favorite playmate. They do this when they get to the park just about every time. The squealing and the joy!

— OK I have to close on a sappy one: A recent favorite book of his is “Good Night Gorilla.” It has very few words, mostly pictures, and we’ve read it a lot. A few months ago we noticed Nate pretty much knows it by heart. So now he reads it to us, happily, and when he finishes he smiles brightly and says “I read it all by myself!” with such a prideful look on his face.

We melt every time.

Five days spent back “in my old life” were super-fun but exhausting. The worst ad placement on a page, ever. And my Final 4 picks: it’s all about Arizona

It’s pretty rare you get chance to revisit who you were in your life previously, and step back in at your current age and life stage, and get a peek at what things would’ve been like.

But I got to do that last week for five glorious days. Back in the late 1990s-early 2000s, I spent three years working at the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News, and one of the awesome jobs I had there (slightly cooler than compiling the Fishing Report) was covering ACC basketball. For a few fantastic winters, about 10-15 times a year I got to jump on Highway I-40 and cover Duke, North Carolina, and N.C. State games up in the Triangle, and I loved it.

I also got to cover two ACC Tournaments at the beginning of March, and that too was tons of fun. Covering up-close the best basketball in America at that time was so, so cool.

I thought then that I’d be doing a lot more of that in my future, but nope, that’s not how it worked out.
When I heard a couple years ago that the ACC Tournament was coming to Brooklyn in 2017, I immediately knew I’d get tickets. What I didn’t know is that my awesome friend Andrew Jones, who I love despite him being wrong on everything politically (Love you buddy!,) would be running a UNC Rivals.com site and ask me to help him out at the tournament.

Turns out Andrew didn’t need that much help, but with the credential he got me I was able to snare four freelance assignments, meaning I was way busier than I thought I’d be.

So for the first time in 17 years, when I had a lot more hair and a lot fewer medical issues, I got to cover the ACC Tournament last week. The verdict? It was an incredible step back in time. And it was pretty freaking exhausting.

Some thoughts from my brain after a few days in a past life:

— Gotta start off with my non-basketball “celebrity encounter.” So one of the teams I was covering was Notre Dame, and after their win Thursday night I went into a mostly-empty locker room  and went to look for Matt Farrell, one of their top players.
I can’t see him right away where his locker is because a very large man in an enormous black and gold Notre Dame sweatsuit is blocking Farrell, laughing and talking with him and gesturing animatedly.

As I get closer and hear the voice, I know it instantly: It’s Chris Christie.

You remember Christie, the awful governor of New Jersey last seen being humilated by Donald Trump right after the election. As I waited about 30 seconds for Christie to stop, Farrell sees me standing behind good ole’ Mr. Bridgegate and points a finger toward me, trying to let Christie know I was waiting to interview Farrell. Christie got the hint and moved aside. (Now if I were truly brave or stupid, I should have loudly announced “Hey, there’s some traffic in here!” But I didn’t)

The next night, Christie was in the locker room again; turns out his daughter is a Notre Dame trainer or something.

— You get free food, actually quite good food, as a media member at big events like this. Several times a day there are complete meals served for us. And yet, without fail, it happened: One day a couple of photographers in the press room were talking and complaining about what was served that day. Are you freaking kidding me? We’re getting paid and getting free food!

— Another thing I noticed: None of the reporters covering the tournament walked around with notebooks and pens. Everyone just used their phones to record interviews, and while sitting on press row just typed whatever notes they wanted to make about the game into their laptops. It was weird but this is the new normal.

— Most often these days at basketball games reporters are seated somewhere high up in the mezzanine, off the floor. But last week I was lucky enough to be assigned to a courtside seat, right behind one of the baskets (so I got some TV time as background, always cool.)
Two things immediately jumped out at me, having not sat on the floor for a game in years: 1, The size and speed of the players seems to have gotten so much more noticeable. How fast every drive to the basket and block is, how quickly the action happens, it’s so much faster than on TV.
The other big thing? Refereeing is really, really hard. I saw a ton of missed calls (mostly offensive players driving and getting fouled) because it was happening so fast the officials either didn’t see it or didn’t think it was enough contact.
But honestly, every game I watched at least 5-6 blatant foul calls weren’t whistled.

–Had a couple of late starting times of games I was covering last week, including a 9:30 p.m. start between Florida State and Notre Dame, and oh yeah, I was covering the game for newspapers on both sides, which meant I was simultaneously writing two stories from separate points of view. While the game was going on.

Ah, deadline adrenaline, how I’ve missed you!

**Next up today, this picture that I saw on Twitter Tuesday made me laugh out loud, hard. Sometimes ad placements are really great on websites and newspaper pages, other times, well, this might be the most unfortunate/worst ad placement I’ve ever seen. Read the headline, then scroll down just a bit…

I mean… if you’re reading that story aren’t you going to freak out completely as you scroll down???

Poor ducks.

**Finally today, March Madness begins in just one day! My bracket is filled, submitted, and I’m expecting to win ESPN’s $1 million any day now.

Yeah, no. This was a very difficult bracket this year, at least for me. I didn’t love too many upsets (although Rhode Island is going to the Sweet 16, and I love UNCW and Fla. Gulf Coast), and I don’t even feel that great about my Final 4 picks. (There are some great first-round games, though, including Dayton-Wichita State (I think the winner will beat Kentucky), and Vandy-Northwestern.)

But alas, here they are: I like Villanova (in a classic Elite 8 over my Duke boys), Arizona, Louisville, and UCLA (even though they play no defense, I just don’t want to pick North Carolina).

And my national champ? Sean Miller and his Arizona Wildcats. They’re playing well at the end of the season, they’ve got size and strength and sometimes, it’s just your time. Miller has had a ton of great teams over the years and fallen just short of the Final Four (he’s been to the Elite 8 four times but never farther.)

It’s the Wildcats’ time. And if it isn’t, you never heard it from me.

 

Everybody into the pool! I give you some tips on winning your NCAA March Madness bracket. Federer gets “interrogated” by 50 kid reporters. And SNL with a pretty fantastic sketch on Ivanka Trump

Sing it with me now! It’s, the most wonderful time, of the year…

At least for me it is. After I just spent five amazing days at Barclays Center in Brooklyn last week covering the ACC basketball tournament (something I last covered in 2000), I am wiped out but incredibly excited for March Madness. (More on my strange back-in-time week as a sportswriter, including when I ran into Chris Christie twice and nearly got bulldozed by Notre Dame star Bonzie Colson in a hallway, in Wednesday’s post.)

Sunday night we learned who’s playing who, when, and where, and I have to say, usually on these nights I’m bitching and moaning about the selection committee snubbing a team badly, or drastically over or under-seeding somebody. But this year, I think the committee did a real good job. Wichita State and Wisconsin got jobbed, both should’ve been at least a 6 or 7 seed, and I can’t understand how a good Wake Forest team was made to play in the play-in game, but those are minor quibbles.

I know a majority of you are going to be filling out office pools this week, and you want to know which upsets to pick, who’s going to the Final Four, and all that stuff. So as I do every year, I am here to guide you, my fine reader. Last year’s opening rounds were insane (remember this shot from Northern Iowa?), so don’t expect nearly as much drama this time.

But we can hope.

Couple quick thoughts on the bracket; not ready to pick my Final Four yet, that’ll be Wednesday.

— OK, right off the bat a few upsets I like: UNC-Wilmington, a 12 seed in the East, to beat Virginia. UVA has really struggled lately and the Seahawks can really shoot. I could see No. 13 Bucknell beating No. 4 West Virginia (I always pick against Bob Huggins teams), No. 12 Middle Tennessee State (who shocked Michigan State last season) beating Minnesota, and maybe, maybe, No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast over No. 4 Florida. Also don’t be stunned if No. 14 Iona beats Oregon, or Winthrop beats Butler.

— As always, some tantalizing possible second-round matchups: Kentucky vs. Wichita State in a rematch from three years ago, when the Wildcats eliminated the then-undefeated Shockers; Duke-Marquette (Coach K vs. his old player, Steve Wojciechowski), and Louisville vs. Michigan. The loaded South bracket could give us Kentucky vs. UCLA in the Sweet 16 (think that might get some decent ratings), Arizona-Florida State in the Sweet 16 in the West would be tremendous, and a Kentucky-North Carolina Elite 8 game looms huge.

— Someone on the committee really, really hates Kansas. The Jayhawks got a brutally tough bracket, stuffed with No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 Purdue, and a second-round game with either Miami or Michigan State. I don’t see the Jayhawks surviving all that.

–Meanwhile, my Duke boys, fresh off an improbable ACC Tournament championship, got a real nice draw. They could face old friend Steve Wojciechowski in Round 2, and Baylor in the Sweet 16, but really, Duke should get to the Elite 8 at least, where they’d play defending national champion Villanova. That would be sensational.

The madness begins in just a few days. Can’t wait!

**Next up today, any chance I get to show Roger Federer being awesome, and super-humble, I’m going to take it. The greatest tennis player of all time is in Indian Wells, Calif. this week for a pretty major tournament, and as part of promoting the event he did a “press conference” with 50 local 2nd-graders. It’s pretty hilarious and adorable, especially the end.

As the great Jon Wertheim said on Twitter, you can’t fake this level of engagement. What a great, fun little few minutes this is to watch.

And finally today, I haven’t seen “SNL” in a few weeks but they’re still turning out great, slightly subversive material. Over the weekend they did a fake commercial on Ivanka Trump called “Complicit,” and it’s pretty fabulous. The tagline, delivered with about 20 seconds left, is devastating.

Good News Friday: A Down’s Syndrome boy gets an awesome surprise. The best show on TV (“The Americans”) is back! And an NFL player thanks the cancer-stricken author who changed his life

And a Happy Friday to you all! I’m writing this in the midst of three glorious, marathon days at the ACC Basketball Tournament in Brooklyn, where I’m writing, eating, and watching hoops to my heart’s content and having a blast. Stretching my old sportswriter muscles, and it feels good.

While I excitedly await Duke-Carolina Part 3 tonight, and of course Selection Sunday Sunday night, a few good news stories to send you into the weekend:

First off, this story is a few months old but it’s beautiful: A 17-year-old Las Vegas kid named Daniel has Down Syndrome, and really wanted to go to the school dance at his high school in Las Vegas. A classmate named Kylie asked him to the dance, and then the local FOX 5 affiliate “Surprise Squad” went to work.

This is awesome.

**Next up today, I am beyond excited that “The Americans,” the best show on TV, is back. The season 5 premiere aired Tuesday night, and while I’m not going to give anything away, I thought I was watching a whole different show the first few minutes.

Once it settled in, it was predictably awesome. I bang the drum for this show (airing on FX at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays) every year, several times a year, because it’s the best.

This season we get to see the further enmeshing of teenage daughter Paige into the family business of being KGB spies; our man Oleg in Russia with a whole new mission, and a strange new couple who’ve moved to the U.S. from the Soviet Union.

Best of all, looks like we get Margo Martindale back in the cast. Seriously, “The Americans” will hook you in immediately. It’s so beautifully acted with Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, the writing is excellent, and the story is fabulous.

Yes, you have to pay attention and watch every week. But it’s so, so worth it. All the episodes from past seasons are on Amazon Prime video, if you want to catch up.

**Finally today, I don’t think I’ve seen a story quite like this one before. A wide receiver for the New England Patriots named Malcolm Mitchell was a junior in college when he discovered the children’s author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Mitchell was enthralled and inspired by one of her books, and wrote a children’s book of his own while a senior at the University of Georgia. Mitchell even started a foundation, Read with Malcolm, which promotes reading stories to underprivileged children.

When Mitchell heard recently that Rosenthal was dying of ovarian cancer, he was crushed. Then he put together a video to cheer her up.

It’s pretty fabulous, where Mitchell tells Rosenthal how she changed his life.

Read the story of their new friendship here, and the video is great, too.

http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2017/03/08/amy-krouse-rosenthal-dying-author-inspires-patriots-wideout-malcolm-mitchell

David Letterman has a LOT to say, and it’s fantastic. A mom of a freshman college student sends the best “care package.” And Alabama co-workers do a beautiful thing for a hard-working young man

You know sometimes when you haven’t talked to someone in a while, that as soon as you see them you just start rambling and telling them everything for about 20 minutes, only coming up for air?

Well, that’s kind of how David Letterman feels about interviews these days. After having an hour each night to talk to an audience for about 30 years, the late-night legend admits it’s been a big shift to just talk to a few people a day.

In his retirement from TV, Dave has grown a huge beard, stayed out of the spotlight, and pretty much kept a low profile. Until now. He’s on the cover of New York magazine this week and the interview inside is, well, incredible. Dave just talks and talks and talks, and admits he sounds like a crazy person but he’s just so happy to be talking to someone again.

He expounds on Donald Trump, his own searching for new passions, and much more.

A couple quick excerpts, but I highly recommend checking out the whole thing here. 

On Donald Trump: I always regarded him as, if you’re going to have New York City, you gotta have a Donald Trump. He was a joke of a wealthy guy. We didn’t take him seriously. He’d sit down, and I would just start making fun of him. He never had any retort. He was big and doughy, and you could beat him up. He seemed to have a good time, and the audience loved it, and that was Donald Trump. Beyond that, I remember a friend in the PR business told me that he knew for a fact — this was three or four presidential campaigns ago — that Donald Trump would never run for president; he was just monkeying around for the publicity.

On Trump’s advisors:  I mean, how do you build a dictatorship? First, you undermine the press: “The only truth you’re going to hear is from me.” And he hires the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Steve Bannon, to be his little buddy. Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: “Steve, could you have just one drink?” “Fuck you.” How is a white supremacist the chief adviser to our president? Did anybody look that up? I don’t know. How’s this interview going? Do you think you’re talking to a normal person here? Don’t I seem like I’m full of something?

On adjusting to civilian life after being a celebrity:
It’s still hard. I have trouble operating the phone. That’s the God’s truth. I needed a pair of shoelaces. And I thought, Hell, where do you get shoelaces? And my friend said, there’s a place over off I-84, it’s the Designer Shoe Warehouse. So I go over there, and it’s a building the size of the Pentagon. It’s enormous. If you took somebody from — I don’t know, pick a country where they don’t have Designer Shoe Warehouses — blindfolded them and turned them loose in this place, they would just think, You people are insane.

I love unhinged, completely uninhibited Letterman. Again, the whole interview is great.

**Next up today, I love this story so much, even if it does seem a tad cruel.

A freshman student at Westminster College in Pennsylvania named Connor Cox got a care package from his mother a few weeks ago.

He was excited to open it, as we all are when we’re in college and Mom sends stuff. Connor wondered if it’d be his favorite snacks, or some cool game or book from his room.

Nope! It was trash from the Cox’ kitchen that Connor had forgotten to take out as he’d promised he would, on Christmas break.

“I called my mom and we talked about it,” Connor told KDKA. “Asked her if she sent me the wrong box, because that’s how confused I was. But she said it was the right box, and I had to be held responsible for what I didn’t do.”

I love it! I feel bad for the UPS guys who had to smell that package, but Moms have to mold their kids whatever way they can.

**Finally today, a really sweet story about co-workers helping one of their own. In Oxford, Ala., 19-year-old Derrick Taylor woke up in the middle of the night, every workday for a year, to walk five miles to his 4 a.m. shift at UPS. Derrick did this to help support his Mom, who is sick.

According to this story, Derrick’s co-workers were so impressed by his work ethic and dedication that they pitched in for a life-changing gift that left the 19-year-old in tears.

Taylor’s fellow employees pooled together $1,100 to buy him a used Jeep Cherokee that ensured his days of 10-mile treks were over.

Co-worker J.D. Ward presented the car to Taylor in front of everyone on Feb. 22.

“This is a hard-working young man,” Ward said in the video. “He makes me emotional. This young man wants to work so bad, he walks to work from way out of town.”

The video of the co-workers giving Derrick the car is just beautiful.

 

Our lone-wolf President goes on a dangerous Tweetstorm, by himself again. A very cool video about how tennis balls are made. And Duke and Carolina play another classic (the wrong blue won)

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This is how it’s going to be, because this is all he knows how to do.

Once again over the weekend, our President was bored on a Saturday morning, alone at his WASP castle in Florida, frustrated by poor poll numbers and the deepening quicksand of his administration’s ties to Ivan Drago’s homeland.

His normal “babysitters” Ivanka and her husband Jared, aren’t available on Saturdays because they’re Jewish and observe the Sabbath and don’t use electronic devices for 24 hours, and so Donald Trump’s most nutty utterances usually happen on Saturdays. (As a commenter on Twitter pointed out, the man needs a Shabbat babysitter. Clearly someone in America can help out here)

And so this giant baby of a man throws out an entirely fact-free and ridiculous assertion that the former President single-handedly ordered the Justice Dept. to wiretap the phones at Trump Tower last year.

It’s tempting, really tempting, to listen to the narrative many have advised over the past several months, that we shouldn’t react to every insane utterance, every madman theory that he throws out. That we’re just giving him what he wants, to be talked about and get people stirred up.

But I can’t ignore it. Because this man was a sideshow clown for most of the past 30 years, and now he’s the actual President of the actual United States, and he has an incredible amount of power. Never before has America entrusted so high an office to such an unqualified, mentally deranged person. And that’s what he is.

He doesn’t know how to lead, how to govern, any of that.

He just knows how to be the Boy who Cried Wolf: He gets a bunch of matches and a bunch of sticks and tries to light a fire, and when that doesn’t work he just throws so much mud at the wall and hoping that even a fraction of it sticks.

Sunday afternoon, the director of the FBI asked the Dept. of Justice to make a public statement saying the President of the U.S. lied to Americans. THIS. IS. NOT. NORMAL.

And we can’t ignore it, we can’t stop reacting to it, because the danger is real, as long as a madman sits in the Oval Office.

God save us all.

**Next up today, I love the website Mental Floss so much because they’re always teaching me things or showing me videos of how things work. I’ve played tennis for 35 of my 41 years on Earth and I’d truly never thought about how a tennis ball gets made. But thanks to this remarkable short video by a guy named Benedict Redgrave from the inside of a Wilson tennis ball factory, we get to see the process up close from start to finish.

Two things immediately jumped out at me: 1, I can’t believe how much “human hands” still do a lot of the work, and 2, I would watch 45 more minutes of this. Really fantastic stuff here.

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**Finally today, Saturday night was another classic installment in the greatest rivalry in American sports, Duke-North Carolina. It was a thrilling game featuring incredible shot-making, terrific defensive plays, and so, so much intensity.

The wrong shade of blue won (at least I think it’s the wrong shade of blue), but Duke played tremendously. I’m thrilled Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen look healthy-ish, that Luke Kennard plays for the Blue Devils and is awesome, and that I get to see the whole ACC Tournament up-close this week as it comes to Brooklyn (I have no Earthly idea why they moved it here for two years but I’m thrilled I get to see it and make some freelance coin at the same time).

Anyway, Duke-Carolina was awesome, the Heels deserved to win, but also awesome is this fan video a Duke student named Jackson Steger made. It’s a tribute to the late Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” set to Duke-Carolina highlights, and I thought it was just about perfect.

The Kansas hero of the Indian shootings speaks out. Alicia Keys awesomely channels Stefani and Adele. And 3 amazing buzzer-beaters you must see because it’s March

 

And a Happy Friday to you! As I continue to await the day when we find someone in the Trump administration who didn’t chat with Russia during the 2016 campaign, I give you three things this week that should put a smile on your face.

First of all, you would think there’s absolutely nothing positive to come out of this horrible story in Kansas, when a Caucasian man decided he didn’t want two men of Indian descent to breathe even one more minute. This “human being” who doesn’t deserve to be named walked into a restaurant in Olathe, Kan. on Feb. 23 and shot both Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani. Kuchibhotla died, while Madsani was seriously injured.

Ian Grillot, at the bar to watch basketball with his friends, saw what was going on and charged the gunman, getting shot himself in the process.

He has been rightly hailed as a hero; read this story and watch the above video to realize we have way more good people than bad in this country, despite what you hear.

This is my favorite part:

But despite the harrowing circumstances, Grillot told the newspaper he was thrilled to see Madasani standing in his doorway at the hospital.

“It just put the biggest smile on my face,” Grillot said in the video. “I’m just very grateful that one of the gentlemen is fine and alive. It’s terrible what happened to his friend. But I think he was watching over us last night.”

He said he considered the Indian his new “best friend”. A GoFundMe page created for him raised more than $87,000.

“I was just doing what anyone should have done,” Grillot told the newspaper. “It’s not about where he’s from, or ethnicity. We’re all humans.”

**Next up, Alicia Keys is pretty amazing, we can all agree on that, right? The marvelous and soulful singer proved it once again this week, going on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and killing it on his game of “Wheel of Musical Impressions.”

Basically Alicia had to imitate a famous singer crooning a children’s song, and she was so good. If you only have time to watch one of these, fast forward to the 3:20 mark, and hear her do an absolutely beautiful version of the “Alphabet Song” in the style of Adele.

So beautiful.

**Finally today, look, I’m not going to lie to you: this blog is, as usual, going to have A LOT of college basketball content this month, because there’s just so much awesomeness going on and I’m an addict and I must feed that addiction.

We’re still two weeks away from the NCAA Tournament, but this week there were three amazing buzzer-beaters I feel you must see. Two are actually from high school, the Indiana state high school basketball tournament (“No. School this Small. Has EVER been in a state championship!” Sorry, I was channeling Dennis Hopper in “Hoosiers” there.

First up, though, above, is Northwestern’s Nathan Taphorn, making an incredible, Grant Hill-esque (and maybe it was better than Grant’s famous pass?) to Dererk Pardon for a game-winning basket for the Wildcats over Michigan Wednesday night. This basically clinches Northwestern’s first NCAA Tournament bid ever, which is amazing.

But two other shots were equally incredible this week, from the aforementioned state tournament in Indiana. First, this was incredible: Joshua Clanton and his Central Christian Academy team were down 62-61 with less than a second left, when this happened:

I mean, what are the odds of that going in, one in a million? The story behind it is pretty great, too.

One night earlier, this pretty amazing shot happened as well, from Noblesville High School. The old famous Valpo play made famous by Bryce Drew in the NCAA Tournament, executed perfectly here!

Incredible stuff.