Good News Friday: An NBA star gives a car to a woman in need. The best Vine ever stars a dog and a White Stripes song. And the Wall Street trader who donates half his salary

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And a Happy Friday to you all! For my fellow Hebrews, hope your Passover has gone well, and for the rest of you, you can now stop staring at matzoh containers in your local supermarket.

We start Good News Friday today with a sweet tale from one of the NBA’s best players this season. Russell Westbrook is kind of amazing, in that he’s almost single-handedly dragging the injury-riddled Oklahoma City Thunder (always loved that term, “injury-riddled.” Sounds way better than “injury-plagued.” But I digress) into the NBA playoffs.

On the court, Westbrook is amazing to watch, sometimes out of control, sometimes awe-inspiring, always intense and scowling and looking like he’s ready to bore a hole through you just with his stare.

But off the court, turns out he’s a hell of a nice kid. Lee Jenkins, the enormously-talented Sports Illustrated writer, wrote this fabulous story in SI about Westbrook last week, and I highly recommend it.

But Westbrook is making GNF this week because of this gesture: He donated the Kia Sorrento car he won for being the MVP of February’s NBA All-Star Game to 19-year-old Kerstin Gonzales, a single mother of two who lives in Oklahoma City.

According to the story, Westbrook surprised Gonzales with the keys Monday, with the help of Sunbeam Family Services, an organization that works with low-income people in central Oklahoma. The star is also paying for her registration and insurance for a year.

Awesome. Good job, Russell. He seems like he really gets it.

**Next up, the Twitter user who posted this said it’s maybe the best Vine ever, and I was dubious until I watched it. And now I’m totally in agreement.

I present to you the most fabulous six seconds of your day: A dog, a guitar, and the song heard round the world, “Seven Nation Army.” (Turn the volume up and enjoy)

**And finally today, Nicholas Kristof is an amazing, fearless journalist who goes to parts of the world no one else wants to, and writes about people who never get any attention.

I’m in the middle of reading his book “A Path Appears” and it’s terrific and inspiring, partly because it brings to light wonderful, charitable people and organizations.

This week in his column in the New York Times Kristof wrote about the unusual Wall Street trader Matt Wage, who took a high-paying job after graduation simply so he could donate half his salary to charity.

A very unusual man, and well worth applauding. Read Kristof’s column on Wage here.

 

“The Americans” gets better and better, as “the reveal” is awesome. “The Golden Girls” in LEGO? Yes, please. And some final thoughts on Coach K and Duke getting another ring

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I have raved and raved about the FX show “The Americans” for a couple of years now on my blog.

It’s for my money the best show on television, bar none. The first season was spectacular, last season was equally as good, and this current season, oh my goodness it’s just amazing.

All season, the show has been building up to what happened in last week’s episode (SPOILER ALERT), with Russian spies living in America Philip and Elizabeth Jennings wondering how to tell their teenage daughter Paige who they really are, and that the KGB wants Paige to start becoming a Russian spy as well.

The best TV shows take you by complete surprise even when you know what’s coming, and that’s what happened here. Paige turning the tables on her parents and demanding to know the truth about who they are was so unexpected, and the moment played so perfectly by all the actors involved, that I was clutching a pillow to my chest the whole time.

The final scene last week, with Paige staring at family friend (and oh yeah, FBI agent and next-door neighbor) Stan while her dad sharpens knives in the background, was perfect and breathtaking. No idea what’s going to happen now, whether Paige will get on board and join “the family business” or be so angry and hurt about who her parents really are that she’ll want no part of this life.

This show is so great and forcing us to see the moral and emotional choices these characters make every day. Man, I cannot recommend “The Americans” more. Tonight on FX at 10, and you can catch up on past seasons on Amazon.com.

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**Next up today, my Canadian e-migo Jonathan (an e-migo, for those not fluent, is a friend you only know through email and social media) pointed me to this the other day and I laughed really hard.

Some brilliant (or disturbed) fan of “The Golden Girls” named Sam Hatmaker designed some incredibly realistic recreations of famous scenes from the show, with Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia and Rose made out of plastic.

If LEGO gets 10,000 people to sign this petition in support of authorizing a “Golden Girls” LEGO set, it will be put into production.

Screw all those political causes you’re afraid to sign on for, this is actually important! Do it for all the good people of St. Olaf, Minnesota, who’ve been defamed by Rose Nylund’s stories for all these years. Do it for Stan, Dorothy’s ex-husband who’s a schmuck but couldn’t help it. And do it most of all for the many scorned loves of Blanche Deveraux, who was just too much woman for all of them.

Seriously, go sign this petition.

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**Finally, of course I need to say a few words about Monday night’s fabulous NCAA championship game between Duke and Wisconsin.

It really was a terrific game, even if the officiating was pretty bad both ways (bad for Duke in the first half, bad for the Badgers in the 2nd half, including two calls that definitely went Duke’s way and shouldn’t have).

In talking about the 5th title in the Mike Krzyzewski era, I don’t want to re-hash all the old arguments about why people hate Duke, and why I love ’em (for you newcomers, I fell in love with Duke’s 1986 Final Four team as a 10-year-old and have loved them ever since).

But just a few words about the incredible longevity and consistency in excellence of Coach K, who so many love to hate. He went to his first Final Four 29 years ago. He won his first national title in 1991, and his fifth Monday night. That’s 24 years in between his first and last crowns. No other coach in modern sports history, in any sport, has won titles that far apart with the same team.

Just incredible. He has totally changed how he runs his program over the years, changed styles of play so many times, and changed his attitude on many issues.
But what hasn’t changed is this: He’s if not the greatest, one of the two greatest tacticians in the sport’s history. How he managed his players Monday night through foul trouble was a masterpiece, and his motivational skills are unparalleled.

So hate Duke all you want. But know that Mike Krzyzewski belongs in any conversation with the best ever coaches in any sport.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find a Duke national championship onesie my kid can wear…

It’s Duke and Wisconsin for all the marbles, as Kentucky weeps. A boxer drops his cell phone while fighting. And the strangest hockey save you’ll ever see

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One more game. One more game to determine the national champion in Division I men’s college basketball for 2014-15 (if you say that in Brent Musberger’s voice, you get the effect I am going for).

Duke, who you may have heard is the favorite team of this blogger, plays Wisconsin, who will be the favorite team of 99 percent of the rest of America watching tonight.

Should be a fantastic game. Hopefully as good as that Kentucky-Wisconsin game was Saturday night.

The last night of the season is always so bittersweet for diehard college hoop fans like me.

And with Duke back in the title game? I’ll be a nervous wreck all day. My poor 7-month-old will hear chapter and verse about how Justise Winslow needs to slow down Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, and how Okafor better not let Kaminsky get him in foul trouble and … ah, he’ll never remember any of this, so I don’t think I’ll be doing any lasting psychological damage…

Some quick-hit thoughts from Saturday’s Final Four games:

— Well, well, well, looks like that guy from Lexington, Ky. with the “40-0″ tattoo might need to get some removal work done. Seriously, as a Calipari and UK-hater I so enjoyed seeing them lose, and the most obnoxious fan base in America gets to have their balloon popped a bit (that guy below does look pretty sad).

I gotta say, though, that was an incredible run the Wildcats went on this year, going 38-0. And their kids, for the most part, seem like a classy, good bunch, even if half didn’t shake hands with Wisconsin afterwards.

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— One of many reasons to love the Badgers: They play such pretty basketball. This isn’t like the old Wisconsin teams from 5 years ago, winning 48-46. These guys really pass and shoot beautifully, San Antonio Spurs-like.

— So great hearing Bill Raftery on the call of the Final Four. An absolutely wonderful man and announcer getting to be on the big stage. I didn’t hear any “Onions!” shouts from him, though.

— As for my boys from Duke? They’re playing their best ball of the year. I’m almost afraid to say it for fear of jinxing them, but they are peaking at the exact right time. I know no one will be pulling for them tonight, but if they win K’s 5th national title, you’ll hear me screaming no matter where you live.

— My 2 predictions for tonight: Duke 68, Wisconsin 66. And that Georgia State coach Ron Hunter falling off his stool will be in “One Shining Moment.”

**Next up, the first of two things in this blog post that I’ve never seen before. Check out this pro boxing match from last week between Marvin Jones and Ramon Luis Nicolas.

Watch what falls onto the canvas right at the start of this clip. It’s Jones’ cell phone, falling out of his pocket.
What in the name of Rocky Marciano would a fighter need a cell phone in the ring for? Could his trainer call him during the round with some instructions? (“Yeah, yeah, his jab is giving me problems, I’m going to try to hit him with a left hook soon, got it. Call you later when the round ends.”)

Maybe he wanted to always be reachable to his wife or girlfriend. Or he figured during a slow clench he could call and order a pizza for after the fight.

And also, how would he answer the phone with those unwieldy gloves on?
I’m brimming with questions.

**Finally today, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this in hockey. At a minor league American Hockey League game over the weekend between Manchester (N.H.) and Hartford, Manchester goalie Patrik Bartosak was preparing to face a shootout shot from Joey Crabb.

Bartosak sat staring at the ice as the whistle blew to start the shootout, totally oblivious to the fact that Crabb was barreling toward him with the puck. Bartosak never looked up nor heard the crowd, even as Crabb was right on top of him, as Crabb shot and the puck basically hit Bartosak in the pads. Only then did the goalie realize the shootout had started.

Seriously, the best accidental save ever.

Tweeted Bartosak afterwards: “I guess I need some hearing aids.”

Good News Friday: A 9-year-old girl wows a Florida school board arguing against standardized tests. A mother’s incredible devotion to her son’s organ donations. And a Rube Goldberg-style Passover video that will wow you

 

And a Happy Friday to you all! Whether you’re celebrating the first night of Passover, Good Friday, or just that it’s Friday in general and the Final Four this weekend, I hope you enjoy the day.

Three cool stories for you on Good News Friday this week. First up, it’s state standardized testing season here in New York state and lots of other places,  which means 99 percent of students in junior high and high school are dreading the next few weeks, racked with anxiety since they’ve had “the importance of these tests” drilled into their heads by teachers since September. (For me, as an occasional substitute, I love testing season; I proctor all day, the kids are basically not allowed to talk, and I get paid for making sure no one cheats. Easy money!)

Anyway, I’m not here to argue about whether standardized tests have become way too important (they have) or if it’s crazy way to evaluate teachers (it is). I’m here to talk about my new hero: 9-year-old Sydney Smoot is sick of standardized tests, and she spoke to the Hernando (Fla.) County School Board two weeks ago to express her displeasure.

Great to see a child stand up for what they feel is right.

Check out the poise, confidence and intelligence oozing out of this kid. I love it…

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**Next up, I’m a huge proponent of organ donation, long before I found out I was born one kidney short of a set and may need one someday.

To me, organ donation is (pun intended) a no-brainer; long after you die, parts of you live on in people who desperately needed help to survive. One of my favorite stories I ever reported and wrote as a journalist was this piece in 2004, about a former high school athlete who died suddenly, but her organs allowed five others to live.

This story from the Philadelphia Inquirer this week was so touching and wonderful; a boy named Thomas Gray sadly only lived for six days, but his organs accomplished so much after he passed. Thanks to the incredible devotion and doggedness of his mother, Sarah, we’ve learned just how much Thomas’ life has meant to so many others. It’s helped with life-saving research at Harvard, Duke and Penn.

The way I see it,” Sarah Gray said, “our son got into Harvard, Duke, and Penn. He has a job. He is relevant to the world. I only hope my life can be as relevant.”

Read this story, get the Kleenex ready, and sign an organ donor card.

Please.

**Finally today, it is the start of Passover, which means lots of cheesy Jewish male singers making song parodies (I’ve seen a bunch of them, and most of them aren’t too funny) but also incredibly cool videos like this.  Students at the Israel School of Technology made this crazy-awesome Rube Goldberg-like video for Passover.

My brain was a few seconds behind at all times watching this, but it’s very cool.

The shame of Indiana’s new law, and how the 21st century outrage over it is a great thing. A man’s heroics on a first date put the rest of us to shame. And Muhammad Ali and Roger Ebert watch “Rocky II” in 1979.

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It didn’t used to be this way, and for that, I’m glad.

I’m not talking about the bigotry and homophobia and outright, well, meanness of the new Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Disgusting, prejudiced, homphobic laws have been passed by states and cities for as long as ‘Merica has been around, for hundreds of years.

What I’m talking about is the incredible firestorm of outrage that’s sprung up this week about Gov. Mike Pence’s law. The immediate denunciations on Twitter, Facebook, the local news, by so many, from all corners of the U.S. (that front page of the Indianapolis Star, above, is fantastic.)

I’m talking about governors banning travel from their state to Indiana. Professional sports organizations denouncing Indiana (hey, when NASCAR says your politics are too conservative, you know you’re pretty far afield of reality.) Legitimate columns and commentary being published saying the NCAA should move this weekend’s Final Four out of the state (a nice thought, but seriously, how in the world can you do that on a week’s notice? Would be totally unfair to the thousands of people attending)

Social media and the Internet have all made sure these despicable laws and this blatant bigotry aren’t just quietly passed and ignored; they are forced to endure blinding sunlight, and that sunlight is what brings change.

That sunlight has the ability to shame a state and its legislators, and force change. Because once corporations and sporting events threaten to leave a state and take their $$$ with them, that’s what forces change.

Religious “freedom” to discriminate very rarely trumps a huge economic hit in the eyes of politicians.

Again, I am not at all surprised Indiana’s right-wing legislators passed a bill like this. The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case gave them an opening, legally, and now they’re jumping through it.

But the outrage is beautiful, and real, and it’s dead center of this debate. And that wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.

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**Next up, this has no major news value today, but the great Richard Deitsch sent it out on Twitter and I thought it was sensational. Roger Ebert, in 1979, sat down with Muhammad Ali and watched the Champ watch “Rocky II” for the first time.
Ali’s running commentary, how he talks about what the movie got right and wat it got wrong, the way Ebert weaves in the movie action … just sensational.

Ali’s the best.

**And finally today, we’ve all had good first dates, we’ve all had terrible first dates. But I don’t think too many of us could ever top the heroics of Tristan Gareau, a Canadian DJ who saved a man from a burning car on a recent first date.

Apparently Mr. Gareau and his date were driving home from their rendezvous when he spotted a car that had smashed into a condo.

Gareauopened the door and, after being blasted in the face with black smoke and hot air, found 65-year-old driver Steve Guy passed out at the wheel. As his foot was still on the gas, the vehicle’s wheels were continuing to spin.

Gareau, who weighs just 135 pounds, grabbed the older and 90-pound heavier man to haul him outside.

What a hero. Only problem is, what the hell is he going to do on the second date to impress the girl? Jump off a skyscraper?

Duke wins, Kentucky escapes, MSU stuns: An epic weekend sets up an epic Final Four. And Tom Hanks re-enacts scenes from every movie he’s ever made

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I haven’t blogged much this year about one of my ultimate sporting passions, the Duke men’s basketball team, because I know 95 percent of you hate Duke and/or don’t care about them, and I do try to keep the blog interesting to as many people as possible, while fulfilling the No. 1 goal I had when I started this thing: Entertain myself.

But Sunday night was special, topping off a fantastic weekend of NCAA Tournament action, as good a quartet of Elite 8 games as I remember in 30 years of watching March Madness.

So I’m going to spend a few words here talking about my Duke Blue Devils, who advanced to the Final Four.

This isn’t the prettiest Duke team ever in terms of style, they have their moments when they drive you crazy because four of the eight players are freshmen, and there were definitely times this season when I seriously doubted they’d be good enough to get to the Sweet 16, much less the Final Four.

But Sunday night, against a really good Gonzaga team, Duke did it.  They made their 12th Final Four under the greatest coach of all time, Mike Krzyzewski. (John Wooden is the only other acceptable answer).

They did it without much offense from Jahlil Okafor, the man-child freshman center who’ll be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft next year. They did it with lockdown defense from their only key senior, Quinn Cook, who was so emotional after finally realizing a dream that he broke down (above) in tears when it finally came true.
They did it thanks to a sophomore who never gets any love, Matt Jones, hitting big shot after big shot, and freshman Justise Winslow, who was the least-heralded of the Big 3 freshman signees last year but was by far the best during the last two weeks.

I have no idea if Duke can win the national title; as a spoiled Duke fan, I just hope they make the Final Four every year; that’s the goal.

It’s been five years since they’ve been there. I’m really happy they’re back.

Some other thoughts from a fabulous hoops weekend:

— Michigan State is the only improbable Final Four team this year, and even though the Spartans struggled way more than usual, you can’t be too surprised they’re here. Because they’re coached by Tom Izzo, a legend in his profession. This is by far his least-talented Final Four team, but man oh man, did they claw and scratch their way to two wins this weekend. Tremendous.

— The Kentucky-Notre Dame game. I mean… wow. What a sensational game. When the brackets came out I picked Notre Dame to peat the Wildcats in this round, partly because I believed they really could, and partly because I didn’t want to be like “the herd” picking Kentucky to go all the way.
And for 99 percent of the game, Notre Dame played perfectly. They shot well, defended everyone but Karl-Anthony Towns well (that guy is a beast, and impossible to stop in the low post), and with three minutes to go had the lead and the Kentucky fans were pooping in their pants about their perfect season going up in flames.

And then, the Irish just couldn’t finish. They took some ill-advised shots the last 3 possessions, UK made a couple foul shots with six seconds left, and it was over.
Incredibly dramatic, wonderful game, though.

**This has nothing to do with basketball but everything to do with the NCAA Tournament: I am so freaking sick of those Buick commercials. Dear Buick: I don’t care how many times you make me watch those ads, I’m not buying a Buick. (And as a Twitter follower of mine pointed out: Why the hell does that couple in the beginning have binoculars in their kitchen? Do they spy on their neighbors? Are they anti-Buick spies? Just general voyeurs? I’m brimming with questions).

– Wisconsin is so much fun to watch play, aren’t they? So well-coached, Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky are tremendous (though Kaminsky flops way too much), and they just share the ball beautifully. I think they beat Kentucky on Saturday.

— So we’ve got maybe the four best head coaches in the sport going head to head at the Final Four, with a perfect season on the line, two legendary blue-blood programs, and absolutely anyone could win the whole thing.

— And there are some people who think the NBA is better than college basketball. Insane.

**Finally today, I don’t really have much interest in checking out James Corden’s new late night show after Letterman; not really familiar with Corden, not awake watching TV at that hour, etc.

But if this skit he pulled the first week of his show is any indication of what’s to come, I’m excited. He and Mr. Tom Hanks spent six minutes re-creating scenes from every Hanks movie ever made. Pretty hilarious, and it gets better as it goes along (the “Sleepless in Seattle” one is my favorite.)

The latest installment of the Daddy Chronicles, featuring a mostly-crawling 6-month old; Dean Smith’s final gift a great one, and the crying Villanova piccolo player gets on Fallon

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It’s been a little while since I’ve written about my little guy, and as every day goes by he changes just a little bit.

It really is amazing that he’s almost 7 months old now; it feels like last week my wife and I took him home from the hospital, looked at each other and said “OK, what do we do now?”

Some thoughts from my Stay-At-Home Daddy brain lately:

— While my boy is not full-on crawling yet, he’s pretty damn close. He’s been Army crawling for a few weeks now, and I recently got a very important lesson about how mobile he’s getting. I put him down on his mat one morning, then went to go brush my teeth.

I come out 90 seconds later and he’s all the way near our kitchen table, a good 10 feet from where I left him. I came out and said “Hey!” and he just looked at me like, “What? I’m crawling here!)
My first thought? “How in the heck did he get that far that fast?” My second thought was: Yeah, I need to take him with me everywhere in the apartment unless he’s strapped in somewhere.”

— As you can surmise from the photo above, we’ve started solid foods with him in the past 2 weeks. It’s been fascinating to me how one night he loves the rice cereal/breastmilk combo, then the next night, meh, it’s not for him. I tried explaining to him that it’s the exact same food he loved last night, but for some reason he didn’t get it.

— Had a scheduled playdate with another baby on Tuesday (and his Dad, obviously the baby’s not scheduling his own stuff yet).
It got cancelled on us at the last minute. And I was suddenly feeling like I was single again and got stood up by a girl while I was at the movie theater, having already bought the tickets and the popcorn.

Am I weird for feeling like that?

— My boy’s new favorite thing? When Daddy hoists him up in the air and says “Whee!” Brings a smile every time (and with him being 16 pounds now, a great arm workout for me).

— Finally, it’s amazing how he looks different, older or  younger, depending on what outfits he’s wearing. I wish that were still true for grown-ups.

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**Next up, the late, great Dean Smith continues to have a huge impact on the lives of those he coached, and so many more.

But with his will recently being read and executed, we’ve learned he made one final, heartfelt gesture to all those who played for him.

According to Smith’s will, he bequeathed a $200 check be sent to every letterman he coached at University of North Carolina, so they can “enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith.”

Two hundred bucks, times 184 players Smith coached over 36 years, adds up to about $36,000.
What a class act Dean was, even in death.

**Finally today, I loved this story so much, because it shows the power of the Internet, and a mensch of a talk-show host, to do good.
Saturday night, top-seeded Villanova was upset by North Carolina State in the NCAA Tournament. In the game’s final moments, as they always do in these situations, the TV cameras scanned the Villanova fans, cheerleaders and band, looking for distraught faces to broadcast to millions.

And of course, the cameras stopped on Roxanne Chalifoux, a Villanova piccolo player, tears streaming down her face while she valiantly plays on.

Instantly, it became a viral sensation on Twitter and Facebook, and poor Roxanne was embarrassed, though most of the jokes I saw weren’t mean-spirited.

Well, Jimmy Fallon’s producers saw the famous clip, and invited Roxanne to sit in with The Roots on Monday, and also gave her tickets to see her favorite star, Taylor Swift.

Just a very cool, classy move all around (also watch the above clip for an awesome meme starring Roxanne and Joe Biden.)

 

Pre-school for adults? Brooklyn says, why not? An awesome commercial showing the importance of paper. And the coolest (or creepiest) baseball uniform of the year

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We’re still a couple of years away from needing to look at preschools for our 6-month old, although here in NYC they tell you (not jokingly) that as soon as you find out you’re having a baby, get on a preschool list.

Still, maybe instead of looking for a preschool for my boy, I should enroll myself. That’s the seemingly-insane idea behind the Brooklyn-based Preschool Mastermind, which is a preschool program for adults.

I’m not making this up. According to the founder of Preschool Mastermind, there’s show-and-tell, arts-and-crafts such as finger paint, games (think musical chairs) and even naps.

I realized all the implications of what we learn in preschool,” said founder Michelle Joni, who said she went to school for childhood education and always wanted to be a preschool teacher. “People come here and get in touch with their inner child. It’s magical.”

According to this article, this preschool class ain’t cheap; Payment for the class is on a sliding scale ranging from $333 to $999 (can you get a finger-painting scholarship that would reduce costs?).

Joni said that “preschool is all about choice. I want them [the students] to feel good about the choice they’re making.”

This is just about the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard, but hey, there’s a sucker born every minute. Still, I’m brimming with questions, such as:

— Do these adults’ 2-year-old children pick them up in their strollers at the end of the day, or are they driving the family station wagon already?

— Does the school have extra-large napping mats for really tall grown-ups?

— Do the students in this class use sippy cups, or are they allowed real paper cups?

— And most importantly, who does the diaper changes for the students?

**Next up, my fabulous mother-in-law sent me this the other day, knowing what a worshipper I am of newspapers and, really, the written word.

It’s a commercial that’s actually a couple of years old but is making the Internet rounds this week; it’s from a French company and the tagline is “Paper is Not Dead.”

Pretty funny….

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**Finally today, minor-league baseball promotions always make me laugh, often make me cringe in the “what the hell were they thinking” kind of way, and are rarely boring.

So even though I’m not sure what to think about this, I applaud the effort. The Jackson Generals, a Tennessee-based affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, are holding “Wizard of Oz Night” on May 15, with uniforms that have never before been seen.

I can’t wait till the players check out how they look in pigtails.

I hope they go all out with this promotion, by the way; the path from 3rd base to home ought to be painted with yellow bricks, maybe the umpires all dress up in tin or lion outfits, you know, the whole shebang.

Or heck, just make the umpire dress up like the Wicked Witch, that’s good typecasting!

Duke cruises, Nova and Virginia crash out of the NCAA Tournament, and Izzo is a wizard. And the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” calls C-SPAN

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Whew. My eyes are tired and my brain is on overdrive. Four days of NCAA Tournament viewing can do that to you.

But I’m happy, of course. Gloriously happy, that my Duke Blue Devils avoided the upset bug that has plagued them the last few years, and put on a dominating performance Sunday, beating San Diego State by 19.

It was a rare, nice enjoyable and relaxing Duke win for yours truly. Justise Winslow was sensational; he’s the whole key to this team this year. When he’s engaged and making plays in the first couple minutes of the game, they win. When he’s passive and making silly turnovers and being lazy on defense, they lose.

It’s strange because he’s probably the third best player on the team, but he’s definitely the most important.  Great to see the whole team play defense, too, which doesn’t happen often.

Some more March Madness thoughts from a pretty fabulous weekend:

— Tom Izzo and Michigan State. Man, he’s an incredible coach. That game with UVA Sunday was rough on the eyes; tons of fouls, missed free throws, and not many pretty baskets. But this is not that good of a Spartans team, and he’s got them in the Sweet 16 again. Incredible coaching job. For Virginia, just an awful result, to have such a great season end like this. They just couldn’t score at all Sunday, and missed a bunch of free throws, too.

— Not surprised at all to see North Carolina State beat Villanova Saturday night. The Wolfpack have been great and terrible all year, and their “best” is as good as anyone in the country. They’ve got a fabulous backcourt, excellent rebounders, and a pretty good coach in Mark Gottfried.
Now, that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost by 20 in the Sweet 16. They’re just that erratic.

— It’s so great being a fan of this Tournament in 2015, technology-wise. Saturday night, the wife was at a concert, I put the little guy to bed at 8, then had a laptop, an iPad, and my TV on three different games, while toggling over to the Rangers game when one was at halftime. Sure it probably fried my brain a little but it was worth it.

— That UNC-Arkansas game was all kinds of fun to watch. After seeing so many slow-it-down, grind-it-out games in the 50s and 60s, that one was wild. Fast-paced, shooting every chance they got, high-flying, man it was fun. I’m not saying every game should be like that in the Tournament, but we could sure use a few more teams playing that style.

— Hell of a win for Notre Dame Saturday night, out-battling Butler. No points for the last 4 minutes of regulation, but that was old school Indiana basketball. And my man Mike Brey, coaching with a heavy heart after his Mom died earlier in the day. That had to be very tough to do.

— Sorry to see Georgia State and their coach who made a stool famous, Ron Hunter, lose on Saturday. But what a beautiful postgame opening statement he gave about his team, and about coaching his son for the last time. So emotional, so touching… you can tell how much this means to him. Really special.

— Kansas refused for decades to play Wichita State, as the Jayhawks coaches figured there was nothing to be gained (win, and you’re supposed to beat the smaller school in your state; lose and it’s humiliating) but one of the beautiful things about the NCAA Tournament is it sometimes forces  you to do things you don’t want to do.
So we got a Wichita State-KU matchup Sunday, and no big surprise, but the “little school” kicked the big school’s butt. The Shockers have been legit good for years, and dominated Kansas in the second half.
Moral of the story: Play the schools in your state, it’s wimpy not to.

— Some super matchups on tap for the Sweet 16: Notre Dame-Wichita State should be terrific. Wisconsin-Carolina is a total contrast in styles. Arizona-Xavier will be a great game. And can Michigan State keep its roll going against a really strong Oklahoma team?
Can’t wait till Thursday  night.

**Finally today, this made me laugh really hard, and if you remember early 1990s television, you’ll laugh to.

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” had a memorable opening credits sequence, with Will Smith doing a song/voiceover of how a kid from inner-city Philadelphia hit the jackpot, moving to Bel Air to live with his aunt and uncle.

Well, apparently a C-Span caller named Jack from California remembered it too, and he called in and, well, this is perfect…

A waitress gets a huge tip for a good reason. NFL star Jared Allen builds houses for veterans. And the Madness has begun, as Ga. State and UAB shock the world

Tennesseewaitress

And a Happy Friday to you all! I’ve two legitimate “good news” stories today and then a few hundred words about the first day of the NCAA Tournament, because let’s face it, I love that thing so much it’s impossible for me not to write about it.

First up, though, this story went viral this week and it’s in a familiar vein I’m sure you’ve heard of: Waitress gets obscenely large tip for a really sweet reason.

Not sure I’ve seen one like this before: A waitress in Tennessee named Claire Hudson working her shift at a local burger place when, after a couple left, she noticed she’d received a $36 tip on a $30 food order.

She didn’t have a chance to catch the couple and thank them, but they left a note that read:

“Today is my brother’s b-day,” it said, written behind the credit card receipt. “He would have been 36 today. Every year I go eat his favorite meal (hot dogs) and tip the waitress his age. Happy B-day Wes.”

“I was in tears when I read it,” Hudson said. “I had to go in the back of the restaurant and compose myself before I went out to my other tables.”

Very cool.

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**Next up, another tale of an NFL player doing tremendous work off the field. Jared Allen, a longtime defensive end for K.C., Minnesota and Chicago, has been helping wounded service men and women get home from overseas tours by finding corporate partners to build housing for injured soldiers.

The charity is called “Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors,” and it’s a tremendously needed and heartfelt effort.

They’ve built seven homes so far, with the last one being opened about a week ago.

They just opened a home in Arizona for Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who lost part of his skull in Afghanistan.

I loved this quote Allen gave to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King:

“Home should be the most secure spot in your life, where you can feel comfortable at your most vulnerable time. I come from a long line of people who served their country. My little brother does now. And I just got to thinking a few years ago, ‘Well, I’m not going to carry a gun in service to my country, but I’ve got to do something.’ I decided to try to help those who laid their lives on the line so people like you and me could live their lives in peace back home.”

Jared Allen, a real mensch.

**Finally today, well that didn’t take long, huh? The huge upsets started early at the NCAA Tournament, and in a not-unusual occurence, your humble blogger, who watches a ton of college basketball every year, lost one of his Final Four teams on the first day (Damn you, Iowa State, and your inability to win at a slow tempo.)

That was an INCREDIBLE day of hoops, one of the best ever. Five games (5!) decided by 1 point, with N.C. State’s the most improbable (B.J. Anya with a sky-hook?) but almost every game going down to the wire.

In the afternoon, within an hour of each other, University of Alabama-Birmingham turned back Iowa State, and then Georgia State pulled an even bigger shocker, beating Baylor.
It was the first time two No. 14 seeds had ever knocked off No. 3 seeds in the same Tournament, but the most awesome thing that happened Thursday was Georgia State coach Ron Hunter, falling off his stool in celebration when his son R.J. hit the game-winning shot.

I’ve watched that 30 times and it’s still fantastic; Coach Hunter was sitting on a stool because he tore his Achilles tendon celebrating the Panthers’ Tournament-clinching win in their conference tourney last week.

It’s such a great story; a coach, his star player son, and one shining moment they’ll have for the rest of their lives.

Sure, the upsets blew my bracket to smithereens, but who cares? Ron and R.J. Hunter are what the NCAA Tournament is all about.