For basketball fans, there's no month better than March.
Affectionately dubbed "March Madness," it's a time with a seemingly endless string of basketball games: the National Invitational Tournament for men's basketball, plus the "Big Dance" — the National Collegiate Athletic Association's tourneys for men and women. As a bonus, there's your state high school tournaments for the boys and girls.
One could watch hundreds of games. Did you cancel all appointments and tell folks you'll see 'em in April?
While it's a time for school spirit, alumni support, community involvement and playing heroics, it's especially fun when your team keeps winning, surviving, advancing!
Then fans, journalists, coaches and broadcasters devote hours of discussion and debate to matchups, playing styles, upset specials and bold predictions.
One of the best b-ball analyzers and prognosticators is Clark Kellogg. If you're a basketball fan, your immediate reaction is, "Yep, he's good!" If you're not, you'll soon value his opinions and insights.
In the summer of 2005, Clark and I were speakers on the same program. That gave us the opportunity to chat about lots of stuff. Especially about winning.
That's a topic Clark knows lots about — as an observer and a participant.
First, some quick background info on Clark. He played his college ball at Ohio State. In 1982, he earned All-Big Ten and Most Valuable Player honors. He then became the Indiana Pacers No. 1 draft pick. He was a unanimous selection to the 1982 NBA All-Rookie Team.
Clark played five NBA seasons before retiring with chronic knee problems. He had career averages of 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
As a broadcaster, he's in his 21st year as a basketball analyst for the CBS Television Network's NCAA Tournament coverage. And for 21 years, he was a TV analyst for the NBA's Indiana Pacers broadcasts. So when it comes to winning, competition and preparation, it's fair to say Clark is a reputable and credible expert.
The last time I saw him was Feb. 25, 2012. It was about 30 minutes before tipoff at the University of Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse. It was the final time Kansas would meet Missouri as a conference foe. (Mizzou is now in the SEC, or Southeastern Conference.)
I was at the game with our eldest daughter Brittany, at that time a Kansas senior and a rabid KU basketball fan.
I said, "Brit, that's Clark Kellogg."
She asked, "How do you know?"
I told her, "Six-foot-7-inch guys are easy to spot, and we know each other!"
As I bellowed out "Clark!" he stopped and greeted me with a warm handshake and big smile.
While our conversation that afternoon was brief, I never forgot what he shared with me eight years ago. Here are excerpts.
Jeff Blackman: What do all winners have?
Clark Kellogg: Winning starts with an attitude. It's striving for excellence. Wanting to be good. Winners put in the time and energy. It's more than wins and losses; it's how you go about becoming better. It's a desire.
Winners must constantly prioritize. And that's a constant struggle. Because you have to ask yourself: What's important? Where will you invest your time? What will you sacrifice?
Winners know it's a juggling act. And it really never ends. I still wrestle daily with what I need to do versus what I like to do. Where do I invest my resources?
In the mid to late '80s, you were running up and down the court with some of the greatest NBA players of all time. What was that like?
Going up against the Chicago Bulls' MJ (Michael Jordan) was phenomenal. He was so competitive. His will, skill and determination. When something was at stake, he rose, repeatedly. He took things personally between the lines. Yet his greatness elevated when he learned to play as a teammate. That's when he really became a winner.
I also bumped heads with Charles Barkley. He had strength, tenacity and the will to make it happen.
However, the greatest winner I ever played with was Herb Williams at Ohio State and with the Indiana Pacers. He really knew the game and played with energy and passion.
What lessons has basketball taught you about life?
Life's not always fair, but what you put in the wash comes out in the rinse. We're not all blessed with the same gifts or resources. Yet when you don't win on the "scoreboard," you may still win because you've done your very best. That's as immediate as it gets, even in defeat.
In 1979, in high school, I played for Cleveland's St. Joseph's Academy in the Ohio state championship game. We lost. At Ohio State University in 1980, my teammates and I battled Indiana for the Big Ten championship. We lost. Then in 1982, we fought Minnesota for the conference crown. We lost again.
Yet, what I learned is when you compete for the top prize, you have to be ready, with integrity and passion. Then you can do your best, know you did your best and realize you may still come up short.
You see, Jeff, winners are thought of in a different light, for when you compete valiantly, there's self-respect and the respect of others.
Yet don't be burdened by expectations; focus on the opportunity to elevate your performance and your teammates. When you're a key cog, your responsibility goes beyond just being ready, i.e., when you're a high draft pick, others have confidence in your ability. Use that confidence to deliver the right results.
Excluding Michael Jordan, if you could pick your "all NBA" starting five, who would it be and why?
Shaquille O'Neal: A dominant force.
Tim Duncan: Not flashy, but efficient and effective. A great teammate who also respects his teammates.
Alan Iverson: His heart and his size (6 feet) is remarkable, the spirit of his tenacity, he says, "I'm going hard for as long as the clock has time on it."
Lebron James: A special, physical package with incredible poise.
Ben Wallace: A great competitor under pressure, a force, selfless.
My sixth man, Reggie Miller: You can always count on him in the clutch.
Clark, if we head out to the hoop on my driveway for a spirited game of horse, who would win?
Jeff, I think I could handle you!
(In March 2013, Clark played President Barack Obama in a game of POTUS, "President of the United States," and lost!)
So what lessons has Clark taught us? There are many:
• Winning starts with an attitude.
• Execution must be preceded by planning and prioritization.
• Desire and passion must be converted into action.
• Pay close attention to your competitors and what you can learn from them.
• Pay close attention to your teammates and how can you help them excel so you all win.
• Study the superstars and what makes them super.
• Acknowledge an individual's unique strengths and talents, yet know that teams win championships. Success is never a solo journey.
• Believe in your self. Confidence matters.
• Be smart. Keep moving.
• Accept that, on occasion, life ain't fair. Stuff happens. You might lose. The key is to ask yourself, "What's your next move?"