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Monday, February 20, 2012

And now for something a little more fun...

Jeremy Lin.

Hoo-boy, the kid can ball, can't he.  His aggression with the ball and his basketball IQ make him a quite dangerous point guard.  He plays the game like a streetball kid given a chance, and bless him for that.  I've been following the Knicks since I was 11 or 12 years old, and we've had some good -- great -- ballplayers.  The last time we've had a player that HAD to be defended above the free throw line?  Derek Harper.  Lin can hurt you in many ways, from his ability to get to the paint to his ability to hit a three pointer to beat the shot clock.  There is ice water in his veins.  He has outdueled two future Hall-of-Famers in Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitski.  And it's only his second week as a full-time player.

His journey has made the NBA interesting this season, and thank goodness because after the lockout, the play we had seen  was not worth the money.  Not even close.

This kid is a huge story, and probably will be for the next couple of months because he defies several conventions in sports, at all levels.  He's someone who was overlooked for any critical role, then simply retooled his game, beefed up what was good about himself and played his way, so that when he eventually got a shot, he would make it impossible to be taken off the floor.  NBA scouts are now throwing their hands up in the air, wondering how in all their vaunted experience they missed a dazzling talent like this.  Does race play a part in this?  Yes, of course it does.

He was an idiot for saying it the way he did, but Floyd Mayweather was right.  When we strip away the sour grapes from the tone in which he said it, he's absolutely right.  Because of what we envision basketball to be, this kind of underdog story is SUPPOSED to happen to the poor black kid from the wrong side of the tracks.  Disney has made millions off movies based on this concept (check out Glory Road).  We envision basketball to be an urban game, played by kids from bad neighborhoods whose limited options are ball, rap and/or prison.  And that one poor black kid who makes it, becomes a neighborhood sensation, then a college star, then an All-Star NBA player... well, that guy is Stephon Marbury when you think about it.

But for those of us who have played ball, when the kid who steps on the court who doesn't look like he's the type to play the game, be it because he's short, or fat, or wears glasses or has the wrong color skin, have we not noticed -- or given -- the "look?"  The "Oh god, who let the scrub on the court and please don't let him be on my team" look.  I know people who have gotten that look.  My nephew, because he's a 5'7" Puerto Rican kid, even though he's one of the best athletes I've ever known;  a former co-worker of mine, a 5'5" Asian kid who would absolutely gotten the look if he played where I grew up, and would have torched the people who gave him that look for a triple-double; a slightly pudgy white guy I used to work with who was deadly from 15 feet out.

That look is what scouts gave Jeremy Lin.  Because he's an Asian kid with options.

You don't expect him to be this phenomenal talent.  He went to Harvard.  He grew up NOT in the 'hood.  His is not the typical NBA journey as it is envisioned or glorified.  And bless him for that.  He defies the conventions of the sport, and it is to my hope that he continues to do so.

The thing that makes Mr. Lin most special, though, is the fact that he grasps the concept that so many professional athletes don't.  He gets paid very handsomely to play a game.  And he's having fun.  That fun is contagious, because it makes the people playing with him have fun.  And that makes the people watching THEM have fun.  And in a microscope like New York, the end result of that is people sitting courtside wearing homemade Lin masks.

This is the kind of underdog story we need; the story of the kid who is even less likely to make it than the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks, who through sheer determination, hard work, and yes, a little faith (even though I'm not a man of faith, I can appreciate whatever it was that made him persevere.) made us all stand up an take notice. Talented and humble, every day he steps on the court, he shatters a new stereotype, and another barrier to success.

Oh, and a side stat: The Knicks are undefeated in games in which Jeremy Lin has a dunk.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Sad Irony of Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston died today at age 48.

And as it was with Michael Jackson, Gary Coleman, Don Cornelius, and any of the other stars who died in the recent past, we gloss over her troubles in polite conversation and choose to remember her as the radiantly beautiful and brilliantly talented superstar she was.  And rightly so.  She was the elegant and regal talent for a much longer span than she was the obviously drugged-out caricature of herself.  And the entertainment world, the world in general loses a light.

I do find it very interesting, sadly ironic, that the woman who sang of the virtues of learning to love yourself self-destructed so spectacularly and publicly over the last 10 to 12 years of her life.  Whitney Houston became the poster child for the evils of drug addiction and fallen stars.  She went from this:

to this:

Fans will blame Bobby Brown as being the chief negative influence in her life, but that doesn't really matter, does it.  We Mourn Whitney Houston for the talent that she was, not the bad decisions that robbed her of it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Fatigue

First of all, Go Big Blue!  Before I rant on all things Super Bowl, I gotta give love to one of the hometown teams.  Football is the only sport I allow myself multiple favorites, and after the Jets, the Giants are my favorite team.  Add that to a hatred of Boston and it's surrounding region and a general distaste for Tom Brady... well,go G-Men!

That said, I'm so absolutely sick of the twelve days of football that leads up to the Super Bowl.  Analysis, pointless interviews, detailed descriptions of practice.  I mean, practice!  We're talking about practice!  Not the game, but practice! (Thank you, Allen Iverson)  Then of course there's the spectacle of it all, where in a four hour football event, about an hour of football is actually played.  Madonna will be on the field, along with a bunch of other people NOT playing football.  When did this become more about the event and less about the game?

Here's the big kicker:  half the people that watch the Super Bowl do so for the commercials.  Commercials that have been "leaked early."

Spoiler Alert:

Now I have successfully removed one of the three reasons to watch the Super Bowl.  To those of you (like me) who are watching the game, Go Giants!  And for those of you (myself included) who will be watching for an inevitable Madonna wardrobe malfunction... gotta love halftime.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reality Check.

Once upon a time, when we were children, we all said we would save the world.  I remember a particular English class in IS 391 (Thanks, Ms. Amy Greenberg) in which we wrote our own eulogies, and listed the accomplishments we would have made.  Some of us said we'd cure cancer or AIDS, some said we'd be rappers or movie stars, or famous lawyers and authors.  And while we have all enjoyed a modicum of success, I hazard to guess that very few of my friends from IS 391's class of 1992 have impacted the world the way we thought we would.  I guess that's a consequence of the reality of adulthood, putting away the bigger dreams of our childhood in favor of more practical ones.

I came across a YouTube clip of someone around my age who, when she was a child, actually TRIED to save the world, and is actively still doing so.

The young woman in question is Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who at 12 was an environmental activist.  She gives a compelling speech 20 years ago at a UN Environmental summit that is painfully relevant today.  It silenced a room full of adults in 1992, and very likely would do so again today.  It was honest and heartfelt, and filtered only through the honesty of a child.  In it was no political maneuvering, no base to pander to.  It was a direct, simple statement that showed how we did, and still, make things like communicating as adults more difficult and complicated than we need to. While some would criticize her naivete, her lack of understanding of how the world works, I believe that same quality is what makes it resonate so strongly.  She doesn't understand the way the works, not because she doesn't know but because it makes no sense. It moved me very nearly to tears and put a couple of things very sharply into perspective.

For starters, though we are taught differently as children, we are very wasteful people as adults.  We seek to consume and dominate without ever seeking balance, and what doesn't fit gets thrown to the wayside.  Our society is like this in every phase, from living environment and feeding, to work, to play, to religion, and everything in between.  Human nature seems to be about creating and overcoming struggle, and it doesn't need to be about all that.  Especially not us in the Western world, especially not in this day and age.  And a quickie review of the things in my life that are wasteful, I on a personal level don't need to completely rewrite my life to make things better for the people around me.

The other thing that was put into perspective was the definition of impact.  Ms. Suzuki made an impact that is still rippling today, as evidenced by the fact that the things she was right about in the above 1992 video, she's still right about now.  We are still watching her humble a room full of delegates, businessmen and "important people."   It made me stop and think about the lasting impact my actions have had, or will have.  How have I affected the world around me?  How will I?

And that's the big reality check.  I wrote in my eulogy in 1992 that I would cure cancer and AIDS before dying old and rich in the arms of my young supermodel wife.  It's funny now, but I genuinely believed I would back then, and that it would be no big deal.  I haven't done anything more important in my life than have that dream when I was 13.  And though some of us have families to provide for, mouths to feed, lives to help shape, I would dare say that most of us have never had dreams wider in scope than when we were 13.

And that, my friends, is a tragedy.  We have become the adults in the video.

PS: Severn Cullis-Suzuki is STILL trying to save the world, these days for her child and that generation.