Friday, May 29, 2009

Progress or Misguided Intent

The LA Times reported that a male student was named prom queen at Fairfax High School. He did initially as a gimmick but grew into it and wanted to take it seriously. He feels very feminine (“a boy with a different personality”) and earned the support of enough of the student body to earn his crown (tiara?).

I don’t usually say this but pause. HUNH?????

A dude wants to be prom queen? In the name of Freddie Mercury, what kind of sense does this make? See this is where tolerance goes wrong – we start to tolerate everything in the name of open-mindedness even when it’s really looking at it the wrong way.

When most people read this headline, they automatically assume this guy has to be gay (he is). That’s the crux of the situation and why this “statement” is a failed chance to really make a point.

The young man feels feminine and has every right to live his life as a gay man. He also has every right to be comfortable doing it but when you want to challenge gender roles, this is NOT the way to do it. I'm not surprised he was going to win, especially if he got enough girls at the school to support him. We all know that girls tend to rally around gay dudes more than straight ones at times.

But here’s the problem. This is not a sign of progress for the gay rights movement. To me, it’s copping out to fulfilling the stereotype of how a gay man is perceived – more effeminate than masculine and not a real man. In my opinion, a gay man is still a man regardless of his tastes, likes or actions.

If the young man wanted to make a bigger statement about gender roles, he would have run as king. Challenge what being a prom king is about, challenge the idea that a man has to be macho and do it by being yourself. Had he won as prom king, it would have been a bigger victory because it shows that not every prom king fits that stereotypical jock/student leader who embodies “manhood.”

We call out lesbians who act tomboy-ish but regardless of how they act, they are still women. They may not ask a certain way that women do but that’s the beauty of challenging gender roles. Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Lauren Conrad and Ellen DeGeneres are all women in their own unique way. Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Rupert Everett and my least favorite person Perez Hilton are all men in their unique way. It doesn’t matter if you are gay or straight, you are still male or female just not what society expects a male/female to be.

Some women like to say they can do anything just as good as a man. Well so be it but that doesn’t take away your womanhood. It adds a new layer. If a man likes watching soap operas or is in touch with his feelings, it doesn’t take away your manhood. Now a man might need to toughen up or woman needs to back down at some point but that’s another issue.

That, my friends, is true progress. Not settling for stereotypes but challenging them. This is my real problem with this story after the shock of it fades. The young man did not challenge gender roles by becoming prom queen, he succumbed to them. This is not progress, it’s just asking to do whatever you like without considering what would make a bigger impact – not just shock people.

(By the way, did anybody ask what the prom king thought? - Just asking?)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blue Magic - Dodgers Report

If you told me before the season that the Dodgers would be the team to beat in the National League, I'd say it was a possibility. I thought our offense and bullpen was good enough to compete with anybody.

If you told me that they'd be the best team in baseball minus Manny Ramirez for 17 games (and counting til July 3), I'd call you a liar and delusional. Sure enough, there they are. Fresh off a sweep of the Colorado Rockies they are 33-15, 5 games ahead of the Cardinals and 6 ahead of the closest team in the American League.

*cue Jay-Z's Blue Magic - so what if u flip a couple bombs, we can triple that in runs, open up ya mind, Dodger Blue in the sky."

The offense ranks at or near the top of the majors in average, hits, RBI's, on-base percentage and runs. And it's great when you have three leadoff hitters - the last two batting switch - at the top of the lineup in Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson and ur best HR hitter bats No.8 (Casey Blake). Frank Lucas is only the person who had something blue more potent than Dodger Blue.

Hudson has been a great free-agent pickup with his bat (.347 avg, 16 doubles, 30 RBI's, .495 OBP) and his defense - not to mention being a great clubhouse presence. O-Dog is currently on a 16-game hitting streak.Not to mention that he and Matt Kemp are some of the biggest characters in the clubhouse haha. He's already gotten settled in L.A. by working with kids the Urban Youth Academy in Compton along with Torii Hunter and Pierre.

Pierre has been the year's biggest surprise. He went from bench duty to potential All-Star candidate since filling in for Ramirez - hitting over .400, stealing bases and scoring runs like its Christmas. But it's what veterans do: Prepare to step in when necessary and produce. Oh yeah, inspire people to throw support behind you.

Kemp (Soul Bro. No. 27) got off to a hot start but he's falling back into old habits of impatience at the plate and swinging too freely. James Loney (Soul Bro. No. 7) is starting to find his power stroke and Andre Ethier is stayin solid- although he's slightly struggled a bit without him. And great bench guys in Juan Castro and Mark Loretta leave Joe Torre with no worries about relying on them.

I was worried about the starting rotation but 6-2 Chad Billingsley and 3-3 Clayton "The Young Prince" Kershaw have picked it up as the 1-2 force, along with 4-1 Eric Stults at the 3 spot. Randy Wolf (2-1) has had games where he looks like Pulp Fiction's "Mr. Wolf" instead of the Elder Lobo on his last legs back home.

Confusing stat of the year. Closer Jonathan Broxton ranks among the NL leaders in wins (5) and saves (11). It would assume that he's blown a few saves but he hasn't - the team has just had its share of late-inning heroics. He's gonna blow by his high of 14 saves and the way things are going he could have 10+ wins and 40+ saves.

The bullpen has been a mixed bag of sorts. Last year's star Cory Wade already has four blown saves and at least one walk in his last six appearances. But I blame most of that arm trouble at the beginning of the year and the mental recovery from it. Taking his place this year has been big righty Ramon Troncoso (2.08 ERA).

I love this guy's stuff and most of all his durability. Best relief appearance this year by any reliever? 4 innings of one-hit ball on Apr. 25. Throw him in with Brent Leach and Ronald Belisario and it's more good than bad.

It's really gotten to the point where I'm not really worried about Manny coming back. He's apparently started working out at Dodger Stadium (although I'd hope he gave the fans an apology) and he'll add that unique dimension to an already jacked-up lineup. But there's no more need to count down to July 3 with dread.

True Dodgers fans know this team has high potential that's starting to cash in. Let's watch to see where this ride takes us. It's that 100% pure goodness (at least now). Bring on the Cubs!

So You Think You Can Dance >>>>>> American Idol

American Idol is now over. I heard through the crowded winery that Kris Allen defeated Adam Lambert and somewhere 40+ million people tuned in like they always do for this talent show. Now Kris will join the successful careers of Taylor Hicks, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard – oh wait, when was the last time you saw them on the pop charts?

Sheet, Adam Lambert has a better chance of success because he lost. Successful winners are Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks and Carrie Underwood, successful losers are Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson. Whose career would you rather have?

Now that I forced myself to write two paragraphs analyzing American Idol, let me say that for the record I have never seen one episode of this show since it started in 2002. That summer, I was more geeked about starting college than watching a singing competition. Listening to people sing in a competition doesn’t interest me – I’m more into hearing people sing and judging that performance. But the bigger problem is letting America judge who wins – it’s all popularity, not skill.

Watching people sing for a prize doesn’t fascinate me. Singing is not easy but I can tell you from being involved in church choirs and playing the piano that you can train someone to use their voice if they learn the difference between off-key and on-key.

For the record, I abhor reality competitions but I do like watching a few, none more than So You Think You Can Dance. Now here’s a show that takes great skill, creativity and not everyone can do it. And it’s a show I never thought I’d watch.

Dancing requires a lot of technique and after I took salsa for my elective senior year, I got a better understanding of footwork and the nuances of an artform I never would’ve given two craps about. I always loved dancing at parties and clubs but after I took salsa, my views on it expanded.

Great singers are a dime a dozen. Great dancers are harder to find. I love hearing people sing but there’s something more fascinating with seeing someone dance because you can say so much with your body. There’s only so much you can do vocally but there’s so much more you can do with your body on the dance floor. It’s why dance-offs are more fascinating.

Case in point – go to any club and watch two people challenge each other. It’s way more hype than watching somebody sing with no stage presence.

My problem is that AI has not raised the art form. It’s changed the game to make people think that’s the way to stardom but it hasn’t brought any substance. SYTYCD, however, has made people take another look at dance and reinvigorated interest in a niche people haven’t really explored. Don’t forget hip-hop made waves first not because of the MC but because of the DJ and the b-boy/b-girl showing off their moves.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about the watering down of dance while watching the show because there are so many avenues for dancers that are still relatively niche in nature. I'm a big fan of singing but the challenge and creativity in dance is much more intriguing to watch.

So pardon me while I enjoy the summer’s best show and care less where Adam or Kris end up.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day - Memory Lane

*plays Nas - Memory Lane in background*

Memorial Day means two things to most. Pay respect to everyone who gave their life for our freedoms and fire up that grill for some BBQ. On the first note, I want to honor the memory of a family member I never knew and only met at the Vietnam Vet Memorial in D.C., Lowell T. Combs. Mom took me and my sis to visit the wall during our first trip to DC back in 95 and that was something I still remembered - even going back 6 years later, I wanted to see his place on the memorial.

Dad was also a Vietnam Vet but never really talked much about those days. I don't blame him really. Between that and a good friend about to head back to Iraq at the end of the year, the sacrifice is close and palpable.

Growing up the holiday meant two things - Strawberry Festival and Disneyland. We'd head out to Garden Grove, watch Mom check stuff out, get some strawberry shortcake and roll out to the Magic Kingdom. I loved it cause I'd always get some basketball cards there and show 'em off the next day at school.

I always loved those long days. It'd be one of my favorite holidays to look forward to - back when Disneyland was way cheaper and simpler to navigate. Just park, hop on the tram and enjoy the day.

The most recent Memorial Day memory was also probably the scariest. I graduated from college in 2006 the night before and spent the night partying away with the peeps (sidenote: congrats to my USD peeps who graduated Sunday). Got to bed at 3 AM, woke up at 10, packed up the rest of my room and tried to drive home. Good idea, right?


All I remember is popping in the Chili Peppers' CD "Stadium Arcadium" (I had bought it along with Ghostface Killah's Fishscale before i left) and spending the next 2 hours in and out of consciousness. I just remember praying God don't let me crash right after the biggest moment of my life. It was a miracle that I got home because I don't remember the drive - I just remember stumbling through the door, quick hi's to the family and walking upstairs to my bed.

That's still probably the most tired I've been behind the wheel.

So whatever you do today - fire up the grill, think about the troops, hit up the beach for volleyball - enjoy the holiday. I got some links to fire up and hopefully I can fight this mini cold - dust is not my best friend.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Art of Writing Pt. 2

So now that you know why I fell in love with writing from Part I , you probably want to know what sparked my love with journalism. To be honest, I kinda fell into it accidentally. There was no column that made me want to write, no desire to know more than what I saw – I was always a kid who knew a lot and if I didn’t know, I could figure it out myself.

I always watched the news as well as read the sports pages as a kid as well as Sports Illustrated. I took it to school every day starting in junior high and I read it when I could, mostly as a fan. I remember reading the last column of the great LA Times wordsmith Jim Murray before he died and I still have the special edition pull out from his funeral. But it wasn’t until 8th grade when I took journalism that I really thought about it.

Initially I was going to do sports, but when a guy ahead of me dropped out of the class, I ended up becoming sports editor. It seemed like a perfect fit – sports fan who gets to write about what he sees? Easiest fun I could have. I remember doing a NFL piece every month called “The Good, The Bad and The Strange” and I ended the year doing a story on our principal retiring after being at the school since its second year. I did it again in 10th grade but again, it felt like my passion was sports, not journalism.

It never crossed my mind again until my last semester at college when I told this lawyer that instead of doing law school, I really liked sports and could be a writer. I had written an op-ed piece in our school paper that fall that was received pretty well but it wasn’t until I talked to him that I took it seriously. Next thing I know, I went on a job shadow with a guy from the San Diego Union-Tribune and I was helping him proof his stories and taking advice at the same time.

With no time to spare, I began writing articles for the school paper based on a professor I knew in the communications dept. I did as many as I could and I got a foundation ready to launch when I graduated. Course, who knew that the journalism industry was already seeing signs of trouble. I applied to every paper with no luck but I got help from a friend.

He knew the publisher of the LA Sentinel and they put me in touch with the editor and the rest is history.

As far as my style, I was frankly inspired by literature more than sportswriters as well as my love of history. I borrowed Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fascination with the past, Charles Dickens’ wit and storytelling and James Baldwin’s passion and purpose with every word plus a little bit of Shakespeare twisting around with wordplay

I never thought about sportswriters that inspired me until after David Halberstam was killed in 2007. I had gotten used to him on Jim Rome’s talk show as well as his work on and he was so smart when it came to sports. No clue that he was one of our country’s preeminent journalists during Vietnam as well as a great historian. I heard people talk about him and his style and suddenly I felt lost.

If I was going to survive in this field, I needed to start looking at how other people did stories. I’ve considered my time at the Sentinel to be like grad school so People that I had gotten used to reading now became my unofficial teachers. I bought a few sports books to help (including the best Sports Writing of the 20th century – writing sure has changed over the past 100 yrs).

Here’s a list of sportswriters that I draw inspiration from. Don’t always agree or like them but I analyze their style – Bill Simmons, Scoop Jackson (who I’ve read since his SLAM days), JA Adande, Bill Plaschke, Michael Wilbon, Jim Murray, Jemele Hill, Ralph Wiley and Halberstam. I consider Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams my journalistic models for not just reporting the news but finding a good story.

My motto is keep things simple. Let the story speak for itself. But when you can, be creative. I’ve mixed in Shakespeare references quite a bit because I’m a fan and frankly, I know how to use him and make it plain for anyone to get.

And here I am. Three years into being a journalist – mainly covering HS sports with the occasional news twist – and two years as sports editor. That’s also how I came up the 2nd half of my blogging name – Clark Kent, journalist at the Daily Planet before being Superman.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why the Clippers can't win for losing

The top pick in the NBA lottery is like a 10-year comet that comes one year too late for the Clippers. In 1988, they drafted Danny Manning when David Robinson was drafted a year earlier. Same thing happened in 1998 when they drafted Michael Olowokandi one year after Tim Duncan. Now we’re gonna see how they screw this up with the slam-dunk No. 1 choice of Blake Griffin, the consensus Player of the Year and everybody's All-American (no Frank Deford)

I loved the headline that the LA Times Sports Blog had “Blake Griffin Loses Lottery.” He’s probably going to a team that is loaded upfront (Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby), including a guy who plays his position (Zach Randolph). He’ll be cursed to join a team with an owner who has no basketball sense and only cares about making money. And best of all, he gets to do it on a team that has almost no history of drafting great players that stick around (good luck, Eric Gordon)

Let’s face it, the Clippers would have been screwed had they won the No. 2 pick. Ricky Rubio would’ve joined Baron Davis, Mike Taylor and Eric Gordon. Rubio-Gordon would’ve been a solid backcourt for years to come but at the expense of Davis being relegated to the bench, it’s a pipe dream. Same with Hasseem Thabeet, Jordan Hill, Brandon Jennings, etc….I just don’t see anyone who’s a good fit. It's a team with too many parts - some good, some inconsistent but clustered all around.

I’ve been discussing the draft on Twitter and there’s no secret that the 2009 draft is loaded on potential but light on actual performance. Outside of Griffin and Rubio, nobody named among the lottery is really standing out a surefire pick. The one-and-dones (Tyreke Evans, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, BJ Mullens) are nowhere near the class of last year’s and are being drafted based on what did in high school almost more than college.

*And I'm saying that as somebody who said Holiday is the best all-around guard Cali has produced since Baron Davis and watched DeRozan throw down some sick dunks up close. Both are nice but both can get better, esp. DeRozan*

Haseem Thabeet is tall but I smell dunk bait. Jordan Hill is a better pro from the Pac-10 than James Harden? I’m a big Stephen Curry fan but he’s gotta bulk up before he can be the next Ben Gordon. Austin Daye is nice (saw him play in a HS All-Star game two years ago) but he’s gotta get his weight up to match his immense skills.

This is clearly a draft where you’d benefit leaving early because the competition is weak (a la Mark Sanchez). Teams in the 10’s-20’s are gonna be satisfied with the steals they get (Darren Collison, Earl Clark, Eric Maynor, Gerald Henderson, DeJuan Blair, James Johnson, Sam Young). Oh, and if you’re wondering how I feel about Tyler Hansborough – he’s a solid high teens-early 20’s pick because of his smarts, hustle and nose around the ball. But he needs a reliable jumper and more foot speed to survive.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams tried to trade down. But for the Clippers, there may be no hope because they’ll find a way to screw it up and somewhere, Blake Griffin is praying how to avoid becoming the next victim of the Clippers curse.

I’ve never done a mock draft and I won’t do one now. I’d rather analyze how players will do on the next level. So if you feel like speaking your mind, you know where to find me.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Rise and Fall of DMX

(In the interest of full disclosure, I was inspired by hip hopDX blogger William E. Ketchum III and his co-hort J Young putting DMX on his list of most disappointing MC's last year. I had to a double take like most but after reading it, I had to agree.)

10 years ago was a great time for hip-hop. Jay-Z, the Hot Boys, Shyne and Eminem had the headlines and the return of Dr. Dre would make bigger waves by year’s end. But the biggest face was easily DMX, who would drop his third album (And Then There Was X) at the end of the year and would be the last No. 1 album of the 20th century.

First week sales were nearly 700,000 – the 2nd highest of the year behind the Backstreet Boys selling over a million. In a year where everybody in music was doing crazy numbers, DMX sold more his first week than any solo artist. And this was before he released his biggest hit “Party Up” in 2000.

There was no doubt who the face of hip-hop was. If you asked anyone from that era, Jay-Z and DMX were neck-and-neck and arguably X had more crossover appeal despite Jay selling 4 million because he tapped into a wider audience.

DMX was a breath of fresh air when he dropped in 1998. Killed the shiny suit era brought on Bad Boy the minute he dropped his first single “Get at Me Dog” – a Top 40 joint. But even in 1997, he brought the heat with two verses on LL Cool J’s “4,3,2,1” and Mase’s “24 Hours to Live.”

“Get at Me Dog” went gold and his classic debut “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” soared to No. 1. Then came another classic in “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and suddenly the hardcore scene was back. A raw, emotive delivery, that growl, and a torment you could feel – he was something fresh with a new sound courtesy of Dame Grease and some kid named Swizz Beatz.

This guy was openly praying on his records too. I mean it felt hypocritical to pray and be sincere in one song but then talk reckless in another but for some, it probably related because they felt like they were in two worlds. I could rattle off my favorite songs of his but one of my favorites is "Slippin". He wasn't afraid to let you in his mind and that's an honesty missing from most of hip-hop today.

(Sidenote: I remember getting trouble for reciting the hook of Ruff Ryders Anthem in front of my then, 2 year-old friend. He'd be going through church saying the hook and everyone would look at me like I did something wrong. For the record, I also had him singing Kirk Franklin's cover of Bill Withers "Lovely Day.")

It didn't surprise me that X thought many times about going into the ministry. I told people that if Mase could do it, so could he. God can use anybody he sees fit and if X cleaned up his act, he could impact many lives.

6 months later, “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood” came out and debuted at No. 1 with 670,000 sold. The sky was the limit after that successful tour with Jay-Z. Not to mention that he starred in “Belly” with Nas and earned buzz for his performance. He was planting the seeds for a Hollywood career. So by 2000, he was heading into the stratosphere. But what happened?

How did he go from on the verge of superstardom to being an afterthought. Look at his peers he came with: Jay-Z and Eminem became legends, Mos Def surpassed him as hip-hop’s go to actor, Ja Rule rose just as fast and was gone by 2003-04, Juvenile made hits, Lil’ Wayne blew up late, Mystikal went to jail, Cam’Ron started a movement, Big Pun left us too soon. Where is X? Freshly removed from another stint in jail with more mug shots than hits in the last six years

It baffles my mind knowing how big this guy was but the decline was coming. His next two albums went to No. 1 and barely crept past platinum solely off reputation instead of hits (still sad “Get It On The Floor” wasn’t bigger). By the time his 5th album dropped in 2003, 50 Cent was hailed as the new savior of street rap. The last hit that prolly got him attention was "Who We Be" in 2001.

Plus he had legal woes that sprinkled throughout his career (2000 – busted for marijuana, 2001 – charged with assault after other charges were dropped). He famously blew off the MTV Video Music Awards in 1999 and 2000. By 2008, his name was in the police blotter more than on the radio (drugs, impersonating a fed, speeding with a suspended license). He was released from jail this past month after a 90-day sentence.

*Not to mention, concerts I was supposed to see in San Diego were cancelled twice. I blew off a Spring Break to come back and see him and what happened - no show. SMH*

Maybe it was his volatile personality – the same thing that drove his music was something he couldn’t control in real life. Maybe it was his music not connecting the way it did in 1998, not even with Swizz Beatz making a comeback in 2004. Maybe he just couldn’t stay out of trouble and contributed to his own demise.

Shucks, it was probably all three. His gimmick ran out and what we had left was a tormented individual without an outlet.

Like my friend TriFlaw told me he just didn’t update with the times. He stayed in his lane and eventually it ran out. Hip-hop goes in cycles every five years and his peers were either afterthoughts or at a crossroads by 2004. But by then, their impact was safe. X was on his downfall by 2001 at least in the public eye.

X connected with a lot of people including me because of what he brought to the table. Out of anybody who could’ve been compared to Tupac, he was the best candidate and should have been on the same level as all of his peers right now. To this day, I have yet to hear anybody in hip-hop connect the spiritual and the streets so well.

His career will be remembered for 14 million records sold, first artist in history to have 5 No. 1 albums out the gate, classic hits and album cuts that will get replay value and exploring the two biggest elements of Black music as well as anybody recently – the spiritual and the streets.

Too bad this will be overshadowed by his dramatic free-fall where he became a punch-line and another in the long list of troubled musicians. His demons and unchanging style were his downfall as well as his stepping stone. It's no surprise that just like Tupac, his volatile nature brought him down and hopefully he gets his life back on track now that he's a free man.

While it’s sad to see where Earl Simmons is now, it’s even sadder where you realize where he was 10 years ago as the biggest hip-hop star on the planet.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Reality Bites (Game 6 Recap)

You know that feeling you get when you realize that something's not as good as you thought it was. That favorite cartoon you watched as a kid that suddenly got corny. That hairstyle or namebrand that looked fresh now looks stale and dated (except for these people bringing back flattops and lines in their head). Thinking that the real world would be yours for the taking except realizing it's a bigger world that's harder to get settled in?

That's how I feel about Game 6 with the Lakers last night. After the Rockers jumped out a 17-1 lead before I could get comfortable, it confirmed the Lakers are not who we thought they were. I was feeling this way after Game 4 to be honest. No championship team could give up in the 3rd quarter of a game and it was time to stop dreaming about a parade.

The first quarter made it all the more obvious: this team is not championship material. It baffles me that the starting lineup had no sense of urgency but the 2nd unit did (led by Jordan Farmar's 13). In a game they needed to look hungry, Houston looked hungry. Luis Scola had more passion than Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom combined.*

Which reminds me, I was puzzled at the Lakers radio crew lauding Odom's toughness before the game as far as playing with his bad back. Odom has physical toughness for sure, but mental is a whole diff. animal. You can play hurt, but can you play con huevos for 48 minutes? He can't.*

Fresh off making his first All-NBA team (3rd team), Pau Gasol looked like melted butter. He made it clear that he got the award for his offense and NOT his defense as Scola made him his dummy all night. It was like watching Hakeem Olajuwon dismantle David Robinson the year the Admiral won MVP.

I hadn't felt that bad since Game 4 of the NBA Finals when the Lakers gave back that 24-pt lead and LA felt like a ghost town. The living dead, I called it.

As everyone is trying to describe what the heck happened yesterday, I have one word: reality. I've said a lot about what this team has (youthful energy, a better version of Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol) but we've tried to overlook what they've lacked since the 2nd month of the year. Toughness and a sense of urgency.

Cleveland has that. They know LeBron may bolt in 2010 (my opinion, he ain't going anywhere) so they built a better team this year. Denver has that. Carmelo Anthony has rebuilt his reputation and Chauncey Billups has found new life being back home. Boston has that with KG reduced to an F-bomb dropping spectator and motivator. Now Houston has that with T-Mac and Yao on the bench. Fans recognize it and popular support is behind them.

I realize that a Game 6 beatdown in the NBA Finals couldn't do it. I realize that losing Andruw Bynum and having Lamar Odom play his best basketball in years couldn't do it. I realize that Phil Jackson's mind games can't do it anymore because he being out-coached by Rick Adelman like Adelman wanted revenge for the 2002 Western Conf. Finals. Common sense says play DJ Mbenga more like you're playing Jordan Farmar more, but eh like my grandma used to say, sometimes common sense just isnt that common.

If Game 4 convinced me to stop with the parade talk, Game 6 deflated any dreams of the NBA Finals. I'm taking every win one game/one series at a time. Forget counting down to 16, i'm counting down to 4 - as in how many victories to win a series. It has me feeling blah about the two greatest words in sports - Game 7.

It's one thing to laugh at Orlando for being in a Game 7 when they've should beaten Boston 4-1 (Big Baby Davis has become a man after Games 4-5) but it's not funny when you consider the Lakers were worse. At least ORL was in the game and just folded under pressure, the Lakers didn't even bother showing up til too late.

Yeah, the Lakers will win Sunday but it's been a joy-less series that's exposed the lack of a collective corazon needed to not just win a title but take back the respect Boston snatched and Houston has re-snatched. Reality bites indeed.

I end this post with my condolences to Wayman Tisdale's family. The NBA veteran and jazz musician lost his fight with cancer today at 44. Mom told me that she had met him on a recent cruise and said that he was in such good spirits despite losing his leg in his fight. He was a beast at Oklahoma, becoming the first freshman to make the AP All-America 1st team and did it again his next two years. He also won a gold medal with the 1984 men's basketball team (the same team as Pat Ewing and Michael Jordan)

A 12-year vet in the NBA, he transitioned to jazz as a bassist and received critical acclaim for his work. A true success story in two fields, he will be missed. Rest in peace in that heavenly band.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Juan Pierre story link

Here's a link to my story about Juan Pierre stepping into Manny Ramirez's role. I also included a Dodgers Notebook with some observations from last week. Enjoy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

VSR: All Eyes on Pierre/Lakers

With Manny Ramirez out thanks to buying female fertility drugs (I refuse to believe he's a longtime cheater), all eyes are on a guy who two years ago was supposed to be a savior - Juan Pierre. I won't spoil all the goodness from my story on him Thursday but here's why he's gonna be fine as the player with the most to gain.

People have been criticial of him because of what he couldn't do well. Throw anybody out from the outfield, have a low on-base percentage and do more than just hit singles. It wasn't a surprise that the additions of Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez were curtains for his days in the outfield.

But quietly, Pierre has been a productive Dodger. His first year in 2007, he had nearly 200 hits, 64 steals and almost 100 runs while hitting a respectable .293. 2008 was a step backwards, considering he had to share time in a crowded outfield (106 hits, 44 runs and 40 steals in 119 games). He wasn't used to not playing everyday, having played in 434 straight since 2003, and his play slumped. His spirit didn't.

He was resigned to the same fate this year but a funny thing happened. He started preparing in the spring like he was going to start. He'd show everyone how a veteran adjusts to his new role and this is what came about. When called up to hit, he'd deliver and provide instant offense. In his 5 starts before last Thursday, he hit .444 with 4 runs, picking up 2 hits three times. Then he had to step up for Manny and in his last four games, he's hit .563 with 4 runs, 2 walks, 2 stolen bases and 4 RBI's.

It hit me as I watched him live last Saturday and on May 2. This guy just knows how to make timely hits and how to be a great leadoff man. Then I got reminded of what he CAN do.

Manny was great on the field because of his plate discipline, timely hitting, power, and ability to produce runs. Pierre is great because of his plate discipline, timely hitting, speed and ability to get on base and make things happen. Did I mention Pierre's a much better defender too?

He won't be the charismatic player that Manny is, he let's his play do the talking. He's seen by some as the temporary fix til Mannywood comes back but so far, he's giving fans a reason to call left field JuanPierreWood.

It's a different story for the Lakers, who come back home for Game 5 tomorrow with Houston. The high from Game 3 and the redemption for Jordan Farmar was replaced by the stench and shame of watching Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks pick the Lakers apart. Can someone explain why the Lakers would get intimidated by a Yao-less, T-Mac-less Rockets squad??(Better question, how did Pau Gasol stay quiet until the 4th quarter when it didn't matter despite playing against a smaller Carl Landry?)

*steps up to the podium*

Houston's a deadly combo of being fast and physical. Brooks is too fast for Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown and Battier/Artest bring physical, smart defense along with a solid offensive game. Off the bench, Carl Landry and Karl Lowry are tough players who know how to use their assets instead of be exposed for their weakness (on the same tip, Gasol ain't trying to expose them ).

The Lakers were caught off guard. They came motivated in Game 3 after being thrashed around but somehow they got caught napping big time in Game 4. How do you explain Aaron Brooks' alley-oop? (he never got that high at Oregon!) How does a disciplined team let Shane Battier shoot 3's like he's in practice? For that matter, how does nobody shoot the ball well.

(One more thing, how do you explain Brooks looking like part of the Nation of Islam after the game? Did he have bean pies in his car ready to sell?)

By the way, that little Lakers rally at the end? Meaningless. We know they can do that already (see Game 2 of the last year's Finals). I'm starting to wonder if Phil Jax is contributing to Andrew Bynum's mental prison by not letting play through his mistakes. I realized that in 2007 that he's not the best coach as far as developing young talent. Chicago had veterans, the early Lakers teams had veterans - just look at how Jordan Farmar and Bynum have struggled and been yanked at the first sign of trouble.

And you know things are bad when Magic Johnson called them out for embarrassing the organization and the city. I'm looking dead at D. Fish and Kobe for firing this team up once again because right now we look like Tin Men without a heart.

Game 5 will be at home tonight and with the Lakers regaining home court advantage, the pressure will be on them to perform and I doubt Kobe will have another quiet game in a must win. Phil Jax has to hopefully play Farmar more to neutralize Brooks. Hopefully the players will catch fire on their home court because the Rockets have all the confidence in the world.

Oh yeah, Lamar Odom will most likely hampered with back spasms. Could we see an appearance by DJ Mbenga? Common sense says yeah, but Phil Jax is anything but common. We need another body down low to offset Odom and I'm not looking at Josh Powell to step it up. Bynum isn't ready but he'll have to be counted on for more minutes.

Game 5 isn't about revenge, it's about pride. It's about the 12 players wearing the purple and gold who remember the last time they were blown out. It's about showing themselves worthy to contend for a title when Denver and Cleveland are playing much better defensively. It's about stepping it up and showing some heart. All that parade talk can stop now, it's one game at a time from here on out.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Art of Writing Part 1

So I'm sure you're probably wondering how I wanted to be a writer. It's a question I get asked by people occasionally but it's one I never really knew the answer to. If you guys could have seen me in high school, I had no clue that I'd be so in love with writing like I am now.

Writing was something I really fell into accidentally. It started as a hobby with journals and then it evolved to poetry and now its blogs/mini-essays/articles. Throw in the fact that I'm a very cerebral person who thinks a lot and soon it became natural.

I've always been a heavy reader since I was 2. I'd read the back of license plates and say it back to Mom in my car seat. When I got to preschool, the older kids would ask me to read the namebrands on their outfits and I'd do it - not knowing they'd be getting a kick out of it.

I always kept journals, mainly because Doug from that Nickelodeon cartoon did it. But my love of reading/writing wasn't cultivated really until high school when my 9th grade English teacher (who was also my 10th) had us reading for various book reports and honors assignments. It was my first exposure to classics like Shakespeare and Animal Farm. I'd get more exposure my junior year when I read Scarlet Letter for the first time and became a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne - his imagery, storytelling and fascination with the past stuck with me.

Junior year, I began writing poetry. Every year, my English honors teacher (R.I.P. Mrs. Smith) made us write something for our literary magazine and that year I wrote the poem that started it all off "Innocence" - my ode about breaking out of my shell. It was simple, conversational and based on the feedback I got, I started writing more often and by senior year I had a book of poems. It was something I kept doing for the next few years and occasionally I still write here and there.

Too bad it didn't translate to loving my papers.

In school, I was more comfortable in math and history than with English. But as one of my oldest classmates would tell me, you can't do anything majoring in that except teaching. Outside of poetry, my high school papers were thoughtful but not sharp. I was somewhat okay with analysis but it definitely didn't come easy like math/history.

I looked at writing as a personal outlet, not something I would make a living do. I had no clue what I wanted to do after college but I decided with teaching because I was inspired by those who had shaped me. By my sophomore year, I said why not pursue English because I'd have to be sharp with my writing with whatever job I'd have and I did love reading....five years later, here I am.

If you followed me on Myspace, you know that I started blogging there but it was reluctant. I had no desire to put some stuff on there that could be private. But once I got started, I couldn't stop, it's like I had a disease (c) Slick Rick. I'd debut some new poems as well as find my voice on major issues and it's another reason I drifted from poetry to mini-essays.

Eventually, I started reading some great blogs out there but I was hesitant to join the blogsphere. I worried about finding readers and getting lost in the shuffle because writing isn't just something I do when I'm bored. It's something I take seriously and I wasn't going to do it unless I had a clear vision of how the blog would turn out. By the new year, I made up my mind to start it and here we are.

Part 2: How I became a journalist/sportswriter, my favorite writers and inspirations.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Game 2 Recap in Four Acts

Your humble bard now presents the Rumble at Staples Center last night. Game 2 was a perfect display on playoff basketball

(Act I: War of the Words)

Lamar Odom has been beat down by Luis Scola in the post. You have to know that of all the Lakers, his heart has been questioned more than anyone. Is there any surprise that he reached back into his traditions and did a 2-mile walk to Staples Center to clear his head, get focused. One can only imagine what was in his mind. "I gotta step it up today"

So when he and Scola tangled up, he couldn't back down. Somebody from Queens can't back down when his former AAU teammate Ron Artest is representing the borough to tune of a Game 1 win. He got in Scola's face and somehow sparked Luke Walton to do the same. All three got Technical fouls and as the Lakers rose as one behind that. Something bigger was happening.

Next thing, we see. Odom is grabbing rebounds with a vengeance. Running the floor with an anger not seen since....well since, ever.

(Act Two: The FISH that saved L.A., moments later)

Derek Fisher heard the murmurs. He's the slowest PG in the postseason. He can't guard Aaron Brooks. His jumper has gotten so dry, you could see the dust when it clanked off the rim. He aged overnight and suddenly got expendable.

He heard all of that. But maybe everyone forgot that the Lakers reacquired him for two reasons. Toughness and stability. Someone who has the ear and respect of Kobe Bryant and someone who brings a grittiness to a team that lacks it. He's already vocal as the prez of the NBA players association but he needed to make a statement in Game 2.

Enter the bad guy from Act 1: Luis Scola. Coming to set a screen, Fish had to send his own message. He reared up and sent Scola down with a shot I hadn't seen since Zidane crushed that guy in the 2006 World Cup. With blood coming from a cut in his ear, message was delivered. Nobody was going to punk the Lakers without somebody knowing about it and nobody on this Lakers team was going to sleepwalk anymore.

Sometimes leadership means falling on a grenade to motivate your team instead of going for the kill. D. Fish embodied that last nite.

(Act III: The Passion of the Artest, fourth quarter, 6:57)

Ron Artest v. Kobe Bryant. Two of the best two-way players in the game. Two players who love physicality. Artest loves to get under your skin, the germ that becomes an infection that has thrown many players off their game. He's the new Dennis Rodman, the old Public Enemy No. 1, and right now, the spark to Houston's playing well without Tracy McGrady. You remember that guy, right?

Artest lit up the Lakers in Game 1 (21 and 7 dimes). He hit tough shots, made tough plays and played tough perimeter D. The pride of Queens was playing like he was on a mission - a mission to retake his image as a tough player, instead of a Palace brawler. Reminded some of his borough neighbor Nas, always hungry since Takeover brought out the hunger in him.

The two players in this pivotal act had both scored 20 pts before going for a loose rebound. Wait, did Kobe just hit him with an elbow? Artest responded to that no-call and was called for a foul. A questionable call yes, but what happened next was pure drama.

His protest fell on deaf ears to the referees so he appealed to Kobe for a reason. Give that man a Tech for his effort (crowd applause). He still protested his case and despite being seperated, he wouldn't leave without making his point. For his extra credit, he was rewarded with an early shower after his second Tech (more crowd applause). The patrons roared, sensing that the Rockets were imploding.

Ron-Ron may have won the battle, but the victor off this war was more inspired to make his kill shot

(Act IV: The Black Mamba Strikes)

To understand this act, you have to go back to the 1st quarter. Kobe Bryant was hitting all kinds of shots. 13 pts to spur the Lakers to a hot start. But the Rockets made their charge in the 2nd and 3rd. The season starts flashing in front of his eyes. He sees his longtime teammate make a statement and for someone who needs no motivation to play hard, it was time for the kill.

Matter of fact, head back to earlier this year. Kobe and Ron-Ron exchanged words in Houston. Result: An 18-pt fourth quarter that sends Houston down in defeat. So with that said, is there any surprise what would happen after Artest got ejected.

Like the Bride in Kill Bill after being beaten around senseless, Bryant struck down with furious anger like Jules Winnfield and Vince Vega. Jumpers over Shane Battier that missed in Game 1 hit nothing but net in Game 2. One thing on his mind - kill or be killed. It's that same mentality that the great players have. Magic, MJ, Larry Bird. And you take it up a notch by letting everyone know you're unstoppable.

That Tech he got by telling Battier what we already knew? Just a formality. 40 pts and a demonstration of the iron will to win Game 2? Priceless.

People said don't fire Ron Artest up. But they forgot about what happens when Kobe gets fired up. And who was there to greet our hero after the game? D. Fish, all suited up. The two leaders left knowing they made their point that night.


So what's gonna happen in Game 3? Who knows. We can almost assume Derek Fisher will be suspended (although I've seen far worse stuff get nary a mention - Rajon Rondo anyone?) and the jury is out on Kobe's elbow (yeeeeah right).

But we do know that the Lakers just got a lot tougher and they're gonna need it not just for this round, but the rest of the way. And I couldn't have been happier to see that.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

VSR: Rockets having a Flashback against the Lakers

Game One felt like a time warp. Back when Yao Ming was starting to come around and fulfill his promise. Ron Artest is back in 2004 as one of the game's best two-way players before the infamous brawl with Detroit and their fans. Shane Battier got flashbacks of 2001 when he was the best player in college basketball and doing everything to help Duke win. Aaron Brooks looks like he did in 2006 when he was Pac-10 Player of the Year.

And suddenly the Lakers look like they were back in the Finals against Boston. Kobe hoisting up jumpers as the supporting cast suddenly grew inconsistent and overwhelmed by a more physical team. All occuring after breezing through an earlier opponent

Welcome to the second round. Where the Twilight Zone becomes reality and the regular season becomes a distant mystery

The Lakers swept Houston during the regular season but in Game 1, they looked rusty and sluggish from a 6-day layoff. The offense looked stagnant and while they hung in there, the Rockets wouldn't fold like the Jazz. Rick Adelman is a tough-minded coach and he has enough players to not just frustrate Kobe (Artest and Battier) but challenge the front court.

The bench was non-existent. Lamar Odom had a quiet night (9 pts, 5 rebs) but he was louder than everybody else (a combined 9 pts and 2 rebs from Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown and Josh Powell). They'll step up in Game Two but this was a reminder of the NBA Finals when nobody consistently brought their game.

Kobe had 32 pts on 31 shots. Battier plays some of the best defense on the Mamba because he doesnt challenge shots, he goes right behind the arms and shields his face. I won't be surprised if Kobe has to work for his points in this series which means more will be required from Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum.

As my buddy M2 pointed out, there's another guy having a flashback. Rick Adelman has gone back to 2001-2002 when he coached the Sacramento Kings and gave the NBA one of its best rivalries this decade. He's got shooters, a quick PG and a toughness that the Kings never had up front.

The Lakers need to wake up and have their motor going the entire game. Shots will fall in Game Two that didn't in Game One. I'm not too worried because you remember what happened to the Black Mamba after she got smacked around in Kill Bill? Yea, ask O-Ren Ishii and Vernita Green how that cold steel felt.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

VSR: A Great Day to Be a Sports Fan

We knew today was going to be a great day of sports, but who knew how great? The night just ended with the Dodgers getting their second walk-off win over the Padres (Andre Ethier with a monster single to RF). I’ll talk more about them tomorrow, but let’s recap this sports fan’s paradise.

(Technically it jumped off with Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin – I mean Washington vs. Pittsburgh in the NHL Semis. But since I didn’t see the Caps pull off the 3-2 win or both Ovechkin and Crosby score, I’m sticking to what I saw)

It started off with the Kentucky Derby. Now why would somebody like me watch the Derby? Never mind the fact that I’ve watched every one since 1997, it’s a great spectacle that is rich with tradition. And before you dismiss it as me watching a sport dominated by white owners, white jockeys and I’d be more out of place there than Asher Roth at a drug-free event, consider that the first jockeys to run the Derby were Black.

Former slaves who tended their slave masters’ barns knew the horses better than anyone and naturally they were best suited to race. Pretty soon, they found great success – none greater than Isaac Murphy, a three-time Derby winner who made quite a career. I had to look this up back in 2007 for a Black History Month story and I was fascinated by what I didn’t know beforehand.

Anyways, back to the Derby. Besides the laughter of seeing two members of Boyz II Men, Joey Fatone from N*Sync and Nick Lachey hanging out and minus the favorite I Want Revenge, we saw a 50-1 longshot take off from 14th place and win the race. Mine That Bird weaved his way through the crowd before zipping past everyone on the inside and leaving the rest of the competition in his hoofprints (largest win margin since 1946).

Kudos to jockey Calvin Borel for not just winning a masterful race but showing genuine emotion on his way to the winner’s circle. He looked like a kid and it brought some looseness to a typically stoic, high-class event. A $9,500 investment paid off dividends.

After that, it was time to get comfortable for Game 7 of the best first-round series I’ve ever seen. Boston-Chicago started off with Ben Gordon catching fire in the 1st quarter and showing why I’ve said for years he’s the Vinnie Johnson of our era. Now he was trying to be the new Boston Strangler as he had 17 points with ease before sitting in the 2nd.

But that’s before Boston took over. Despite a depleted bench, the Pac-10 got represented as Brian Scalabrine (USC) and Eddie House (Arizona St.) hit their shots. Scalabrine made up for getting swatted on a dunk by Derrick Rose with 9 pts and the C’s ended the half on a 22-2 run. Something told me, this game had a chance of not going to the wire.

The second half was back and forth and at times the Bulls got the lead within five. But Boston looked every bit of the hungry team that won two Game 7’s last year and they didn’t fold. My Celtics hate took a backseat for a moment as after this was done, you felt like you had to applaud both teams. We just witnessed the end of something we may never see again. Eddie House was Eddie Money tonight (5/5, 4/4 on 3’s) and whatever’s left of the Celtics heads to Orlando.

By the way, please give some respect to Rajon Rondo (19.4 pts, 11.6 assts, 9.3 rebounds). Us Lakers fans remember him nearly getting a quad-double in Game 6 so we know he’s nasty. Just imagine how he’d do with a good ankle.

I tried to scratch my brain to think of a better NBA series this decade. The 2002 WCF with the Lakers-Kings (Kobe’s food poisoning, Horry’s Game 4 winner, Bibby’s Game 5 winner, controversial calls, Game 7 in OT) was arguably the best before this. Dallas-Golden State in 07? But honestly, the only series that come close is the 2003 and 2004 ALCS with Boston-New York and the underrated 2004 NLCS with Houston and St. Louis. Just ridiculous.

Then it was time for the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton welterweight fight. A fast, tactical, powerful fighter in the Pac-Man versus a British Brawler in Hatton. Little did we know how crazy this fight would get. Pacquiao came fast, came hard and never let up. He knocked down Hatton twice before fans had a chance to get settled. Hatton must not have listened to Cool Breeze because he didn’t “watch for the hook” and after Pacquiao crushed him with a left to open the 2nd round, it was lights out – literally.

Crazy stat: Pacquiao landed 73 punches, Hatton threw 78. Simply overpowering. It reminded me of Punch-Out with Lil’ Mac vs. Glass Joe. That's 6 weight class titles for the Pac-Man.

We saw why Mike Tyson said that Pacquiao reminded him of him. And with Floyd Mayweather coming back to fight in July, don’t be surprised that if Mayweather wins, we wait for a superfight that should happen. It’s ironic that since MMA rose up in 2006, boxing has had some great fights and came back with a vengeance over the last three years. This just proves that the sport still has charismatic faces to rally around.

Throw in an extra bonus with the Dodgers scoring their 2nd walk-off win in as many nights and this was a great day. We can sleep happy, sports fans.