Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger Tiger, Burning Bright (Under the Glare of the Paparazzi)

Here's my two cents on what happened with Tiger Woods. A situation that is getting sadder by the minute and shows a clash between privacy and public information.

People looking for Michael Jordan in the NBA have overlooked that it existed in another sport. Tiger Woods is the next Mike - a clutch killer in his sport, a champion and an immensely private individual who has carefully crafted his empire. Everything Tiger is doing is similar to what MJ would've done.

I don't believe we have a right to know what happened between Tiger and Elin Nordgren. I don't believe the media has the right to know either to an extent. And I don't believe Tiger has the right not to tell the police anything.

Anyone who is familiar with law enforcement (or watches crime shows) know that the less you say, the more police will dig. Woods did the wrong thing by ignoring law enforcement for the first two days and because it was a police investigation, you should just give them a story and keep it moving.

That's all he owes. I don't care that the first thing I saw when I looked up his accident on google news was a rumor of an affair. Woods has the right to handle this privately to the public but not to law enforcement who will quickly remind you are a citizen, not a celebrity.

There's plenty of questions we may not know the answer to. Do I think Woods would do himself service by being like Kobe Bryant and holding a press conference. Yes, but remember Kobe was accused of a crime. I only compare the two because both of them were crystallized prodigies of privilege who got into bad situations that became public. Kobe's rep was forever changed and the jury is out on Woods.

My friend Shane has taken the opposite approach in his well-written two cents on this. He made a great point that Tiger deserves the benefit of the doubt here. Where I differ is who I think he should talk to. Stonewall the starving public, stonewall the curious media, but beware how you treat the police.

It's a shame that TMZ and the papparazzi will infiltrate the wall he has put up. But I hope that the truth will come out to those who need to know and nobody is unfairly demonized - its easy to go after Elin but before I call her the Swedish Jazmine Sullivan, I want facts first.

And just think. The biggest story involving Tiger this year was his comeback from knee surgery. Guess not sadly.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks

So I'm spending the holiday in Dallas, TX, with my family and thinking about all that we went through this year, this trip was worth it. For those who don't know, my uncle passed away earlier this year and we all gathered in San Antonio to say goodbye. Since then, we've come together for my cousin's graduation and now Thanksgiving.

I almost didn't want to come. I figured we would be on standby to host it at our house because my cousin that usually hosts it just underwent surgery. Plus I knew we were trying to watch our spending after moving into the house last month. But as always, I'm glad I did.

Nothing is better than watching the Cowboys on Turkey Day - except when you're doing it in Big D when everything shuts down to watch it. Waiting in line for our rental car I counted three people wearing Cowboys gear and I felt like I was home. Next goal: Watch a game in the new Stadium.

This has been one of those years that really shook me physically and mentally. So let me just say I'm thankful for my health, thankful for God still being there when I've fallen away this year, and truly thankful for those people I call friends.

I'm really thankful for Twitter because in January when I started, I really didnt get it. But without it, this year would have been duller and I wouldn't have gotten to know people around the country/world who I've shared a lot with. I've gotten to meet some of them and it's been a great joy.

I'm thankful for anyone who has read my blog, commented on it or discussed it with me. Sharing views isn't easy but whether your feedback was positive or negative, I appreciate it.

Thank you to all. I'm not gonna turn all Alanis Morrisette and start thanking the intangibles but life really is about trying to be as grateful as we can. Hope everyone enjoyed their Turkey Day (Turkey and Chicken Wings on deck to-NIGHT!!)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Newsflash - Albert Pujols is only 29

Albert Pujols won his 3rd MVP award (unanimous) at the ripe old age of…29? Is there any question who the player of the decade is? We are watching one of the greatest hitters of all time and there’s a chance he’s just now entering his prime.

How many more MVP’s can this guy win? He’ll win at least one more, joining him with Barry Bonds as the only 4+ MVP winner. We can’t even compare him to anyone in the game right now – it’s all about seeing where he ranks with the legendary hitters.
Just peep his crazy stats. As a rookie, he finished 4th in the MVP voting (.329, 37 bombs, 130 RBI’s, 194 hits) – overshadowed of course by Barry Bonds’ murdering the record books. That just started the madness in his nine year career.

· Top 10 MVP finisher every year. Top 5 MVP finish in all but one years
· He’s the active leader in batting average (.331), slugging percentage (.628),on-base percentage (1.055)
· He’s led the majors in several categories at least once (home runs, batting average, on-base %, slugging %, hits, total bases, doubles, extra base hits, )
· 30 HR, 100 RBI’s in every season. He’s statiscally had a better career than Joe DiMaggio in 4 less seasons.
In the last 30 years, only Tony Gwynn and Ichiro can rival him as the best hitter in baseball and neither possessed his power. It's ridiculous what he's done in a short period of time.

I decided to look up the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial. It baffled me as a kid how I would hear how he’s the most underrated player in baseball history but looking at his stats, they are just looney. 3 MVP’s before 30. 24 All-Star Games, 3 World Series rings, seven batting titles, made his debut on my birthday in 1941, .331 career average, 3600+ hits, 475 home runs. 

Who knew that 60 years after his debut, a player would come along who dominated the game the same way. Not flashy but with machine-like productivity. By 2019, we could celebrate Pujols as one of the greatest players of all time and he might still be productive into the 2020’s.

All Hail King Albert. I can only pray this guy doesn't drop off in a new decade like my all-time favorite player Ken Griffey Jr. did.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Hate Being Interrupted - Thank You Adam Lambert

I was gonna talk about Albert Pujols winning his 3rd MVP but this Adam Lambert thing interrupted me. I really hope this is the last time I mention his name on E-TV and I had trouble finding an appropriate pic on Google Images that I could use.

So Twitter and Solange Knowles are upset about Lambert being axed by Good Morning America after his racy performance at the American Music Awards. I saw it - over the top, forced shock value and all - and I guess the West Coast censors didn't show him kissing a dude or forcing a dancer to pretend to give him oral. What in the name of David Bowie was he thinking?

Then Adam tried to claim it was a double standard - bringing up what Britney/Christina/Madonna did 6 years ago. But here's where he was wrong.

1. That happened on MTV. You were on ABC. Major difference in how award show performances get perceived on basic cable.

2. You simulated oral sex!!!! Gay or straight, you can't do that on television. No excuse for that. Kissing a guy is one thing ("Flash Forward" on the same network showed two women kissing) but simulating sex will always come back to punish you.

And if you want to claim double standard, I actually think he got what he deserved - the network cancelling him from his next appearance. That stuff has happened for years and people have been banned for far less (Bo Diddley/The Doors/Elvis Costello were tame compared to what he did).

What he and his fans and Solange seem to forget is that five years ago, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake did the same thing at an even bigger event and in front of a bigger audience. As a result, Janet was banned from the Grammys and Justin only showed up because he apologized at the ceremony.

So if Janet got banned from the biggest music party of the year for having her boob ripped out, is it a shock really that Lambert was cancelled from only a morning talk show for what he did? If anything, ABC did the right thing because if not, THAT would be a double standard because what he did was far worse than Janet (who ironically opened the AMA's).

This isn't about America flipping out over men kissing (although most will probably never accept that) and no need to turn this into a gay rights issue. It's about responding to what's inappropriate and sex acts at an award show are definitely not.

Now back to my regularly scheduled blogging.

VSR: Back From the Dead, Frankenstein CHARGED!!

A lot can happen in the past five weeks. My friend gave birth to her daughter, the weather got colder here in Cali and the Chargers went literally from dead last to first. Five weeks ago they were left for dead in the AFC West. 2-3 and everybody looked suspect except for Phillip Rivers. Now here they sit atop the division after beating the Broncos.

(Sidenote - I loved how the AP mentioned in the recap that Chris Simms was nearly killed three years ago. Vivid writing. I forgot how bad dude got hurt but to just put it out there like that is whoa)

Suddenly LaDainian Tomlinson looks rejuvenated and is running with a purpose. He's not explosive but he's steady and serviceable, not old and one step from the scrap heap. Suddenly the Chargers D looks fired up, as indicated by how they played against the Giants (holding them to FG's late in the game to set up Rivers' winning drive) and the Broncos (only a FG total).

Here's the rest of the schedule - Kansas City, Cleveland, Dallas (aka choosing between 2 children), Cincinnati, Tennessee and Washington. The middle could be rough but at best they could go 5-1, finish the year 12-4 and be a team no one wants to see in the AFC (Especially the Colts who have gone 0-3 in meaningful games against the Chargers the last five years).

I'm getting ahead of myself but the road clearly gets better from darkness to light. Now if only I could solve my Cowboys' problem with their offense (2 scores on 23 possessions??), the only thing keeping me from being happy about their own run and the Giants/Eagles melting down....

Fantasy Watch: My ESPN squad is currently 5-5 and tied for 4th in my league. Brandon Jacobs is the fantasy fail of the year along with Dwayne Bowe - and wouldn't you know it, I have both in Yahoo. No wonder I'm in last place. UGH! Even with Drew Brees, Tony Gonzalez and the Minnesota D, I made some bad decisions with too many Cowboys and Giants.

UCLA basketball has a problem. The problem is they've had two great recruiting classes the last two years and that's all they have now. They're young and no one knows how to be assertive outside of sophomore Malcolm Lee.

Jerime Anderson? He's solid but not ready for prime time (and injury prone). Michael Roll is the guy who needs screens to get his shot off. Nikola Dragovic is too busy applying for Fight Club but he's a typical soft Euro player. James Keefe is decent but Drew Gordon is the best post player we got and he's undersized.

Say hello to our savior...former walk-on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid. The game winner against Concordia. 12 points against Pepperdine. Ummm yeah, this is our leadership?

That leaves the Bruins with freshman Reeves Nelson. I'm high on him but he needs more minutes. Their best freshman is hurt right now - Tyler Honeycutt - and its too soon to judge Brendan Lane and Mike Moser. What we have here is a team that lacks an identity and is finding it on the court.

They beat Pepperdine tonight because they had better talent (although Pepperdine sophomore Keion Bell is a beast). But this will be Ben Howland's toughest year since his first year on the job. Not a lot of playmakers and if you can't create your own shot, we're going to see some stagnant offensive nights.

And speaking of UCLA/USC. I'll try to do a Rivalry Post about it while I head out to Texas for Turkey Day. But I'm calling my shot - UCLA has a great chance to win this game. Just because USC is reeling and I think the Bruins are licking their chops to finally play a great game in the Coliseum. And both teams know they need to win to secure a bowl game. For the first time both teams have something to play for.

Congrats to Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols for winning the MVP. Mauer is the best hitting catcher since Mike Piazza is his prime (who voted for Cabrera with a 1st place vote over Jeter and Teixiera??) and dude has 3 batting titles and an MVP at 26. Pujols will win tomorrow unanimously and it's not even a contest. Welcome to the 3-time MVP club before he turns 29. Ridiculous how good he is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Beyonce is the Decade's Biggest Disappointment

We're gonna start doing our best-of lists for the decade pretty soon (some of have already started). So before I even start mine, I got one that'll make you kill me. And it starts with its biggest disappointment, Beyonce Knowles.

I think Beyonce is beautiful. I think she has a great voice and a good songwriter as far as making hits. But I also think her talent has been wasted by settling for the middle-of-the-road R&B that has been unmemorable and undistinguishable.

From 2000-2003, Beyonce was talked about as the future of the genre. She was writing more hits for Destiny's Child as they broke into the mainstream. "Say My Name" "Bootylicious" "Survivor" "Independent Women Pt. 1" ensured her as the creative force of the group and when the group disbanded, her solo career would make her even bigger.

Her first album "Dangerously in Love" saw her win five Grammys and had songs that showed her range. "Crazy in Love" is one of the best R&B singles of the decade, "Me, Myself and I" is still my favorite song of hers (inspirational), "Baby Boy" and "Naughty Girl" sounded like nothing else at the time.

The problem starts here. Her next album saw her release "Deja Vu" and "Ring the Alarm" - the latter was probably one of her strongest singles ever and it showed anger/passion/rage that could've taken in a new direction.

Problem is "Deja Vu" became the bigger hit and it sucked because it was pretty much "Crazy in Love" recycled with the Jay-Z verse only memorable for the Juan Pierre line. And that's where Beyonce took her career - the safe route. Nothing she released stood out to me.

It was a disappointment. She became superficial and started acting like a star in her music as opposed to a trend-setter. Alicia Keys and Rihanna surpassed her by making more ambitious music. Which is sad because Beyonce could've used her voice and creativity to set the trends.

She stole Ciara's idea ("If I Were a Boy"), talked about upgrading average guys, did the female version of "A Milli" but worse ("Diva"). She made hits but did they stick?? Ehhhh

"Irreplaceable" was Ne-Yo pretty much clowning females who talk about no-good men and end up finding "another you in a minute" instead of a different one. I like the alternative sound but the lyrics were shallow.

It says a lot when the biggest hit she's had since then was because she had one of the most creative videos in recent memory (or "of all time" if you ask Mr. West) and teamed with the most creative hitmakers in pop music. And that's Beyonce's problem. She could make artistic statements like that more often but doesnt.***

We all had high hopes that Beyonce would be the biggest R&B star of the decade. She might be and it feels like something is missing to me. Since her first album, how many songs will we really remember? She was supposed to be bigger than R&B but now, she's done more settling than the Prairie Wagons.

Maybe I'm too harsh. But maybe I just expected more from her. That's why she's the biggest disappointment to me. India.arie and Jill Scott stayed in their lane and made great music most never heard. Rihanna went from reggae to pop. Alicia is still unique for playing her music. And Beyonce played it safe.

*** that being said, she oughta win something for "Single Ladies" at the Grammys.

Why the NBA can't retire No. 23 (or any number)

Since last year when he was elected to the Hall of Fame there's been a debate on if the NBA should retire Michael Jordan's No. 23. I'm gonna keep this simple. NO!

LeBron James announced that he will switch his jersey to No. 6 next year because he thinks the jersey should be retired. Hey, why not? The best player to ever lace them up should get that honor right? NO!!!!

So let's get this straight. Players want to equate Michael Jordan with Jackie Robinson? They forgot why Jackie got his number retired in the first place. Let's school these guys who are no older than me.

Jackie Robinson integrated not just baseball in 1947. He was the first Black player to play in an organized professional sports league in the modern era (word to Moses Walker). He inspired Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement. Two years after World War II would inspire a generation of Black leaders and Black voices to speak up, Jackie took the first post-war step in proving that we were equals.

Jackie wasn't the greatest second baseman ever. He did introduce some of that Negro Leagues flair when he stole bases but he was far from the greatest base stealer ever. What he did was play the game, play it hard and make a giant statement that yes, a Black man was not inferior to his White counterparts. He was an American pioneer.

He also stayed active after his career. He got involved in the Civil Rights Movement while also speaking out against racism in baseball. He supported Curt Flood as he attacked baseball's reserve clause and actually took the stand during the trial - something no current player did. His last public appearance at the 1972 World Series advocated for a Black manager.

So NO! Not in my sports world is Michael Jordan on par with Jackie Robinson or deserves his treatment. But like Detective Columbo, there's one more thing. Call this the Wayne Gretzky Corollary.

"But Mr. Virgo, Wayne Gretzky has his number retired. He's the greatest player in his sport like Michael Jordan is. He had the same impact that Jordan had around the same time. He changed the game with his skill and IQ" Blah Blah Blah

The difference between Gretzky and Jordan is simple. Gretzky is a national icon in Canada, a hockey prodigy who elevated a nation. He helped make hockey popular in the United States and did far more for the game off the court in being an ambassador.

Michael Jordan did a lot on the court and was perhaps the most influential pitchman in modern sports, especially for Black athletes in the last 25 years. On the court, he was the best. Off the court, he sold a lot of products but was invisible on social issues and did not use his platform to elevate anything except the dreams to make money and follow his lead.

Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell. All of them deserve their numbers to be retired for the same reasons as Michael Jordan. Great stats, impacted the game like no other and were champions.

But when you start retiring numbers league-wide based on achievements, you cheapen why it was done in the first place. Robinson's number was retired in 1997 because his impact was bigger than the game in terms of American history. Michael Jordan's impact was also bigger than the game but it was about making money, not social change.

There's a lot more I can say but this should wrap it up.

Jackie made history by fighting for the right to play as an equal. Michael made history by convincing America to not be scared of a Black man selling them products. Both important but one clearly more than the other. Let's not confuse on-court achievements with something bigger in the grander scheme of things.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Music and Me

So yesterday, my choir performed its annual concert. Yes, I do sing and yes, I don't talk much about it. Call it a hidden talent I guess although those who know me know this well.

I love harmonies and hearing different voices blend together. Plus the power of singing gospel music that inspires us as well as other people is a great ministry. Safe to say, last night was a great thrill and I loved every minute of it.

If you read my blog, you know that sports and music are two of my biggest loves. My love of music started from birth probably. I was born into a family where a cousin and her mother were phenomenal piano players that taught my mom and most of my family how to play. I'd watch Mom play every Sunday and at home in our apartment back in the day and just be in love.

This decade, my ear really got sharpened by several factors. Playing the piano in college, getting exposed to more hip-hop and music that I never got exposed to back home, and learning how to sing in harmony. Now I hear music a lot differently and I feel like it's become a passion.

Piano music touches my soul in a deep way. That's why I'm glad Alicia Keys, John Legend and Norah Jones got popular in my college years. Something about it takes me back to hearing Mom play as a kid and it's become my favorite instrument.

I admit I don't have the greatest voice but I have a great ear for what singing should sound like. I love rich, soulful voices that give words depth. I love soft voices that have the strength to glide over music and give meaning to the words. And I miss the lost art of R&B groups harmonizing which is probably why I've rediscovered Boyz II Men and the Temptations lately.

That's probably why I tripped out at the LA Sparks home opener and four young cats sang the national anthem in perfect harmony. THAT's Music.

I love my choir and most church choirs because there's something about gospel choirs that bring a richness to everything they do. When you sing gospel, it's bigger than you. It's about the words, the presentation and just giving your all. It's about telling the story and hoping somebody gets touched by it. That's what made last night so great.

Music is a passion and as long as I can, I'll keep singing, keep listening and keep enjoying the experience of discovering something new and rediscovering what I know.

I'll end this by just listing some of my favorite singers: Musiq Soulchild, Donny Hathaway, Eddie Kendricks, Chris Cornell, Robert Plant, Maxwell, Minnie Riperton, Jill Scott.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Electric Relaxation "Return of the Mack"

This right here is my favorite song ever. No matter where I am, I can listen to this and just feel good. If I'm on a long trip, its a perfect mood riser. And there's a great story behind it.

When I was in high school, I stayed at home during the summers and listened to the radio a lot. I kept hearing this song on the radio and it just made me wanna dance. I tried my best to find out what this was and I had no luck for 2-3 years.

In 2001, I went to Washington D.C. for a young leaders conference. On our way to Capitol Hill, I asked my group leader if he had ever heard the song before. The newest member of our group chimed in with the answer and that instantly broke the ice between us. We became close during the trip and we're still close to this very day. The Mark Morrison Connection 4 Ever from Boston to L.A.

Anyways, I love the song also because it's the ultimate confidence booster. No need to dissect it like I did "I Believe". It just makes smile and then when I discovered the extended 7 minute remix in 2004, I was in heaven. The piano break feels perfect. Can't say it enough. It's a great song.

As a bonus, here's a live version in a different key than the single. I love it, especially the breakdown at the end.

And another bonus: Here's two mashups of Return of the Mack with Shaggy "It Wasn't Me" and Clipse "When the Last Time"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Len Bias - The Great What If?

Tuesdays are really bad nights for me to miss something worth watching on TV. I had to miss a great end to the Lakers-Thunder game because of a meeting in our conference room. I tend to miss stuff on prime-time TV because I'm either writing something last minute, proofreading stuff or out finally getting a dinner break. So I've missed all the ESPN 30 at 30 series.

The one I really wanted to see was this week's feature on Len Bias. Brief recap for those who don't know. Bias played at Maryland from 1983-1986 and was a two-time ACC Player of the Year and All-American. He was a strong forward with great leaping ability who many said would've given Michael Jordan a run for his money. Boston drafted him No. 2 in the 1986 Draft and 48 hours later, he was dead from a cocaine overdose.

I've heard of his story for years and five years ago, when ESPN celebrated their 25th anniversary, more info made sense. His death occurred during the cocaine/crack epidemic of the 80's and in a city (Washington D.C.) that needed its government to act. So he became the face of a problem - a can't miss NBA prospect taken down by drugs.

(The irony of that happening in the 80's. A black kid who became a sympathetic victim instead of painted in a negative light, in the DMV no less - D.C., Maryland, Virginia area)

Watching Youtube highlights of him, I'm in awe of what skills he had. Great mid-range shot, strong as an ox and could jump with anybody. I remember Scoop Jackson calling his famous clip "The Jesus shot" where Bias scored, stole an inbound pass and reverse jammed it with authority, falling with his arms extended like Christ on the cross.

It makes you want to just add him on NBA 2K10 or NBA Live '10 out of respect to see what he could've done. NCAA March Madness should add a legendary team feature just to see what it would've been like to play as Bias.

I really wish I could've seen him play live. Mike Kryzewski of Duke said that the two greatest ACC players he saw were MJ and Bias. And there's no doubt had Bias lived, he would've been a great player who perhaps would've extended Boston's run in the 80's. He and Reggie Lewis would've been two cornerstones - two men tied by their lives cut down too early.

We'll never know what Bias could've done. I wish I could've grown up to either root for him or dislike him. He could've been an All-Star. Whether he really did take cocaine for the first time that night or not, what's true is that my generation was deprived of a potential superstar that night in 1986. If you get a chance, check out the documentary and tell me how it is/where to find it.

His story never gets old and 23 years later, he's still a classic "What if" case. 

Dollars Don't Win Rings - But It Helps

Let me start by saying I hate the New York Yankees. I dislike George Steinbrenner as an owner. I hate their arrogant swagger and I was pleased when the Diamondbacks and Marlins beat them in World Series this decade. But I don't hate how they spend their money.

I don't hate it because it doesn't matter who you can convince to play on your team, you still have to win on the field. From 2001-2008, the Yankees won zero World Series. Since the start of the 2004 season, they've only reached one ALCS and famously blew a 3-0 series lead to Boston. They bought a slew of free agents - Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon - and had nothing to show for it.

If more owners had that money, they'd chase free agents too. But it's not about chasing the big-name free agents, it's about team chemistry and filling needs. That's why the Washington Redskins have sucked under Dan Snyder, he buys the biggest names but doesn't address the bigger needs.

The Lakers in 2003-2004 had bought Karl Malone and Gary Payton - giving a solid PF and PG to a strong team - but what happened? They lost a chemistry-heavy Detroit Pistons (nevermind that Malone was hurt, Shaq was almost a non-factor and Kobe was gunning too much)

And in the playoffs, it doesn't matter how big your paycheck is. You have to produce against a team that has time to scheme against you.

The reason the Yankees won the World Series is because they finally bought guys who produced all year and in the postseason. CC Sabathia deserves a ton of credit for going 19-8 during the season (11-2 in the second half) and 3-1 in the postseason. $151 million well spent in Year 1.

Mark Teixeira led the AL in home runs and RBI's during the season but was faintly quiet during the ALCS and World Series. But don't get me started on overrated AJ Burnett - blame it on 3 days rest but when I peeped his stats (props to Tyler Conium for the heads up), dude is an average pitcher. But I digress.

They won the World Series because A-Rod woke up from his October slump to have one of the greatest postseason efforts. They won because of veteran leadership from Derek Jeter (.407 BA), Mariano Rivera (another flawless WS), Andy Pettite (who won 2 games) and Jorge Posada - the Gang of Four with five rings. 

And I'll give Damon props (.364 BA). That Game 4 double steal changed the Series and he arguably could've been World Series MVP.

Players just stepped up when they had to. With unlimited money, I can bring anybody I want to a team but I can't buy the effort they show on it. You can't buy chemistry, you can only build it through immeasureables. 

So while I begrudge the fact the Yankees have another World Series ring (and anticipate when they come to Dodger Stadium in June), they won not just because they make more money, but because they earned it with their production. And yeah, buying a workhorse Top-5 pitcher and one of the game's most consistent hitters helped a bit too.