Tuesday, June 30, 2009


So yesterday I was going through a usual Monday at the paper when I found out that the Nat'l Newspaper Publisher's Association finally presented their annual awards over the weekend. And to my surprise, I won TWO first place awards - Best Sports Page and Best News Story.

This means a lot coming from the Black Press because these last three weeks have taken a toll on me physically and mentally. I was ready to quit 3 weeks ago because of the sudden tidal wave of stress thrown my way. It literally made me sick and turned me into an insomniac over the next few days. Not to mention I deal with other issues - lack of respect, feeling underappreciated.

The story that I helped co-write to win was our pre-election story on Oct. 30. I went to a campaign headquarters for Barack Obama and spent a few hours there talking to people and understanding what drove so many volunteers to his call. The office director told me that he'd never seen a campaign like this where the grass-roots element played such a prominent role. To me, that's what made Obama's election significant in addition to his skin color and his message.

For Sports we won for our May 8th and May 15th issue. The May 8th lead story was my piece on Kobe Bryant winning the MVP award and the 15th lead story was my boss' take on the OJ Mayo scandal when it broke at USC.

I was extremely happy last year when my story from the Jena 6 rally won 3rd place for best News Story but this is doubly happy because it represents two sections, two different writing styles, two different events that defined Southern California (the Lakers and Pres. Obama's campaign here).

To do all of this at 24...it boggles the mind. I feel like I have so much to learn, so much to get better on as far as being a better interviewer - and yet i have a great springboard to bounce from. I share this happiness with you all and thank everyone who left me comments on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, June 29, 2009

BET Awards Recap

To be honest, I was not going to watch the BET Awards this year. I had forgotten all about it until Friday when my co-workers were talking about partis and one of my Twitter peeps asked me about the incoming traffic to L.A. That's how I feel about a network and something that's supposed to celebrate the best of Black people but has gone to deeper crap since Bob Johnson sold it to Viacom and it became the Black MTV (a.k.a the Jr. Circuit)

The Boondocks threw the dirt on the coffin with their banned episode as it highlighted how we all felt. But with the passing of Michael Jackson and the awards show being redone as a tribute to him, I had to watch to see if the network would step up with the eyes of the world on it. Would they make us proud? My highs and lows from last night.


- Absolutely starts with Ne-Yo. A beautiful cover of "Lady in My Life" and closing duet with Jamie Foxx on "I'll Be There" sans his famous fedora. If anybody could pull off a MJ tribute well, it's him because vocally, few have his chops. He also gets props for leading the great tribute to New Jack Swing and of course his stellar remix of "Miss Independent."

- Maxwell's return. His new song "Pretty Wings" was amazing and he commanded the stage with the grace and presence befitting the anticipation for his comeback album. Great performance and he just made me anxious for that album. Janet should have come out after his performance.

- New Edition's pre-show cover of the Jackson 5. 80's kids know that NE were their version of the J5 so it was appropriate.

- If you're catching the theme, R&B won last night. The O'Jays lit up the stage (and Tyrese, Johnny Gill, Trey Songz and Tevin Campbell did amazing tributes) like true veterans. Ciara surprisingly sung a well-done version of "Heal the World" and Beyonce, despite me being confused at her presentation, transcended the stage with "Ave Maria" and her cover of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel."

- The "Baby Boy" recap with Tyrese coming up on Taraji P. Henson was kinda funny. They didn't overdo it and had a good laugh on it but........(see below)

- Keyshia Cole/Monica: a reminder why we need more quality duets in R&B.

- Jay-Z "D.O.A." was a great performance. I don't care if people think the song isn't lyrical (rhyme scheme, rhyme patternwise NO, but flow, words, and verbal bite YES) and he's performing with Drake on BP3 (in lieu of his performance ehhhh), the song says pretty much how we all feel.


- Souljah Boy's performance. Kid has no idea what a verse is - ugh, too much negative to say about him.

- Drake/Young Money performance. I'll accept that Drake tore his ACL and was stool bound but he wasn't even singing. R&B cats should never have a backing track behind them - even if you get a 2nd chance kid, step your singing up. And Young Money was absolute trash. From the young girls on stage while they talked about rated R things, BET heavily censoring their performance and having no idea what they said - just an absolute mess

- Remember how I said the Baby Boy re-enactment was nice. Ving Rhames took it to crap, sounding like a rambling drunk, making a mockery of MJ's name with his "guns or butter" update. Wasn't this brother the definition of cool once? Not anymore, SMH.

- Far be it from me to criticize a parent after losing their son, but Joe Jackson was terrible for promoting his record label on the red carpet. I know his emotions aren't there, but I was appalled to hear that. And what made things worse....BET head honcho Debra Lee, Idris Elba and that other lady with him sent their sympathies to Catherine Jackson on stage and the family WITHOUT MENTIONING HIM right there. I know dude may be a snake, but at least publicly show the man some respect. Double SMH at them both.

Was it just me or did it feel like BET gave the Humanitarian Award to Alicia Keys instead of Wyclef. Before they brought him up too, I was stunned. Definitely not the best way to do that.

While I loved the spirit of the New Jack Swing, there's a big difference than last year when Alicia Keys brought out En Vogue, TLC and SWV. The ladies sounded great and looked stunning. Keith Sweat (one of my personal faves) sounded off-key, Guy looked/sounded terrible - especially Aaron Hall - and Bell Biv Devoe saved the tribute with their moves and singing.

Jamie Foxx had some highs and lows as a host. Great touch with the MJ gear, bad touch by overdoing it with telling the crowd this is for MJ. Great touch with "Ill Be There" and "She Got Her Own," bad touch with an 1)auto-tune heavy "Blame It", 2) bringing out Snoop Dogg and Travis Barker as show pieces, 3) faux playing a guitar. His highs may outweigh his lows, but at times he was inconsistent.

Don Cornelius looks in sad shape and his time on the microphone was.....(how to say this respectfully).....bordering on hearing that old cousin ramble past their time. I was glad he came out to introduce the O'Jays but it went from reflective to painful to watch an icon reduced to that.

BET didn't censor the broadcast well enough for the West Coast. For once I liked it because I hate West Coast delays. Some stuff got out (Eddie Levert cussin - a mixture of laughs and huh?) but in the future shows need to be live out here, esp. on a weekend.

Janet Jackson's speech at the end was poignant and I was honored that she came out. She didn't have to, but her simple words summed up the loss of a loved one. "To you, he was an icon, to us, he was family." Closing it with Ne-Yo and Jamie's tribute was beautiful and emotional and the perfect way to end an interesting night.

Could there have been more tributes? Perhaps but given the 2-day window, the network did what they could and pulled it off well. Of course, the "BET-ness"of the show was noticeable at times and I hated how everyone name-dropped MJ so casually by the night's end, making noteworthy gestures feel lazy (sorta how people casually thank God all the time). Maybe I'm glad i didn't see some of the pre-show but I felt like more could've been done.

I also think we expected a lot more as well. I didn't hear the rumors of planned tributes so I went in blind.

That being said, I was pleased at what was done. It's impossible to plan a great tribute in two days and not have some issues. I just hope our newspaper can do him justice on Thursday.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hail to the King

I really don't know what to say here yet about Michael Jackson. I have several ideas but without making y'all read a 2,000 word blog just yet, I'm experimenting with them on Twitter.

I dabbled in comparing Michael Jackson's rise to Michael Jordan. I hinted at comparing his rise to his main rival Prince. Maybe I'll explore it but right now I just want to be in the moment and reflect.

I tried my best at the job to do it but how can you try to describe what MJ has done musically. His voice was definitive, high-pitched yet strong and smooth. His music transcended genres while changing what R&B could be. Racially, he brought people of all races together and broke down barriers at a time when radio was still segregated save for a few stars. Socially, he used his fame to bring awareness to Africa and other noble causes. One of the last stars to connect with all ages.

Quite simply, he had a 40-year career that is unmatched. His first 13 years were spent making history with the Jackson 5 - the first Black teen idols that garnered mainstream acceptance - then he reached rarefied air with his solo career from 1979-1993.

Nearly everything he did deserves its own blog (some of them have their own long Wikipedia pages). And yet, we probably never realized enough that he was a son, brother and father. He was ours for so long.

It made me forget the NBA Draft for a minute. It made me take a second look at Farrah Fawcett, who is finally at peace after a brave fight with cancer. It nearly shut down the Internet - how fitting that Mike shut down every other traditional media during his lifetime (television, videos). Peace

A great analysis of Thriller right here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Free Speech Can Pay a Hefty Price

The Perez Hilton-Will.i.am incident made me think about this whole deal a lot more. Besides the mini-altercation between the two parties, it’s also an issue about bloggers running too wild in the name of free speech. Many argue that they can say whatever they want and this is true. But what happens when you cross a line between free speech and decency.

I hate how the culture now gives people a voice to say whatever they want with no responsibility – all in the name of free speech. Go to any message board or gossip site and you’ll see some of the most reckless things said. People hide behind free speech and expect nothing to happen because of that . Legal protection and real–life protection are two different things.

An example: Go to a bar and insult somebody the worst way possible. Technically that’s free speech what you said and if you get a swift beatdown as a result, it’s not the guy’s fault who hit you. You put yourself in that situation and you shouldn’t be mad someone took you out of it with violence. Better example: Go to a gang territory and start challenging people to a fight. Same result. They deserve consequences too for their actions, but you are not completely innocent either.

Free speech has consequences that you better be prepared to deal with. When I decided to start blogging, I knew good and well that my views were going to be on display for everyone to see it. It’s the Faustian deal I made when I started E-TV and I accept that. I’m going to express my views and say whatever I want – but at the same time, I’m going to be responsible and not violate your readership by being reckless with it. You may not disagree but if I get your respect, that’s what matters.

Perez Hilton and his ilk don’t write for respect, they write for attention. They aren’t like the blogs on my roll call or other respectable writers – they’ll deliberately hurt feelings/ruin careers for the sole purpose of their agenda. If we hurt feelings, it’s unintentional (most of the time) - we write to express ourselves, not cause unnecessary feuds.

There a difference between criticism and hate. Criticism is sharing your honest opinion that is well-backed up. You don’t dislike someone or something for no reason. That’s not how writers/critics/bloggers should operate. I know people think it’s easy to get on a computer and type what you feel, but there’s rules to this blogging ish – there’s a difference between critique and blind hate.

Words have tremendous power. If they didn’t, I’d be doing another career instead of journalism and I wouldn’t be blogging. The old mantra of “sticks and stones” was nice when we were kids, but the written/spoken word can make a far greater impact. Consider how people still draw inspiration from books like the Bible (almost 2,000 years old), the Koran, Shakespeare and Homer – do you think hateful speech can’t make just the same impact over time?

This is my issue with Perez Hilton, what he stands for in pop culture and hope that other bloggers take heed. Hilton does do both (as well as report gossip) but his negative tactics overshadow his personal tastes. He doesn’t care about the impact of what he does and he’s racked up quite a few enemies. Same with TMZ – whatever good they do, it’s overshadowed by their negative actions.
In essence it’s journalism ethos of getting a story without its ethics. That’s why they cannot be surprised when someone reacts negatively because when you push buttons, you’ll eventually push the wrong one.Pushing buttons works when it gets to the truth of the matter. Not when it's done for its own sake.

We use free speech to our benefit but sometimes we fail to understand the implications that brings. If you ran your mouth, you better be ready to take that race all the way. It’s advice that we all need to hear.

There are lessons to be learned from this situation between Perez and Will.i.am. and his manager. Words have power and cannot be used like your toys with no regard for what they can do. Yes, this was an extreme situation but how many lives have been impacted by mere words.

Think before you speak. Words we heard as kids but in the name of internet freedom, we tend to forget that our words can be boomerangs and bite us when it returns.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why Perez Hilton had this coming

Let’s be honest, if you didn’t think somebody was going to knock out celebrity blogger/Grade A-hole Perez Hilton at some point, you’ve got another thing coming. You can’t rack up a list of targets (Lily Allen, Noreaga, Miss CA, now Black Eyed Peas) and expect nobody to stand up man to man and tell you how they felt.

P. Hilt is not a fan of BEP – fair enough. At the Much Music Awards show, he called Fergie ugly, which isn’t going to go over well with anyone. I don’t read his garbage but apparently he’s insulted her personally a few times. Will.i.am did the right thing and approached Hilton about what he said regarding the group. He doesn’t like them – fair enough, Will knows that for all the millions his group sold, he doesn’t have a lot of fans (BEP got booed at Rock the Bells here in L.A. despite playing their very first album).

He did the right thing by stepping to him and agreeing to disagree. But Hilton took it too far by calling Will a faggot. Is he surprised then Will’s GM Polo went Mike Tyson on his face? I went to bed reading this on Twitter with a smile and woke up with an even bigger one (maybe more so because I finally got my first good night’s sleep in 3 days)

Let’s recap. Perez Hilton done effed up by 1) calling someone ugly while their posse is nearby, 2) calling another man a faggot in public – still one of the most unacceptable things you can do, 3) Tweeting about getting beaten like an attention whore instead of calling the police, 4) blaming will.i.am when you know good and well somebody else laid you out.

Here’s the problem with anyone who wants to defend Hilton. He’s a bully. Worse than that, he’s an E-Bully – a 21st century gossip hound who instead of picking on people in public, he does it behind a screen. He believes in telling it like he sees it and woe unto you if you disagree or are the target of his venom. Bullies push buttons and when they push the wrong one, they get whatever they deserve.

He’s started fights with Lily Allen and Noreaga, among others. He called Miss California a “bi-ch” for her opinion on gay marriage. He thinks he’s the guardian of social life in Hollywood because he throws parties and knows people but really he’s nothing but an example of media gone wrong.

Will.i.am did the right thing by approaching Hilton. If you’re gonna have the balls to call someone out and slander them, have the balls to stand there and listen when they confront you decently. Will’s not a violent guy but if y’all remember the Black Eyed Peas aren’t punks either. Who remembers when Ashton Kutcher tried to punk them and they nearly beat down several LAPD officers in the process? BEP may have gone pop but they still ain’t nothing to F’ Wit – that episode never aired for good reason.

Also if you defend Hilton, you are saying that what he said to instigate the situation should not be punished. By all accounts – including his own – he escalated things with his words. Okay fine, walking away would be the “right” thing to do, BUT put yourself in a tense situation with adrenaline racing. Is the right thing to do the easiest? No.

Perez Hilton did the equivalent of the fan throwing a beer cup on Ron Artest after the situation was calm. And just like I don’t blame Artest for his response, I don’t blame Will’s people. Plus you use a word that has become taboo just like other slurs (nigger, chink, wetback, etc…) and expect no response? The guy had it coming, folks.

Then in his video, he plays the victim, calling Will.i.am’s manager unprofessional for hitting him. In the same breath, he calls Fergie “fugly” – it’s like an idiot who doesn’t get the message because he’s too stupid.

That moment was bigger than Will.i.am’s manager cold-cocking him, that was a lesson in not playing Russian Roulette with your words because sooner or later, the gun will go off. But this is part of a bigger issue, something I'll address in my next blog post tomorrow on why free speech is not free.

(And in case you think I'm bluffing again, it's already done and waiting to be copied and pasted on here - i'm just letting this one breathe).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Clarity Behind Enemy Lines

"Peace of mind - a noble quest that gains thirsty searchers every minute and only rewards the patient"

Well the Laker parade has come and gone and I figured I'd be using this post to drop y'all some pics and recap it. Alas, it has to wait for two factors - 1)USC's wireless network sucks like a Hoover and 2) I uploaded the pix to my laptop and subsequently deleted them from the wireless card so I can't re-up them on this desktop in the library.

Idiot savant indeed! (definitely, definitely a dummy right here - sayeth the Rain Man)

Anyways, I'm sitting here on enemy territory (lifelong UCLA fan) after one of the largest gatherings in the city's history. But I'll save my parade reflections in lieu of two crazy days at work that really made me feel like I do too much.

Long story short, my boss (the managing editor) was suspended for a week on Friday and I had to fill up sports all by myself without him chipping in 2-3 stories. It was two days from hell because not only did I have to finish my Lakers championship piece on Monday, I had to also do an interview at 2 p.m. So throw in my limited time and increased workload and I was swamped.

Sidebar: besides write stories, I also have to look for wire stories to fill the sports section with (stories that relate to our audience that will be relevant when we come out on Thursdays). It's hard to do when said audience is primarily Black people.

I also was helping proofread/edit our intern's front page article as well as my usual duties proofreading our asst. editor's stories. It was a lot to ask of one man and while I've done it before, I was nearly pushed to the breaking point Tuesday.

All of this was thrown at me literally 24 hours after I got back from my vacation in Seattle to see my cousin's college graduation. Welcome back to the real world indeed.

The problem with wearing too many caps is that you don't get comfortable wearing the main one. I'm not angry that I've been blessed with several skills, I'm frustrated at how I'm the only one around there who can use them. Mainly it's the sign of the times that its a trend at other publications but everyone has limits and somedays I wish I could just be a journalist, not an editor.

24 With A L like Ice Cube said? Naw, 24 with the whole alphabet being juggled in my hands. If not for relaxing with Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," I would've ended Tuesday the same way I did Monday - looking like I just finished a marathon with no energy left.

Sometimes I feel like when the world's on your shoulders, you have to throw it off with a public burial. I can't stay upset because frankly I'm happy from the Lakers parade and being at peace in this library. I even killed time tinkering with my 25 best NBA players list to see where Kobe Bryant could rank.

Consider me in Jay-Z mode "Thank God for granting me this moment of clarity." My work drama is far from over but for now, I'm glad God helped chase the clouds away

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Redemption! (No. 15)

It’s been two days since the Lakers won (two long days thanks to some nonsense happening at work) and I’m still feeling pretty good right now. Not even walking around a quiet Venice Beach after Kobe and the boys celebrated like it was 2000 all over again could kill my buzz and I’m anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s parade. Plus it’s my off day so its all good.

Sunday was all about redemption and determination. Two years ago Kobe was the NBA scoring champion who enjoyed another first round exit. Lakers fans were thinking we were in a dry spell and nobody could’ve imagined how 2007-08 and 2008-09 would’ve gone.The team became a family, taking on the drive of Kobe and Phil Jackson and remembered how bad they got beat by Boston last year.

If last year was personal redemption for Kobe Bryant, winning the MVP and sacrificing his game, this year was a team story of reclaiming something they lost.

This was redemption for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. The two biggest scapegoats from last year’s NBA Finals were all finesse and no heart as Boston tossed them around like nothing. They were both headed for that road this year before things changed. Gasol keyed the Lakers’ Christmas Day victory over Boston with a tough fourth quarter, Odom had 28 and 17 boards against Cleveland on the road and played like a man possessed in the 2nd half and the NBA Finals. Gasol could’ve made a case for Finals MVP.

I def. felt Odom when he sent this Twit-Pic on Twitter that he would never wash his champagne-soaked shirt again. Gotta love athletes on Twitter expressing emotion.

It was redemption for Derek Fisher, who was criticized for being too old and not quick enough to hang with the better point guards in the playoffs. I’ve already touched on Fish in my last blog but Game 4 reminded everyone why he’s great in the clutch and the postseason showed why he’s one of the best leaders in basketball.

Trevor Ariza got his redemption because he was cast off as a role player. Criticized heavily for leaving UCLA after his freshman year and by Larry Brown for being “delusional,” he returned home last year and show glimpses of what he could do. Then he took home Kobe’s shooting strategy and developed a 3-point stroke in the summer down in San Diego.

What's a better scenario for him? Winning 2 state championships and being named Mr. Basketball of CA in 2003 then six years later, winning an NBA ring. I graduated HS in 2002 so I can relate to how fortunate he feels - couldn't happen to a better guy either, someone to who doesn't hesitate to give back to his school or current Westchester HS players

I’ve said it privately to friends but after this season, Kobe has finally found his Scottie Pippen – a wing player can slash to the rack, hit the clutch 3, play airtight defense and show no fear. He trusts Ariza and it showed during these playoffs where he stepped up his scoring and shooting. He’s due for a fat payday ($40-45 million I estimate) this summer and he’s earned it.

*by the way, this guy needs a nickname. Me and my boy Suraj have settled on The Trevoriza! but I’m open to tweaking that.

Phil Jackson has now passed Red Auerbach as the winningest champion in the NBA coaching ranks (Zen X). For everyone saying that he’s not a great coach cause he had superstar driven teams – this shuts y’all up. Kobe had an All-Star in Pau Gasol but look around him – you think the 2000-2002 Lakers would have any trouble beating this team? This ranks as arguably his finest coaching job along with the 93-94 Bulls squad.

Finally, there’s the Black Mamba. Last year was a transformation of his game and his personality. This year was about leadership and shaking off the “idiot criticism” that he can’t win one without Shaq. He had to find a way to elevate his teammates and make them better.

Game 1 of the Finals was about his eyes and his snarl. This series was about him bring both sides of his game – his scoring (32 pts) and his facilitating (over 7 dimes). Game 5 was about his joy and relief (plus that lil hand-switch bank shot in the air that will be replayed for years). Not counting the Olympics, I hadn’t seen him that happy in years. Maybe not since that first title when he and Shaq embraced after winning it all.

I told a colleague that I'm not going to rank Kobe on the all-time list because I'm no good at lists. I'll leave that to observers but he has to be no lower than 25th of all time. He bet me to make a list though so I'll try to compare it - I have SLAM's remix of their top 50 to help out.

That’s why this title felt like 2000 all over again (complete with rogue “fans” trashing parts of downtown but don’t call that a riot). This was a whole new team where Bryant and Fisher were the vets and this team had to learn how to win. Unlike last year when the West didn’t them prepare for a better, physical team in Boston, the West made them earn each and every win. Thank you Denver and especially Houston for making the rough harder so that way Orlando would be properly disposed of.

If I take pics at the parade, I’ll display them on here tomorrow. 15th title in 30 appearances sounds pretty good. Now let’s hope the Dodgers can make it feel like 88 all over again.

*EDIT - this title represents the end of an era as the Lakers flagship station for 32 years (AM 570) will now be 710 AM - the ESPN affiliate. I remember many nights as a kid anxious to hear Chick Hearn on Lakers Pregame, listening to him and Stu Lantz during the game and sleeping to Lakers Live with Stu. This is also the first title since Chick's passing - hope he enjoyed watching this one up in the sky.

Friday, June 12, 2009

D. Fish Does It Again (But He's Always Been Doing It)

When the history books remember the 2009 NBA Finals, they’ll remember Game 4 as a great comeback/choke. They’ll replay Dwight Howard’s missed free throws in the fourth to ice it – overshadowing a dominant performance. They’ll look at Trevor Ariza’s huge third quarter to bring the Lakers back. But this game will be all about Derek Fisher.

Not just because of his shots. But because it’s another reminder of what he’s meant to the Lakers and the teams he’s played on throughout his career.

He was a critical part of those first three titles despite coming off the bench to Ron Harper. He first showed his worth in the 2001 playoffs. He lit up the San Antonio Spurs from behind the arc that was one of the hottest stretches I’ve ever seen someone get on (12-16 during the series). Then after getting lit up by Allen Iverson in Game 1 of the Finals (48-zip), he came back in Game 2 with a vicious dunk over the MVP.

(I remember that dunk had me flying backwards in my house like whoa! Reminded me of when Fish did a double-clutch lay-up under Iverson during the 1997 Rookie Game)

We all know what happened in 2004. Fisher proved himself as the heart of this team, he had to sit behind Gary Payton. But he remained a professional, he stayed ready and knew that Phil Jax wasn’t going to be disappointed when he came in. That’s why in San Antonio for Game 5, he was on the floor with 0.4 seconds left.

And in 2007, we saw how important family was. He left the Utah Jazz to be with his family and young daughter who went through eye surgery to remove a tumor. Playoffs weren’t important – being a father was. Yet, he came back in the second half fresh off the plane and hit a clutch three pointer to win Game 2 against Golden State.

Now Game 4 is another testament to who he is. 0-5 on 3’s, time running down – he hit the two biggest shots of the series in the 4th and OT. Not to mention his inspiring speeches to not only lift his team but keep them focused during this postseason. His smile after that last 3 was a mix of confidence and relief.

This is who Derek Fisher is. Class, professionalism, toughness, clutch, faithful and all about family. All of those things the Lakers knew when they brought him back in 2007. Kobe Bryant is the star but Fisher has his ear and his trust. Fisher knows how to keep things in perspective and knows when to deliver – it’s why Laker fans embraced him from Day One and it’s why he’ll always be a fan favorite.

One more win to a parade on Figueroa and while we praise Ariza and Pau Gasol for their clutch play and marvel at Dwight Howard’s brilliance/chokability, this game is about the Lakers’ team finding ways to win. Not a 1-man show, but a team mission for redemption.

And when you reflect of the class of 1996 rookies (Iverson, Nash, Ray Allen, Kobe et al….), don’t forget about a guy who wasn’t an All-Star but earned his way to four rings and built a reputation of professionalism and being clutch.

I know I doubted you Fish. I criticized how many minutes you got, how you appeared to age overnight in the playoffs and said that Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown should play more in the postseason. But last night, you reminded me why you are here and what you’ve done. Thank you.

Sunday can’t come soon enough.

Flashback Friday: 1999 Movies

Sorry for no blogs this week, I'm chilling up here in Seattle for my cousin's graduation at the Univ. of Washington. That makes it 3 college grads in the fam this decade and another English degree in the fam. But as promised, the long-awaited return of the Flashback Friday posts: 1999 movies

As I continue racking my mind to realize that 1999 is now 10 years ago, I thought about the great films that came out from that year (as well as the cult classics and personal favorites). This was probably the year when I started getting immersed more in pop culture so in addition to the music, I also take a bigger interest in the movies.

No movie in 1999 had a bigger impact now and then than the Matrix. I swear you had everybody and their mama interpreting something from that. The graphics were out of this world, the multilayered story was intense and everybody was copying the martial arts style in there.

I remember everybody came back to school that summer talking about it and I remember saying there’s no chance this movie couldn’t get Oscars for its graphics. My school had chapels devoted to it and 10 years later, it’s message is still relevant with who’s controlling our reality.

That movie was almost a perfect storm and outside of its forgettable sequels, it’s a movie that will continue to down as not just a classic but one of the most influential movies of any era.

We also had some great high school movies that may have seemed corny to older folks, but are still worth watching now. 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That were pretty cool and Varsity Blues still gets some play (Ali Larter’s whipped cream scene alone is worth repeating) but nothing tops American Pie (or Shannon Elizabeth’s performance on video). A sleeper hit that sparked a few careers.

*It tripped me out that the same kid from Rookie of the Year and A Kid In King Arthur's Court was in this movie. haha*

American Pie is great because everyone can relate to one of the four main characters, knows a Stifler and knows one of the girls. To be honest, Judd Apatow revived this formula for “Superbad” and it showed how you can make a great, funny, high school movie.

It was also Disney’s last stand as Tarzan was their last hit before Dreamworks and Pixar blew them out of the water. $100 million, an Oscar for Phil Collins and the end of an era. Dreamworks took off where Pixar continued with Toy Story 2 in 1999 and produced classics in Shrek, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and others while Disney just focused on expanding their empire.

I remember being freaked when I saw Sixth Sense with my sis and Dad. It was the first time a thriller had me spooked and stuck with me for a while. It’s a darn shame that M. Night Shamlayan – who I considered the best director of thrillers after Signs – has yet to make a great movie since “Signs” and went from being the next Spielberg to the next wunderkind to struggle recapturing that magic.

Two cult classics came out that I discovered in college. I didn’t get Office Space when I watched it the first time but now it’s one of my favorites. I find myself relating to it better now that I’m working which shows that it still holds up. Then there’s Boondock Saints – I still haven’t seen all the way through but in the scenes that I saw, Willem Dafoe just takes control with his character. Another movie that holds up well.

It was the first year I learned that you could make a lot of money and flop (see Wild Wild West and The Phantom Menace). I remember liking WWW but watching now, that’s some terrible doo-doo with 4 Academy Award nominees (Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek). Star Wars I had a lot of buzz and a lot of people got anxious for it but I still haven’t seen it and never will. Nearly a billion $ can’t be wrong – or can it.

Another favorite was Sleepy Hollow. I was pretty excited to see it (one of the few R-rated movies Moms let me see) and I wasn’t disappointed by Tim Burton. The gore, the great story, Johnny Depp doing his thing and a crazy villain, it was great.

Finally, you had the most successful indie movie at the time, the Blair Witch Project. Everybody spoofed it, everybody got freaked by it, everybody laughed at it – and everybody took a cheaply made, $22,000 budget movie to the bank ($248 million worldwide). Just like Sixth Sense, we had another great horror classic.

1999 Movies Worth Watching Again

American Pie
American Beauty
Sleepy Hollow
The Hurricane (Denzel should’ve gotten the Oscar but eh, Kevin Spacey has two)
The Sixth Sense
The Matrix
The Mummy (Brendan Fraser had a nice run of successful blockbusters)
Austin Powers 2 (Heather Graham had every dude's attention– even Lenny Kravitz's)
10 Things I Hate About You
Big Daddy
Blair Witch Project
Boondock Saints
The Best Man
Cruel Intentions
Fight Club
Office Space
She’s All That
South Park
Tarzan (Disney’s last stand)
Varsity Blues
Virgin Suicides (introduction to future Oscar winner Sofia Coppola)
The Wood
The World Is Not Enough (James Bond flop)
Green Mile (tell me why Michael Clarke Duncan has NOT done another great drama since then)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (Matt Damon is really an underrated actor)

Feel free to add on and share memories

Monday, June 8, 2009

VSR: Halfway to a Parade (Game 2 recap)

At this point, everyone’s already thinking about Game 3 tomorrow so I’ll change it up and do the recap, quick hit style. Lakers Nation has a lot to be happy about and the Orlando crowd has plenty of reason to hopeful (and yes, I'm plotting All-Star Weekend in 2011!!)

1) No matter how you slice it, Courtney Lee’s shot was a tough play to make. Yes, he should’ve made a point blank lay-up but that was no point-blank shot. You go full speed ahead and try to come back to the hoop with a 7-foot Pau Gasol trying to distract you. I honestly think the first shot he missed when he had Gasol on the floor was much easier (the one Odom helped distract)

My heart sank when Turkoglu made that pass. Brilliantly designed and set up but just not executed. I welcomed Lee to the Nick Anderson club last night but in theory, missing a difficult lay-up isn’t exactly missing four consecutive FT’s.

2) The key to the game was Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom stepping up. Odom carried the team early in the 4th quarter and Gasol stayed ready when Fisher and Kobe dropped easy dimes to him for critical three-point plays in the 4th and overtime. Gasol also played excellent defense on Rashard Lewis in the 1st and he’s not backing down from Dwight Howard.

Nobody took more heat last year against Boston than those two. Nobody had more to lose this year than them. And since Andrew Bynum went out with that knee injury, Odom has become better on the glass and has been the X-factor in these last two series. Pau has quietly become the most effective big man of this postseason over that time and it’s not just his numbers, it’s how he’s asserting his presence in the Finals. Love how Fox Sports’ Mark Kreigel put it – the better basketball player is beating the better athlete.

3)Despite Stan Van Gundy outcoaching Phil Jackson last night, there are some major questions they need to answer. Why isn’t Rafer Alston playing more – did you really have JJ Redick in there at the point in the 4th??? Where is Orlando’s bench – Pietrus is getting blown up by Kobe, Anthony Johnson is MIA. These are the adjustments SVG has to make now that Turkoglu and Lewis have their shot.

4)Dwight Howard, meet LeBron James circa 2007 NBA Finals. Two young superstars drafted #1 out of high school with incredible gifts (LeBron = great vision/strength/speed /bball , Dwight = leaper/rebounder/best young big since Shaq) but got exposed against better teams in the last round of the playoffs.

LeBron got exposed for having no mid-range/post game. And now Howard is in the middle of kryptonite courtesy of double-teams. His limited offensive game (nothing besides hooks and decent spin moves) is showing and he knows what he has to do for next year. Til then, might wanna mix in some more FG's over the next few days.

But it happens to everyone. Every great player has that moment of clarity when they know what they have isn’t enough and they need more.

5) We’re seeing a Lakers team that has grown up over the last two series. This was a team that couldn’t bump back when pushed on the road. This was a team Houston pushed to the very last drop. Now they know how to fight back, how to play smarter, how to dig in.

Game 2 was a great one that both teams had to have and the Lakers earned it. Despite SVG’s weird lineup in the 4th (still scratching my head about JJ Redick as the technical PG despite Turkoglu running things), he had both of his main guns catch fire. Lewis hit some wide open shots but that’s all he needs to get into a rhythm. And yes Kobe did way too much to be a facilitator (7 TO’s with his 8 dimes) but his guys eventually delivered.

Bad game turned good? That's the story.

It was an off-night for the Mamba but I see the team’s will has consumed everyone. They know they are halfway to a title and they aren’t satisfied until they get to the top of the mountain. They know Orlando is going to fight for their lives tomorrow. Let’s see how this collective fire handles the weather of Orlando where the Magic are sure to make it rain.

"LeBron, are you still playing that game? Didn't you watch that classic last night? Oh that's right, you prolly didn't. Look here, I'm gonna need you to tidy up the place while I'm gone. Maybe I'll bring back a souvenir --- for my ring case to go along with my three championship rings."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Random Musings

I used to do this on MySpace a lot when I started blogging - just letting y'all swim in my stream of consciousness for a bit

It's funny how electric cars were supposed to be the wave of the future. In junior high back in 1996, I remember reading in science magazines how they were going to be popular and charging stations were going to sweep the nation. Well the stations are there if you look hard for them but the cars, however, aren't. Just something I thought about as I parked at the LA Convention Center for the L.A. Sparks game today.

Jay-Z's "Death of Autotune" takes off from the soul sound of American Gangster and just kills this modern era of hip-hop. In one soulful sweep, he targets skinny jeans, ringtone rappers, and finally - the tool of choice for T-Pain, Lil Wayne, his buddy Kanye and others. Lest you think the song won't connect, Jay already killed the people wearing jersey trends on The Black Album "I don't wear jerseys, I'm 30+...give me a crisp pair of jeans, button-ups."

After each Belmont Stakes, I feel like we're never going to see a Triple Crown winner for a while. That race is so hard for horses to run and I just don't think many are built to win it after the first two legs.

"We are born to make a difference, we live to figure out how" - something I thought about last week and something I'll expand on later.

My picks for best albums of the year: Green Day and UGK although it's really been an interesting year for albums. I feel like there's a lot of good to great albums but little is standing out. I still need to buy the albums from Silversun Pickups, The-Dream and Busta Rhymes but I haven't heard too much that I'm rushing for. Any ideas?

Random sighting today: Snoop Dogg at the Sparks' game and chillin in their locker room. Who knows how many fans they'll attract with the lineup they have but my verdict on their Farmers Insurance Group sponsored jerseys - No Good.

Can't let today go by without mention the anniversary of D-Day. It was one of the greatest tactical missions ever and effectively signaled the tide turning in World War II (Europe-wise). Much respect to any veteran still alive and we're praying for the troops abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm personally against the Iraq War but the troops just follow orders. Let Jay get the final words here...

"All my soldiers in the field, I will wish you safe return, but only love kills war, when will they learn."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Los Ojos del Mamba Negra (Game 1 recap)

While watching Game 1 last night downtown in the ESPNZONE at L.A. Live, I got struck by one thing during the 2nd and especially the 3rd quarter. Those eyes! Not Dwight Howard's no-show, Not Lamar Odom's strong play, not even Andrew Bynum coming to play. It was Los Ojos del Mamba Negra.

That glare! We saw it in the third quarter and it said so much. It was "get the bleep out of my way, Pietrus, or get on the Game 1 highlight video." It said to his teammates "you are going to make this shot and if you don't, you better make it the next time." It said, "we are not just going to win this game, we are ripping out their heart in their process. Let them know this is the NBA Finals!"

Last night pretty much was the sound of stepping on the gas while ahead and leaving somebody in the dust. It was about showing some toughness and displaying some killer instinct. Message delivered. Odom (11 and 14) and Gasol (16 and 8) showed why they should dominate the frontcourt and Andruw Bynum (9 and 9) looked like he was personally challenged to take it to Howard, despite his fouls.

Sheeet even Luke Walton (9 pts) got in on the fun. He hadn't looked that good since the first round last year when he couldnt miss against Denver.

Speaking of Dwight Howard, he looked more like the guy in my avatar (my distant cousin Clark Kent) than Superman. A pedestrian double-double with only 6 shots?? I'm betting that won't happen the rest of the series but dude better listen to some Gang Starr cause it's "No More Mister Nice Guy." Ask David Robinson how being nice fared against Hakeem.

But Game 1 was all about the Black Mamba. It's not enough that he had a monster game (40 pts, 8 dimes, 8 boards), it's not enough that people are critiquing his attitude after the game - saying it's phony (???? ooooook), it will be remembered for that glare. It'll be remembered for schooling Pietrus on that And-1 play that had me out of my seat and tweeting "Call 911, sweet Mercy!!!"

Jameer Nelson's return was not enough and it may have done more detriment down the stretch. Rashard Lewis was the Invincible Man, Turkoglu was quiet after the 1st quarter and the Magic couldn't hit a shot to save their lives. 15-54 away from the 3-pt line tells me that nobody could hit mid-range shots and take away Dwight Howard (1-6), that dwindles to 14-48 (less than 30%)

Live by the 3, die by the 3. We know what ORL is made of, but they can't stay that cold forever. I expect a better showing the rest of the way but if the Lakers play like that consistently, we'll get that parade on Figueroa in two weeks. I saw a sign outside L.A. Live that Vitamin Water was sponsoring - Kobe Diem. Kobe seized the day alright and he let everyone knows this title run is about satisfying hunger. Game 2 comes alive Sunday.

"You gotta be hungry, LeBron. That's why I'm playing right now, and you're babysitting Lil' Dez"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Once Upon A Time (A Mid-90's Fairytale)

The first basketball team I really followed growing up was the Orlando Magic. I was 10 years old and just starting to be exposed to sports. With Michael Jordan gone, I was a big fan of Shaquille O’Neal and the way he became the next young superstar. I had just started buying and renting NBA Videos (who remembers the NBA Jam Session videotape hosted by rap band Joe Public).

That 1994-1995 squad had the makings of a champion. You had a great 1-2 punch in Shaq (3rd year) and Anfernee Hardaway (2nd year), one of the league’s best shooters in Dennis Scott, the original Magic man in 2-guard Nick Anderson and a key offseason addition in Horace Grant from the Bulls. Yep, I still remember the starting five – the first I ever memorized – and then you throw in the bench of Brian Shaw, Anthony Bowie, Tree Rollins and Donald Royal….ummm on 2nd thought, nevermind.

Like most kids of that era, we loved Penny Hardaway too. A 6-7 point guard who was the 2nd coming of Magic, he could slash to the rack and set somebody up with a perfect dime. My favorite dunk growing up was when he smashed on Patrick Ewing from the wing (flash forward to 2:00 of this video)

I still have my 5th grade yearbook where a friend quoted the announcer “Hardaway….OVER EWING!!” cause I tried to copy that dunk on the jungle gym.

And if people could remember just how crazy athletic Shaq was back then. Everything Dwight Howard is doing now, Shaq did it and did it better. The league had never seen a guy that tall, that strong, that nimble since maybe Wilt or Kareem. And never had a tall guy become so marketable – too many giants weren’t comfortable in their skin or became the villain. Shaq was arguably the first to get universal acclaim. Of course that led to this abomination.

Funny now how it took N’Sync and Backstreet Boys to give Orlando some pop music love because until them, Shaq was the only music star they had (check the charts – platinum album, Top 40 single).

That team went 57-25, 39-2 at home, and earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Finals. Shaq led the league in scoring (29.3 points), Penny made the All-NBA first team, Grant made the All-Defensive 2nd team and all five starters averaged double figures. I remember rushing home to watch those NBA on NBC double and tripleheaders and being thrilled to see Orlando every time.

They were nearly unbeatable at home and it was ironic they knocked out Boston in the opening round of the playoffs because it was the last series at the Boston Garden. The 1985-86 Celtics had the best home record ever (40-1) and for the Magic to close out the building, it felt like poetic justice somewhat. It was my first time getting acquainted with TNT/TBS’ coverage of the games and my first bout with playoff fever.

The semifinals against the Chicago Bulls was interesting because it was Michael Jordan’s first postseason since coming back wearing the 45. Apparently Nick Anderson got too comfortable in his hometown and said Jordan wasn’t the same old 23 anymore. Course, that was a mistake and before we knew it, rumors were flying about him pulling off the switch. By Game 4, the original 23 jersey was back.

It would be the second and last time in the 1990’s that MJ and the Bulls were sent fishing. After reading Playing for Keeps – David Halberstam’s brilliant biography of Jordan and his times – Nick Anderson would be the victim of Jordan’s wrath next year. For that moment though, it felt like the torch was passed to Orlando.

The 1995 Eastern Conference Finals was definitely an underrated series. Considering the classic Bulls-Knicks and Bulls-Pacers meetings, you wouldn’t think about it but it was pretty good. I didn’t realize Penny was pure murder in Games 1 and 2 (14 and 15 dimes!) maybe because I remember Shaq dominating. But I do remember being pissed I missed Game 4.

I will swear it til I die, that was one of the greatest endings to a game people don’t talk about it. It all happened in under 17 seconds. Brian Shaw hits a late 3, Reggie Miller comes down and hits another one, Penny hits one with under 5 seconds left, and then Rik Smits (Rik Smits???) hits the game-winner. I remember SLAM doing a write-up on its now-defunct last page devoted to buzzer beaters and it was amazing. The series went 7 games and like anybody, we loved the Lil’ Penny commercials hyping it up.

Then Game 1 of the Finals against Houston. Magic were up 20 and all was good. I made my lil’ sign on notebook paper and was ready to see a coronation. Then nobody could guard Kenny Smith from downtown. Then Anderson couldn’t hit a freaking free throw to save his life (four point blank misses that spawned two years of stories).

I remember laughing when I saw “The Big Green” soccer movie and the kid that missed a goal was named……Nick Anderson. Disney was cold for that. And then I still see Clyde Drexler trying to shoot that jumper over Shaq and NOBODY boxing out Hakeem Olajuwon for the tip-in rebound in overtime. Game, set and match.

(Irony – Anderson finished with 22 and 11 boards. Played 50 out of a possible 53 minutes. But what do we all remember? Yeah his FT-line of the night…0-4).

We all know what happened next. Shaq and Penny got swept – a series where Shaq admitted defeat and being outplayed – and the Magic dynasty would never happen. 60 wins in 1996 got them swept by the Bulls swept them in the conference Finals and Shaq went to L.A. To be honest, that team really had no reliable bench looking back at it. B. Shaw was a great 6th man and Donald Royal was serviceable but nobody else could really do much.

But I’ll never forget that team. I thought it’d be the start of something great but in fact it turned out to be a fairy tale with an unhappy ending (at least in ORL). Penny turned out to be the last of a dying breed of two tall point guards. Jalen Rose never got the chance to be a point guard and now every point guard has to be small, quick and/or strong. Pretty much the Jason Kidd/Isiah Thomas mold instead of Magic.

One of the boards on Okayplayer.com said that this was the greatest team never to win a title. I’d argue they were one of the best teams in the 90’s never to win but looking back on it, their bench was suspect. But they were the first team that I loved and this NBA Finals will give a great flashback on that.

Monday, June 1, 2009

VSR: NBA Finals Preview

It's ironic that the two teams that only one series ago were being questioned for lacking toughness showed in their Game 6's in the conf. finals and now the NBA Finals jump off Thursday night. L.A. Lakers vs. Orlando Magic - enter your cliche battle taglines here.

(Hollywood vs. Tiger Woods, the two best teams Shaq O'Neal played for, The Game vs. Flo-RIDA, J.A. Adande vs. Jemele Hill, Black Mamba vs. Superman)

Orlando beat the Lakers in both meetings this year, but unlike Boston last year, neither victory was one-sided. The Magic are a great perimeter shooting team with guys who can also slash (Lewis, Turkoglu) and they have the best young big man since Shaq in Dwight Howard. Love how the LA Times described him...a beast with the physique of a Greek God, one who can get rebounds and tip slams in a single bound. Superman indeed.

Did I forget Skip to My Lou? Naw. I've been mixed on him for a few years but with every success he adds to his streetball legend. He'll go down as perhaps the last great streetball legend to find success in the league because he knows how to be a solid PG.

The scary thing for the Lakers? They're almost no different than Houston - a strong perimeter team with guys who can slash. They don't have the big bodies the Lakers do but their 3-pt snipers are deadlier. Throw in Superman Jr. and you got a deadly team.

But with all of that said, the Lakers match up pretty well with them. Skip to My Lou and Anthony Johnson aren't that fast/physical so Derek Fisher won't be totally abused (Shannon Breezy and Jordan Farmar? They have the edge). Ariza and Lamar Odom can stick with Turkoglu, Lewis and Mikael Petreaus because of their versatility. Odom hates to get banged around so staying on the perimeter would suit him fine.

This is where Andruw Bynum has got to stand up and take fouls. Howard will abuse him and throw him around like a doll and he must respond like an NBA center. Phil Jax can't be scared to let him get in foul trouble and he can't be scared to use DJ Mbenga either just because he's a big body with 6 fouls.

Kobe destroyed Orlando in both games (34.5 and 10.5 boards with 7 dimes) and it's clear that while he wants to be the facilitator, he knows from last year that he has to be willing to take over games when people don't step up. He wants that Finals MVP trophy but knows it won't come easy.

It's up to Pau Gasol to step up and be productive against the Defensive Player of the Year. 12 pts and 8 rebounds like he averaged during the season won't cut it. He and Odom have to keep playing like they did the last two games. It's about hunger and desire and taking advantage where it's obvious.

This should be a good series? Will the Lakers have finally learned from last year's mistakes or will the Magic bring Disney luck to Hollywood?

(Tomorrow, I might do something on the 1994-95 Orlando squad - The first team I really followed in sports, stay tuned)