Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Electric Relaxation: Jurassic 5 "Quality Control"

Can't believe this song is 10 years old. It was the first time I heard J5 and it introduced me to the underground scene in L.A. Since it's West Coast Wednesday, indulge me for a bit on one of my city's last great groups.

Believe it or not, this song got play on Power 106 and its video got plenty of play on BET and MTV's hip hop shows. If y'all remember The Box, I remember watching the video there a few times as well.

2000 was the year L.A. had a great scene of underground artists. Besides J5, Dilated Peoples dropped their debut and Black Eyed Peas' 2nd album had me thinking they'd get a chance to blow up. Never would've guessed that BEP would be where they are now, J5 would be non existent and Dilated is the only group carrying the torch from that era.

Hearing this reminds me of the lack of groups we have in hip hop today. The chemistry that Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir and Marc 7even had in the song where they dropped great verse after verse is almost unheard of now. Not to mention having two DJ's do their work like Nu Mark and Cut Chemist.

I love the creativity in the video - especially that kid laughing his butt off and spilling his ice cream. Akil's first verse about the power of words is still one of my favorites (not surprised, right?) and I always laugh because I got Chali 2na mixed up with Terrence Howard back then.

Enjoy y'all

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chris Brown's Road To Redemption (Living with the Scarlet Letter)

I didn't watch the BET Awards this year but I found time to peep Chris Brown's Michael Jackson tribute. It was a year late due to his domestic abuse situation with Rihanna where he threw away his slot at last year's awards and possibly the MJ Memorial. But what I saw proved several things.

First, Brown is great when it comes to tributes. I had chills when I saw him honor James Brown three years ago at the Grammys - nearly doing a move-for-move rendition of Brown's "Night Train". And for MJ, he had the moves down pat, even singing a bit of "The Way You Make Me Feel". It was faithful, well-done and was better than anything I saw except for Janet's tribute at the VMA's (The Grammy tribute was well-sung but poorly executed)

Second, Brown recognized the magnitude of the moment. He couldn't sing "Man In The Mirror" because he was overwhelmed by emotion. Was it for remembering his mentor Michael? Was it because he knew how fortunate he was to have another chance at fame? Was it because he knew the message of the song applied to himself? YES to all of the above.

I wish he could've sung it. It would've been the most emotion he'd ever show on a song and he could sing it from experience that he had to make a change. But the moment was bigger than him and his tears showed that.

It was his first steps to public redemption and it's about time. Let's face it, he's going to carry the Scarlet Letter the rest of his life for beating up Rihanna. It's the cross he has to bear but at some point, that cross should get lighter in lieu of his actions. It's not fair to constantly judge him and brand him as a demon when he's trying to do better.

If he's seeking help for his anger and working on being a better man, why should I bring up his past if he isn't trying to relive it. If he was an arrogant prick who flaunted his freedom and didn't try to make things better, then we have another point.

Chris is no Ike Turner - a repeated abuser whose legendary career will forever be overshadowed. He's just in his 20's and has his whole life to atone for his crime. Chris lost his career, his endorsements, his reputation and his image that night.

I believe jail isn't always the most effective way to punish a man. Affect his conscience and you'll damage him far worse than trapping him in a box. Arthur Dimmesdale in the Scarlet Letter saw this punishment and it was no surprise how he dealt with it in the book.

Two words on redemption. Kobe Bryant. Ray Lewis. Look them up.

Sunday night was his chance to regain public favor after staying out of the limelight. If people want to judge him for his actions, then they should judge the full scope, not just the bad. And quit wondering if his tears were phony - if you don't think this affected him, watch his interviews right after the incident. He knows he screwed up.

By the way, if you ever read Scarlet Letter - it also deals with redemption for the main character Hester Prynne, not just carrying the burden of your guilt. It's time to let Chris Brown find it and as a fellow man, I'll be rooting for him turning this into a positive and overcoming his anger. One step at a time.

(Consider this a rebuttal to my boy Tyler over at The Swamp - he takes the opposing view and it's worth a quick read. We agree on one thing, Michael Vick got burned way for animal abuse compared to others for human abuse)

Friday, June 25, 2010

One Year Later - Remembering the Times (MJ)

A year ago today I left the newspaper with word that Michael Jackson was in the hospital. I got home and stayed glued to CNN, Facebook and Twitter as everyone was going crazy. I remember cussing out TMZ on Twitter for spreading the early rumor that MJ was dead but at the same time, one of my friends who worked at UCLA was telling me it was true. I'll never forget watching Wolf Blitzer saying those words that the LA Times confirmed Michael Jackson's death.

I had to write the story for the paper's website and it was without question one of the hardest pieces I ever had to write. With tears in my eyes, I tried to capture in 800-1,000 words the impact that one man had on music, pop culture, Black America and the world. I tried to do it on the blog last year as well.

A year later, we're left with more questions. Dr. Conrad Murray is on trial for his death but some believe there was a conspiracy behind it. My friend Miz Chartreuse gave a great take on it here. All I know is that "This Is It", he looked healthy and well and I don't know how he could've done 50 shows in a row but he was definitely not knocking on death's door.

But it doesn't take away the fact that for nearly 40 years, MJ impacted pop culture in a way that nobody did except a handful of people. Here's my favorite MJ songs in no order (I remember naming them on Twitter but I can't remember what I said).

Billie Jean - if you dont like this song, you fail musically
Dirty Diana
Black or White
Stranger in Moscow - a gem many have missed. One of his best written songs IMO
Break of Dawn
Beat It - MJ and Run-DMC rocked harder than most rock bands at the time. Fact.
Who Is It
Man in the Mirror
Smooth Criminal
They Don't Care About Us - an anthem I jammed out to twice today already.
Earth Song
Human Nature - Beautifully sampled by Nas and SWV as well as covered by Boyz II Men but beautiful on its own.

Of course, you can pop in any song and love what MJ did. His songwriting, musicianship, voice, dance moves, production and incredible vision remains unique and even though the last decade was spent fighting Sony, what he did will never be seen again. Prince and Madonna are the last of the dying breed of artists like these.

It's sadly ironic that an artist who broke down racial/country walls with his music ended up putting a wall behind him to escape the same fame and crush that defined him. Pop in "This Is It" and Remember the Time you fell in love with Michael Jackson's music.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Isner-Mahut: What a Match (Shouts to Landon Donovan)

The two major sports lowest on my radar are tennis and soccer. I love tennis during the majors and soccer only during the World Cup. Little did I know that both would provide two of the best moments of the year.

Yesterday I watched nearly three hours of tennis. I never do that. Because of church, I never get to see most Grand Slam Finals on Sunday and so I feel like I finally got a chance to watch an epic match of will, determination, guts that may overshadow anything else we see this year.

John Isner and Nicholas Mahut played the longest match in tennis history in the fifth set alone (8 hrs - 11 mins). The match itself took 3 days with play suspended to darkness twice. A grand total of 11 hours and five minutes at Wimbledon. Unbelievable.

I woke up to 39-38 Isner and raced to my TV. On Twitter, I went from awe to placing predictions on where it would stop (52, 57, 60?). You wanted it not to end because it meant someone had to lose.

Nothing was better than seeing Mahut dive near the end of Day 2. That shot said it all - and the normally stoic London crowd begging the ref to keep the match going. And the scoreboard blowing out.

Wimbledon has seen epic matches (Federer-Nadal in 08, Federer-Roddick last year) but tennis won today. Just for good measure, Isner won by outlasting Mahut 70-68 (11-9 today!). The numbers are mindblowing.

Sidenote: I kept hearing Mahut's name and thought back to one of my classic memories from ABC's One Saturday Morning cartoons ---> Mahooot from Mrs. Munger's class. hahahaha

Oh, and that came after possibly the greatest US soccer moment ever. A fastbreak that showed us that is isn't your father or older brother's US Soccer team. Pardon me for doing this in basketball terms

Tim Howard sets up perfectly with the outlet pass to Landon Donovan, who dribbles downfield with teammates around. Jozy Altidore gets the pass, sets up Clint Dempsey for the score and Dempsey gets blocked. But WAIT! Donovan was still trailing the play and the rebound was there for the taking. With the goalie down, he kicks it right into the open net. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!

A perfect fastbreak play of instinct/skill/timing. Give Howard credit as the heart of his team for setting it up. Altidore, the future of US soccer, gave a perfect pass while the hero of the England game (Dempsey) put up a shot that wouldn't win but set someone up. And Donovan, the greatest US soccer player ever, obliged.

Staying alive never felt so good. England put pressure on us with Jermain Dafoe's great goal but gave us a gift when the great Wayne Rooney missed a wide open shot. Man I love the Brits, always good for assistance since 1815. First Green gave us that goal with his soft hands, now Rooney blew an easy goal. God Save the Queen indeed.

First time the US has won a WC group since 1930. We got Ghana this weekend in the Round of 16. Guess where I'm gonna be.

This is why I love being a sports fan - every once in a while, a sport you only watch recreationally can give you moments that match up with watching your team winning an NBA, NFL or MLB title.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Free Weezy? Free Boosie? Free Yayo? Stop the Movement

Before I start, let me preface everything by saying that Black and Brown men disproportionately fill our jail cells. I know full well how our young men are unfairly targeted but I'm here to provide context on something that's bugged me for years.

The Free (Insert Rapper) Movement. It's a shame because this trend started nobly but it devolved into supporting any rapper facing charges, mostly because of their stupidity. But it's part of a bigger problem where people become victims in a situation with no acknowledgement of their role in the situation.

I remember when I first took it seriously. Free Pimp C - when 1/2 of UGK was locked up, Bun B wanted to keep his partner's name alive. But if I recall, Pimp's case was going for parole so the timing of it wasn't as reckless as others we hear.

The first time I heard it was for Tony Yayo back when 50 Cent first started out. He wanted to free his original G-Unit mate and it became a joke we'd all say but not take it seriously as a movement.

But now every rapper that gets arrested, everyone's like Free "So-and-So". Never mind the fact they weren't caught on trumped up charges but arrested for their own negligence. I was a harsh critic of T.I. trying to buy an armory of guns before the BET Awards knowing he was a felon (but turned a 180 when i saw his contrition and commitment to helping kids do better) and I was harsher on Lil Wayne for his gun charges (as a sports fan, he should've learned from Plaxico Burress' situation and the Draconian NY gun laws).

It's as if every rapper is some political prisoner. And it's not just rap - see how everyone tried to justify R. Kelly's troubles and actually prayed he'd be acquitted despite blatant evidence. It's mixed up priorities like Huey said on Boondocks.

Some do it because they are fans of the music. But as fans, do we let our love of the music lead to blind support. I've ridden hard for Lupe Fiasco but I don't condone what he did at the Hip Hop Honors forgetting Phife's verse. You can be a fan of Wayne but by saying Free Weezy, you're ignoring what he did to get in jail. I believe R. Kelly is a musical genius but I can't condone his actions toward underage girls and I've boycotted his music as a result of his acquittal.

You know the eye of the law is looking at you more closely so why put yourself in worse situations that could lead to trouble. It's the same with young people and Black/Brown men - you know the target is on your back, don't give someone a reason to aim.

I'm not gonna advocate to free a rapper who put himself in a position to be arrested by being stupid. If we don't do it for athletes who do the same, why do it for rappers.

I'm also not going to sit here and say I wasn't guilty of doing it before. Back in 2003, I went to a Christian camp and wrote Free Kobe on my Lakers hat in support of his rape allegations/trial. I was 18 and felt strongly that the girl was lying. I realize now that I was stupid - I should've said Kobe Didn't Do It because Kobe was a free man able to walk around and play during his hearing. Plus as a counselor, I could've caused some problems to distract from why we were there.

If you say Free "Insert Rapper", you're giving them a pass for being illegal. Regardless if you're upset with them going to jail, ask yourself if what they did was so harmless. Wayne - gun charge. T.I. - buying firearms. Lil Boosie - drug/gun possession and violating probation (the murder charge I can't speak on and hope it's not true)

It's no better than supporting the Stop Snitching Movement. And it also cheapens people who deserve to be freed for far nobler or more legit reasons.

Back in the 1960's, civil rights activists were jailed for not breaking a crime, but speaking out against the status quo and marching. Several Black Panthers were jailed on trumped up charges based on informants as part of the COINTELPRO program.

Former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt spent 25 years in jail before his innocence was proven. Angela Davis had her own "Free Angela Davis" campaign in the 1970's as she was charged with murder (later acquitted). Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail as a freedom fighter. Mumia Abu-Jamal sits on death row despite maintaining his innocence on a shooting in Philly.

In 2007, the Jena 6 were unfairly charged with murder initially after beating a fellow classmate who suffered non-threatening injuries. Free the Jena 6 was a rallying cry and one of the proudest moments of my career to see support for injustice.

Last year, Laura Ling and Euna Lee were journalists jailed in Korea and sentenced for an extreme 12 years for attempting to shed light on human smuggling despite barely spending a minute on N. Korean soil. We rallied for their freedom and they got it in August.

I'll give you a personal example. One of my best friends growing up was convicted of burglary in 2003-04. He had fallen in with the wrong crowd and as a result got mixed up. He was sentenced to 3 years - we didn't appeal, we didn't cry injustice, but we felt terrible that he was going away. Yet, we knew that his journey would lead him into trouble (a big reason my Dad warned me to watch myself around him in our teen years).

So while you cry "Free Weezy", how about you save those cries for prisoners who have been falsely imprisoned or given extreme punishment for their crimes. Hip-hop is under fire but don't give people ammo by keeping the street life up. Not only do you make hip hop look bad but you make us people of color look bad supporting ignorance.

If anything I hope they come out of jail trying to do better.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Me and My Dad (Happy Father's Day)

(As published in the Los Angeles Sentinel, June 12, 2008)

This Father's Day is special for me but not in the way you might think. Not in the way of buying gifts but spending time reflecting on my own father, Roy Barnes Jr.

It was five years ago on June 1 that I said goodbye to him for the last time, his body succumbing to lung cancer and possibly fatigue from an honorable career as an engineer who spent three decades at MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority).

Memories of Dad are still fresh in my mind, from taking me to arcades to speaking powerful words to a junior high bully to the final memories of taking me to college and a family dinner at Harold & Belle's.

But Father's Day is usually not a heavy time for me because I can smile knowing that I had the privilege of being taught by a great man who taught me the values of hard work and compassion.

He started work early in the morning and came home late at night, never once complaining about his tasks and still willing to help me with math homework.

No matter what kind of problem it was, he would sit there and diagram steps for how to solve it. Even for someone like me who barely struggled in math, it made my work a lot easier.

His sharp mind was something I'll never forget. He always had an answer for any question or problem I had and I never saw him without an explanation for anything.

I think about a man who worked hard to put two kids through college, thinking about us well before me and my sister were born.

I remember the times when we used to watch Monday Night Football together when I was in 6th grade. It was the first time I can recall watching sports consistently and even though he wasn't home to watch it most of the time, it helped birth my love of sports.

These are the memories that I start replay and dig up in the times when I evaluate our relationship. Some of them easier to bring up than others but every new "old memory" brings a smile to my face.

He was gruff at times but underneath that toughness laid a caring heart of love that was often on display with those around him. I can't recall the numerous times he came home with different gifts and the excitement that we felt.

Whether it was a basketball card set, a new video game or something nice for my sister, he never failed to remind us of his love.

See Dad knew what it meant to give back. He always said, "Take care of those who take care of you" and he did that for his family in New Orleans.

I know he would have been sad to see Hurricane Katrina tear apart his city and perhaps his old neighborhoods. Part of me wonders how he would have responded but I know he would have gone to great lengths to assist my uncle (his brother) and niece.

I could spend plenty of time thinking about what he would never get to see, but instead I think about where he gets to see them. From a skybox seat above the clouds, he gets to watch his daughter teach in Atlanta for the next two years and his son develop into a journalist.

He gets to see his wife enjoy her retirement and continue giving back to the people around her in a way that he would have appreciated.

The last things he bought me were two San Diego hats before I went back to school after winter break in 2003. The last bit of money he gave me was some change I found in his coats after cleaning them out.

I still have all of that in my room - along with the last family picture we took on the balcony outside of my college dorm freshman year. I think it best describes the environment he wanted to create - he wanted me to be taken care of and on my way to a college degree.

Now five years later on the verge of another Father's Day, I still miss him but this one is special because I'm satisfied knowing that Dad would be proud of where I am now. Even if he's not here physically to share it, he's still a huge part of how it all unfolds.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sweet Sixteen!!!! (aka Drive for Five aka Back to Back!!!)

Maybe I'm dreaming - somehow I found time to do that last night in trying to sleep - but did Ron Artest really save the day and help the Lakers win the NBA championship??? Did we really a NBA title with Kobe Bryant doing more as a rebounder/slasher than a shooter?

YES and YES! Like my man Mojo Hoops predicted - Game 7 needed Ron Artest to step up in a huge way knowing that the pressure would be on Kobe and Pau Gasol to show up. 20 points, 5 steals and 5 rebounds. It was the 2003-2004 Artest turning back the clock to show why at his peak, he was one of the great 2-way players in the league who could score and do the dirty work.

No shot was bigger than the late 3. It was reminiscent of Jordan trusting John Paxson and Steve Kerr to win the game instead of him. Artest said it best, Kobe passed the ball and heeee made a 3!!!!!

QB's Finest must have listened to his homie Nas or something because he was the X-factor. He made Paul Pierce work for everything and he honored his promise to Kobe two years ago. Get me to LA and we'll win a title. From the Palace Brawl to being the MVP of the biggest game of the series. He's come a long way and his pure joy, plus the hilarity of his postgame interview and press conference, are a sign of it.

And what about Pau Gasol? Just like Kobe, he couldn't shoot well. He missed free throws. He continued to let Kevin Garnett drive baseline. But he stayed a beast on the glass and he made shots when he had to. This was huge for him earning his name back from GaSoft to Gasol (19 pts, 18 rebs).

This game was about the team. The first 3 quarters saw Kobe try to shoot his way to the title and it was excruciating. The ghost of John Starks in 94 was slowly floating over the Lakers bench as I worried every comeback would see an ill-advised shot take us out of it.

Derek Fisher said to focus on trusting everyone in the 4th quarter. Phil Jackson said pass the ball - this is Kobe doing work, not doing it all himself. Like any shooter, he attacked the basket instead of settling. His teammates rose up and hit shots and made plays. Who would've guessed that Sasha Vujacic would be in a position to make 2 FT's to help seal the deal and he did.

Oh by the way, Kobe had 15 rebounds. That's what great players do - find other ways to contribute. Somebody help him in that pic, his hands might get a lil' heavy from the hardware

The City of Angels is the City of Champs for the 2nd straight year. Kobe and D Fish have 5 rings. Phil Jax has 11 rings like Bill Russell. We watched Oklahoma City push us, watched the Jazz just fade to the wayside and witnessed Phoenix give us a tougher series than anybody expected.

The Lakers won every Game 6 they saw in the postseason. They showed heart when their backs were against the wall. Champions don't waltz to a trophy, they grind.

One more word: Boston gave us a heck of a series. Like any rivalry, it's only great when both parties bring out the best in each other and they did. To paraphrase Group Home, 2008 was yours, 2010 was ours.

I'll look at Kobe's legacy in another post. Right now, let's celebrate another title Lakers fans. Who's going to the parade?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game 7 - Something's Gotta Give

The two best words in Sports - Game 7. It gets no better than one game, winner take all, everyone's available to make it happen. The ultimate battle of wills.

Consider this. Michael Jordan only played in three Game 7's in his career - none in the Finals (Lost the 1990 Eastern Conf. Finals but won 1992 Eastern Conf Semis vs. the Knicks and the classic 1998 ECF vs. the Pacers). The greatest champion ever, Bill Russell, was 5-0 in NBA Finals Game 7's

Tonight, we're crowning a new champion. The NBA's greatest rivalry will take another chapter tonight in 7th Heaven for the 5th time. Something's gonna give tonight.

- Phil Jackson has never lost a series when winning Game 1

- The Lakers have never beat the Celtics in a Game 7 (1962, 1966, the infamous 1969 balloon game at the Forum and 1984's classic series with Larry Bird laughing at the Lakers bus)

- Boston has never lost a Game 7 in the Finals

- Revenge for 2008's butt whupping that the Lakers must answer for.

The only thing missing is Chick Hearn and Johnny Most calling this game on the radio. I'll spare you more hyperbole except, to paraphrase the end of Hamlet, get thee to a television at 6 p.m.

It's all about desire. All about will. Last team standing raises the Larry O'Brien.

The Lakers need exorcise the demons of 1969 - when Bill Russell played his final game and made owner Jack Kent Cooke look like an idiot with balloons in the rafters. They need to remember the spirit of 1988 - winning the last 2 games against Detroit at home to celebrate the last title of Showtime.

Who's Gonna Take The Weight? It's time for the Lakers to Step in the Arena and show the Celtics who's got the Power to sign their Death Certificate.*

*word to Gang Starr, Ice-T and Ice Cube

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Tupac (Myspace Re-up and Reedit)

(I wrote this blog 4 years ago on MySpace. With today's being Pac's birthday, I'd figure I'd share it with you plus add some observations since.)

So I've had this argument brewing for a while and it goes like this: Tupac Shakur is one of the most overrated and underrated rappers of all time. Why do I dare say this about a hip hop (better yet, West Coast) legend that I truly admire and respect? Because I believe it's true and here's the evidence.

1st why is 2pac is overrated. For this to be understood, we have to break up Pac's career in two stages. Pre-Death Row Pac (his 3 albums before signing with Death Row) and Death Row Pac (every album starting with All Eyez On Me, his final album while alive). This is an important stage because Pac changed herefrom being a more conscious rapper to the epitome of gangsta rap.

The gangsta-rap version of Pac (Death Row Pac) is HIGHLY OVERRATED because this is the version we identify him with now and we think of this so often. This is the Pac that most people are fans of and it heavily contributed to the mythology of Pac due to his death soon after. (Most people did indeed become fans after this album as this was his highest-selling album with 9 million sold).

However, his music here is classic for gettin parties started but his albums (with the exception of the Makaveli album) are hit or miss. All Eyez on Me has prolly 1 disc worth of great songs and another disc worth of filler. Death Row Pac is all we see and no doubt this version of Pac is prolly the one we'll pay attention to the most, but look beyond the surface and you'll see there's more than meets the eye which brings to......

Pre-Death Row Pac being one the most underrated (and overlooked) rappers around. Pac made 3 albums during this time and it was during this time that he was more of what we call a "conscious rapper".

He still partied and was a rebel (he did go to jail during this time) but his music reflected more of his thoughtful side influenced by his Black Panther background and strong awareness of issues. It's worth noting, these albums sold decently (his first album went gold and the next two went double platinum, with Me Against the World debuting at #1 while in jail) and he did have hits on the charts (3 hits went Top 15 on pop charts).

But I think a LOT of Pac fans prolly haven't checked out these earlier albums or these songs unless they bought the Greatest Hits album. I dunno whether he's more lyrical during this stage but he definitely was more a "conscious rapper" and fans would be probably be more impressed to hear this side of Pac because it would give them a complete view of who he is

I believe Tupac is one of the most complex, multi-dimensional figures .not just in hip-hop but in all of music. He's misunderstood as just a gangsta rapper. Tupac was a smart individual who was highly educated and thoughtful. He was a thug poet and he represented passion rarely seen in hip-hop. I love Pac but I don't just love the gangsta side of him, I admire his insight and depth and I dare say he embodies some of the qualities of Malcolm X. I say he's over-rated and under-rated not as a diss but as a criticism of those who only embrace his gangsta side and a praise of how talented he truly is.

(To add on to it. I firmly believe that the Makaveli album was a reflection of pre-Death Row Pac. Listening to it, there's an urgency behind it. It feels like the flip side of Me Against the World - that was more introspective, this was looking at the world around him. There is no question that Pac wanted to leave Death Row and do more music that reflected his ideals/beliefs.

As an actor, Tupac would've made more critically acclaimed roles. He had a passion that many couldn't emulate today and perhaps many are scared to emulate. Look at DMX - the closest thing since he passed and his demons overtook him.

I couldn't do a Favorite 10 for Biggie so it's almost impossible to do it for Pac. But here's one of my favorite songs. Tupac is bigger than hip-hop and his message/words/impact will never die.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Graduation Pt. 2 (Free Agency Starts Now)

(I hinted at this with a blog last week using the theme of watching Up In The Air to describe this. Time to give ya'll a bit more clarity)

For those who don't know, I'm a journalist by day. I've spent 3 1/2 years with the Los Angeles Sentinel, one of the oldest Black newspapers on the West Coast. I mainly covered sports but also news when needed. I use past tense because as of Thursday, I parted ways on my free will.

After the shock fades, the next question most have is do I have anything lined up. To that, I say...stay tuned.

Those who ask why I left. It's about renewing passion and looking for the next challenge. I'm a person driven by success and moving up in life. I felt as if I had gained all I could from my job and it was time to take what I knew to the next level.

Journalism in 2010 has taken a drastic change from what it was in 2006. That's another blog for another day but it was time to take what I knew at the Sentinel and move on.

Leaving felt like graduation. I've called the Sentinel my graduate school - my chance to get on the job training in journalism and having to learn on the fly instead of in a book. I got this job 6 months after I got my undergrad degree (after a rough experience selling stuff door to door) and I felt like it was my hands on training in journalism.

I had to learn a lot of things on the fly and by watching others and learning, something I've done a lot. I had to ask myself at one point what writers inspired me after the death of the brilliant David Halberstam. I rediscovered reading for pleasure to study sportswriting books and understanding how different columnists used words to tell stories.

Each article felt like a paper to get better at my craft and I felt like I was mostly working independently to prove myself against the LA Times, Daily Breeze, LA Daily News and my own high standards.

So yes, pardon me if I have flashbacks to how I felt four years ago. I left my last undergraduate class feeling a sense of accomplishment and peace. With a drink in my hand and a blue sky before me, I took the first steps of my new future. That's how I feel now. New start, new career, same dreams.

I've accomplished all I could at the paper. I've been blessed to receive national awards for my work in sports and news from the African-American Press. I've covered events such as the Jena 6 rally, the LA reaction to Barack Obama's campaign and election, Rock the Bells 2008, USC vs. Ohio State, legendary basketball coach Willie West's final game and seen some talented players in person.

I have no regrets about my decision. It's time for a change and I feel renewed/hungry to find out what's next. I've left grad school, it's a new beginning and I'm ready to follow where God leads me. I left my comfort zone by deciding to leave my job. Now it's time to expand into something new.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Debut to Remember, A Career Worth Remembering

Stephen Strasburg was a San Diego legend. A kid with unbelievable heat, four pitches for strikes and great command/control. He played with poise and had a level head because of him being well-grounded in his faith.

Best of all, he had one of the greatest hitters alive as his college coach in Tony Gwynn to keep him cool and school him on how Major League hitters would pick him apart.

Yesterday, the #1 overall pick came to D.C. Tore up the minors like a whirlwind and came up with the greatest pitching hype since another San Diego native Mark Prior - still a curse word for Chicago. Who cares that it was against the Pirates, any rookie pitcher is supposed to do his job, escape with the win if lucky and just try to look good.

I never saw any of his minor league starts but if his debut was any indication, WOW! This kid is as special as they come. Behold the Phenom's line of work:

7 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, ZERO WALKS, 94 pitches and 14 K's!!!! Struck out the side 3 times, 9 of the last 10 batters

I saw a pitcher with poise step on the mound and take control. He didn't try to force his pitches thanks to the steady hand of Pudge Rodriguez in front of him. Barely got any 3-ball counts, threw a deadly curveball, threw crazy heat on his fastball (30 pitches in the 90+ mph range), and a solid breaking ball.

I don't care this was against the Pirates (who spanked my Dodgers in their season opener by the way). Rookies aren't supposed to do this in their debut, especially pitchers?

Without question, he's the biggest thing to hit D.C. Sports since Dan Snyder took over the Redskins. The biggest debut I've seen since LeBron James. The fans were starved for something like this and every pitch was greeted like a World Series moment. Now the real work begins.

He has to refine his pitches because now nobody will be surprised. He can be dominant like Curt Schilling said but now he has to work. He has the stuff, the command, the control - now he needs to show that he can be consistent. Jim Riggleman needs to make sure he's handled well because a decade ago, we gushed over Mark Prior only to see his arm get overused.

But wow! What a night. (And not to be outdone Mike Stanton went 3-for-5 in his debut for the Marlins. A great athlete when he was in high school out here and a highly touted prospect in his own right)

It got better for me later as Derek Fisher did what he does best, something I said last year after Game 4 of the Finals. Come up huge in the clutch and show his value. With Kobe struggling, he had 11 points in the 4th quarter to win Game 3 - including the dagger over KG, Big Baby and the Invisible Man Ray Allen*

Fisher's clutch is underrated because he plays alongside the Black Mamba. Lakers fans are always split on him because we respect his leadership and his role in our 4 titles but know he's a liability on defense in a point guard heavy league.

Nevermind that Fish has upped his scoring in the postseason (10.9 from 7.5 in the regular season). Nevermind that in Game 5 against Phoenix, he scored 22 points in a pivotal game to turn the series.

And once again, he was clutch ON THE ROAD. There's a difference between just being clutch and playoff clutch - clutch wins game during the regular season, playoff clutch takes it to another level to win games that matter.

Look at that critical play. He grabbed the rebound, brought it up court and then drove the hole when he saw Boston lollygagging on defense. That whole play was about heart and instinct. A coast-to-coast drive that once again showed that these Lakers aren't the soft team of two years ago. And as I pointed out yesterday, it's their 3rd straight win in Boston since the 08 Finals.

Those tears came from a man who loves the game and knows how much of a struggle it's been to be appreciated for his play, not just his intangibles. Thank you Derek Fisher - Advantage: Back to the Lakers.

*Speaking of Ray - John Starks is waiting on Line 3 to console you after missing all those shots as well as Hi-5's on the bench, the gas pedal in your car and your bed when you tried to fall in it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

NBA Finals: Trigger Happy Zebras (Let Them Play!)

Game 2 was rough for me on several notes. First, I literally stepped out of my car after 3.5 hours driving from Fresno to catch the game at Hooters so I was dead tired. Next, I had to watch Ray Allen turn back the clock and light up the court like practice. Finally, Ron Artest turned out to be the Black Hole where the ball would go in and never come out.

I guess it was fitting Jesus Shuttlesworth rose on Sunday. If he didn't, Boston definitely would be down 0-2. Oh yeah, Rajon Rondo had another ho-hum triple double with big plays in the 4th Q, scoring 8 points and playing excellent defense.

And the worst part. The Worst Part! Lamar Odom went from embarrassing Amare Stoudemire to doing his best Stoudemire impression in Games 1 and 2. Just business as usual at the wrong time.

But for the first time, I'm gonna address something I usually don't blame. The referees keeping their whistles too close to their mouth and freaking at the first sign of trouble. I bet you Joey Crawford had everyone on high alert after he saw Ron Artest and Paul Pierce get tangled up in game 1.

Full disclosure - I almost never blame bad calls for losses. No matter what happens, a game should never come down to a bad call and there's far bigger factors than blaming the refs. This isn't playing the blame game, this is calling out facts.

Game 1 - 54 combined fouls called. Game 2 - 58. It was beyond screwy that KG and Kobe were hampered by foul trouble. Like White Sox Ozzie Guillen said, people pay to see stars not referees do their job overzealously.

The Finals are showing a problem the league has had for years - changing the rules to benefit stars, making every great player be a slasher knowing they can be bailed out, overreacting to hard fouls. It's as if being a hard-nosed defender like Artest is a dinosaur we watch on old Knicks highlights

Blame it on the brawl between Detroit and Indiana six years ago. Blame it on David Stern being hypersensitive/unsure about his league since Michael Jordan left in 1998. What we have now is fans who can't trust the game and despite the great number of players we have, there's a feeling that it's controlled success.

Now you can barely touch somebody without getting whistles. Almost as if Uncle Ruckus is calling these games.

It makes you wonder Tim Donaghy's book was hush-hushed so quickly. Is it possible that he could've been right? Jose Canseco was in the same boat when Juiced came out - might have been a snake but he spoke the truth.

Game 2 had me thinking conspiracy for the briefest of moments - we know this series is going 6 or 7 but trying to handcuff stars with ticky-tack fouls doesn't have to help in that. Both teams are great enough without bad calls playing a small role. So in the vein of Bad News Bears - LET THEM PLAY!

Unfortunately, we know looking at our president that change doesn't come right away. I know my words are gonna fall on deaf ears. But watching that ESPN 30 for 30 doc on the Indiana/NY Knicks rivalry - I miss those days. Refs, do the right thing the rest of the way.

Back to this series. Lakers aren't scared to play in Boston. We haven't lost a game there since the 08 Finals and I know Kobe wants to make a statement on the road that 08 is in the past. He's gonna need some help. *looks at D Fish, Artest, and Odom*

It's time for one of the benches to start showing up consistently. Game 3 is pivotal for the Lakers to take control, otherwise, they'll be facing Game 4 in trouble. Instead of a Green Day from 2008, let's turn the clock back to 1985 when we stole their hearts in Beantown.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden - More than a Coach, Simply a Teacher

"What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player."

That quote sums up Coach John Wooden's life. Without question, the measure of what he taught and how he lived transcends what he did as a Hall of Fame player and a legendary coach. He was a living testament of practicing what you preach and for generations of fans, he inspired us all.

When I was starting to be a fan of UCLA in the mid-90's, I immediately knew the legacy of Coach and his 10 titles. My junior high/high school was filled with teachers with ties to Westwood so I knew his story as well as I learned anything in class. I remember reading a book of his maxims and his biography "They call me Coach". Here is a man that spoke to me as a teenager although I was born nine years after his last game.

"Be quick, but don't hurry" and "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail" defined my high school days. Every time I walked into Pauley Pavilion, those banners spoke loud and clear of his impact and every time the scoreboard showed Coach in his customary seat, you'd get chills as everyone always stood and applauded.

John Wooden reached the peak of his success during the 60's and 70's - a crazy time in America where racial/social upheaval was at its climax. Despite the changing times, this man of principle stuck to his guns and convinced young men aged 18-21 to get in line. Teaching grown men to tie their shoes? Play with discipline when the times said don't trust anyone over 40? The motto was simple:

"The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team."

Team first. Individuals second. Just look at how his charges responded. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went from superstar in the 70's to Magic's sidekick in the 80's who still produced in his late 30's. Bill Walton went from a star center to 6th Man of the Year with the 86 Celtics. Jamaal Wilkes was a key role player for the Lakers in the 70's and 80's. Just to name a few.

A disciplinarian with patience. He was hard on his players because he wanted them to be the best on the court and honorable men off it. Respect the game, respect each other.

His first and last championship teams were called his favorites. No stars, just precise play and unity. They defined who Wooden was just as much as the star laden teams of his peak. A well oiled machine who could plug in any parts and still steer it the same.

"Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character." - Here's why he won 10 national titles, folks.

But Coach remained an English teacher at heart. He didn't just teach the game, he taught life. His gift with words was only rivaled by his down-to-earth persona. His pyramid of success remains a testament to how he used values to uplift his fellow man, not belittle them as many do. Maybe thats why I admired him - so many wise sayings that required you to act not just listen.

I had the privilege to meet Coach Wooden on an assignment 3 years ago at UCLA. He was present at a book signing for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's latest effort and I asked him how he felt about one of his prized pupils. To hear him speak at 96 - he still had a presence, still spoke with clarity and spoke with purpose. It's still one of the highlights of my career and my life to meet one of my heroes and mentors.

A Los Angeles treasure, basketball royalty, sports immortal, teacher emeritus, life coach extraordinaire. This is a man who we can all learn from whether or not you love sports or not.

Ephesians 6:2-3 says to honor your parents so that your days will be long on the Earth. John Wooden honored his father's advice to be humble, not taking anything for granted and practice what you preach. Now my heart is sad that he's gone but also happy that he's reunited with the love of his life, Nell. He didn't fear death because of her and I know they have 25 years of love letters to catch up on.

"Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

Thank you Coach

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sports Overload (Coming to You live from Fresno)

(Just finished driving almost 4 hours to get to Fresno - the first hour was spent trying to find a detour through LA traffic via West Hollywood/Hollywood. I'm typing this in my hotel as I try to cool off in this hot night.

There's been a lot of sports chatter the last 3 days so as I get ready for my own sports filled weekend at the state HS track championships, here's my takes on it all.

Plain and simple, Armando Galarraga should have a perfect game and we should be celebrating the 3rd occurrence in the 1st 2 months of the baseball season - a rarity anyway you slice it. Instead, we have a one-hit shutout of the Cleveland Indians that will be remembered for spurring on instant replay.

I was pretty harsh on umpire Jim Joyce as was most of Twitterville and baseball fans. It was a epic fail with shades on Don Denkinger blowing Game 6 the 1985 World Series with a similar call at first base. Even with the naked eye, the out was clear live and especially so on replay. But give Joyce credit for owning his mistake and apologizing right away - a classy act from a veteran.

But with MLB commissioner Bud Selig saying that he won't overturn the admitted mistake, it shows a stubbornness to tradition and the lack of spine he's showed before (see the 2002 AS Game). I know human error is a part of the game but we're in the 21st century - errors can be corrected to alleviate the guilt they cause. Too bad baseball and its purists don't see it that way but not for long as Selig said he'll look into changes in the replay system.

We have the technology to prevent human error. Not using it or saving it for television is a wasted gift and actually hurts the game instead of upholding it. Being stubborn for tradition's sake never benefits anyone but an ideal.

Put it this way: Baseball secretly wishes they could strike cheaters from official records but won't correct an honest and blatant mistake handled appropriately by Joyce and Galarraga. *scratches head....write on chalkboard...grabs abacus....sits quietly*

Nah, I don't buy it.

Simple solution: In addition to home runs, add selective replay to safe/out at the bases, but not balls and strikes. Consider fair/foul but we can do without that for the most part. Make 2 challenges per game, knowing full well that most managers won't abuse the privilege to slow down the game. Which reminds me, I haven't heard too many outcries from people about replay slowing down football games or basketball games.

I'll speak more on Ken Griffey Jr. in another post - I can't be brief on my favorite player retiring. All I'm gonna say is I wish the 2000's were like the 1990's and it was a joy watching him. Can't wait for the speech in 5 years. Clean success.

LeBron James on Larry King discussing free agency = A-Rod announcing he'd opt of his contract during the 2007 World Series. All hail the Kings' Court interrupting the NBA Finals to discuss what we all are dying to keep getting sick of it. Bad enough the President is wishing he comes to Chicago.

ESPN New York is the worst offender of this LBJ frenzy. They debuted this year with an article on why James should come to New York and have a running clock counting down the days til July 1, the start of free agency. The picture is complete with LBJ in a Knicks AND Nets jersey.


It's so funny that teams can't comment on anything because of tampering yet entire cities and business folks can openly recruit LBJ with no shame. It's like college boosters recruiting while coaches are limited.

But more than anything, it's starting to convince me more than LeBron James cares more about his own brand than winning. I said this summer would prove to me whether he wants to win or expand his empire. He says he cares about the game and respects it but then he finds a way to put the attention on him when it should be on the NBA Finals.

It backfired because after tonight, no one will remember his comments except Cleveland having the "inside track", they'll remember the Lakers showing a defensive intensity and toughness against Boston in Game 1 of the Finals. Remember that.

To quote Adrian Wojnarowski on Yahoo Sports - LeBron is Mr. July while Kobe (like D. Wade, Tim Duncan and Shaq) is Mr. June.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NBA Finals Preview (Double Dose)

Instead of doing a blog post about the NBA Finals and instead sticking to blog recaps, I'm giving two treats from my workshop at the main job as the game starts tonight.

Article No. 1 - what the Lakers have to do to win the NBA Finals (As Published in Today's Los Angeles Sentinel)

And here's one from last week on why Andrew Bynum is the key to the Lakers repeating (as published in the Los Angeles Sentinel, May 27, 2010 and slightly edited for timeliness)

Repeat feat lies on Bynum's shoulders (and knees)
Despite injuries, center's mental state will either drive or derail Lakers' title hopes.

Lakers fans started chanting it after Game 2, "We Want Boston! We Want Boston!"

Boston fans were thinking it after Game 5 yesterday, "Beat L.A! Beat L.A.!"

The rematch that Lakers fans and the NBA has been waiting for is almost a formality. But while we get ready to see classic footage from the 60's, 80's and 2008's version of the Boston Massacre, there's one small problem.

Actually a big problem in Andrew Bynum. It's late May so that means another question about Bynum's effectiveness and his fragile knees.

Fans will tell you that the Lakers won the title last year with Bynum playing the same way. Realists will point out that dealing with Dwight Howard pales to handling Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis.

Here's a fact nobody wants to admit. The Lakers will not win against Boston if Bynum can't stay in games long enough to make an impact.

Read that again. The 2010 NBA Finals will not be won on Kobe Bryant averaging a near double-double in points and assists or if Pau Gasol shows a toughness he lacked two years ago. It's about Bynum being a presence, not just a decoy.

Call this writer crazy. Call me a pessimist in the middle of a repeat fever sweeping the city. But call me correct if Game 3 against Phoenix didn't show a potential problem with Bynum and Lamar Odom not being effective.

When one of those two has a great game, the Lakers usually win. When both are handcuffed by bad fouls and somebody in their face, the game becomes that much harder for them.

Bryant and Gasol had 20-plus points, usually an automatic postseason win. But despite Bryant's near triple double, the outcome was a loss as Bynum had more fouls than points once again.

It's hard to blame Bynum for being a tease when injuries have slowed him down. But if Greg Oden can wrongly be labeled a near-bust in Portland with similar to worse knee injuries, it's time to get real about Bynum.

He is who we thought he is - a big body that can rebound, block and score when necessary, in that order. A center that's been taught from one of the best in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but lacks the poise to contribute every night.

That being said, he's the ex-factor against Boston. He's a better scorer than Kendrick Perkins and he has the size to neutralize him on the glass.

It all depends if mentally he can block his knee troubles and not disappear when Gasol exerts his will on the court. That's where the 22-year-old has to grow up and do it quickly.

He's not the cornerstone many expected when Abdul-Jabbar began working with him but he's not a bust either. Now is the time for him to make up in his mind if he wants to be reliable because the title hopes of a city rests on it.

(My prediction: Lakers in 6 - I'll have to listen Game 1 on the road as I travel up to Clovis and it's 90 degree heat this weekend. Yikes!!)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Up In the Air and Standing on the Edge

I finally watched Up in the Air last week after I heard so many good things about it. I knew it'd be one of those movies that would leave you thinking for a long while and I'm glad I was right.

Without spoiling the plot for those who haven't seen it, it's centered around Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) who spends most of his time in airports flying around the country firing people. His life is the independent dream - be on your own, march to your own drum and have no cares or worries while getting paid.

It's also lonely. The solitary life of a man detached from reality in the pursuit of his dream while helping people recover from being snapped into reality. Everything makes sense to him and not to anybody else on the outside like us.

That hit me on a few levels. I'm a person of comfort who can embrace change but ends up sinking right back into my routine. I do what makes sense and if it works, I'll enjoy it and ride it out. At the same time, I'm slowly waking up from this dream job people see for me and realizing the end is near. I don't know what's next.

There's a scene in the end where Bingham is told "You don't know what you want." Here he was trying to finally make some sense in his life and he ends up lost, confused and bewildered. Am I there right now? Yes because I've never made sense of my life after I got from under the college blanket.

To quote Kidz in the Hall, school was my hustle. It was the only thing I knew and worked hard for - not a career but rather a sense of accomplishment. I wanted the degree and at the same time, I didn't know what I'd do with it besides be a great writer who studied how media worked.

I felt like a test tube baby of great skill that everyone rooted for and said could do anything - except anything wasn't something specific.

Now I'm at a crossroads of my life and I have to figure out what I'm going to do next with it. Like Ryan Bingham, my sense of stability is ending and all I'm left with is a dream of doing better with no direction. And I definitely don't want to be like Bingham at the end of the movie.

So what am I doing? Taking a chance - a huge risk of freedom that puts me exactly where I was four years ago. Back at square one but glad for the peace of mind it brings. I've tried to make sense of being single and being in my city with most people that I talk to living outside of it. Now, I feel like it's time to just go out and kick myself in the rear.

Up in the Air, Standing on the Edge of something new. I've been scared to dive but this year, it's time to jump before I get sick of being stagnant.

Midway through the movie, Bingham and his young protege have to fire someone who doesn't go along with the spoon-fed speech. Bingham asks the man about following his dream - something he gave up to make more money at this current job. As sad as he was to be fired, he slowly gets encouraged to rediscover his passion which could endear him more to his children. Being fired went from a curse to a blessing in disguise.

If you liked Juno, you'll enjoy this movie - call it a midlife crisis version with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga playing their roles with excellent nuance and crisp dialogue. It'll make you think on several levels and have you wonder about life. I know it did for me and right now, its another sign that taking this chance for my next step is worth it.