Friday, March 30, 2012

MC Hammer at 50 - Fun Facts (from me)

So today is MC Hammer's 50th birthday and of course, my mind goes back to the 90's with the Hammer pants, Hammertime, the cartoon, accessories and everybody knowing "U Can't Touch This". But here's some fun facts about MC Hammer and my life.

1. Have to be totally honest that Hammer was my introduction to Prince's "When Doves Cry". When I bought a 90's rap CD back in 2000 or 2001, Hammer's "Pray" was on there and I remembered it from my days singing the hook as a kid. Course, being 15 or 16, I had no idea of sampling and didn't know that he sampled one of the greatest songs of the last 30 years. I found out watching a Prince video on BET and lo and behold, I made the connection.

*In the same way, he also introduced me to "Super Freak." People hate hip-hop for sampling but when it turns you on to the original song and makes you appreciate it, you can't hate them. Plus it gave Rick James a huge financial payout.

2. Speaking of "Pray", did you know that's technically Hammer's biggest chart hit on the Hot 100? It reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Surprisingly, "U Can't Touch This" for all of it's hype, the commercials, being everywhere around the world, it somehow only reached No. 8. Really??? Why couldn't that be the first No. 1 hip hop song instead of "Ice Ice Baby." Just another reminder that chart status has nothing to do with impact.

*Technically it was No. 1 on a whole bunch of other charts so again, further proof the Hot 100 isn't the only barometer of chart success either.

3. Most of you probably know Hammer was a former bat boy for the Oakland A's in the 70's when they were winning World Series. But you probably didn't know Hammer was a decent baseball player too. My colleague Ronnie Flores from ESPN/Rise told me this year that in HS, Hammer used to play in some summer leagues in L.A. with future major leaguers Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry. Not a surprise, but I believe he said Hammer was no slouch.

4. My 5th grade drill team danced to Hammer's "It's All Good" and I thought it was the coolest song ever. You might remember that came off the same album as "Pumps And a Bump" when Hammer tried to go harder. To a 10-year-old, I assumed everybody sounded like that from the limited rap I knew. But that song will always remind me of seeing my drill team practice in the fellowship hall.

5. My friends and I made up a crazy dance to his song on the Addams Family soundtrack. Don't ask me to do it (or maybe try your best to bribe me) but it involved shuffling your feet, switching hands during the chorus, jumping around like some Alpha Phi Alpha brothers whenever "Pistol Grip Pump" comes on.

6. When 3rd Bass dissed MC Hammer in "Gas Face", Hammer was still mainly under-the-radar. I assumed for years that Pete Nice and MC Serch dissed him after he got popular but since Gas Face dropped in 1989, this was a Hammer mainly known for "Turn this Mutha Out" who they legitimately had beef with, according to this interview Pete Nice did.

I grew up in the shadow of Hammer in 1990-93. He was the first superstar to me that I knew besides Michael Jackson. My sister's dance company had a whole show that revolved around "2 Legit 2 Quit". We all joked about him losing money but few people realized that Hammer put a lot of people on with jobs and did as much to put Oakland on the hip hop map as Too $hort or E-40. Plus his songs have a bit more replay value than I expected.

Plus I'll never forget how he was dancing at James Brown's funeral. We haven't forgotten his impact and as he's aged, we won't forget his music and how he took over the world. So happy 50th birthday MC Hammer, thanks for creating some great memories in my life and props on being content with yours and keeping God first.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dealing with Rejection

No matter what anyone says, rejection hurts. It's a part of life, but it hurts. You take it personal even if they aren’t rejecting you personally. It’s not fully you they are rejecting, it’s your place within their world.

The worst rejections in my life came as a senior. UCLA rejected me in high school. Teach for America rejected me in college. And yesterday, I felt that sting again from somebody I wasn't hoping I wouldn't feel it from.

The Los Angeles Times has been a dream of mine since I decided to pursue journalism. It’s the holy grail in my city and for a kid who has read the paper since he was 10, I figured I’d finally get in. A contact there encouraged me to apply for their MetPro program and I did, after spending literally a week on the writing assignments, editing and such.

Instead, after applying to their MetPro program in January, I found out yesterday that I was didn’t make the next phase of the process. Reading that email in my Bible study literally sapped all of my energy and I could hear nothing else but my own thoughts.

Call me presumptuous but I assumed I had this based on my qualifications. I was excited and felt like it was an answered prayer I didn't expect. 

Maybe it hurts more because I figured that applying a 2nd time with more experience would be in my favor. I initially tried to apply in 2006 on my own. I drove down to the offices to pass my resume off to somebody and nobody returned a call.

So I took the long way there. I spent 3 ½ years at the L.A. Sentinel, a weekly newspaper. I earned my stripes covering high school sports and whatever news was thrown at me. I was blessed to write 3 stories on the Jena 6 and get to cover the rally firsthand. I got to interview people like Oscar Robertson, John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Rep. Maxine Waters (and that’s barely naming a few).

In sports, I got to see James Harden and Kevin Love dominate in high school. I got to watch Russell Westbrook break out his sophomore year at UCLA and come home to Leuzinger HS to get his jersey retired.  I watched Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, DeAnthony Thomas all shine in high school.

I became the sports editor at 23. By 24, I had enough professional memories that people would be jealous of and plans for more to come. Not to mention I had already won some national awards.

But I also knew firsthand that journalism was changing and I knew that my newspaper days were numbered. When I decided to leave the Sentinel in 2010, I wanted to freelance with the hope of earning more cred and experience to one day, reapply for the LA Times as no longer a rookie.

That’s why I took on freelance gigs with the Daily Breeze, helped a colleague at ESPN/RISE and started writing for Bleacher Report. To not just keep the dream alive but to hope for a chance to maybe get noticed by somebody, perhaps the Times again.

This hurts because it may no longer be a dream deferred but a dream denied. It’s a clear sign to let it go and move on without looking back.  For all my fears about the Times’ losing jobs, getting smaller in print, their new paywall, I still wanted to get on at some point and hopefully get that validation/gain some experience from the best.

This hurts because I had a feeling 2012 was going to be my year. A year where I wouldn’t repeat the incredible struggle I had in 2011. A year that I planned on changing with the hope of being there as a big reason why..

Maybe I was also bitter because I’ve met a lot of people the last 2 years and they’ve gotten to know me as Evan instead of Evan the sportswriter. I wanted to prove to people that I was a knowledgeable sports fan but I also had the respect of being a media guy too or tweeting from games again. (Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing cause they got to know me before the profession)

Maybe I was jealous because I was a media guy on Twitter in 2009 and I saw so many of my peers, colleagues get on later when Twitter was more popular and continue those connections while I felt like an outsider. Thank God, I still had Friday Night Lights and Twitter made that even better but it wasn’t the same as the rush I had when I was at my paper.

Worse is that I’ll be back at Square One. Wondering what do with my career. I’ll still write on my blog and still contribute to Bleacher Report on occasion but after I hear back from a job I interviewed for, I’ll better know what to do in the future. It's just that uneasy feeling of what the heck do I do now?

But I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. Yeah, I shed tears after I heard the news and now I’m ready to act. Jeremiah 29:11 gives me hope just like one of my favorite poems, Invictus, does. Somebody once told me that it’s about finding the right fit because I could write anywhere and succeed. 

It’s encouraging to know that some many folks have read my writings whether in print, at Bleacher Report, on my blog or my Twitter thoughts. I'm learning to move beyond needing anyone's validation of my skills because I know that I write to please myself and share a well-reasoned slice of my mind. Whatever I receive, I humbly thank you in advance.

(And I'm open to see if a non-writing job pops up because let's face it, why limit yourself. I may identify as a writer/witness but I'm not going to not explore an opportunity when it comes.)

God has a plan. That’s what I heard Stafon Johnson say for the first time when he spoke after his life-threatening neck injury. That’s what I believe will happen in the face of this rejection. It hurts, it feels personal but it’s now motivation. Trusting Him to figure this out.

UCLA rejected me and I ended up a better university at USD. Teach for America rejected me and I ended up spending 3 1/2 years being a part of the L.A. media. History says this rejection means something better is coming so I walk by faith feeling sad but optimistic that I'll find that something.

(One more thing. I've already technically made the LA Times' sports page. See that Derek Fisher article at the bottom. That's mine. Courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kentucky 2012 - Michigan 1992 Realized?

I was reading this story on Grantland by Chuck Klosterman on him respecting but not rooting for Kentucky and it made realize something. The youngest and most dominant team in the nation could be the culmination of what the Fab Five started 20 years ago at Michigan.

I'll start by saying I'm not a big fan of John Calipari only because his style of coaching/arrogance has seen his teams fall brilliantly short. 2007-08 Memphis had the best starting 5 in the nation and lost a national title because they couldn't hit free throws or defend Mario Chalmers. 2009-2010 Kentucky had John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and all that talent and lost in the Elite Eight because of free throws and losing to a better coached squad.

Calipari's team play a freewheeling style where a brilliant point guard runs the show without a bunch of set plays. It's fun to watch but as I've seen covering the HS game, you need clear sets with clear vision down the stretch. Freewheeling teams despite talent don't always win. Well Cal is proving me wrong this year.

This Kentucky team with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and more is one of the best two-way teams in the country. Davis is the best defensive freshman I've seen in a while and his offensive game (while still raw) is improving every game. MKG is a sneaky good all-around player who'll be a lottery pick. But they are well balanced (6 guys averaging double figures) and they play airtight defense in addition to scoring with ease.

And they're doing this while starting 3 freshmen and 2 sophomores. 20 years removed from the Fab Five, the college game has become more and more dominated by younger players making an impact faster.

The Fab Five turned college basketball upside down when Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all started together in February 1992. They were brash freshmen who upset traditionalists because of their attitude but they also played a sound, team game. People don't say this enough but the Fab 5 - for all their arrogance, trash-talk, attitude - played fundamentally, exciting basketball.

(Proof? Chris Webber became one of the best passing big men in recent memory, Jalen Rose had an solid NBA career and played in the NBA Finals, Juwan Howard is still balling for Miami. Remind me how many guys from 1992 Duke and 1993 UNC had successful NBA careers besides Grant Hill?)

While Georgetown had a bigger social impact and UNLV played the same style while winning a title, the Fab Five not just inspired Black fans and young fans, they showed the future of basketball. Before them, few freshmen made an impact. Before 1991, Wayman Tisdale and Chris Jackson were the only Freshmen 1st Team All-Americans. Pervis Ellison was the Final Four MVP helping Louisville win the 1986 National Title. Kenny Anderson in 1990 was a freshman leading Georgia Tech leading to the Final 4 as a 3rd team AA selection

The Fab 5 showed that freshmen and sophomores wouldn't just be content to wait their turn if they were ready right now. And thanks to the NBA forcing kids to stay in college at least one year, that system went into overdrive.

Flash forward to 2007 - Kevin Durant and Greg Oden as freshmen became First Team All-Americans and Durant became National Player of the Year. That same year in high school, seniors Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo and Kyle Singler were expected to shine right away the next year. And they did.

Beasley and Love became 1st Team AA's. Gordon and Rose made the 3rd team. Love got to the Final Four to lose to Rose and Memphis. All but Singler left after that 2007-08 season and became lottery picks. The game change was in full effect. Now college became a 1-and-done paradise or a glorified minor leagues where top freshmen would automatically be among the top 20-25 players in bball.

It hasn't manifested itself into a national championship yet - again, good coaching, more seasonally developed players typically win out - but if anybody does it, wouldn't surprise me if it's John Calipari, who has jumped on this trend faster  and with greater success/blowback than anyone expected. He's changed players so quick that I can't name too many juniors and seniors he's coached in the last 5 years besides Chris Douglas-Roberts or the rest of the Memphis starters. But instead of most coaches hating it, he's honest about the game and a willing supporter of it (while also making sure his kids are fully aware of the game and don't walk into blindly).

In a sense, Calipari is like Jerry Tarkanian, the controversial yet beloved shepherd of the UNLV dynasty in the 80's and early 90's. I don't necessarily agree with his logic but I can't hate the game. Three Final Fours in five years, last year's kids being hailed for their IQ (esp. Brandon Knight's GPA) and this year's kids being praised for their unselfishness as well as their dominance.

Ironically, Cal's controversy (1996 UMass and 2008 Memphis technically don't exist) is similar to how the Fab Five era technically doesn't exist due to NCAA violations. But one lesson from the Fab Five was that eventually folks would legally find ways to recruit the best freshmen and find the same success without the NCAA coming down with the hammer.

Does it ultimately hurt the college game? It waters down the overall product among other factors. But where I disagree with Klosterman is that it turns recruiting into a privileged game. Kids play for schools with 1) big names, 2) family ties, 3) excellent coaches, 4) proven track records of success, 5) friendships and more. Winning always attracts players and I don't see anybody complaining about it in college football - albeit there's more players but it's also become a game of the rich getting richer.

Last year, Kentucky made the Final Four with a far-less talented roster than the John Wall club but no scandal. Now they are reloaded with a mix of last year's and this year's freshmen and even better than ever.You might hate Kentucky but if they win the NCAA title, they'll be the final step in the rebelution (yes, I said rebelution) the Fab Five started 20 years ago. 19 and 20-year old kids dominating the college game and changing conventional wisdom.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin - Turning Emotion Into Action

It has been nearly one month and yet no charges have been brought upon George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin, who still remains free. There have been marches and rallies around the country to support Martin’s family and call for bringing Zimmerman to be arrested and tried. The Sanford police department has been called out for mishandling the case and the police chief has stepped down as a result.

What have I done? Besides share my thoughts here, I wore my hoodie Wednesday to support the march in New York. I changed my Twitter avatar after seeing a friend as well as several respected Black journalists (Jim Trotter of SI, Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas and Clarence Hill Jr.) do the same. Now I see so many do it and it makes me proud.

I almost shed a tear when I saw that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James convinced their teammates to lend their support. I never thought I’d see a high profile athlete take a stand on this and in this era of corporate pitchmen – the most high profile basketball players took a bold stand. They earned my respect for life.

I’ve shared links from other perspectives and I’ve engaged in conversations about why this case means so much to me. I’ve thought about the teenage boys at my church or my girlfriend’s nephew and how they could be Trayvon. About how America is learning that before we are teenagers, young men of color are told how to act in certain circumstances to potentially save their lives and not be a threat.

I’ve also thought about my own prejudices and wondered how assumptions/biases/fears have governed American society. Whether it be Native Americans, Japanese Americans after World War 2, Black Americans during and after slavery and more, we have been taught to fear others or treat them different. Shameful laws have been passed to enforce this.

“69 billion in the last 20 years spent on national defense but folks still live in fear.” – Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) "Mathematics

Even look at Rush Limbaugh slandering Sandra Fluke. By having an unpopular position on birth control, she was labeled a slut. Anything outside of the main narrative gets labeled and cast as something abnormal or shameful. It’s the American way – make something different look fearful instead of embrace openmindedness.

As more people sign petitions, share their hoodie pictures and attend rallies, some people skeptically wonder if people are riding the bandwagon similar to the KONY 2012 campaign. It’s natural, considering that social media activism capitalizes on instant reaction that can fade away with time. There are great flaws in it that the KONY campaign highlighted brilliantly – absence of facts, no clear plan beyond the initial emotion or action, too simplistic in its approach.

To that point I say this. While it our responsibility to be members of the global community, we must never forget our local communities. Glocalization is more important than globalization. Think global, act local. If you are upset at what happens in the world, fight injustice around you as well.

The difference with Trayvon Martin is there is a clear goal for our cause – get George Zimmerman arrested and arraigned for his crimes. Continue to put public pressure on the trial to ensure a fair process and hopefully secure a conviction. While social media activism does have its flaws longterm, when done right it can lead to great change.

More people will also look for ways to paint Trayvon at fault for what happened. Wearing his hoodie wasn’t a good look at night. He should’ve known better at 17 (looking at you, Geraldo Rivera). Show photos of him looking a certain way (which is ironic, given that assumptions got him killed despite a clean record). Report some witness saying that he was fought back against Zimmerman, which considering that his life was in danger is a pretty normal reaction any of us would do if approached by a stranger who made the first move to attack you.

It's a common courtroom/investigation technique used to distract from what happened to paint doubt in your mind. All of which will quickly be disproven when you hear the 911 call or his friend’s final moments with him. It doesn’t change the fact Zimmerman was the aggressor and approached an unarmed young person that he outweighed. Or the fact Zimmerman has a track record for being overzealous.

Ultimately this is about realizing and fighting prejudices. It’s deeper than racism, a pattern of believing one ethnic group is inferior to another. To a man, most reasonable people will admit this is wrong but what about prejudices. What about assuming things about someone based on how they look and letting that lead to judgments and actions?

We live in a world where we do this on a daily basis and the media consciously or unconsciously shapes them. Communication theorist George Gerbner proved with years of research that the amount of media we consume usually leads to how we see the world. He told Congress that fearful people are “more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures.”

That was in 1981. He prophetically added that “they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.” (Hello, Patriot Act)

Like Tim Wise and Davey D said, America has created a climate of fear. You are living in a culture that tells you to fear somebody. Look at your news – the lead stories are usually crime or tragedies. Who are the villains and who are the heroes in shows? What’s your instant reaction when you see somebody different than you? And too often, the victims of this fear are people who look like me.

My godbrother was randomly stopped in my current neighborhood when he came to visit me, for no reason. Somebody called the police on me when I was in HS because I ran back to my house to catch a baseball game and a neighbor didn't recognize me.

Here’s what I say people can do. Remain aware of this case. Sign a petition. Show your support how you see fit. Talk about it but also realize it’s not an isolated incident. It’s something that people of color face every day and you – yes, you the majority – are responsible for it changing.

Look at yourselves and your friends. Look at what you assume about people. Look at how far you’ll go about your assumptions. Nobody thinks they’ll kill or hurt somebody but fear has a way of surprising you with its pull.

 We have to unlearn our prejudices and constantly renew our minds. I’m not saying be naïve but I am saying watch your comments. Be quicker to listen and see before thinking something about someone. Fear is the true opposite of love, not hate, and if we learn to eliminate our biases and put ourselves and friends in check when we step out of line.

I’ve learned to not assume people are thugs by a mugshot, by how they dress or act. Maybe I’d rather be proven wrong but having been in the media and seen how people assume too much, I’d rather be a voice of caution when there’s a lot more quickness to judge – too often by people who don’t look like the people being judged.

To properly honor Trayvon Martin, we have to live remembering that he died from a bullet AND a thought. It’s more than just remembering his death by changing an avatar. It’s living with his ghost reminding us to change our perceptions and not let fear have such a power on us. When the music stops and the media and most folks move on, this is what you must do to remember what happened and provoke change.

Speaking of ghosts, I’ll let one of my inspirations, James Baldwin, get the final word, addressing what we have created by our fears.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Travyon Martin: Another Victim of "Fear of the Black Man" Syndrome

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old boy walking home from a convenience store at night. He never made it home because he was shot by a neighborhood watch captain who thought he looked suspicious.

Martin is Black who had nothing but Skittles and iced tea on him. Somehow George Zimmerman, the Latino 28-year-old captain armed with a gun, deemed him a threat and approached him. Zimmerman had called police beforehand about a suspicious looking person and was told to stand down as a car was on the way. He ignored that, pursued Martin and fought him before somehow he fired the fatal shot.

How many more times do I have to read stories like this? All Martin was guilty of was three things. Being young, black and male. It’s a scary thing in America when being Black and male is enough to be suspected of something – whether a harmless assumption or something criminal. My first reaction was patient outrage and as the weeks have passed, it’s mushroomed into disgust. Fear of a Black Man has been a part of American history and far too many have paid the price.

Zimmerman claimed self-defense. That’s his logic when he clearly looked to start something in the name of justice. Zimmerman is allowed to walk free and be praised for his clean record while it looks like he shot an innocent boy, who too had a clean record. Let’s bring up some facts.

1. Zimmerman was a volunteer community watch captain. Nobody asked him to serve in this role so he took it upon himself to do this. And there’s already two reports that he has been aggressive to neighbors before (including this one about him calling police often about young, Black men)

3. Reports released on Friday said that at least three witnesses heard Martin was crying for help. Self-defense my rear, this sounds more like an assault. And the police continue to let him walk free to defend their investigation? Meanwhile the chief in charge of the crime scene has a history of not doing due diligence before.

This is the guy who took it upon himself to protect his community. Even if that means assume an innocent boy is guilty because in his words “these a—holes always get away.”  Switch the roles and tell me if a Black man would be able to get away with murder and a fight that easily with temporary freedom.

Martin was racially profiled and lost his life for it. Let this be a reminder that when people of color talk about this, it’s not playing the race card.  It is a real fear that I and so many Black or Brown men have and have been taught about since we were old enough to know.

Martin was followed and engaged not because he did anything wrong, but because he fit a profile. Whatever profile it was, it was wrong and it robbed a family from their son.

It’s happened before with Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, numerous young Black men and the police, people of Middle Eastern descent since 9/11, and Latinos in Arizona with the law SB 1070. You fit a profile that doesn’t fit the norm, you are a target. It’s something that the movie “Crash” showed brilliantly from all perspectives.

(I also saw it when I watched a recent documentary called "Slavery By Another Name - how the harsh imprisonment of so many recently freed Black men in the post-Civil War South on trumped up charges led to, among other things, an increasing perception of fearing them as criminals. This isn't new to American history. Oppress what you fear and you teach others to as well.)

I know this feeling too well. My first year at college, I wanted to challenge people’s assumptions of Black guys so I deliberately picked certain clothes and sneakers to wear so people wouldn’t assume I was an athlete.  I used to wear as a badge of honor when people say I wasn’t like other Black guys until I realized what that meant. I worried about being seen as too Black until after 2 years, I quit trying and just started being me.

I’ve walked into press boxes, high schools, and other assignments as part of the media and had to unconsciously wonder what people’s first thoughts of me were since I didn’t look like 90% of the others (that is, if they noticed me).

In high school, I was out with two of my friends getting a snack. Officers believed we were truant and called us outside. One friend, who was Black and had corn rows, was handcuffed. Me and another friend, who was White, were going to be cuffed but my friend and I scoffed at it. Somehow the officers forgot but my other friend was still cuffed before they were taken off.

We were escorted back to school but I never forgot how my cornrowed friend was cuffed and how angry he was all day and my White friend and I weren’t.  It reminded me that since I was of age, I was told how to act in a store (hands out of pockets, don’t look jumpy) and act around police (hands on the wheel, yes sir, no sir) so that I wouldn’t be a threat.

Just consider our President. He’s been labeled every which way to prove how American he is. He’s been called a Muslim, had people question his birth certificate, and been disrespected in ways other Presidents haven’t. How much more different can a Harvard-educated, decade-long politician be?

It’s a reality in this world that being Black and male is still dangerous for us, and a dangerous perception to others. It’s two strikes against us for judgment. Throw in being young and you have to always be on your guard. Blame the media, which disproportionately shows people of color as criminals on the news. Blame the criminals for making people look bad and also blame people judging a group  based on individual.

If you don’t fit the right color scheme, gender, ethnic group, you are a target or given less of a benefit of the doubt. Notice how quickly people tried to find a way to put some blame on Martin before more and more facts revealed he was the victim.

It happens far too much in America where being Black gives credence to dangerous assumptions. Assumptions are a part of life but unchecked by reality, they can harm relationships or worse. They are dangerous when you bring weapons into play or ruin somebody’s life or career. It’s okay to be cautious but not okay to act on that without actual proof that your fears are validated. 

Trayvon Martin has become another martyr for how Fear of a Black Man is still alive and well in America. And I am tired of this cycle happening over and over again.  If you shared that inaccurate/misleading KONY2012 video, you better share an injustice happening with your borders.

We must become aware of our prejudices/assumptions before we kill or harm somebody innocent because of them. We should always be aware of how dangerous an unchecked thought can be without being open to change.

I pray that the Florida state attorney does the right thing and prosecute George Zimmerman for at best manslaughter, but hopefully murder. And I pray that more people will start realizing that every Black man is not a criminal, every Muslim is not a terrorist, every Brown person is not an illegal immigrant, etc...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Farewell to Derek Fisher: Thanks for the Class, Memories and Giant Impact

Derek Fisher may not get his jersey retired in Staples Center. But when you look back at the last 12 seasons, he did as much to make that place special as anybody. 

Fisher’s trade to Houston marks the end of an era that won’t be forgotten anytime soon by Lakers fans. Besides Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol, no player mattered more over the last decade in team history.

You can’t measure Fisher’s impact by the stats, although he played well to validate his position as a key reserve during the 2000-2002 three-peat and the starting point guard in 2002-03.  What he means to the Lakers goes beyond what you can measure.

People will bring up the 0.4 shot – the game winning shot against San Antonio in the 2004 playoffs. The best part about it is that he was probably the fourth option but he was ready and when he got the ball, the rest was history. 

But as I wrote before, Fisher’s made a living off big moments long before and after that. One of my favorites was going 15-for-20 on 3-pointers in the 2001 Western Conference Finals. It set a record for most 3’s in a sweep and he saved his best for last when he went 6-7 from downtown to close out the Spurs in Game 4.

Another fave? Getting revenge on Allen Iverson. Iverson skunked him 48-0 in Game 1 as the Lakers lost but in Game 2, Fisher got back by dunking on AI on a fastbreak. One of the rare times I've seen Fisher dunk but considering it was on the MVP who lit him up, I remember falling backwards in my house like OOOOOOOOOO MAN!!!

He won Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals in Orlando with two timely three-pointers, including one to force overtime. His drive to win Game 3 of the 2010 Finals capped an 11-point quarter in Boston. And I should mention that Derek Fisher was at his most clutch on the road?

He was always the one down to do the dirty work. Whether it was him hustling after a loose ball or setting the tone in the 2009 playoffs getting ejected after a hard foul on Luis Scola, he embodied toughness every night.

Maybe it’s the fact that the Lakers took a chance on him as a first-round draft pick out of Arkansas-Little Rock. Jerry West saw something in him that he usually sees in diamonds in the rough and Fisher wanted to prove that with his hard-nosed style and timely play.

Off the court, his respect as a leader and clubhouse presence loomed large. He had Kobe Bryant’s trust – his fellow rookie from the 1996 class – and Bryant knew that Fisher wouldn’t just back down, he’d stand up to him and let his voice be heard. It says volumes that Bryant cancelled his radio appearance that day after finding out about the trade. Even he knew that just lost a valuable piece of his career.

It’s no surprise Fisher became the president of the Player’s Association and through his tireless work, he helped save the current NBA season and sacrificed any rest a 37-year-old veteran usually should get. It was a thankless job but just as important as anyone.

His faith and his family motivated him as well and the reason he came back to Los Angeles was to seek better treatment for his daughter. The cynics might sneer at that but considering that he left the 2007 playoffs to be with her, it’s nothing but pure admiration for someone who knows what matters most.

There’s a reason why Lakers fans celebrate his return in 2007 just as much as the trade to bring Pau Gasol here in 2008. It was a reminder of someone who’d be a coach in the huddle, in practices, in meetings and a steady pulse in the organization. He cared about the team more than himself and took pride in being a Laker and treating everyone with respect.

It’s no surprise that one of Fisher’s last acts as a Laker was making sure General Manager Mitch Kupchak was doing all right personally. Nor was it surprising that he went over to Lamar Odom and hugged him when Odom checked into his first game back after being traded. 

(And in true fashion, Fisher would hit the go-ahead shot that night to beat the defending champs. Doing what he always does best.)

Fisher has been first class since the day he arrived and I hope that not only will the fans give him a standing ovation when he returns in April but the team finds a way to honor him when he retires. Without him, they don’t win their last two rings and the three-peat might look a bit different.

Personally, Fisher’s big moments coincided with great times in my life. His 2001 shooting clinic occurred while I was getting ready for junior prom. The 0.4 shot had me running in my dorm room halls as a sophomore in college. The Game 4 shots vs. Orlando came celebrating a family graduation a few months after losing my uncle. And the Game 3 shot to put Boston away? I was in my car getting a late snack two nights before I left my sports editor position at the L.A. Sentinel.

Fisher was the heart of the Lakers and that pulse can't be replaced. Character, pride, clutch, faith, family and winner. All of that describes him and what you can't describe? I'm just glad I have the memories to replay and try to share with others 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March Madness 2012 - The Virgo's Bracket

Here's my Bracket - Let's get into the breakdown. 3 No. 1's and a No. 2 - we won't see a repeat of last year's screwiness with lower seeds upsetting teams that are clearly heads and shoulders better.

Forgot to add that I really like Florida State since they beat Duke-UNC twice. Let's enjoy the Madness!!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Electric Relaxation: What I'm Listening To

Here's what's been playing in my ears the past month.

Yeah I'm still antsy for Big K.R.I.T.'s proper debut album but until Live From the Underground drops, we have his new mixtape "4 Eva N a Day" and I have to say that KRIT is quite simply giving us quality after two straight mixtapes of heat (Krit Wuz Here and Return of 4eva)

It's a concept mixtape taking you through a day and the emotions you feel. One thing KRIT does better than most new rappers now is give you his soul and make you relate to his songs. He doesn't waste verses, doesn't waste his self-produced beats and the end result is quality. Just looking at the cover, it's the complex of most people caught between the spiritual and secular.

My favorite jams so far are "1986", "Me and My Old School" (reminds me a lot of "Rotation" off R4E) and "Temptation". KRIT has expanded on his sound with more instrumentation and deeper tales from the heart and it's going to stick to your ribs. Just listen to "Red Eye" and imagine being there with a relationship that at its breaking point but also admitting your role in it.

I feel like "Handwriting" is going to be a song we remember as we wait for the album. KRIT put out all his label pains and frustration with not getting more support from Def Jam but it wasn't just anger. It was tinged with fear of not making it and it's that vulnerability that has made KRIT so endearing to me and a lot of other folks. He's not afraid to put his heart on his sleeve but he's also giving you a wide range of emotions and musical backgrounds to share with him.

I'm literally getting the shakes awaiting my next full listen. I just upped to the iPod so I can hear it through my car speakers. As time passes, I'll have more to say on it as it grows and songs hit me in diff. moods.

This should be called "What happens when you put three unique artists in a room and let them show their creativity." Seems like every 3-4 years, Damon Albarn and Gorillaz. come out with a song that sounds like nothing on the radio. "Do Ya Thing" is no different.

That funky, bouncy rhythm that drives the song makes me want to dance and while I'm excited to hear James Murphy's few words singing the hook - his first feature since disbanding LCD Soundsystem, this is all about the music and Andre 3000's 2nd straight verse of destruction!

"He don't rap enough. But ya'll rap a lot, you need to wrap it up. You ain't Scarface, you ain't Willie D, you ain't Bushwick, you ain't killin me"......(just a quick sample of 3000's controlled chaos!)

Now THAT is how you ride a beat and make a fun verse that goes all over the place (Blacks not playing baseball, him not rapping all the time, referencing hip hop legends, just off the top). But this song is just pure fun and I imagine it had to be fun in the studio cause I get happy every time I hear it and I gotta do what the song says do.

(There's also a 13 minute version on the Gorillaz' website that's even crazier with Andre going off and Damon Albarn/James Murphy following him musically. One take of spontaneous energy. Try to sit still, I dare you.)

College - A Real Hero

I finally got to watch Drive a few weeks ago and this song has stayed in my head. It not only carries the movie at different spots, it sets the mood for driving late at night. I feel like I have to be in my car or have the lights in my house off to appreciate the essence of this.

It sounds like something out of the 1980's and it gives you the same epic feel you'd imagine in the end credits of Miami Vice, Karate Kid, Top Gun or riding around Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at night. Ironically, I just read the band's Wiki page and that's exactly what they were going for.

I love how it's perfect mood music. Those synths drive the music, the words sound so airy. It's beautiful to me.

We lost a musical pioneer last year in Gil Scott Heron and his music not only had a profound impact on rap but Black culture. I was sad because I kept saying I was going to listen to more of his music after being turned on to several samples and I've fought to honor that promise. I dug into more songs after he passed and I wanted to keep digging. I got my hands on two of his classic albums from the 1970's and I feel like I'll be listening to these for a while.

Pieces of a Man has "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "Home is Where the Hatred Is" but also shows you that Heron and collaborator Brian Jackson had great musical ears and Heron had a solid voice that conveyed his simple, yet powerful messages. It's almost like jazz to me.

Winter in America is definitely a bit more musically stunning and bleaker lyrically. From the opening and closing notes of "Peace Go With You, Brother" to the funky "The Bottle" (a lament on alcoholism's effects) and political commentary of "H20Gate Blues" and more in between, it's a capsule of America at the time.

Hearing this made me want to sit back and absorb it all in one sitting. It's beautiful, it's passionate, it's earnest and it's in your face. Gil Scott Heron does NOT get enough credit for his singing and musicianship. I encourage you to listen and appreciate his voice and how his words still speak to us even though his body is gone.

I'm a big fan of The Doors in terms of what they represent in rock, being from Los Angeles and seeking inspiration from one of my favorite poets, William Blake. "Break on Through" has long been one of my anthems because it takes from Blake's concept of going beyond convention.

So I decided to listen to their debut album since I figure between that song and Light My Fire, I'd see more. Well I was a bit disappointed. Consider that I've listened to great debut albums of that era from Jimi Hendrix and the MC5 and those albums overwhelmed me sonically and energetically.

I knew that the Doors would have more lyrically to offer and I loved the bluesy feel of a few songs. But overall, it felt like more of a showcase for Jim Morrison and his lyricism. "Alabama Song" and "The Crystal Ship" were great and I liked the feel of "End of the Night" but overall, I got distracted by things and I kept procrastinating on finishing it. I love how they used the piano/organ to great effect without a bass but my attention wasn't as focused as when I heard MC5's sonic assault for the first time.

Maybe my issue was the sound quality not being up to snuff. I found the 40th anniversary edition on Spotify that sounds better so I'll give it another listen. But besides my favorite songs on first glance, I may have to admit that as great as The Doors are, they are better in small doses and in the right mood. Yet I'm open to change my mind.

Friday, March 2, 2012

50 years, Wilt's 100: Why it Remains Great

50 years ago, in Hershey, PA, the Philadelphia 76ers faced off against the New York Knicks. When the dust settled, in front of zero television cameras and barely any radio evidence, Wilt Chamberlain put on the greatest offensive show in NBA history.

100 points. 36-63 shooting from the field. A remarkable 28-32 on free throws considering Wilt shot free throws as bad as Shaq. Throw in 25 rebounds and it was an incredible display of offensive genius.

The more you get away from it, the more you realize how extremely difficult it was and is now. I remember watching the last 5 minutes of Kobe's 81-point performance in utter awe because I didn't think I'd ever see somebody go off like that again.

I consider Kobe's performance one of the greatest of the modern era. It's up there with his 62 points in 3 quarters, David Robinson's 71-point game, Shaq's 61 and 18, Michael Jordan's 63 against the 1986 Celtics in Boston, Sleepy Floyd's 51 points vs. 1987 Lakers and any more you can think of. But they aren't greater than Wilt's for two reasons.

1. How many centers have followed suit?

If you look at the greatest scoring performances in history, only one center has scored more than 70 (D. Robinson's 71 on the last game of the 1993-94 season to get the scoring title). Considering that Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon (who's career high is 52 in Year 12) might be the most athletic centers of the modern era along with Dwight, that's impressive. And Robinson only topped 50 twice besides that.

Let's go further. Only two more centers have ever scored 60 points in an NBA game. George Mikan and Shaquille O'Neal both scored 61 points.

We typically think centers should score a lot of points cause they are bigger than anybody. But considering the 1980's-early 2000's was a glorious time for big men, putting up huge numbers was hard to come by. It also means it's a lot easier and likely for a great scoring guard to score 50-60 if they get going because they can do more with the ball.

Oh and if you want to include power forwards - only Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Tom Chambers have scored 60 points. So I'm not dismissing what Kobe has done but I'm saying it's easier for an elite guard to do it than an elite center. Which leads me to my 2nd point.

2. In the modern era with better athletes, why haven't guys put up more points?

We have Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant drawing comparisons to George Gervin and Bernard King. We have the unstoppable force of LeBron James and we had Allen Iverson. Dwight Howard can be unguardable. For a brief spell, Michael Redd, Gilbert Arenas and others could light up the court. We have relaxed rules on offense so guys can run free.

So why aren't guying scoring 50-plus more often? You can argue that guys are on more loaded teams so they won't benefit from Wilt in Philly, Kobe from 05-07 or LeBron in his Cavs days being a lone gunner. Defense surely hasn't improved But here's some facts via Basketball-Reference since 2002-03 (highest scoring games since that season)

Carmelo has TWO 50-point games. Jamal Crawford has had more than him.
LeBron has nine. Two over 55 points (Career high is 56)
Dwyane Wade has three 50-point games, all in 2008-09 (Career high is 55)
Kevin Durant just had his first 50-point game on Feb. 12
The fact Andre Miller had his 50-point game in 2010 at 33 is stunning. Speaking of which, only 9 of those performances came after the guy was 30 years old
Iverson had a 51 point game in 2007. He had the third most 50-point games in that span.

Dwight Howard isn't on this list at all (career high is 45 points). So what does it mean? It means that guys may be more athletic and know how to score but it takes a perfect storm and incredible dominance to have a great night in the NBA. Some guys aren't as fundamentally sound so they can't score in a variety of ways. But even if you can impose your will, it takes a lot more than physical talent or offensive gifts to put up 50. Heck, we go nuts when a guy has 40!

Oh yeah, as far as scoring 60? Besides Kobe, only McGrady, Arenas and Iverson have scored 60 in the last 10 years. As for the Black Mamba, he's scored 50 or more points 24 TIMES in the last decade. It's a tribute to Kobe's incredible offensive arsenal and a reason why he's the legendary player he is.

And yet it all reminds you how incredibly difficult it is to score 50. Now imagine somebody being hot enough to score 100! It requires you to make at least 30 shots from all over the court and Kobe made 28 in his historic night.

What Kobe did in January 2006 was incredible in this era. And using that B-Ball ref. link I just posted, it shows you how incredible it really was.

We may see it again one day but I doubt it. I've seen kids score 36 and 39 in a high school game. I witnessed a high school classmate score in the 40's. People went nuts when Jimmer Fredette put up 52 last year. It's a lot of luck and skill and the ability to score from anywhere. That's why Wilt's record won't be passed and that's why we need to always respect this as the greatest offensive performance in NBA history.