Cliff’s Notes: Help For the Unmotivated

Originally, I was going to write this about George Orwell’s novel, 1984. But the story fishtailed, and veered off course, into something else entirely.

During my high school years (I believe it may have been in 1984), I believe we were assigned the task of reading Orwell’s classic. Although I did, and still do, love to read, I had no desire to invest the time it would take to digest it cover to cover. So, I did what any lazy student would do, and bought the Cliff’s Notes version. For those of you who may not be familiar, it’s basically a study guide of literary works in pamphlet form (or online today). While the company does not view the study guides as a substitute for the reading of the original work and claims to promote doing so, critics of the guides claim they let students bypass reading the assigned material.

I’m not saying this to detract from this service, but the detractors are one-hundred percent right. When I could get my hands on the Cliff’s Notes version, I didn’t crack open the actual book at all. As an athlete whose only desire was to stay eligible (which was reflected in my very average GPA), it was a shortcut for sure.

I wonder, did anyone else utilize this valuable service? Did you use it as a supplement to the book, as intended? Or did you use it as a shortcut, like me?

Professional Sports. To Each His Own.

Whatever happened to “to each his own”? That is no longer a concept followed in this country, thanks mainly to social media. I have chosen not to flood my blog or Facebook/Instagram author pages with content reflecting my political leanings. Because, quite simply, who cares what I think? For that matter, who cares what you think? There really is no such thing as a civilized discussion, or respect for someone else’s opinion, or the agreement to disagree. Everybody wants to shout, but nobody wants to listen.

Mask or no mask? School or distance learning? Are they riots or peaceful protests? Kneel or stand? I could go on and on and on with questions. But I want to talk about sports for a moment.

Baseball’s season appears to be in jeopardy again. An avid A’s fan, I’ve watched exactly one inning this season. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those Facebook warriors who declares, “I’m done! I’m boycotting sports because they kneel for the anthem, or Black Lives Matter is being forced down our throats!”

Why? Because I grew very tired of it when the NFL went through their first national anthem controversy. It is what it is. A professional player’s decision to kneel or stand for the anthem or, in some cases before the anthem, has no effect on me whatsoever. And I’m fairly certain most of those people who cry out the loudest end up watching the games anyway.

So, why have I watched only one inning? Sure, I’m a bit turned off by some of the politics being mixed with sports, just like I’m sick of it finding it’s way into every single thing we do in our lives. But mostly, I just can’t watch these games being played in front of cardboard cutouts, some wearing masks. It’s just not the same.

As for the NBA, I watched a few minutes of the Celtics vs. Bucks tonight. Those games look like AAU games, and the video fans are just a weird distraction. I feel for those players because they have no fans to motivate them and no homecourt advantage. Whether I agree or disagree with certain pregame decisions made by the professional leagues, there is one thing I do know. I will probably not watch much until things return to normal. I’ve played and watched sports all my life, and I’m just not ready to quit them.

I find it odd that players are now having to explain why they stand for the national anthem now. Kneel or stand. You do you. I’ll do me. And the world will continue to turn.

Basketball Junkie (2011): A Moving and Powerful Memoir

My favorite books to read are usually of the fictional genre, but occasionally I like to mix in a non-fiction or autobiography, for example, Larry Bird’s Drive.  I don’t do it too often anymore, because everything to know about a person is either on Google or can be viewed in a documentary on Netflix, ESPN, The History Channel, the list goes on and on.

In the case of Chris Herren, I’d already seen his documentaries. Unguarded (2011), directed by Jonathan Hock, was nominated for two Emmys. The First Day (2019), was even more powerful and raw. I had long ago heard about the book authored by Bill Reynolds, entitled Fall River Dreams, which focused on Herren’s junior year in high school. It came out in 1994.

So, why my interest in a former high school and college basketball superstar, and NBA player, who let a powerful and crippling drug addiction ruin what could have been a solid career that would have set him up for life? I mean, how many tales of players from past eras had I heard about growing up? Talented players, who lost their battle to alcohol or cocaine and squandered their careers? The list is lengthy: Michael Ray Richardson, Lewis Lloyd, Mitchell Wiggins, Duane “Pearl” Washington, Stanley Roberts, Roy Tarpley, Richard Dumas, Chris Washburn, and many others. There may be some tales of post-career redemption somewhere in there. I haven’t researched them all.

Chris Herren piqued my interest because he was a star at Fresno State during the Tark years when the Bulldogs were winning games again but were also making headlines regularly for mostly the wrong reasons. I can honestly say they were not boring to watch. And Herren was the ringleader. I’m eight years older than he is and had attended the university before he got there. My journey led me back to campus for a semester in 1996. I saw first hand the rock star he was at that time, strutting past the student union building, a few teammates in tow, baggy pants, and I believe he was wearing a sweater vest over a tee shirt. I don’t think he had gone blond yet. At the time, I was going through personal struggles and I recall thinking, “Man, he’s on top of the world. This guy is going to be set for life.” Little did I or anyone else know what his world was really like.

Years later, I would read an article from time to time about Herren’s struggles with heroin. Ordinarily those stories wouldn’t be big news on the West Coast in those days, but all Chris Herren stories were big in Fresno. He was beloved there, and the entire Central Valley really, because Fresno State is the biggest thing we’ve got. After stints with the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics, he fell off the American basketball map. He continued to play overseas for a few years. Then in 2008, I saw an article detailing how he had overdosed on heroin in his car, the needle still in his arm when the police found him. Empty packets in his passenger seat. I remember feeling pity, genuine sadness for the guy. I figured it would be a matter of time before I’d be reading about his death in the Fresno Bee. But that didn’t happen…..

Recently I read Basketball Junkie, which was published back in 2011, also by Bill Reynolds. It was raw, it was dark, it was powerful, but above all, it was incredibly honest and truthful. I felt his pain and despair as he continually went down the same rabbit hole over and over, deeper and deeper than the time before. Then I celebrated his redemption as he fought his way out of the depths of his personal hell. A process spanning several months away from his family, at a rehab clinic, a treatment center, and a halfway house.

Friends, loved ones, and even strangers believed in him and never gave up on him, even when he wanted to give up on himself. Through prayer and a strong belief in God, Herren found a way back to a normal life.

To really understand Basketball Junkie, it’s a good idea to first read Fall River Dreams. It really sets the tone for Herren’s later life choices. It also dives into his family background and the history of basketball-crazed Durfee High in blue-collar Fall River, Mass.

For me personally, Basketball Junkie references areas of Fresno I’ve been to or am familiar with, and nearly every name he mentions during his Fresno experience are well known to most people who followed Bulldogs sports in those days. It’s a great read. After about thirteen chapters of darkness and sadness, I got to experience Chris Herren’s remarkable and inspirational triumph.

My 5 favorite NBA players of all time

Our sports favorites are obviously relative to the era we grew up in. As someone who came of age in the 70s and 80s, you might think I’d be partial to the old school players. You’d be right. Bear in mind, I’m not saying they are the best, some may even be obscure to today’s younger fans, but it’s my list and it’s all in fun.

5. Rick Barry– One of my earliest sports memories was watching Barry’s underhanded “granny shots” on TV. In the 70s, the Golden State Warriors were the team televised locally in Central California. I loved the gold uniforms with the state of California just to the side of the players number. Though I was also a big fan of Phil Smith, Barry was the leader of the team and face of the franchise. A year after averaging 23.1 ppg and leading the league in free-throw shooting, he was traded to the Houston Rockets, which was highly disappointing to me. On a side note, I met him at an autograph signing in Fresno in the 90s, and he was quite pleasant. That’s not always the case at such events.

4. Julius Erving– Just about any kid growing up in the 70s imitated Dr. J. on the playground. He was the epitome of grace and hung in the air unlike anyone at the time. My friends and I watched The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh at the movie theater in our small town, and I recognized all the pro players of the time in the film. I watched it again recently, and I realize it isn’t one of the all-time greats, but the Doctor is.

3. Bill Walton– How can you not love Bill Walton? The Portland version with the long flowing red locks, contained by a headband, and the scraggly beard was my first memory. As a Boston Celtics fan, I was a huge fan of the Bill we got in 85-86. I’ve seen the documentaries and I can only imagine what a great teammate he was. If his foot wouldn’t have betrayed him, I think we would be talking about him as a top-five all-time player. Think Tim Duncan, only better. The greatest all-around fundamentally sound (hey, that rhymes) big man. As great as he was as a player, he seems even better as a human being. He is a fine humanitarian and a pretty damn good announcer. He is probably the one athlete I’d most like to meet.

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 The Big Red

2. Reggie Miller- I first saw Reggie play at UCLA. He already had a chip on his shoulder and I loved it. As a JC player at the time, he was my favorite college player. When he got to Indiana, he was legendary. His three-point shooting, ability to back up his smack-talk, and ownership of Spike Lee and the Knicks really appealed to me as a fan. If he were playing in today’s 3-point happy NBA, Reggie and Ray Allen would be the runaway career leaders in that category.

1. Larry Bird- Well, I am a Celtics fan who grew up in the 80s, so this is a no-brainer. Larry was the player I always imitated in the back yard as I got into junior high and high school. Growing up in California, I was always in good-natured conflict with my Laker-fan friends and teammates come playoff time. Years of diving on the floor with no regard for his body resulted in a bad back that would shorten his career, but it was a joy to watch his passing, incredible shooting, and understanding of the game.

So, there it is. It wasn’t easy. I could have made a Top 50 list, but who has that kind of time? Had my list been longer, it surely would have included big names like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, John Stockton, Lebron James, Shaq, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, George Gervin, Shawn Kemp, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin.

It also would have included some names you may have to Google or look up on YouTube, such as Kevin Johnson, Mark Price, Jim Paxson, Fat Lever, Mark Aguirre, Tom Chambers, Clifford Ray, World B. Free, Terry Cummings, Andrew Toney, Dan Roundfield, Danny Ainge, Sidney Moncrief, and many more.

Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. God bless!

My Top 10 Sitcoms of All Time

We all like to make lists. Grocery lists, to-do lists, and favorite lists. Today I am sharing my Top-Ten favorite sit-coms list. 

I’ve always thought you are either a Friends fan or a Seinfeld fan. For the record, I am a Seinfeld fan.  Remember, this is just a list of my personal favorites, for entertainment purposes only.

 

  1. Seinfeld. Yes, it’s the show about nothing. It ages well because we can all identify with Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer, flawed characters who aren’t always the best people. The storylines are relatable, and I love the amazing supporting characters who show up along the way. Though the final episode was a bit disappointing, I did like how they brought all those people together in the finale.
  2. The Office. Utilizing the mockumentary style, this is one of the most clever sitcoms of all time. Despite its large cast, each character is distinct and hilarious. The show loses its steam a bit after Steve Carell leaves in season seven, but the remaining characters are still funny, and the Michael Scott years make this one of the best ever.
  3. Modern Family. I got in a bit late on this one, but, like many people, I’ve seen every episode – more than once. Another mockumentary-style show, the show centers on characters that don’t fit into what society sees as a conventional family. One family is a gay couple who adopt a Korean baby. Jay Pritchett (played by Ed O’Neill) marries a Columbian woman young enough to be his daughter, and they have a baby in his sixties. Add in his daughter Claire, her husband Phil, and their three children, and you one of the funniest dysfunctional families ever. The fact that what passed for unusual in 2009 is far more accepted and tolerated today, is partially thanks to this shows portrayal of alternative lifestyles.
  4. All in the Family. This show dared to tackle topics such as racism, rape, homosexuality, and abortion in a comedic way. The show blazed trails when it came to using the comedy platform to address social issues. It’s also one of those shows that takes me back to my childhood. Six year old me, sneaking in to lie on the floor of my parents’ bedroom while they watched this show and other classics such as Barney Miller, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show.
  5. Frasier. A spinoff of Cheers, this show actually exceeded that one, earning thirty-seven Emmy awards, while starring Kelsey Grammar as Frasier Crane. His brother, Dr. Niles Crane is the character who pushed this show over the top though.
  6. Cheers. This show used to top my list. It’s one of the most watched shows of all time for a reason. It’s not complicated. A group of friends hangs out at a bar all day at a bar called Cheers. The show draws you in and makes you feel as though you’re one of them. This is where we were introduced to Woody. The Rebecca character didn’t click with Sam quite like Diane did, but the show stands the test of time.
  7. Scrubs. I could sit here and rattle off the names of countless hospital dramas, but Scrubs is the one show that brought witty comedy inside an atmosphere often filled with sadness and despair. The show was hilarious but also gave me some tears during its ten-year run. My favorite character, Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) was an incredibly witty and brutal bully.
  8. The Golden Girls. It’s still on in syndication, proving that people still watch it, and. like me, are still amused by watching four elderly women talk about topics that were taboo in the 80s and early 90s.
  9. How I Met Your Mother. A humorous recounting of how Ted Mosby met his children’s mother. Each episode is a story Ted tells his kids. The show keeps you coming back so you can figure out how he met his wife. It’s witty and it’s quotable – two things that make for a great sitcom.
  10. Friends. Okay, I’m not the biggest fan, but I do think it deserves its place on a top ten list, if only at the bottom. It had a great ensemble cast, and it’s a feel-good sitcom that is easy to watch. Watching a group of friends who were roughly my age go through life’s trials as single people in NYC was fun, but it was no Seinfeld.

Best of the Rest.

Shows I enjoyed, but not in my top ten. An Honorable Mention if you will:

  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
  • Black-ish
  • That 70’s Show
  • Arrested Development
  • 30 Rock
  • Parks and Recreation
  • I Love Lucy
  • Malcolm in the Middle
  • M*A*S*H
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Family Ties

Like I said, these are just my favorites. Although I’m a bit of a movie and TV enthusiast, I have not seen every sitcom ever made. I have never watched Community, 3rd Rock from the Sun, or Will & Grace, but I know they are highly regarded shows. I tried to watch Big Bang Theory and didn’t care for it. While I think The Goldbergs would appeal to me, I haven’t been able to consistently watch it for some reason.

What are some of your favorites?

The First Two Seasons is Available!

I had my book, The First Two Seasons, published in December. There were some grammatical changes that needed to be made, as well as some inconsistencies that needed to be rectified. I am very happy with the finished product and it is once again available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com., and Outskirts Press.com.

What is the book about, you may be asking?

I could best describe it as a retro, coming of age story, with a heavy emphasis on sports. Set in 1985-86, the story follows the path of the main character, Willie, who is starting his senior year in high school, and the people in his life –  his mother and father, his best friend B.J., his other athlete friends, his girlfriend, and his coaches. But I don’t want to give too much away.

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Who would the book appeal to?

  • If you grew up in the 80s you would understand the references, although I tried to explain them in a way that other generations could understand. It may even take you back to your high school days.
  • If you played sports back in the day, you will like this book, as it takes place pre-shot clock before the three-point shot was instituted at the prep level, and when high school football was not quite as safe as it is today.
  • John Hughes was one of my biggest influences, as movies such as Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and my favorite, The Breakfast Club all involved characters who were roughly my age at the time. Hence, the coming of age theme.

I must warn you

This story touches on some uncomfortable subjects and uses terms that may be deemed non-PC by today’s standards. But to pretend certain situations did not occur or language was not used during that decade, is naive and inaccurate. Many of the mistakes made in that decade led to the awareness we have in society today.

That being said, I invite you to partake in a story that was born in my mind in 8th grade, almost forty years ago, crafted, recrafted, and crafted again through the years until I finally took the bold step to publish it. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Graduation Memory from Long Ago

It’s no secret. Senior year and the subsequent graduation (or lack thereof) sucks for the class of 2020. I feel for them. My nephew was robbed of his senior baseball season and commencement ceremonies. I can’t even imagine how depressed I would be had the second half of my senior year been taken from me.

That got me thinking about one of my graduation memories. It wasn’t actually my graduation, but my little brother’s. I graduated from high school the same year my brother graduated from 8th grade. Being the Associated Student Body President, I was required to give a speech at their graduation. While that was really a special moment for our mom, I had no motivation to write some speech nobody listens to anyway. I’ve been to enough of these ceremonies to know, nobody listens to the Valedictorian, Salutatorian, or anyone else at that podium, except for their families. It’s hot, people are sweaty and miserable. They just want it to be over with, so they can go on with their lives.

So, Senioritis had reached COVID-type proportions in 1986, as it does with every senior class. I took Freehand Drawing and Drama my last semester, basically just cruising to the finish line. And then I realized I had to craft some speech for the incoming freshmen.

Fortunately, one of my best friends had been ASB President the year before. What were the chances he still had his speech from 1985? It was worth a shot. As it turns out, he still had his handwritten notes on a piece of paper. I asked if I could use it, with the promise I would tweak some things here and there, so the speech Nazis wouldn’t recognize it. Of course, with the case of Senioritis I had, very few if any changes were made. I don’t remember much from that day thirty-four years ago, but I do remember looking out into the crowd and knowing no one was listening to me. It was just the same regurgitated crap as every other year. When I thought of it that way, any pressure or nervousness I had about it evaporated.

What is my point? Well, none really. It’s just a memory I have from graduation season. But my advice to anyone, Valedictorian or otherwise, who has to speak at a graduation ceremony is this: Don’t stress about writing a great speech. Nobody really cares what you have to say. Attention spans were short in my day, and even worse now, as most people will be looking down at their cellphones anyway. Just hit up the person from the year before and use their speech. Or, if all else fails, just steal a speech off the internet. In the big picture, it really doesn’t matter.

Thoughts on The Last Dance Episode 6

Episode 6 of The Last Dance sort of foreshadowed both of Michael Jordan’s retirements, in 1993 and 1998. Jordan indicated he felt worn down by the demands of being a superstar swarmed by fans whenever he ventured out of the protection of his home or hotel suite.  He also felt increasing stress from all the scrutiny he was under. Here are some random thoughts from a “Sportsnutt”.

  • The Jordan Rules. I admit I never read Sam Smith’s “The Jordan Rules”, but I plan on it now.
  • Michael Jordan loved to gamble. His love of gambling became an issue. MJ liked to call it a love of competition. He’s shown on the golf course, playing cards on team flights, and pitching coins with members of his security detail.
    NBA Commissioner David Stern said, “Given Michael’s earnings and the like, it never reached epic crisis levels in my view.”
  • It’s all relative. The amount he gambled may seem large but is actually relatively small when compared to his earnings. MJ took heat when the Bulls fell behind the Knicks 2-0 in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. He looked tired, and it came out he spent the night before at an Atlantic City, N.J. casino with his father. Feeling he had nothing to answer for, he stopped talking to the media while the Bulls ran off four straight wins to advance to the NBA Finals, which they won in six games.
  • My favorite quote: “When I first joined the team, man, they were drinking beers at half and smoking a cigarette,” he tells some 1998 teammates. “And you know what? … They were getting the cigarettes from the coaches.”
  • Charles Barkley and the Suns felt dissed by the presumption throughout the Chicago area that the ’93 Finals were as good as over when the Bulls took a 3-1 lead. Public service announcements implored fans to celebrate peacefully and businesses boarded up windows. After avoiding elimination at the United Center in Game 5, Barkley had a message for the locals: “Take that (bleep) off the windows. You don’t need it tonight.” That’s why Sir Charles has always been one of my favorite hoops personalities.
  • Bad Boys Part Two? The ’90s Knicks, we’re reminded, played Jordan and the Bulls with the same physical roughness as the “Bad Boys” Pistons. Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel, John Starks, etc. took a lot of shots at the Bulls. “We hated each other,” Knicks center Patrick Ewing recalls. “It was extremely physical. It wasn’t really a foul until you drew blood.”
    So why aren’t the Knicks depicted here as deeply despised as Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and company? I’m not sure, but it could be they weren’t as nasty and dirty as those Pistons.

 

Thoughts on The Last Dance, Episode 5.

EPISODE 5

    Reluctant acceptance of the “Little Laker Boy”, Chicago’s 1992 NBA title, the Dream Team’s treatment of Toni Kukoc, and Republicans buy sneakers too. 

  • Kobe Bryant on the way up. It was pretty cool to hear the old veterans talk all that smack about Kobe before and during the 1998 All-Star Game. It was pretty obvious  Michael, in particular, was in no hurry to let the nineteen-year-old Kobe stake his claim to NBA greatness. He would later mentor Bryant, and, as Kobe said in the doc, “I won’t get five championships here without him because he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice.”
  • The Dream Team. The 1992 USA Olympic team was the first to use NBA players, so a gold medal was never in doubt. But, as Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune put it, there were “festering grievances” with this team. Isiah Thomas was likely kept off the team not only because Jordan hated him (and apparently still does), but Bird and Magic did too. MJ had a real problem with the Olympic Committee’s directive not to obscure the logo of sponsor Reebok during the ceremony, so he wore the flag over his shoulders to do just that.
  • Toni Kukoc gets abused. Kukoc did nothing wrong. But Jerry Krause was so infatuated with the Croatian, it infuriated Jordan and Pippen, who set out to humiliate him. They did a fine job of that, holding him to four points in a 33-point blowout. To his credit, Kukoc (which people pronounced all sorts of different ways in Episode 5), rebounded with a solid effort in the gold medal game, and was a vital, if underrated contributor to the second three-peat run.
  • Seinfeld in the locker room. Seinfeld ranks as maybe my favorite comedy series of all time, so seeing Jerry in the Bulls locker room was pretty neat.
  • Videos from Monte Carlo. The videos and stories from the Dream Team’s scrimmage in Monte Carlo were priceless. Lots of smack between MJ and Magic, who were on opposite teams.
  • Republicans buy sneakers too. I’m just going to dip my toe in on this one…Michael was criticized for ignoring his apparent obligation to the black community to be an activist, a social justice warrior, and so forth, by not endorsing African American Harvey Gannt in the Senatorial race against conservative Republican Jesse Helms.  “Republicans buy sneakers too,” is supposedly what Michael said, implying that his own business interests were more important than endorsing Gannt. Anytime you inject politics into the discussion things can get heated, so I’ll leave it at this: Michael didn’t apologize for it, and he did it his way. He didn’t break any laws. What wasn’t mentioned was that he did endorse Gannt in the next election, and also endorsed Barack Obama when he ran for president. That may be why Obama was less critical and a little more politically correct in how he addressed the situation.

So there you have it. The fifth episode started to chip away a little more at Jordan’s image and legacy. But as you’ll see tomorrow, episode 6 brings more character questions.

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