Tag Archives: illuminati

The church of chance: Creating space, making worlds between the lines of Coloring Book

“You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.” –Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” –James Baldwin

“You might not know what it’s like to live your life inside a burning housing, holding your rifle just so that you can continue to hold onto your daughters.” –Ashley Jones, “Chiraq

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This year alone, 200 people in Chicago have been shot and killed with another 1,088 injured. Nearly half of the city’s homicide victims1 were between the ages of 17 and 25. Gun violence disproportionately affects and is perpetrated by Blacks and Hispanics. Black-on-black or brown-on-brown crime has oft been the boogie man for “tough on crime” politicians. Recent work, however, has deepened understanding and is beginning to reframe the issue as a manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 40% of patients to go through Chicago’s Cook County Hospital showed symptoms of PTSD. Childhood development makes PTSD in kids difficult understood and unpredictable. Programs around the Chi have recently sprouted to address youth PTSD like the Urban Warriors program, which partner kids “who live in high-violence neighborhoods, with veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and who might understand what they’re going through.

It’s impossible to remove Chance the Rapper’s music from the context of gun violence and the psychological effect it’s had on the generation of Chicagoans he represents or the city of Chicago itself— and the conditions of the city’s southside that raised him.

Chicago is the most racially segregated city in America. Racist housing policy, irresponsible city planning, and a culture of incarceration2 has collectively lent itself to a generation of fatherless kids who regularly lose childhood friends to gun violence but still give thanks for not getting shot today, wanting nothing more than to simply grow up to be alive.[/note] What are we even doing here? There is no place for this in America.[/note]

Coloring Book is a remarkably grounded exercise in world-building. In the mixtape’s universe, it/he/we are lucky, blessed, consecrated, fortunate, exalted, glorified, all the above to even see the light of day. The unlikely endeavor of being, breathing, and creating is made remarkable and remarked upon.

The album and its creative force Lil Chano have breathed dazzling horns and insurmountable energy into an unprecedented sound coming from a Chi-town hip hop scene still shaking its recent drill music past. As the dominant type of Chicago rap,3 Drill has often been—rightly or wrongly—scapegoated as a primary reason for Chicago’s violent youth culture. It may or may not be, but Coloring Book4 offers a whole other world filled with love, self-reflection, and faith.

Art is either a reflection or a forecast of the culture it represents. With murder rates rising in Chi-town, I hope that that’s the case here.

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One of Chano’s most obvious retreats was and is church. For a boy on the come up, church is a place full of contradictions. Heaven and hell. Sermons and serpents. Jeremiah and Job. The sole pursuit of faith balanced with the need for communion. The holiness of God and the lascivious world of temptation.

Listening to Chance’s latest drop for the first time, you knew to expect church. Coloring Book, it turns out, is cathedral of a mixtape filled with echoes and confession, celebration and sin, supplication and rapture. It’s the highest form of what he’s been reaching for to date.

Chance greets us in “All We Got” as cheerful as ever. The song serves as a life-update,5 a dedication6 and celebration.7

To hear Kanye West say “music is all we got”—and mean it—is an echo of an earlier Kanye. The pink-poloed-All-Falls-Down-backpack-slangin Kanye. We need more of that Kanye, which we caught a glimpse of in The Life of Pablo. The pairing of Ye and Chano is an echo of that opening salvo too. Midway through Chances first verse, he even snatches a rhythm from the earlier tune. At the same time, the song is an open confession that the music isn’t everything—that work must still be done:

Wish I could tell you it’s ready
Tell you it’s ready today
They don’t give nothing away
You gotta fight for your way
And that don’t take nothing away
Cause at the end of the day

We may not have much, but this is all we got. This music that you’re bumping to with the windows down, hauling ass down the turnpike. This love, this family, this song—it all confesses to the miracle of being.

To prove Chano still cares about a mixtape, you don’t have to look farther than the next song “No Problem.”8 Mixtapes and the ubiquity of free music have been a yacht-sized thorn in the side of the industry. “No Problem” is a celebratory fuck you to record labels and their A & R’s. And while they foreshadow a choir of upcoming features, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne represent two of the biggest rappers to have built their careers releasing 36 combined mixtapes.

Chainz stays weird,9 funny,10 and humbled.11 Weezy turns in one of his best verses in years,12 reminding everyone he is the undisputed champ of the mixtape class and culture.13 In a 40-bar romp, he weaves through the perks of being king and packs a dozen rhymes into two different four-bar stretches. Add Weezy F to the list of rapper resurrections Chance has presided over.14

Church needs faith, and Chance puts faith in the self-evident. I woke up this morning. My life is perfect. You’re special. On “Summer Friends” we see that that faith and enthusiasm emanates from tragedy and loss. Under the weight of layers and auto tune, Jeremih reaches for something incredible. Chance cuts through that suppression with a fun story about growing up in the Chi that turns into an all too real experience for most kids in the summer:

First day, nigga’s shooting
Summer school get to losing students
But the CPD getting new recruitment
Our summer don’t, our summer, our summer don’t get no shine no more
Our summer die, our summer time don’t got no time no more

Tragedy and loss are no strangers to youth of Chicago. Through the heat of a thick August, you can hear Lil Chano crooning, “Summer friends don’t stay.”

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As a new father surrounded by this tragic inevitability, family has clearly taken on new meaning for Chance. This isn’t any clearer than in “Same Drugs,” a tender song about the moment the yellow marble turns a partly blue.15 It’s about growing up, not just for yourself but for the one you knew, the one you love, and the one you raise.

In a clever reframing of the Peter Pan, Chance becomes the boy who never grows up—who Wendy is, on the other hand, has many possibilities. Obviously, she’s the eldest Darling child with a “motherly” personality who eventually chooses to abandon childish things.16 Then there’s Wendy from Kanye’s “Homecoming”—a girl you’ve known since three who you loved and lost but still calls to talk about the kids wanting to be like Kanye.17 Through watching Wendy grow old, it exposes Chance as a proxy for yourself growing old too. “Don’t forget the happy thoughts” turns into a plea for Wendy and self.

Collapse the artist Chance with the person Chance,18 Wendy is both his fiancée and daughter. Despite an emotional proximity, Chance and his fiancée live vastly different day-to-day lives19 that have to be reconciled when they come home together.20 Wendy is the little one you don’t want to grow any older.21

Not unlike “Summer Friends,” “Same Drugs” is fun and easy to sing along to—because drugs—but implicit in the “We don’t do the same drugs no more” is the realization that growing up sucks. Wendy is that girl in elementary school I sold the crack pipe to at the gas station. Wendy is my little sister. Wendy is my 1-year old daughter learning to fly. All you need is happy thoughts.

Wide eyed kids being kids
When did you stop?
What did you do to your hair?
Where did you go to end up right back here?
When did you start to forget how to fly?

The end of childhood is tragic. It’s at that precise moment—the inflection point of every childhood—that “We don’t do the same drugs no more” turns from a fun, meme-able refrain into a chilling diagnosis for how we got here and how we ended up so far apart.

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 Coloring Book is simultaneously responding to its environment while closing the trilogy. Chano has a real sense of scope and legacy, and he’s spoken on the desire to complete a holy mixtape trinity. He told Complex recently, “Everything you write as an artist is about your legacy and your catalog, and how you would look in a museum.”

If you hung up the cover art of Chance’s mixtapes like it were a museum installation, you’d get an indication of how much each of Chance’s works speak to each other.22 The tryptic gives us a small arc of Chance’s career and growth as an artist. A young rapscallion on 10 Day, Chano was fixed on something higher—warm while the world remained cold.

On Acid Rap, he’s looking right23 at you, eyes wide open, straight ahead. He becomes purple24 as he seeks balance throughout the mixtape. He is the color of an august album that learns to celebrate not in spite but exactly because of the “kid’s toetagging” and “everybody dying in the summer.”

In the three years between Chance2 and Chance3, he became the first independent artist to perform on Saturday Night Live then did it again. He negotiated a rare deal (for a friend) with the largest music distributor in the world that guaranteed his music remained not just free but for freedom. He lectured at Harvard. He starred in a VICE short film.  He graced tracks for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, West, Madonna and Mike Tyson, Busta Rhymes, James Blake, Lil Wayne, his actual brother Taylor Bennet, and like 20 other folks. He put on free shows all over his hometown and surprise-chaperoned Chicago Public School field trips. He constantly raised up his community. He had a daughter.

It’s no wonder that on the cover of Coloring Book, he is now cool one, and all that warmth, he’s imposed upon the world.

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Chance makes the music I wish I had. Not just because it’s genre-bending but because it has a force of faith and enthusiasm I wish I had the tenth of to put into any work I’ve ever made. To do and create a Great Thing requires not only imagining it but a full-hearted belief that it is achievable and that I am the only one capable of making it so. In the deeply personal space of creating art, it is an act of faith in one’s self. Being and doing and acting on that faith is a radical form of self-love, and now is the time for self-love in Chicago and across a country dealing with the worst political identity crisis in a hot minute. This is all we got.

Part of Chance’s gift is his comfort and conviction of metaphors like serpents and mustard seeds, but what makes him truly special is the sweeping world he’s able to build out of his faith. Chance is the master of the cold reference and uses them to create worlds—pulling as easily from Western literary canon25 to modern black street art26. He’s just as comfortable calling on Harry Potter27 as he is speaking Hebrew.28

We expect from art—and especially faith—to be whole and irreproachable, but Chance admits freely that it’s all broken, fragmented, and rarely purely his. Instead, he arranges and rearranges until it rhymes. He’s the kaleidoscope, the unity of disparate things that refracted against each other make something else entirely.

But it doesn’t end with the end. The work of Coloring Book is constantly in motion, drawing and redrawing spaces for folks to believe in a not-too-distant world filled with grandmothers and childhood friends, a world of summer schools and rolling rinks, a world where loss leads to enlightenment. For doing that, this mixtape is more church than church.29

It’s not the intro it’s the entrée to something bigger. It’s a deeply personal connection to something higher, but just as church is not complete with faith alone, making a better world means doing better things. It’s always been yours and mine to fill in. It’s a Coloring Book, after all, and the book don’t end with Malachi. It’s a call to action, and now, finally, we have a musical language—at least a soundtrack—to sing and dance about the fruition of hope and change. This is a god dream. Welcome to the Church of Chance.

 

 

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What a Super Tuesday it was! But what does it mean?

And the circus continues. The weeks following Super Tuesday,1 are when see the shape of the general election beginning to form. Smarter folks than I start drawing out narratives. Here are some stories.

The singular and inescapable takeaway of Super Tuesday is that the stage is set for a Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump general election. Both won seven out of 11 states and American Samoa. Both didn’t exactly surprise observers in the states won column, but the strength of the respective coalitions Clinton and Trump have coalesced is truly eye-opening.

It turns out both can win in the south—but that means dramatically different things on each side. It’s important to keep in mind when we talk about primary voters, especially in the south, that their demographics vary wildly.2 A tale of two electorate bodies, if you will.

More stark in the south than any other, Democratic primary voters don’t only have different values from their Republican counterparts, but they look very different too. In Georgia for example, the African American community makes up less than a third (31%) of eligible voters, however, they cast over a majority (51%) of 2008 ballots. Turnout numbers from that election cycle are by no means a good corollary for this year, 3 however, the numbers still point to the major racial chasm that underpins our parties’ polarization.

Great Orange Porpoise (GOP)

Trump has a hefty delegate lead (316-226-106 according to RCP early Wednesday morning) but a lot critics are quick to point to the fact he didn’t win the majority of the vote or even a majority of the delegate count. The inevitable outcome of Trump’s inability to pull together a majority coalition is a brokered convention4—painted by critics as the last possible stand to stop the Great Orange Porpoise. An open convention doesn’t shut Trump out of the decision making process though. By virtue of numbers and representation an open convention is less populist for sure,5 but it’s not inconceivable that he offers John Kasich or even Ted Cruz a spot on the ticket or in his cabinet in exchange for their delegates.

An open convention would be good television—and, right in the weird vortex of 2016 presidential election cycle wheelhouse, an incredible opportunity for Trump to flex his deal-making skills. That’s right, his candidacy may very well rest on his ability to close a deal.6

In the meantime, Trump’s lack of a majority coalition and others’ inability to pull fundamentally alter the course of the campaign keeps the GOP field fractured and all the candidates in the race.7 So a plurality of ego will maintain the status quo, and Trump won’t ever need to win more than 40% of the primary vote to ride into the convention with proportionally the same lead he has now.

To celebrate his Super Tuesday victory, Trump’s campaign declined the typical rally and victory speech made by nearly every candidate since Hoover.8  Instead he opted for a brief statement and a press conference. It was strange. Trump was conciliatory but on fire. Reporters were on the attack. Chris Christie was silently trapped in a living nightmare. Cable news carried it for forty-plus minutes. Trump supporters were absent. On the whole, it was a magnificent piece of performance art.

My one gripe is that I wish Trump had gone longer. If he’d chosen to run a 90-minute to two-hour presser, CNN and MSNBC would have stuck with him. I cannot iterate enough how novel the choice was to hold a q and a with reporters on Super Tuesday night. Compared to the other candidates—who looked like candidates at a campaign trail rally—standing behind a podium backing off radical positions, weaseling a bit more to the center, and generally captivating the national conscious for nearly an hour was a feat that looked downright presidential.9

Dems the Yams

Hillary Clinton crushed the South, like bless-her-heart-and-these-stars-and-bars-by-the-good-grace-of-Dixie steamrolled to a 543-349 delegate lead (according to RCP early Wednesday morning). And where the republicans relied on older, conservative and evangelical white voters, Clinton won on the back of black and brown voters.

She absolutely dominated the African American vote, thumping Sanders routinely by 60-point margins and creeping into 90% territory for several states.

Clinton also dispelled any notion that Nevada augured trouble with the Hispanic vote.

Bernie wins 4! Is a semi-popular narrative pushed out by the Sanders’ campaign and its acolytes, but that still also points to a state-focused—not precint-, district-, and delegate-focused—campaign strategy. Whether by design or nature, the middle to upper-middle class white coalition that Sanders has such a firm hold on will not deliver him the Democratic Party nomination.

Without a retail politics approach applied at full-court press intensity in black churches and community organizations across the South, Sanders now relies on a Ray-Allen-corner-three-in-the-last-game-of-the-NBA-Finals-but-on-the-grace-of-a-fortunate-offensive-rebound-type wild finish.10

It almost certainly won’t happen.

Ironically, despite a stronger civil right record, the Jewish organizer from Brooklyn, New York just couldn’t break through. Sanders fundraised a whopping $42M in February though, all but ensuring that he’ll be around till the end, acting as the liberal conscience11 of the party.

Clinton is already using the message of togetherness12 to pit herself against Trump. Unity will be a word continues to use more and more as she positions herself as the elder stateswoman that is the only real choice in the general election.

As long as Sanders sticks around and progressives continue to rally, she’ll have to do some unifying of the Democratic party too. Looking forward, Clinton will have to tap Sanders or at least someone in the liberal flank of the party13 as her running mate.

For a guy who was polling at 3% a year ago, that’s a pretty significant impact to make on one of the craziest presidential election cycles ever.

 

 

What the hell happened Saturday? – Pt. 2: Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, Chance’s better angels, and Kendrick’s Grammy performance

This thinkpiece1 is the second of a tryptic of posts trying to wrap my head around what happened Saturday. Quick recap: The night started out with a GOP Debate that was clearly written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. During this time, the greatest NBA Slam Dunk competition in the history of ever happened (and by extension, the best overall mini-games day of All-Star Weekend in recent memory). Then, Chance the Rapper killed Saturday Night Live—like I-was-transported-to-an-otherworldly-church killed—presaging the release of Kanye West’s latest album, which is singularly the most erratic, momentarily brilliant filament of platinum I’ve consumed in a long time. Needless to say, I stayed up late trying to make sense of it all. I’m still digesting.

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“What if Kanye made a song, about Kanye?

Called “I Miss the Old Kanye,” man that would be so Kanye” – Kanye West, “I Love Kanye”

“[T]he mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of “personality,” not being necessarily more interesting, or having “more to say,” but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations…The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the [oxygen and sulfur dioxide] are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. – TS Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

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Of course the tragedy that is Kanye West would ensure that The Life of Pablo was always going to be disappointing, but fortunately, Kanye brought Chance the Rapper with him on SNL, lifting him and us up to new heights. TLOP has proven to be a decent album peppered with near-genius production, largely held up by a simulacra of emotional and intellectual depth that ultimately kept it coming up short and out of water.

Produced by any other hip hop artist, TLOP would be a fine work worthy of much praise. But Kanye is not merely another hip hop artist. Kanye is influential. Kanye is genre-defining. Kanye is enigmatic as hell, and Kanye, through Kanye’s sheer force of will, changed hip hop.

Kanye spends most of his time waxing about how Kanye is all these things.

I think I’m over Kanye.2

Alas, Kanye wasn’t the only thing to happen to hip hop since Saturday. The Grammy’s came and went. They weren’t the train wreck the Oscars3 were. Still stifled by its own injustices, we at least got to witness Kendrick Lamar perform one for the ages and hopefully the first of many cute, clever way to take shots at Kanye.

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I miss the old Kanye,

Straight from the go Kanye

Perhaps more than any other rapper since the turn of the century, the experience of listening to Kanye’s music matters. I remember a 15-year-old me falling onto my pillow with Late Registration pumping through the lightweight headphones of a JVC CD player. I spent the months after college playing pickup in the heat of a summer sun, blasting Yeezus to the displeasure of unsuspecting straight-laced park patrons.

Kanye was all about experiences back then too—even when his albums became more self-centered.4 Kanye didn’t just care about the experience of struggling and ultimately failing to keep a promise to his mother or the experience of turning that failure into an advantage or the experience of imposing your identity politics on a world so shockingly prepared to embrace you. He cared about the experience of listening to his story; old Ye wanted to make sure you heard yourself in him.

Ya. I miss the old Kanye. I miss the catalyst and product Kanye, the platinum and acid Kanye. I miss the “more finely perfected medium” Kanye.

I miss the old Kanye who cared about the people around him—not because he was a philanthropist or represented the struggle—but because that was his pallet, the subject matter he rapped about. For old Kanye, those stories mattered, and he was giving them voice. Kanye’s focus on fashion, and most recently, tech, has come to consume him. As a result, his singular vision—centered on what Kanye can do, what Kanye should do—has replaced what was truly remarkable about him in the first place.

Finally listening to TLOP after midnight, in the wee hours of Valentine’s Day, was unremarkable and flat. The album was supposed to drop Feb 11 after his fashion show. He added six new tracks though—in large part thanks to Chance. Fine. This pushed the release date to the 12th. Which meant I spent the day periodically checking his website, Twitter, Tidal5 to no avail.

Then somewhere on one of my timelines, the SNL performance popped up:

 

First impressions are dangerous. I kept asking myself, What the hell, Kanye? This is what you made me wait for? This is what you’ve been perfecting? But then the whole tone and texture of the performance changed when the other voices came in—the choir, The-Dream, Kelly Price, and Chance the Rapper—to lift him and the rest of us all up somewhere we’ve never been.

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I hate the new Kanye

It’s not the misogyny in the music, the bumbled release, or the sheer hubris it takes to say and believe “I am a God.”6 It’s not even the pre-pubescent lack of focus, which is, in large part responsible for the expansiveness and underlying disorder of TLOP. I don’t care that his words aren’t saying anything we haven’t heard before. 7 At least he’s saying enough to not tank the whole damn production.

   West excels at bringing people and styles together and assembling them in uncanny ways.

If there is brilliance in this latest iteration of Ye, it’s that TLOP is his first real synthesis. Each project before was distinct in its style8 and for the first time, he pulls together those influences in a single album. TLOP is a good album—an A-/B+ by Ye’s standards.9 He even captures and expands on the syllabic tripling made popular by Migos and now Future to set a pace which largely been unheard to this point.

What’s most striking about this Kanye project is that Kanye is at his best when Kanye’s not at the center. It’s no coincidence that the best parts of TLOP are when Kanye’s not rapping.10 West excels at bringing people and styles together and assembling them in uncanny ways. TLOP is the ultimate manifestation of this skill. Only Kanye could so convincingly tie the myriad of loose ends that are the samples, features, bloops and bleeps of his latest album into something semi-lucid enough to be considered whole. Kanye as composer. Kanye as fulcrum. Kanye as medium.

If that proved to be Ye’s legacy from here on out, that would be enough to crown him GOAT. If he remained the catalyst that pulled these previously disparate voices together, he’d be platinum for life. Think about the opportunity to continually influence the next wave of rappers and producers and then bringing them onto the next project to influence the next cadre of hip hop artists. Kanye’s own personal self-fulfilling echo chamber. What irony is this that the lack of Kanye’s presence could amplify Kanye’s impact.

He’ll never figure this out though. Tragic Kanye continues to hold GOAT Kanye back.

More insidious than anything is the work Kanye’s done to mar the window into Kanye’s creative process—a perspective I am always grateful for across any genre.11 Kanye, by being Kanye, has ruined Kanye’s music for so many who would otherwise adore Kanye and Kanye’s music, and that sad-ass fact is starting to impact my own perception of Kanye’s music12

There’s an established school of thinking in art and literary criticism that says any work is and should be independent from the biographical information of the artist. I wholly abide by this. We are all creatures of consumption, and if we had to question the morality, judgement, and character of every author of the things we consume, the whole world’s economy would seize into paralysis. I hate that Kanye makes me want to abjectly reject such a fundamental theory that’s underpinned my whole conception of art—largely on the weight of disgust. It’s not the type of questioning of assumptions Kanye should be proud of.

Kanye needs a break from Kanye—at least a breather or a step back.

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See I invented Kanye.

It wasn’t any Kanyes.

Now I look and look around and there’s so many Kanyes

“Ultralight Beams” is one of Kanye’s rare gems that rely on heavily on pace and layers.13 This is in large part due to all the features. Even the song title foreshadows the ambivalence between utter lack of substance and beam-me-up-Scotty transcendence. Which makes sense if you accept UB as a conversation with and within church. Within communion and congregation, in song or in practice, you accept the range of voices from the small-minded to the stoic to the soaring. This is in-the-room music for every room.

When they come for you, I will shield your name.

I will field their questions. I will feel your pain.

They don’t— they don’t know.

They don’t know. (Chano on 79th)

It’s no coincidence either that UB features more artists than any other track on TLOP. Each new voice represents an incremental tonal shift that traces the arc of rapture. First, Kanye’s trepidation as his “dream” falls out of pitch. Then enter The-Dream’s quiet restraint that sets the foundation for Kelly Price’s flight to a higher plane. And of course mid-air, Chance swoops in to reframe the very thing you were listening to, plucking these wings made for flight, pointing out you’ve been swimming this whole time.

Chance, who’s spent his entire waking life looking up to Kanye, casts his Lot with Genesis, imagining himself a righteous man of God. Generations above Jesus, he skips across the surface of genealogy like it ain’t no thing in the service of a lighthearted pun, a sincere dig at young love.14

I’m just having fun with it.

You know that a nigga was lost,

I laugh in my head because I bet that my ex lookin back like a pillar of salt.

Ughhhhh. (Chano on 79th)

In rhyme, rhythm and spirit, this 22-year old layers remarkable resonances until they falls back on themselves. A cascading kaleidoscope of shimmering light playing with our ears, signaling something about the way we listen: texture.

If you don’t like Kanye’s music, it’s easy to gloss over Kanye, to make Kanye the butt of every joke, and ignore Kanye’s hold on young minds.

In the shadow of Price’s reassurance, “that you’ll take good care of your child…we look to the light.” Enter Chance the Ultralight Beam. Throughout his verse, Chano reflects and imbues his relationship with a higher spirit with the love of daughter. At once, he is both father15 and child,16 teacher17 and student,18 at home19 and abroad.20 and the rest of him freewheeling into the present,21 Chance finds himself at liberty, squarely in the tradition of crafting new combinations. South side of Chicago folk hero Kanye West sets the stage for Chance—literally, in the case of the SNL performance. When Chano stops rhyming in the middle of the song, he insists that it’s his time to speak. He takes, occupies, and fills up the space Kanye once held while the old head looks on, smiling and struck by the spirit.

If you don’t like Kanye’s music, it’s easy to gloss over Kanye, to make Kanye the butt of every joke,22 and ignore Kanye’s hold on young minds.

One of hip hop’s loudest voices in 2016 croons in full-throated invocation of a higher power—full of rainbows and gosh darns, awe and power, soda fountain musicals and grand mama’s hands.

Ya, for sure, I love Chano like Kanye loves Kanye.

Every Chano cut pushes forward the boundaries of hip hop, this thing that we always thought we knew so well. He indulges fully—an approach ripped straight from his predecessors23—his better angels. And for that,24 we owe a great debt to Kanye.

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Still no one likes jazz rap

Kendrick Lamar gave a Grammy performance for the ages on Monday night. In nine minutes he compressed the sweeping expression of modern black culture that is To Pimp a Butterfly. He even added an air of theatrical plot development—yet another genre-bending move worthy of music’s highest honor.

The performance was painful, celebratory, and relentless.

It stole the coming days’ conversation but the Grammy voters stole his award.

After all, no hip-hop song has won record or song of the year at the Grammy’s. Only two hip hop artists have ever won Album of the Year, and one them beat out none other than your boy Kendrick. The institutional racism that uses a Kdot performance to boost ratings and credibility while denying him it’s top honor for a universally acclaimed album that skewers institutional racism among other things is an irony I cannot bear.

Taylor Swift is nice, happy, and marketable. I wish her all the commercial success in the world.25 I also wish her a fierce rebellious phase that rejects the comforts she’s been afforded.26 I wish the self-awareness and courage to recognize and publicly address that she wasn’t the underdog this time, probably wasn’t really ever27 and won’t be anytime soon.

I’d like to scream into the wind and whip up a fervor. I’d like to foam at the mouth. I’d like to disabuse ourselves of this duplicitous notion that the Grammy’s are about high art and not the safe, commercially successful alternative. But I’ll save it for next year when Kendrick loses AOY to the next Adam Levine.

 

 

What the hell happened Saturday? – Pt. 1: The Slam Dunk Competition and other takeaways from NBA All-Star weekend

This thinkpiece1 is part one of a tryptic of posts trying to wrap my head around what happened Saturday. Quick recap: The night started out with a GOP Debate that was clearly written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. During this time, the greatest NBA Slam Dunk competition in the history of ever happened (and by extension, the best overall mini-games day of All-Star Weekend in recent memory). Then, Chance the Rapper killed Saturday Night Live—like I-was-transported-to-an-otherworldly-church killed—presaging the release of Kanye West’s latest album, which is singularly the most erratic, momentarily brilliant filament of platinum I’ve consumed in a long time. Needless to say, I stayed up late trying to make sense of it all. I’m still digesting.

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“Man, did you hear what Drake just said? He said this is the game with the 24 best players in the world. You’re one of those guys. Embrace it all, because you never would have thought that when you were at Michigan State, and I never would have thought that when I was coaching Division II, but we’re here.” –Coach Gregg Popovich [to Draymond Green pre-tipoff]

“I’m not a role model…just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” –Sir Charles Barkley

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But who’ll raise the kids dunking basketballs?

If the world ever figures out how to put a gif on a tombstone, let it be known at this time in this place, this is the one for me:

Quick breakdown: You’re watching fingers-crossed-heir-apparent Andrew Wiggins’s brain melt into the same fluorescent color as his metallic jacket, while the rest of his body perfects the platonic form of the hold-me-back-but-prop-me-up-DAYUMMMM-I’ve-just-been-struck-by-the-spirit pose. Karl Anthony-Towns’ look of absolute disbelief then sudden and extreme joy reminds me too much of my son when I pretend to take his sister’s nose. Demarcus Cousins has to help his Kentucky running mate John Wall, whose legs have apparently lost the ability to perform a routine standing up maneuver. Thank god for DeMarre Carroll who actually blinked during the dunk in question, but looks so damn fly it doesn’t even matter.

The dunk contest might well have been worth it for giving us this gif alone. Alas, there were some jaw-dropping, dope dunks to go along with it. 2

Aaron Gordon’s mission was to give us four dunks we’d never seen before. He did that, and in the service of originality, he helped uplift this withering event to new heights, recast a banal event into must-see television, and reframed the very limits of what is humanly possible on a basketball court.

Dunk 1

Dunk 2

Dunk 3

Dunk 4

Dunk 5

Dunk 6

For years, basketball fans have been lamenting the absence of marquee names—a departure from decades-previous competitions that featured Michael, ‘Nique, Clyde, Kemp, Kersey, Vince and Tracy. Zach Lavine did well enough last year to abate that criticism, and with Gordon’s help this year, slayed the detractors.

Dunk 1

Dunk 2

Dunk 3

Dunk 4

Dunk 5

Dunk 6

The value of the slam dunk competition has been historically misregarded. Conventional wisdom says you need the biggest and best superstars to restore the Slam Dunk competition to its former glory, but the truth is: we never needed star power; we just needed great, mind-bending dunks.

The slam dunk competition, after all, is about awe, wonder, and capturing the child-like imagination.3 It distills, in its most potent form, what is humanly possible on a basketball court and acts as the perfect metaphor for the “I believe I can fly” narrative. It’s actually better that the dunk contest be stocked with young guys that casual fans have barely heard of; the relative anonymity of the dunkers only makes their rise more unlikely, dramatic, and, in some ways, relatable. It breathes life into this kid’s hoop dreams and dusted off my own, which I’d shelved years ago.

Unless it’s still unclear, Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon gave us the. Greatest. Dunking. Duel. Ever. Reminiscent of Travolta-Cage or Westley-Inigo or Iago-Othello or Travolta-Slater, Lavine and Gordon went at it old school mano y mano in double dunk-off, but in the freshest, most post-millennial way possible.

We used to worship human highlight reels, but this peerless duo gave us YOLO Snapchat dunks that’ll live forever on Vine in the era of we’ve seen it all already on seven different streaming services. Lavine and Gordon demolished the idols of old and did it rudely. They didn’t leave a farewell note or even bother to look back at the mess.

Seriously these guys are both 20.4 Meaning they can’t even legally drink and also that they don’t remember Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady in 2000, which means they don’t remember that dunk contest being compared to the all-time greatest faceoff between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in 1988. So perhaps they don’t fully realize the magnitude of their place in slam dunk history, but hey, they broke Twitter.5

Zach Lavine’s airy hangtime made human flight seem possible, and Aaron Gordon’s carved-from-marble strength made you think you were witnessing a previously undiscovered force of nature.

Everyone forgot pretty exciting Skills and Three-point Shooting Competitions

Karl-Anthony Towns, rookie and owner of the absolute disbelief mug above, won the Skills Competition! Not only is he talented. He’s tall, really tall—like seven feet tall. In fact, he’s the tallest dude to ever win the Skills Competition. To match the hype and the height, KAT snatched the title from the smallest competitor Isaiah Thomas in final-round-of-48, first-one-to-hit-a-three-wins-the-game dramatic fashion. Bullyish ball, baby.

Klay Thompson beat out Stephen Curry and Devin Booker to take home the three-point shooting title. Thompson is the best pure shooter in the NBA and deserves it. He had to sink just two corner threes on the final rack to win, and he drilled every. Single. One. Of. Them.6

Mama, there goes that man.

Now the Splash Brothers have matching shooting titles and that silly moniker is for reals something to be feared across the league. They’re adorable. The whole damn Warriors phenomena is adorable.7

Speaking of adorable. Devin Booker was included in a conversation with Steph Curry and Klay, and he’s like super adorable. I mean:

devin booker 1

C’mon man.

devin booker 2

Devin, you have to stop.

devin booker 3

Studs.

His inclusion in this conversation of best three-point shooters in the NBA is further testament to a surprisingly deep draft class. This baby face assassin was taken 13th overall and is barely 19 years old. I can’t wait to see him develop into a faster, stronger Ray Allen, as well as star on ABC’s The Bachelor season 23.

Drake’s hosts and posts some sartorial game

It’s well documented that that NBA players wear some ridiculous outfits off the court. 2016 All-Star MVP Russel Westbrook leads the pack in this regard. As de facto Toronto ambassador to everything and host of this year’s festivities, Drake took the opportunity to get in on the action.

Do Right And Kill Everything:

Drake coach

Noted Kentucky fan Drake channeled his inner Coach Calipari as he led Team Canada to victory in the celebrity game.

drake pink vest

Noted Furby fan that he is, Drake channeled every millennial’s favorite elementary school toy as he watched Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon defy the laws of physics in this cool pink fluffy vest that says, “Go on, pet it. You know you want to.”

drake mamba

Noted Kobe fan Drake dons a Farewell Mamba jacket from a 90s-style sweatshop that zapped Kobe of his killer instinct. What possible other reason did he go 4 of 11?

All-star game sets a record for points

The West scored 196 points and the East scored 173 points in regulation making the 2016 All-Star Game the most All-Star Gamiest—setting records for individual team and overall points scored in an ASG.

Five free throws were attempted, two blocks recorded on 286 field goals attempted 8 and exactly zero defense played—even when Lebron squared up against Kobe and slapped the floor Michael Jordan-style.9

Yes, it was a record, and yes, it was tons o’ fun.

I only wish Kobe had completed his triple double so he could have been in serious consideration for ASGMVP. Kobe deserves everything, and if you don’t think so, you’re ignoring the fact that the NBA—and basketball and ball-like objects getting thrown at hoop-like objects in general10—is better because of his career.11

Lebron James changes up his free throw routine

Lebron James, perhaps the most scrutinized athlete in the world, changed up his free throw routine last week and no one noticed! To be fair, Lebron didn’t shoot any free throws this weekend on the biggest stage, etc.,12 so I suppose we can forgive the basketball media elite for this oversight.

Top Luckswing researcher Phi Phan,13 however, noted James’ new routine during the February 10th Cavs-Lakers game. In a thoroughly filed report Phan noted, “He now steps back with his left foot while spinning the ball in his left hand.14 More importantly, James has also added a right shoulder shimmy a la Kevin Durant before he squares up for the release.”

The sample size is small, but since incorporating this new routine, James has gone 40% on 2 of 5 free throw attempts. Sources close to the situation say, we’re about to have a crisis on our hands.

This isn’t the first time he’s changed his routine or his mechanics at the charity stripe. It was noted twice last year and in 2013 when he was with the Miami Heat. Which begs the question: where are the pundits?15 Where’s the outrage? Who’ll be the first to cry, “THUG!”? Why aren’t the media heads spinning in the back with their grinning gun slinging god fearing swinging blinging top of the ninth inning bringing winning outrage machinery-ing?

Even NBA Reddit is quiet on this, which is like your drunk racist uncle downing a fifth of Knob Creek at Thanksgiving then proceeding to not have an opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s weird.

My only hope is, everyone’s noticed but is choosing to remain silent because there are more important things in sports to cover.16 In which case, I’m the only asshole writing about it.17

2015 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference, Round 1

Listen. Listen. Listen. That’s how I’ve been taught to get people’s attention—just repeating the word listen. Are you listening?

It’s been a while since I’ve written basketball things, but, like, it’s NBA basketball season 2.0, the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that ends the never-ending, highlight-manufacturing, circus show that is the NBA season in a burning blaze of glory. And I should have plenty in the tank so to speak, since I haven’t exactly availed of the aforementioned idiomatic tank in a veritable long ass time.

Atlanta Hawks (1) v. Brooklyn Nets (8)

Alright, so Kyle Korver narrowly missed being the only dude ever to make the 90-50-50 club (with a paltry 89.8 FT%, 49.2 3PT%, 48.7 FG%), but let’s be honest and admit that back in November, this was what we, the basketball elite, and Hawks fans from Macedonia to Decatur were positive was going to be the most memorable thing the Hawks did this year.

Yet somehow Coach Mike Budenholzer has orchestrated a magical season, turning a watery (pretty muddy water at that) lineup into a fine, 60-win vintage with notes of juniper berry that finish with savory, peppery undertones (read: Coach Bud is Jesus, which makes Greg Popovich God). Four of the starters made the All-Star game, only the seventh time in the history of the NBA. Collectively, they balance the 10th best offense that assists the second highest total in the NBA with the 5th best defense—all without anyone averaging more than 17 points or 33 minutes per game (both: Paul Millsap).

The Hawks have given us shades of the Spurs-East, and at times have been the most entertaining team to watch in the NBA (sorry I’m not sorry, Steve Kerr). This has been in large part due to the revelation Al Horford has been, putting up numbers not unlike The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan, himself.

               Player A: 18.0p, 8.4r, 3.8a, 1.5b, 53.8fg%, 21.4 PER, 8.7 WS

               Player B: 17.3p, 11.4r, 3.7a, 2.4b, 51.2fg%, 22.6 PER, 9.6 WS

Hold the suspense. Horford is Player A. Let’s keep in mind, Horford played only 29 games last season and 11 games two seasons before that.

Lastly, in your NBA playoff bacchanalia that I’ve been assured other people do as well and is a perfectly normal ass thing to do in celebration of the greatest sports event ever, don’t’ forget to pour one out for Thabo.

PREDICTION: Give me the broom. Give me the broom. *sung to Biggie’s “Give Me the Loot.” Hawks sweep.

Toronto Raptors (4) v. Washington Wizards (5)

This will be the second most intriguing matchup in the East. 2 things to watch out for besides the backcourt battle:

  1. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri launching another f-bomb in a pre-playoff game hype train spinning off a geopolitical beef with Paul Pierce that may or may not include POTUS, launch codes, and chants of Buck the FlueJays till infinite.
  2. What banal and innocuous hygiene tool will DRAKE! turn into one of the most brilliant marketing schemes of the year? What could possibly be better than lint rollers? Floss? Toenail clippers (wait, Steve Ballmer, did we just stumble into something together?!)? Hair curlers? Those tiny paper cups that fancy people keep in a dispenser for rinsing mouthwash? Indentured servants? Lest we forget, since DRAKE! officially partnered with the Raptors organization as “Trill Ass Global Skrilla Ambassador” or T.A.G.S.A., they have gone from a 34-win team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years to one of the best teams in the shitty Eastern Conference to get bounced in the first round.

PREDICTION: Toronto will make it to the second round for the first time since 2001 and for only their second time in franchise history. It will take all 7 games, a whole goddamn country’s sheer force of will, and a Jimmy Brooks type effort.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v. Boston Celtics (7)

Kyrie Irving has never played in a playoff game before. Neither has Kevin Love. The Celtics are surging. Brad Stevens is a wiz. All true statements. There’s also this:

Oof, harumph, and bazinga. Lebron James in the playoffs has averaged 28.0p, 6.4a, 8.4r on a crazy 48.2 fg% in an inhuman 42.7 playoff minutes per game. 2013 Finals, Game 6:

2008 First Round, Game 1 (LBJ first career playoff game):

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7:

2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1:

2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 2:

2014 Finals:

He may just eat your babies:

PREDICTION: Cavs in 5.

 

Chicago Bulls (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

This matchup is super duper fun times for basketball wonks. The Bulls find themselves in a rare position where they’re facing a statistically superior defense come playoff time (although marginally so)—97.4 pts Bucks allowed per game v. 97.8 Bulls allow. Oddly, the Bucks score precisely the amount of points the Bulls allow—97.8. Jason Kidd has turned this band of long-armed avatars into the 8th best defense in the league with the most steals per game (9.6), all while sharing the ball at the 7th best clip with 23.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, the hustle J Kidd has inculcated into his young shapeshifters come at the cost of rebounds. They rank 24th in the rebounds while the Bulls tally the 3rd best rebounding rate in the NBA. Have I mentioned the Bucks height yet though? The starters come in averaging 6’9”, of which they’ll need every inch to corral Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, while staving off a deep and talented Bulls front court. The major storyline for the Bulls: emergence and resurgence.

Pau Gasol playing like it’s 2005, bumping Lil Wayne on his 512 GB iPod Shuffle on the way to a cool 18.5p on an alarming 49.5 fg% and even more alarming 46.2 3pt%—oh yeah, and there’s the career high in rebounding (11.8).

Nikola Mirotic making the case for Rookie of the Year and James (Harden) Beard Award honors averaging 20.8p, 7.6r on 44.1 fg% in just 30.8 mpg in March.

Jimmy Butler emerging as a go to offensive player in addition to the nightly guard-the-best-perimiter-player role he’s so dutifully filled the last few years; in addition to resurging this past month, following a few weeks of a bona fide injury scare.

Taj Gibson also coming back from injury in the last month to put up solid double-double-esque numbers.

Joakim Noah finally moving the floor like the 20something he is, running the floor, getting those assist numbers up from 3.5 in January to 7.2 in March.

Derrick Rose suiting up at all.

PREDICTION: Jason Kidd will find a way to get fined sans spilling drinks (though he’ll undoubtedly think about it), and it’ll be the most entertaining defensive slugfest you’ve ever seen. Bulls in 6

 

Doodads and Knickknacks

 

MVP for Lebron

Lebron James is a phenomenal basketball player and deserves the MVP award.

From a statistical standpoint, he scores more than Steph Curry but less than Harden. He assists more than Harden, but less than Curry. He outrebounds them all. He has the highest field goal percentage on the highest attempts. He is without a doubt the best defender of the group.

Then there’s the how-valuable-is-he-to-the-team wrinkle that gives blowhards like Colin Cowherd the leeway to say stupid shit on airwaves like Russell Westbrook is the second coming of Shaft and White Jesus.

But ultimately, I think it comes down to this: the Cavs we’re looking at now didn’t exist 12 months ago. The coach is new. Two of the three best players are new, and only four players remain from last season’s roster. Whereas the Golden State Warriors are effectively the same team. Even the Houston Rockets’ continued core brain trust of Kevin McHale, James Harden, Dwight Howard and those three other dudes that were also on the roster last season positively impacted this season’s record. If continuity establishes trust, which is the bedrock of the game within the game, the turnover and new environments must be considered. That James could perform comparably to Curry and Harden in brand new (old) conditions, points to his deservingness.

I tried to start this section with something like “Stephen Curry and James Harden have had prodigious years…” I really did try, and they totally have. But fuck that. I get it. Nobody likes to see the same person win everything for forever. But the shear amount of articles I get bombarded with about the closeness of this MVP race that don’t actually go into the argument for Lebron James is an insult. We only get Lebron for like another 5 years. Maybe. He deserves all of it. Everything.

Pitchforks for Michael Jordan

I had the good fortune of stumbling onto the below beauty of a quote from the G.O.A.T., His Royal Airness Michael Jordan. In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Jordan prophesized, “Ultimately, if you can say that I’m a bad owner and we’re winning championships, I can live with that. But if we’re not making the playoffs and we’re spending and losing money, then I have to look in the mirror and say maybe I’m not taking the necessary steps to doing what it takes to run an organization.” If by some miracle, MJ ever happened upon this paragraph (he won’t), I want to maintain a semblance of respect and dignity (a first), so I won’t say the thing I really want to say (also a first). I wouldn’t venture to say eat crow, but maybe the lackluster performance as owner is having disastrous effects on the legacy of MJ? Pish posh and thimbles and stuff. We love you anyway, you gambling, self-aggrandizing, conceited, arrogant, bald, beautiful old-ladykiller, you.

Bitterness and Glee Reign, Man

Last night, Shawn Kemp hosted a party in celebration of the Thunder missing the playoffs. It was amazing. Or at least, I think it was. I have kids and was building a bunk bed from IKEA while everyone was getting turnt at Neumos. Thank god for Twitter:

A Tale of Two Videos: Tony Stewart & Ray Rice

Tony Stewart will not face charges on the murder, the vehicular homicide or the accidental death of Kevin Ward, Jr.

I’ve lost all hope in humanity.

The American justice system has failed yet again. I can only surmise Eric Holder’s recently announced resignation comes as a result of the inaction by officials to hold yet another a popular white “athlete” accountable for his crimes (see: Duke Lacrosse team, Oscar Pistorius, baseball players).

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Two weeks ago, the last apparent last bastion of the fourth estate TMZ released a video of Ray Rice shamelessly knocking out his then-fiancé Janay Palmer.

Once revered as maybe the top running back in the world, Rice’s career as it stands appears unredeemable. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The NFL Players Association has since appealed on his behalf, sighting tired (but unfortunately, most likely true) slippery slope, two punishments for one crime arguments.

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On August 9th in upstate New York a 43-year old man driving a 1400 pound vehicle at a speeds of nearly 140 miles per hour hit a 20-year man—a boy really. The young man with a long, bright future ahead of him died, almost immediately. It was caught on tape.

One would hope—given the above circumstances—that the full weight of the law and public reaction would fall on the culprit. One would imagine that said culprit would be collapse under the pressure, a charged and convicted criminal as the world celebrates the triumph of justice.

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So here we are. The NFL is the midst of a once-in-a-generation scandal. Employees are answering to the former Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (the goddamn Director of the F-B-goddamn-I!), turning over communications, cataloging steps taken and not taken in an investigation completed or not completed. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell—the shoot-first sheriff, self-proclaimed judge and jury of the NFL when he ascended to power—finds himself in the unusual position of target practice.

Rice is at fault, and the NFL and Goodell screwed everything to hell.

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There is a video that shows Ward’s murder. It wasn’t shown on ESPN or your local news, because it’s a video of someone dying (as if all that war footage of rockets firing and landing on nightly network news weren’t). Watch it here—if you can bear it.

The 43-year old man—Stewart, let’s be painfully clear—is free. He woke up this morning to a loving family, doting fans, a dedicated racing team and a job that he loves.

Ward will never get a chance to realize the NASCAR dreams Stewart shamelessly tried preserved in his all-too-early return to the track.

But more than that, Ward will never get to find and marry the love of his life, to swell with pride as he watches his children stumble and get back up, to grow old and see the world change. Ward will never get to turn the ignition or choke the throttle of his beat up no. 13, joke around with his team or get angry at his opponents, relish in victory or rise again from a loss.

Ward graduated from high school two years ago. Two years ago. And will remain fixed in his family’s memory an eternal 20-year old.

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The institution of the NFL has been turned inside out—and rightfully so—for countless reasons. Among these include: the culture of violence that has been absorbed by the players’ family members for years, the countless players facing even more countless charges of violent crimes and the apparent cover-up (or shameful ineptitude, if you’re an optimist) of the Rice incident—only the most recent indication of the NFL’s unspoken mandate to “protect the shield.”

Despite all this, last Sunday came and went. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the country flocked to their football meccas and millions tuned in at home. Billions of dollars were made in salary and advertising revenue. The testament of sport.

It would be pretentious, and in many ways wrong, to call for a boycott of the NFL—and not just because it would never happen. After all, most football players are by-and-large good people (I think) who understand that they’re not actually allowed to pulverize other people off the field.

I would hope that recent events have disrupted fandom—at least for a blip—causing unease and skepticism. There has been some reporting on this, but not nearly enough.

Football is good. Ray Rice is bad. And the NFL fucked up.

End scene.

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Ray Rice knocked someone unconscious—his partner nonetheless. He may never face judge or a jury, but he is being punished—by the league he belonged to, the team he was a part of and the American public at large.

Tony Stewart Killed a person. Where’s the indignation? Why hasn’t ESPN rushed to Ward’s aide with hours of outraged Olbermanns and Wilbons?

When we were talking about Ward’s death—for that brief two week period that quickly was swept under the rug the moment Stewart gloriously returned to the race track to bravely not lose his position in the Sprint cup race—we seemed to shy away from what actually happened. Our headlines never used the words like “killed” or “fatally struck.” Instead it was an unfortunate accident that happened to an unfortunately young person.

“…an on-track accident that left 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. dead.”

“…he was involved in an incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.”

“Kevin Ward Jr.’s death…”

“A sprint car racing incident involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart left another driver with fatal injuries…”

It’s no wonder that Stewart got away with murder. Our verbs hid him from the truth of it. I don’t know yet if that was for his sake or ours. Both are infuriating reasons.

Accidents and death are part of the machismo of racing. I get it. But Ward didn’t die in an accident. He died after an accident—when Stewart’s right front tire clipped Ward, throwing him in the air like a rag doll. As for machismo, the NFL certainly doesn’t lack in it, and they’ve still managed to hold individuals to a modicum of accountability—no matter how disjointed and backwards-ass the path is to get there.

Stewart Killed a person. It’s on tape. I’m still waiting for the Fury of God’s Own Thunder.

The Crossover: Greetings from Earth, Basketball is the Best I Ever Had

A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests (this is hardly true). There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you: The Crossover.

Shea Hurley:

Dujie,

Please respond to this email having something interesting to say about basketball. I’m a little bored. You’re probably not: congrats once again.

Michelle and me went to Leavenworth last weekend and climbed a proper mountain so it’s safe to say my ankle is mostly healed. I talked to your mom at the wedding, she said you felt at fault. I said you weren’t but that it was fine you going on thinking you were. So it goes.

Dujie Tahat:

I do feel at fault. You’d never played basketball really before and I should have warned you sooner that an ankle injury was inevitable if you didn’t get any basketball shoes. Unfortunately, yours was much, much worse than most (almost grotesquely so), and your subsequent employment was dependent on your physical prowess (not all of us can be 6’4”, a sinewy 215 and have a perfectly symmetrical face—so fuck you love you!) . Also, that was just one of the worst-sounding, -looking, gut-bending injuries I’ve ever been on a basketball court to witness. That definitely added to the guilt (for your stupid affinity for Tom Brady):

I’m over it now.

On this topic though, I have been meaning to ask you a question: what it was like to fall in love with basketball?

Yes. Love.

I’ve spent nearly as far back as I can remember playing basketball and can’t remember what it was like in the early years/months. Of course, over that time, I’ve fallen out of favor with the game, and subsequently, recommitted myself. Even then, there’s a rush when I lace up for the first time in a long time. The distinct tightness and traction of basketball shoes, a mishandled dribble, the first swish, when muscle memory takes over, even the pennies and compression shorts— it’s thrilling.

In those moments, during games, I find myself in complete ambivalence–one of those truly unsettling moments where you’re equally culpable to opposing forces. One the one hand, I am reorienting myself to the logistics of the game: positioning, spacing, assessing my side’s needs and focusing on those (i.e. rebounding, shooting, etc. (not et cetera: those are actually the only two things on a basketball court I can actually do)). On the other hand, I fight to get in “the zone”—which is already a losing battle I think because the sensation has always felt more like finding “the zone.” As if I had drunkenly, haphazardly and accidently stumbled into that state of mind that I’d characterize by a sharp dullness, or a sluggish honing.

It is a strange position to be in—rediscovering something you know so well—holding both these necessarily contradicting thoughts in a singular mind, in a singular body, in a singular game.  One requires thought and analysis; while the other demands near-blankness.

xoxo

 SR:

My affinity for Tom Brady—the great protagonist of the American Dream—is childish, sure, but it is not stupid. Lupe Fiasco is stupid, so were running shoes and I should have known that much without needing to be told.

As for love and basketball, I’m a little hesitant to throw love around while talking about a sport so new to me. But there was definitely something pseudo-romantic going on. Playing basketball had the same kinds of insecurities as a new love. I knew I was going to have to stop for a long time very soon and I was reminded always that it was a risky way to get in shape. If basketball was a love interest it was a fem fatal minx. I was infatuated, I had everything to lose, and I knew that at any moment it could expose me as a klutz and a fraud. I just didn’t think it would be so dramatic, or have such severe consequences when it happened.

Generally speaking, it is a bad situation to be in when your employment is dependent on your physical condition. Sometimes the job is worth it—it seemed like it was to me—most of the time it’s probably not.

As it turns out the premier rappel and jump bases in the country are both on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington. I asked one of the older hotshot guys why he never jumped and he told me to put a 100lbs pack on and jump off my house. That was why, he said. Needless to say aerially delivered fire-fighters get hurt constantly. A jumper a few years ago, seeing the rocks ahead of him, threw up in his flight helmet before breaking both his legs on impact. The point here is that an injury was likely all along, so no worries; I’d rather beef it in the gym in front of ten people than in the wilderness in front of, like, no one at all.

Anyway, back to basketball. They say if you’re new to something it is best not to be nervous when doing it and visa-versa, when you are skilled at something the nerves can heighten your senses and are generally good for performance. This was the pendulum swing I found myself moving through and I felt much more natural, even in the zone, while I was able to think less. Thinking less, of course, I can’t do consciously. When I was thinking more it was about what a big rube I must look like, with my tall socks, ticking-bomb shoes and general lack of basketball paraphernalia. Or maybe a ruse instead of a rube, like a big, cruel trick in the form of a rangy, althletic-looking body who you could be pretty sure played at least JV in high school but who was really completely inexperienced and (initially) completely unskilled. Brick, sorry. That’s the punch-line and the joke’s on you, teammates.

I only wish I found the game sooner.

stay dreamy

DT:

Lupe Fiasco is not stupid. He’s a God. Toe shoes are stupid. I mean for Christ’s sake, wear regular fucking shoes! Or go barefoot! Mostly just pick one—stop trying to do both!

Also Tom Brady is not, I repeat not, the Nick Carraway of the American Dream—way more like Gatsby, or our 21st century version:

I mean, sure, seventh round pick, career back up, turned his one opportunity into multiple MVPs and Lombardi trophies, but whatever: the dude benefitted from the most effective pro football system since Vince Lombardi’s 1960s patented “Our endzone is that way, idiot!” offense.

Tommy Boi went to private school, went to football camps led by former Atlanta Falcon (and ArenaBowl Champion!) Anthony Graziani and grew up in San Mateo, California, among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S. (just under $83,000 per capita), and the third wealthiest in California. There’s only one paradigm in the American Dream that his ascendency captures: MORE!

(Also, thanks Wikipedia for not failing to prove my point. This time.)

As far as basketball goes, I hadn’t meant love in a romantic sense. An initial pass makes that seem way too limiting, but I think you might be onto something.

Upon further review, I realized that I recently married a woman I’ve been on and off with for six years. Our relationship bears many of the characteristics of the relationship I have with basketball: there’s a definitive muscle memory to our motions, reading and reacting, learned instinct, a general machinery and lines that dictates the parameters but that wouldn’t mean a thing without the sheer joy of improvisation and cooperative freeplay.

There is one undeniable difference though: primarily that all sport ends.

I don’t believe that any human relationship ends—especially one that bears love. It just changes form.

To that end, when does basketball end? Surely, Basketball does not.

I get great joy from watching—marveling, really—at professional basketball players whose whole livelihood, whose whole identity and techne are contingent on what their bodies can do, a physical limit. To them, basketball never ends. They are the closest thing there is to the embodiment of Basketball. And yet, their’s is a precarious agreement with fate. Their very existence is all a gamble, a tightrope walk. Thousands of jumpshots, rebounds and crossovers a season, not to mention practice, conditioning, playing with the kids, each an opportunity to cripple these giants of the game.

I mean, can you imagine, these guys as fragile?

I’ve said it before, you need to watch Hoop Dreams. Not only will it keep warm your fire for the hardwood, but it’s just a great fucking movie. It changed the way documentaries were made thereafter. I bring it up though because what could be harder than your employment relying on your physical ability? Probably that the only opportunity you’ll ever have at any social mobility relying on your body.

To preempt some of your certain criticism: Yes. It’s not fair. Big picture, it’s a social condition that needs to be addressed.

The fire fighter that jumps out of a helicopter with a 100lbs strapped to their back into a blazing wildfire is perhaps the perfect metaphor for those kids. They’re the elite of the elite, playing men, acting like men when they’re probably only still boys, carrying their families and communities on the shoulders into a situation that will almost certainly eat them alive.

One of the kids Hoop Dreams follows, William Gates, suffered from a debilitating knee injury just as he was turning on in high school and college scouts were starting to pay attention. In fact, he had gotten into private school on a basketball scholarship. He never made it. He got swallowed by the fire.

I was never that elite of an athlete at anything to merit that kind of attention or even fancy. We were poor but, my parents insisted on education as my way up the ladder. I guess in many ways I’ve been tremendously lucky. It almost seems like a crime to insist that I, too, had and hold onto my own Hoop Dreams.

xoxo

SH:

Fine Dujie,

Tom Brady went to private school in San Mateo. But any descent parents would send their kid to a school that good if they could, if only to buddy-up with the crowd. And I should hope that when hardworking parents succeed in supplying their children with this quality of upbringing they do not resent the child as you seemingly resent the adult for what he got. So what if he went to private school in San Mateo? Tommy Jr. didn’t have say in the matter. This is to judge the son by the sins of the father (which—tsk-tsk—is anti-enlightenment and un-American) and frankly a sin I think you would readily commit.

But say (as you do) that Brady’s rich and lazy, embezzling, glitterati parents managed to jostle him into the lowest tier of a public university’s football program. Let’s give him the debts and credits starting there. Remember when he got to Michigan he was a timorous figure in the long shadow of Brian Griese, was 7th on the depth chart and seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety. He had to claw for the starting job at Michigan and for his spot in the pros. As a football player, it doesn’t seem like he was given much of anything besides talent, a pure apprehension of failure and a work ethic to channel it. These characteristics, thank you for noticing also, do evoke shades of Jay Gatsby.

“The Child is the father of the Man” as Wordsworth put it, probably holds true for both figures. I imagine the newly invented penniless Jay Gatsby looked out at the copper-kahuna, Dan Cody from the shores of Lake Superior much the same way the young Tom Brady Jr. regarded Joe Montana from the aisles of Candlestick Park.

The difference of course is that Brady does not come from piss-pot North Dakota. He did get his Daisy: the far-flung, sylphlike wonder of femininity Gisele Bündchen, and hasn’t yet suffered tragic decline and demise by the careless lies of careless people. Not to get too far ahead of myself though, he does play for the NFL, and with Junior Sau in mind, he might shoot himself in the chest before it is all over.

As for Lupe, I wouldn’t want it thought that I set myself up (and what a set-up it would be) so I will be short: He has paranoid delusions about the government of the United States, which is pitiable in its way, but also annoying because of his swollen following of credulous discontents who will take a junk-theory over the facts in plain view, if only to distinguish themselves from the presumed naiveté of cow-eyed parents and classmates and I guess whoever else.

~ ~ ~

Long break here. Work sleep work sleep work.

~ ~ ~

At age ten, I was deposed of my spot—middle back row—on class-picture day because I wasn’t any longer the tallest kid in class. It hurt then like no bad grade ever had or could. I feel a pathetic now remembering it, but I was young, and regarding at least my height, I grew up. Priorities, anxieties and pressures all changed. Problems might have arose if they didn’t, and games are a good example because maintaining skill at them becomes increasingly less practical as time goes by.

I’m not like William Gates (is the irony of that name addressed in Hoop Dreams?), who might have turned fragile athleticism into a career (i.e. a person for whom the game is practical). That was made clear to me early on. Time to go? Okay then, won’t have to tell me twice. The problem is with people hanging around after they should have left like drink-spilling old men at college bars: It’s just not going to happen these people and they’re the only ones who can’t see it.

Gates is exactly the kind of cautionary, all-eggs-in-one-imploded-basket-tale that 17 year-olds are hard wired to ignore in lieu of stories of guys who made it. If you can dream and not make dreams your master… If only. Outliers is bunk by the way.

Speaking of practicality and dreams and the boy being the father of the man, the image of the adult offered by the NBA—by pro sports in general—is not in the least bit practical. It provides a select few, a pre-selected few even—because DNA transcription is really more important here than anything that might follow—a chance to be rich and eccentric and idolized while it strings everybody else along.  Right now there is a guy just down the way on a barstool lamenting his wretched heap of a life to some poor stranger all because, he says, coach wouldn’t put him in, or his knee went out, or Ms. Bitch English teacher failed him out of eligibility. You’ll notice that when you chance upon this tedious foe (you have, and you will again and again and again) he is reliably incapable of prompting your sympathy.

The owners of the NBA—here I invite you to pause and muse with me on the oatmeal colored folds and gathers of Donald Sterling’s collapsing face—are nothing if not shrewd capitalists. Having an underclass of snowflake-or-bust kids who are made to think their endeavors on the court, or the field are more likely to repay their efforts than what they do in the classroom is agreeable; friendly; face-sucking, hand-under-shirt, over-bra simpatico to the status quo. The status quo being, of course, that the kids are without skills or footing and people like Sterling (who has excess money in almost exact proportion to excess skin) go on selling them hoop dreams. Dreams which are, to borrow a phrase nothing but net.

As I realize there is a Macklemore song about this I fill with self-loathing.

Talk to me

Shea

DT:

You did a whole thing there where you grew up and became a cynical old curmudgeon in the span of your last five ‘graphs. Good for you!

I’m going to try and keep this under 3000 words because I turn into a pumpkin after that.

Very quickly on Tom Brady: I would send my kids to private school. I hope to. But let’s not amplify the narrative. His ascendancy is limited to football—which, frankly, isn’t a mountain he could climb without coming from an upper-class, white, privileged family. I take no offense to his unlikely (sports) myth. As a fan of sport, I cannot help but to admire it. I do take offense to calling it the American Dream, and him the main character of it. America is no longer just a sea of pretty white boys (bad news for you). The American Dream connotes there is no alternative. His life wasn’t on the line and neither was the socio-economic outcome of his children. With or without football, Tommy Jr. probably would have still been rich, and his kids would still have their trust funds.

191 words to go.

The Brady discussion seems the perfect digression for the irony of William Gates’ name.

You are unassailably right about how the NBA is structured and capitalism in general. It sucks to be a Plebian. It’d be way cooler to wear a toga and admire little boys. But it sucks much less to be a Pleb that has mastered—or at least gets the daily opportunity to master—a craft as endlessly surprising and infinite as basketball.

Gates is a cautionary tale. There are a dozen of him for every Jimmy Butler. But you can’t blame people for doing what they’re good at, and hoping to achieve the highest form of success doing it. Anyone who can commit to that, seems to me, is the true “protagonist of the American Dream.” Failure is part of the equation. Much less talked about (makes a less inspiring poster), but completely necessary.

I know you’ve probably got some cheeky rebuttal, but this email exchange is my thing, so you’re going to have to hold onto it until next time.

xoxo

#Breaking: Ferguson Police Officer Forcibly Engages Fellow-Racist Taylor Swift in Ice Bucket Challenge

A soon-to-be-less-anonymous Ferguson, Missouri visitor reportedly was accosted by a member of the Ferguson police department who dumped not 1, not 2, not 3, but 6 buckets of ice water on the victim’s head as part of the recent ALS ice bucket challenge.

The campaign has picked up a lot of steam (the cold kind of steam that isn’t really steam at all but rather the crystallization of water having left a person’s breath to arrive upon sub-32 degree Fahrenheit air) recently, on the backs and heads of numerous participants who have advocated for the cause by choosing to dump a bucket of ice water on their own heads rather than donate money to people suffering from an incurable, debilitating illness.

In fairness – many of the more notable participants have stated explicitly in their videos that they have both donated to the foundation AND chosen to shrink their dicks publically. These participants include Miley Cyrus, Earl Grey and Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Public Security, General Tran Viet Tan. However, these people were also fully aware of the unwritten law they were breaking and did so of their own volition.

While the purpose of the viral campaign’s alternative to donation (read: ice and buckets) is presumably to act as a deterrent to those disinclined to donate, it simultaneously serves as a pay-it-forward, explicit call-out that doubles as a social media marketing stunt. If celebrities like the highly-regarded General Tan want to donate to a good cause and intimidate other people into doing the same that is their right as Americans.

Enter Turd Ferguson, Missouri. The Police Department of Ferguson has recently come under a lot of fire (and ice!) for being a bunch of terrible, murderous pricks. This is a group of people who have allowed the same hush-hush, bros-before-hos, “deny-til-you-die” mentality typically reserved for shielding friends from actions such as smoking weed in the TV room of a fraternity house to extend to lying about murder. Protests have continued and Ferguson has responded by more-or-less militarizing their police force and turning the small community into a police-state.

But now they just went too far.

A sort of anonymous member of the community, having been semi-not-confirmed to be former pop-sensation-turned-racist Taylor Swift, is reported as having had 6 buckets of ice water dumped unceremoniously on her pretty white head by an undisclosed member of the Ferguson Police Department Tuesday morning.

This, as an isolated incident, is not a story. Taylor Swift—having already paraded swastikas directly into our children’s souls via her recent single “Shake it Off”—has recently proven that her adorable genes lack any human capacity for sympathy. It therefore logically follows that she would not be moved to donate money towards ALS, opting instead to be bathed in the frigid waters of her own fame-grabbing sociopathic pathology rendered literal.

But the nightmarish implications of the incident are only revealed once one realizes the truly macabre context surrounding the incident itself.

Taylor Swift donated to ALS. She donated to ALS 6 times—once for each bucket of frigid water aimed for her now more rosily-described head.

Apparently the Ferguson police are not content to stop at murder, racism and institutionalized fear. They have begun campaigns to slander and manipulate the media towards their own inscrutable ends- in this case even targeting one of their own—proving racists to be the most faithless of companions.

If the Ferguson police have become aware of themselves as a media-object and are now battling to deflect the attentions of the media through targeted, slanderous acts of misdirection—how long until they assimilate the media itself? How much longer can we even trust the noble people calling them racists from their couches? What is their agenda? Who are we to trust?

I may be a member of the Ferguson police…right now.

 

The US B-squad: Nationalism v. Not Playing and Other Takeaways from this Weekend’s Friendly with Brazil

Basketball is back! Basketball is back! Basketball is back!

Well sort of.

This weekend’s matchup of Team USA v. Brazil marked the first international competition leading into this year’s FIBA World Cup.

20 years ago, the generation that produced the Dream Team understood the greatness of the US in the context of having achieved that greatness. Charles Barkley, David Robinson, MJ, Magic, Larry and the lot lived, at bare minimum, through the conclusion of the Cold War—Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf.

On the other hand, we 20somethings—including the 16 on the US Men’s Basketball roster—have spent our entire lives being the best goddamn country in the world. At least that’s what our leaders have told us for our entire recollection. Living in a country that uses that same line to score cheap political points as often as American politicians do, it’s no wonder that generation at large has acquiesced into a quiet, unexamined cynicism of anything that comes close to resembling nationalism.

I am sympathetic to this point of view, but I unequivocally reject it.

I was born in the Philippines and came to America by way of Jordan. I’m not saying my life was particularly harder than the next immigrant’s. It wasn’t. I was tremendously lucky in many ways. But as I begin the work of assembling, to the best of my abilities, the modern American Dream—providing a comfortable home, plenty of food and quality education for my kids and wife—I am struck by how many people take these things for granted, as if it were a birthright. They’re not. And it takes a uniquely special place to allow the “Dream” to become possible through the sheer force of will alone.

What does this mean against the backdrop of basketball?

Well it’s easy to fixate on the negatives, easier still if the negatives of the country you live in become the predominant narrative. Who wants to play for a country with an intractably divided government? Who wants to represent a country with hackneyed foreign policy that more resembles Settlers of Catan than responsible world leadership? Who wants to be the face of a country whose caricature of itself in the world community is goofy, glutinous and rude?

These aren’t at all the reasons so many NBA stars aren’t competing in this year’s FIBA World Cup. But that they are all true, make the decision that much easier. The disastrous injury of Paul George provides the perfect out. With loudmouths like Steven A. Smith in their corner, it’s almost a wonder that Rudy Gay even answered Jerry Colangelo’s call.

That said, I appreciate Gay not just because off his healthy dose of Nationalism, but because he understands at some level, for pure, selfish basketball reasons, this is how you get better: by competing with the best in the world against the best in the world.

Anthony Davis as the go to guy

With 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in 26 minutes, Davis was clearly the go guy for Team USA. The blocks and alley-oops were to be expected. But the insistence—and more telling, the allowance—of the 15-foot jumpers that rimmed off early on speak volumes to where Davis lies in the totem pole of the team.

Early in the fourth quarter, Davis’ dive into the second row to save a ball sparked a 10-0 run. Three of the next few plays featured Davis blocking a shot only to retrieve the ball while falling out of bounds, finishing an alley-oop out of nowhere and a textbook 25-foot jumper that netted nothing but, well, net.

With all the talk of him being “next,” the heir apparent to Lebron James and Kevin Durant, it’s easy to forget Davis is only 21. Of course he’s faded in and out throughout his first two seasons in the NBA. He couldn’t even drink! But this weekend, he was bodying Tiago Splitter with little remorse. Asserting himself more fiercely than the boy-king has been given the opportunity to show. With Monty Williams on the US Basketball coaching staff, this only helps to make Davis less boy and more king.

The Great White Hopes

I know Coach K is of Duke. He loves white dudes, especially white dudes who think they can rap. But seriously, remaining on the US roster:

  • Kyle Korver
  • Gordan Hayward
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Mason Plumlee
  • Klay Thompson

Ok, so Thompson is half Bahamian, but he doesn’t try nearly as hard as his Splash Brother at being Black. Of greater concern: what are Gordon Hayward and Mason Plumlee still doing here? At one point the announcers mistook a lob for Parsons as one for Plumlee.

It was weird.

The Manimal Mannihilates

Keneths Faried’s development had been interesting to track all last season. As Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson and every other offensive asset for the Nuggets fell to injury, Faried turned his balls-out effort game into an unorthodox offensive game replete with funky jumpers, twisting hooks and the occasional, surprising guard-like spurt.

Early in the first quarter, Faried scraped the potential of what he could become though. With the ball 20 feet out near the elbow, Faried put the ball on the floor, splitting defenders. As he got close to the  basket, he drew Davis’ defender at which point Faried flips a nifty one handed, hook-ish pass to an open Davis for an easy bucket.

Then early in the third, on the other end of the floor, Faried knocks the ball loose on an entry pass and winds up with the steal. Instead of hanging back and letting an “All-Star” finish the play after his outlet pass, Faried runs the floor anyway—literally the only other team USA player in the picture.

11 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Classic Manimal.

If Faried continues this play into the NBA season and “takes the next step,” the Nuggets could be fun to watch. More intriguingly, he can transform from the exemplar of hardwork into a titillating trade chip.

James Harden might be a selfish dude…

Which is a strange thing to admit considering that just three years ago, he was the best sixth man on the planet (I still love you Jamaal. Don’t ever leave me!)—a position that necessarily requires astute self-awareness, honest evaluation and a coming to terms with collective success outweighing personal glory.

This offseason, Harden’s seemed to turn his on-court game of give-me-the-ball-I’ll-mash-turbo-into-the-lane-and-I’ll-probably-get-fouled-and-get-mine-while-you-just-stand-out-there-wide-open-and-I’ll-pass-it-to-you-some-day-maybe-I-promise-I’ll-probably-think-about-it into the perfect metaphor for the way he lives his every day, non-basketball life. Even if Donatas Motiejunas was misquoted and Dwight Howard, D-Mo and Harden all rendezvoused nightly to McGangbang Double QPC’s like they were racing to a heart attack, the Chandler Parson’s saga does not instill confidence in Harden’s leadership ability (to be parenthetically fair, almost everything involving Chandler Parsons or Chandler Parsons’ hair is, to some varying degree, a saga. I mean have you seen his perfume commercials? Epic pretty man, pretty girl saga).

Upon Parsons signing with the Dallas Mavericks, Harden said:

Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.

Harden’s defense remains that he wasn’t specifically talking about Chandler Parsons. Two things here:

1)      Even if you weren’t talking about Parsons, there are still 10-12 other dudes on your roster. If my Masters in NBA Management from the University of 2K has taught me anything, there are three other Starters and one Sixth Man in addition to the two to four Role Players and remaining Bench Warmers. The four dudes not in Role Player role do not like it when you downgrade them like that—especially in public. That demonstrates cloudy thinking at best and an egomaniacal philosophy of basketball at worst.

2)       Harden was clearly talking about Chandler Parsons!

Apparently, Harden and Parsons have squashed the beef. But even in the way he talked about the reconciliation, he can’t seem to remove himself:

No matter what, if the Rockets are playing good, Dwight and James get the praise. If we’re doing bad, Dwight and James gets the bulk of criticism.

I’m still waiting for Parsons to trip Harden or snip his beard or something as he finds a spot to sit.

Lastly (I could probably round up three or four more obscure supporting points, but because I’ve withered away too many neurons on this point already), when asked about Paul George’s tremendously unfortunate injury, Harden still couldn’t remove himself. The first words out of his mouth:

I gotta amp up my game. I’m not just a scorer, I’m a playmaker as well.

YOUR EXPERIENCE IS NOT THE DEFINING NARRATIVE, JAMES!!! That said, I’m probably still picking Harden in the first round once fantasy basketball season rolls around.

Have you heard yet? Derrick Rose is back.

Reading the reports on US Basketball PPGI (Pre-Paul George Injury), one would think Derrick Rose is the only player on the team. After watching a game, it makes sense.

With 4.6 seconds left in the first half, Coach K put Rose back in (after getting cut on the face). Rose said his instructions were to run the floor and get a good shot. Rose did. Like a flash of lightning, he drove right by an impending trap, leaving two Brazilians stunned in disbelief. Sprinting the full 94 feet, letting a floater bank off the glass, he masterfully executed with such contradictory force, I have to believe he could run for public office one day.

There was also the ridiculous cross over near the end of the third, where he went right to blow by his defender only to change hands in mid air, only kind off avoid a big, finishing with the left.

I can’t wait for new D. Rose .gifs…

Rose ended the game with only those two fieldgoals (7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers), but more impressive than the actual plays were the ferocity of his demeanor. He was the fastest, hardest dude on the floor the whole game. He had some missed floaters and even a missed dunk, but that he was convincingly there for those is a reassuring sight for sore, sore, Chicago eyes.

This game featured more words than I’d ever heard Rose speak at once—sans his MVP acceptance speech (but to be fair I started bawling as soon as he talked about his mama, so I really didn’t hear half of it). My immediate reaction: it seems like Rose is more comfortable being vocal. This is fantastic news for the Bulls who need an assertive Rose to reclaim MVP form.  Rose has always strictly been a “let my play speak for me” kind of player. He was in the right situation for that. No one ever criticized Rose for it because his play was exceptional. The combination of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer let him lead in deed and not in word. It’ll be fun to watch Rose become the guy again on and off the court.

70 days. Does my breath smell bated?

 

Guest Post: New Clubs, Same Old Racket

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] G [/dropcap] oing to the golf course cannot be recommended highly or often enough. The Beast of Boredom is rank and hairy and rising always on its hind limbs to overtake you, and the internet alone will not save you. The solitary sound of that little ball as it is welted into deep-green empty space, however, is as numinous a thing as there is anywhere, in any sport, and it will not fail you.

For those of us who can’t dunk a basketball, or send a baseball to the econo-stands on a line, a beautiful drive is maybe the highest confluence of physical power, symmetry, and control we will achieve. And we are not all alone; as you know, the list of retired and working athletes who regularly play golf is as long in length as it is high in profile. Clyde Drexler, Pete Sampras, Jerry Rice to name a few, even Mark McGwire—oh the motley bouquet of P.E.D. applications—probably have, no offense, lower handicaps than you. McGwire is purported to be an even-par golfer, discouraging I know, but take heart: Your friends will take your reported 85 (or whatever) at face value.

Ah, the drive: The sacrosanct, fixed concentration before the stroke begins is broken by the slow, dilatory rise of the back swing. The back swing stretches the front facing shoulder as the club-head reaches over to its cap and swooshes back down, igniting the ball and the fragrance of the turf. The ball lifts and disappears in an evanescent gleam.

If you have never tried this, it’s worth a Saturday. It’s worth a Saturday in any case.

The game of golf is not, however, won or fully appreciated from the tee, and while this seems like common knowledge it also seems that most golfers tend to spend their money emphasizing this particular aspect of the game. If the above has you considering a weekend loaf on the links, or at least the driving range (I consider my effort a failure if it does not) please also consider the following before you do.

It is more important to have a good hat, or a shirt that fits right under the arm, or a descent pair of sunglasses than it is to have an expensive or new set of clubs. If you can find grandpa’s blades in the storage room, by all means use those—the point is it doesn’t really matter.

Bobby Jones Jr., the spindly little boy who grew up to be a golf champion and legend, the co-designer of Augusta National, and a practicing lawyer of descent reputation and character (among these things, which is the rarer achievement you may decide for yourself) set what was then the single round record (in a winning effort) at The Open at St. Andrews with 68 through eighteen. This was done in 1927 with clubs made from persimmon and hickory and it would be over thirty years before the record was lowered again. The current record—Nick Faldo’s second round 65—was set in 1990 and has been tied only once.

That’s 63 years of golf-club technology developed through the most industrious years of the 20th Century to yield three strokes at St. Andrews, or 1 stroke every 21 years. This period has accounted for the slowest rate of professional improvement since the game was invented. I’ll add that golf is now being played by more people in more places than ever—bigger pond equals bigger fish—and is exponentially more lucrative than it has ever been. The winner’s share for Faldo in 1990 was £85,000 and for the most recent champion, Louis Oosthuizen, £850,000. These two factors convincingly negate really any credit that could be given to the dubiously improved balls and clubs.

No player has ever shot under 63 at one of the four major-championships and Johnny Miller first did it in 1973. I scorn to remind you that that was over 40 years ago.

A record, forty years unbeaten, in a sport whose sponsors supply so much esteem to their equipment, and to themselves, of course, for the equipment’s ongoing refinement and development, must mean only one of two things: Either golf club and golf ball manufacturers are not taking their jobs seriously; or, and this is my itching suspicion, they do not actually have a job to do in the first place—besides stamping the little bludgeons out. After all, they are not dealing with electric cars or Lady-Viagra or other things which technology might foreseeably improve.

Remove the word golf and you will be confronted with the essential absurdity in the phrase club technology. We have had 41 seasons of voguish product lines and glittery new rollouts since any bunch of them actually delivered what they all have promised to confer. No need to feel sorry for the sheep-like bourgeoisie that Callaway, Titleist and Ping annually fleece of their pocket money, I agree. This, however, is a plain racket that panders in magazine ads to the most solipsistic depths in the American psyche and is an embarrassment to any thinking, albeit occasional, reader of Golf Digest on every other glossy page.

The Shooter McGavin vibe of the sports’ ostensible practitioners aside I won’t hear it said that a game I love is all about class, or money, or anything of the sort. Class and money are about class and money and they have as much to do with golf as they do with anything else, which admittedly is a lot.

Golf though, when seen from the fairway instead of the clubhouse, is about other things.

To begin with, it is about the dictatorial clutch of a good groundskeeper and the essential Hanoverian exercise of pitiless dominion over all that troublesome vegetation. It is about hoary double entendre and childish sexual innuendo, obviously. It is about a person in silly clothes trying to command a petulant little ball while adhering to austere, made-up rules of principle. And, most singularly—now largely a bygone casualty of TV invigilation—golf is about self-governance and personal accountability. Like P.G. Wodehouse said of character: “Golf… is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that [no one] is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.” If you have the competitive vein and have ever felt unsure of who you are when no one is looking that little pencil will tell you right away.

The golf course is a land apart from everyday life where I can face my essential human futility—the inability to transmute intention into reality—on prettier and more reassuring grounds and terms. I wouldn’t be without it and I invite you all to join.