That NEW Adage

A pressure-relief valve about God, and just about everything else.

… He’s in the band.

My favorite athlete of all — aside from my father —  is going into the hall of fame!

Michael Jordan is finally making that inevitable step into sports eternity. And he is apparently not too happy about it. He feels that it is the final indicator that he will never, absolutely NEVER dress up and play again. I am sad for him (there is, here, an Ecclesiastical lesson about the insufficiency of wealth and fame), and I understand. The only thing my knees will let me see of my favorite sport anymore is to stand still and shoot free throws.

I am reminded of a time  and an occasion that cemented my love for what I do…

My father was a football player, a basketball player, and a track athlete. And ALL his friends expected his first-born and only son to be the same.

He set me on the path to athletic accomplishment very early! There are home movies of me at the age of three doing heel raises and push-ups. I could do fifty push-ups at four. I lifted weights on a regular basis before I was ten. I ran track in the Junior Olympics every summer. I would, as a pre-teen, finish off a tough weightlifting session with a three mile run. I used to have to run up and down our forty-yard-long back yard carrying one of my sisters on my back. I HAD to do all of this. And I hated it! I was given no chance to express a desire or aptitude for this stuff. I just came into the world doing squats and “side straddle hops.”

My pop and I had a really tough time. But he was only doing what he knew to do. No hard feelings, finally.

Although I loved actually playing the games, and was pretty good at them  — basketball and football and racing and baseball — I hated the thought of all that rigorous practicing! I was ruined.

And I was a runt growing up! My pop was 6’1 1/2” and about 250. He benched 450 and squatted over 700. I’ve got pictures! I, on the other hand, was shorter than my 5′ 4″ mother until the ninth grade. And I was about 5′ 10″, 155 at sixteen.

My father would always look at me, shake his head, and say, “You’re gonna be small…” with all the sorrow of lost dreams.

By the time I entered the military at twenty — between college stints — I was 6′ 3″, 218. I was a typical late bloomer! But it was too late for me to try out for teams and stuff…

It was only after my first girlfriend dumped me and cheated on me (with a guy who recently requested to be my facebook friend(!!!!) ) that I began lifting weights in earnest. On my own. I’m still trying to catch Daddy.

All my extra-curricular activities were music related. I was in the band. In school, you have the athletes, the smart kids, the dope heads and slackers… and the band kids.

My pop LOVES music!! He would play a song he liked over and over throughout the house for whole afternoons! He was always singing and beating on tables and pumping the car brakes to the beat of some song on the radio. But what he didn’t think, apparently, was that being in the band was in any way related to the music on the eight-track tapes he used to be known for making for people.

And when one of his friends or co-workers would meet me and shake my hand and ask, “So, you playin’ football like ya daddy?” he would interject, “No,” shamefully. And my mother, defiantly, defensively, would quickly retort, “He’s in THE BAND!” Proudly. Every time. And I would always ask her not to do that, saying that it was okay, and that her defense of me only made me look even softer than they already thought I was. But she never stopped.

When I was about to be drummed out of the junior-high band for overcrowding, it was my mother who went into some level of debt and bought me a horn so I could stay in. I still have that beat up horn. I played my first pro gigs with it. Where would I be now…

So, the denouement came with a conversation with a friend at a coffee shop years later.

I played there at Precious Cargo coffee shop on a regular basis. It was the place where I first learned to sing, lead a band, and talk to an audience. It was there that I learned that I was not the Charlie Brown I thought I was. The girls LOVED me! And no one was more shocked than I to find that out! I was just doing my thing, and I looked up and found out that I had FANS!

And one night, sitting at the bar, one of the friends I had made playing there pulled up next to me and shared with me an item that I will never forget.

“Man, you know you can play that horn! I’m just sittin’ here watchin’. Y’all got a lot of people comin’ here to hear y’all play, and this place ain’t even been open that long.” His voice turned melancholy.

“I really admire what you doin’. When I was in school, I was this big time football player. I was cool, and I thought I was the man! I used to dog folks who played in the band, man. I gave ’em a hard time. But now, I can’t do that no more. I can’t play football no more, but YOU can STILL do what you used to do.

I was absolutely undone! I had never looked at it like that. I can play my horn the rest of my life. On a high level. But Michael Jordan will never suit up again.

And my father is in competition with my mother to be my biggest fan…

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April 10, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Christ, Christian Life, Christianity, Current Events, Fathers and Sons, Hall of Fame, Life, Michael Jordan, Mortality, Sports | 5 Comments

What a Difference a Play Makes

Wow. The world is inside out. Who’da thunk it? Here we are with a black Presidential nominee, me (the perpetual uncle), married with two kids, and I’m pulling for the Celtics, and against the Lakers!!!

“Daddy, who you want to win?” I asked, at ten years old.

“The Steelers,” he answered, eyes never turning from the screen.

“Highcome?”

“Cause they tough! They’ll knock yo’ (bleep) outdowes! Plus, they got a black quarterback!” Daddy loves toughness. So do I. Leopards and rhinos are my favorite animals for that reason.

The Steelers became my favorite team.

“Daddy, who you want to win?”

“The Yankees.”

“Highcome?”

“Reggie Jackson. He can knock a aspirin to the moon, and he got a rifle for an arm (most people forget that). Plus, the Dodgers ain’t got no Brothers on the team.” I hated the LA Dodgers, then.

“Daddy, who you want to win?”

“Ali!!”

For all those obvious reasons. Plus, he was cocky! Not Arrogant! He said what he was gonna do, and he did it! Flat out. He never made one feel as though he were innately inferior as a human being. He was as fun to listen to as to watch. My folks loved Ali, Mom too. So, I hated Frazier, Liston, Foreman — the first one, Norton, and Quarry.

Daddy loved Jim Brown. So much so that he wore the number 44 because that was Brown’s number at Syracuse. (And that was my number when I played basketball in the military) If I had a doggone scanner(!) I could show you how much like Brown he looked.

My parents grew up in Jim Crow Arkansas and Florida. If your team had a black player on it, they liked you. If you didn’t, they rooted against you. It seemed, I guess, that if you had black players on your team, it was proof that you were not a racist. It was one of the signs we had in the new free America where it was all of a sudden not vogue to utter overt racist statements.

So they — and by extension, I — loved USC and hated Notre Dame and Alabama and Ole’ Miss. I Loved UCLA and Georgetown basketball, and hated Indiana and Kentucky. And I hated the Cowboys. And the Utah Jazz. (Utah=Jazz?!? That’s like saying that John Philip Sousa played bebop!) If you didn’t like me, I didn’t like you.

So (Post Bill Russell) my daddy hated the Boston Celtics. And so did I. My whole life. Till now…

Daddy went to coach and teach at an all white school which had always been easy win, and by a string of track and basketball victories,  proceeded to inculcate a thirty year culture of winning that exists to this day. He had those white kids running and shooting to the point that they were whipping black schools all over the county! The track team won so much that the other schools protested (Germantown had their own track on campus) and in a knee-jerk move the school board cut their track program.

As a kid, I never saw so many white folks love a black dude as much as those rich white folks loved my daddy! And not as a servant. He taught their children, made men and women of them. At Christmas time, it was a ritual for my sisters and me to see how many presents he got from the kids and their parents. They loved him and he loved them. He was fine with white folks as long as they were fine with him. Daddy was hard.

So, it is under that cloud that I find myself where I am today. Living in a paradox.

note: I use the word “hate” here in the competitve sense only

All through my childhood, I hated the Celtics. Havlicek, Cowens, Hot Rod Hunley. Even Jojo White and Tiny Archibald. “How they gone sell us out like that? Playin’ for them white Boston folks who hate black folks!” I was just a kid, y’all…

And in ’79 when Larry Bird went to– where else– the Celtics, I hated him, too. Although I had started to hate him the year before when Indiana State dared to try to beat Michigan State for the NCAA Championship. I couldn’t stand him or Danny Ainge or McHale or that bandwagon jumper, Bill Walton, when he played for them. And I hated those “Oreos”* Cornbread Maxwell, M.L. Carr, Robert Parrish, and Dennis Johnson (whom I loved when he played for Seattle and beat those Washington Bullets whom I hated ’cause I couldn’t stand that fat butt Wes Unseld! I was only a kid, y’all)

I had always said that I wouldn’t pull for them blankin’ Celtics if my own MAMA played on the team!

The Sixers were my team during that time. Along with the Lakers. I rationalized that I would pull for the Lakers unless they were playing Doc and the Sixers. Dr. J. was the coolest display of power on the Earth! Till Jordan came. But Magic Johnson was smoother than Stacy Adams’** on a greasy floor! I loved that dude!

I remember when the Celtics beat the Lakers in the finals in the eighties… I walked outside and felt that the whole doggone summer was ruined. What was the point?

— Enter Kobe Bryant stage left–

 I was still a Laker fan — the Chicago Jordans were my hands down favorite, though– when through a trade, Kobe was made a Laker. I was, however, put off by his high school press conference(!) when, sunglasses on head, he announced his intent to forego college and jump straight to the NBA (cue the screeching teenyboppers…). But I managed to give him a clean slate.

There was a moment, just a fleeting moment, in the finals of the first of their three-peat when I noticed– in a flash — a display of supreme arrogance. I can’t adequately describe it. It was the crossing of that fiber-thin line that separates cockiness, confidence, from arrogance. Arrogance. That flimsy film that delineates pride from excessive pride. I saw it. Maybe he didn’t mean for me to see it, but I did. And I was then and forever through with him and whoever he played for.

As cool as I thought Shaq was, he was on Kobe’s team, so he was the enemy. Sorry, Shaq.

From that point, Kobe proceeded to prove me right. We began to hear rumors about a rift between him and O’neal, the consummate team guy. Kobe went from a guy who shot three or four airballs in a playoff game to the point where he thought he was good enough to not need his big man. He wanted to do it himself. Did Magic run Kareem off?

He has developed a reputation for being phoney. I saw all that.

So, after a lifetime of pulling for the Lakers, I jumped ship.

I will pull for the San Diego Satans before I root for a Kobe Bryant team. I hate arrogance.
I’d root for the Arizona Anti-Christs first.

Sorry, Rick Trotter. I know he is your man, and I know that you will say that (MY man) Jordan was the same way. I disagree. But I can no more explain to you the difference than I can explain the degree to which my right knee hurts more than my left! Besides,he got his whole style, his whole game, from Jordan! He walks like him, uses the exact same gestures, and must have been fed Jordan game tapes intravenously his whole life! Jordan is his DADDY, and you can’t be better than yo’ daddy! (I say this knowing full well that I stole everythang I got from Kirk Whalum! Robbed ‘im blind!)

When Doc Rivers got the Boston job, My pops and I hollered, “NOOO! Don’t do it! Don’t you remember the busing riots of the seventies, and Chuck Stuart who killed his wife and blamed a Brother?!?” When they made the trade this season to acquire Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, I was like, “Oh well… Garnett, I dig ya, but I gotta pull against you.”

And I was fully prepared to do so until these stars and planets all lined up to force me to make some hard choices.

And here I am, going against my very DNA and rooting hard for them Celtics, baby!

Some say Kobe has matured. I say it is easy to be mature when your team gets you the players you think you want. It is easy to be mature when everything is going your way. As Aretha says, “You can’t prove that by me!”

 My sister and her husband love him. And so do their sons. Me and Daddy hate him! When they asked me, “Unca Bo, highcome you’on’t like Kobe?”

I answered, “There ought to be a point at which your bad behavior costs you something!”  You don’t get to act a fool and still have ME as your fan! Even if you ARE the best player in the league. Which He is. I hope my nephews learn that lesson soon. 

 

*Black on the outside, white on the INside.

**Shoes often worn by black deacons and dime store pimps

June 14, 2008 Posted by | Arrogance, Basketball, Celtics, Humor, Kevin Garnett, Kobe, LA Lakers, Magic Johnson, NBA, Race, Ray Allen, Sports, The Finals | 4 Comments