Tag Archives: Basketball

Buying Back Your Karma, LeBron?

This past Father’s Day was a great day for me. Not only did I celebrate my second year of being a Father, but I became Godfather to my nephew. It was a lovely church service with an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet to follow, and good times hanging out with family. That was enough to make it an amazing day. Those are life events, and they’re awesome. That wasn’t the end though. As my day was winding down, I watched the NBA Finals in which the San Antonio Spurs defeated the evil empire Miami Heat to win the championship. To say that was the cherry on top of my day is understating. It’s like I was eating ice cream, and suddenly I got caramel, chocolate drizzle, peanuts, candy sprinkles, and frigging gummy bears raining down on my dessert. As a basketball fan, it was so unbelievably sweet. My only objective for watching the NBA playoffs was to see Miami lose. Why do I feel this way?

Four years ago Lebron James, who is the best player in the NBA currently, and when it’s all said and done, might be regarded as the greatest of all time, became a Free Agent. To my non-basketball watching readers, this means he was free to sign a new contract with any team of his choosing. He had played for the Cleveland Cavaliers his entire career up to that point. He was born and raised not far from there, so this was his home team. Up until this point, I kind of liked him. What followed was sort of off-putting. He decided to team up with the other 2 top Free Agents that year, and all sign with the same team, basically guaranteeing that they would be the best team in the NBA. This type of collusion had never really happened in any sport that I was aware of. This is all perfectly within the rules, so can’t be called cheating necessarily. There was a salary cap system that prevented one team from spending more money than all the rest. If the Miami Heat wanted to spend all their money on only 3 players, then I guess the other 9 wouldn’t be that great. Except for the fact that a lot of quality veteran players agreed to take less money, and play a lesser role in hopes that hitching their wagon to these guys might bring them a championship before the end of their career. So instead of having only 3 good players, they had 12 good players, and became the envy of the rest of the league. There was a TV show to announce Lebron’s intentions. There was introduction ceremony at the arena where they boldly predicted that they would win the next 5 or 6 championships. It was all really disgusting to me. I tried to imagine Larry Bird agreeing to play on the same team as Magic Johnson in order to dominate the league, and I think they would have rather died. As good as Lebron was, and as hard as the Cleveland organization really tried to put good players around him, I guess at the tender age of 25, he’d run out of patience with his hometown, and took his ‘talents to South Beach’.

I really just wanted them to lose. I would have cheered for any team who went against them. They made the finals in their first year together, and lost to the Dallas Mavericks. That was pretty sweet, but to be honest, making the finals in their first year as a new team was a pretty decent achievement. I was hoping for their failure to be more extreme. The following two seasons the won the NBA championships. I watched those games, and tried to suppress the bile from shooting out of my mouth onto the entire world. It was all happening, just like they said. I so badly wanted them to be brought down to earth. Finally this year, after making the finals for the 4th consecutive year, they ran into a team that could bring them back down to earth. This Father’s Day I got to see them hang their cocky little heads in shame as they walked off the court. That said, in 4 years they made the finals 4 times and won 2 championships. I wish I could say that they somehow didn’t live up to the hype, but that’s pretty good. I hate them.

Fast forward to now. They had opt out clauses in their contracts, and guess what? They opted out. Weird. I thought as stacked as they were, that maybe they’d go after another few championships. There was no reason to think that they couldn’t. Then this morning I find out that Lebron James is leaving sunny Miami, and going back home to Cleveland. Shocking! It is kind of a feel good story though. It’s kind of making me hate him a little less. Could it be that he finally realized that he would never feel true satisfaction from his achievements in Miami because of the way that situation had been manipulated from day one? Did it suddenly occur to him that if he were able to bring a championship to his hometown, that it would be way more fulfilling than bringing it to a place with nice weather, beaches, and a cool nightlife? Is there a part of him that isn’t whole because he basically sold out his people to take the incredibly easy road to success? I kinda think so.

I think Lebron has come to the realization that there is a thing called Sports Karma which most people don’t know about or understand. What he did only had subtle amounts of evil to it. So when Karma struck, it wasn’t in the form of a career ending injury, or a lack of success, but possibly an empty feeling that he wasn’t able to enjoy his success the way he thought he would. At 29 years old he’s decided to go against all Basketball Free Agent logic, and sign with his hometown team again to take care of unfinished business, and maybe right an old wrong by bringing that long suffering franchise a championship.

I gotta say, as cynical as I am about some of these things, I kind of like this. I think maybe I don’t hate this guy as much as I used to. I almost think that as long as it doesn’t conflict with my Toronto Raptors success, that I might be hoping Cleveland does really well. I did not recently envision a scenario where the sight of this guy wouldn’t really irritate me, but now??? I don’t really mind him. Until he does some other dumb thing I guess.

Where’s My Corner Store?

True Story….

The other day I drove through the old neighborhood where I grew up, looking for my barber who had mysteriously changed locations or retired or who knows? I know the last time I went, the barber shop was closed and there was a strange note on the door signed by someone other than him with an address that wasn’t too far away. When I had checked out the new address, and it appeared to be a beauty salon, but it was still being renovated, and not yet open for business. I couldn’t imagine my barber (who has been cutting my hair, almost exclusively since I was old enough to pay for my own haircuts), working out of a beauty salon. He’s not the type. His barber shop was incredibly old school, and BARELY changed in the last 20 years. The prices were good, and he was reliable and good at his craft. This time when I went, I decided to drive past that beauty salon again. It was open for business, but I couldn’t see in the window. I know this seems weird, but even after driving all that way, I didn’t want to walk into a beauty salon and ask about my barber. Out of respect for him in a way. So I drove back to the original location to see if there was any more information available. When I got to the strip plaza in my old neighborhood, it was fenced in by a construction company and just about the whole thing had already been gutted.

That was my neighborhood strip plaza.

I lived with my parents until I was 29. I know that sounds bad. My room was in the basement, so I had a fair amount of privacy. When I finished school and joined the workforce, they charged me a reasonable amount of rent. I wouldn’t have been able to live anywhere else for that price, and on months where I couldn’t afford to pay, they didn’t kick me out. I love my parents. I had a great relationship with them, so it wasn’t a difficult arrangement. The house we lived in was a 5 minute walk from the house we used to live in. Both houses were a 10 minute walk from my neighborhood strip mall. A 2 minute drive. 5 minute bike ride. I remember that plaza.

I remember the convenience store. The lady who owned it was Chinese, and she had a speech pattern that sounded like she was singing everything. She was delightful. I remember her husband who had the opposite speech pattern. They had a son who would work in the store once he was old enough. I could tell he liked Hip Hop because he was always reading The Source magazine. I used to like Hip Hop, and that’s where I went to buy The Source Magazine as well. I remember the girl who worked for them in the 90’s. She was Italian or Portuguese or something. We had little teenage crushes on her. She was sweet to everyone. Every guy that went in there thought they were the only one. I remember when there was a drug store on the other end of the plaza. My parents used to give me $50 when I was a kid to buy all of my Christmas presents for people. I know $50 doesn’t seem like a lot, but I was probably only 10 or 12 years old, and I guess adults thought it was really cool that they got an $8 present from me since I had to go to the store and pick it out myself. Plus inflation. It was the 80’s. I remember the Dry Cleaners who never spelled my last name right, but committed it to memory, so they never asked what it was, they just saw my face and remembered my name, but with the wrong spelling. I never bothered correcting them. I remembered the greasy spoon restaurant, and how we used to go there for fries and gravy, and maybe played the 2 arcade games that were there, until we’d get kicked out for making too much noise. I remember them renovating and getting their liquor licence, and then the same 5 people perched themselves at the bar stools for 5 hours a day, and drank cheap beers every single day. Still some of the best Pork Souvlaki around.

I remember when the Mafia place opened up. Yeah, they got all legit and started serving Gelato etc, but I never set foot in there after the first time (and that story could be its own blog). I remember when a guy was murdered in the parking lot. I remember the waitress from that establishment always bringing Espressos or Soda to my barber, and wondering how that arrangement was set up. I remember way back when there was a place where you could get schnitzel on a bun, and I took that for granted, but as time went on I realized how hard it is to find a little place like that at a small neighborhood strip plaza. I remember when my mom started a drop in day care for senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and had her office there for many years. I remember her having to go there every time someone set the alarm off in the middle of the night. I remember her retirement ceremony, and how being there, and hearing everyone pay tribute to all she had accomplished made us so proud.

I remember when pop was 50 cents at one store and 65 cents at the other. I remember buying Sarasoda and Twist Shandy because they had 0.5% alcohol, and we thought we were baaaaaaaad. I remember the New York Knicks having a pretty solid lead with about 30 seconds left in a playoff game against the Pacers, so I walked from my friend’s house to this store to get some chips and pop for the next game, only to find out when I got back that Reggie Miller scored 8 points in 9 seconds, and the Pacers won the game. I remember my friend being so obsessed with a certain brand of chocolate chip cookies that we made a day of looking in couch cushions and raiding coat pockets in our parent’s closets so we could go buy these damn cookies. I can’t even remember if they were good or not. I remember playing basketball for hours in the summer, and buying a 2 litre jug of peach flavored drink, and finishing all of it every time!

Seeing that building almost ripped to shreds made me sadder than I was expecting. I have 2 nieces that actually live within walking distance of the spot, but by the time they’re old enough to walk there by themselves, there will likely be condominiums there. I guess this happens to all of us eventually, and not to sound too cliché, but I definitely felt like a part of my childhood had just disappeared. Perhaps more importantly, where am I going to get my haircut?

What Else Can Drake Fix?

Toronto cracks me up sometimes. It’s arguably one of the greatest cities in the world. When I say ‘arguably’ I also mean that if that was your argument, you would totally win. Torontonians on the other hand are sometimes just a little too sensitive for my liking. Maybe its just the media, but I don’t think so. When I watch television, and have the opportunity to see famous people being interviewed by the Toronto media, I’m always kind of embarrassed by it. These are usually actors or musicians that are in town on the business of promoting some sort of project that they’re working on. Sometimes it’s athletes playing a game in town. Most media members of course will offer the obligatory questions surrounding whatever they’re plugging, plus any juicy, gossipy relationship questions depending on how interesting they think the answer will be. Finally they HAVE to ask “What do you think of Toronto?” Seems harmless enough, right?

Here’s what I hate about this. Why do we as Torontonians care what anyone thinks of us or our city? Our city is awesome! I know this, and I personally don’t need to hear it from anyone else to know that it’s true. Our media however, has this goofy tendency to constantly ask famous foreigners for affirmation regarding this. An American actor who probably just got into town 2 hours earlier, and has only seen the inside of a Starbucks shouldn’t have to make a whole city feel warm and fuzzy. That’s not his/her job. It’s like we’re unsure of ourselves and our place in the world and we need to know what the rest of the world thinks, when we should really be confident and just KNOW we’re awesome, and not worry about it. The people in this city suffer such insecurity. It’s sad. I once heard an interview with Gene Simmons from KISS who was in town for something, and somebody asked him if he liked (either Toronto or Canada), and you could tell from his reaction that he’d already been asked that about 10 times. This is not a direct quote, but he basically said ‘okay okay, we like you, relax’. I was a bit embarrassed for us when I saw that, but I remember thinking that finally somebody came out and said it. If you are from here and you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch for it next time you see a celebrity being interviewed on TV. They ask every time, it’s uncanny.

So in keeping with that theme, we had an announcement last week that Toronto Rapper ‘Drake’ is joining the Toronto Raptors (NBA Basketball) as a ‘Global Ambassador’………………….(cue tumbleweed)………I’m going to say that again………………Drake is joining the Toronto Raptors as a ‘Global Ambassador’. That’s a job. They gave it to a rapper. In Toronto.

Let me give you some context. The Toronto Raptors are an NBA basketball team. In terms of winning basketball games they are a poor team. In terms of fan interest, and ticket sales, they do quite well. They’re the only team in Canada which helps because they draw their fan base from the whole country. As abysmal as their performance on the basketball court is on a pretty consistent basis, they don’t have any problem selling tickets. Recently, they were awarded the 2016 All-Star Game which means there will be a great party, and it’s great for the city. They have a President who has been doing the job for 6 months, and even though the only real flaw with this franchise is their on-court performance, they have chosen to bring in Drake to fix all of their (non) problems.

Now I like Drake. You could say that at various points in my life, I have been a rabid Hip-Hop fan, and while now wouldn’t be one of those points, Drake is one of my favourites (spelled the Canadian way this time). He’s a good Rapper, and believe it or not, I’m a guy that would know the difference. As far as his credentials to “help reinvigorate the fortunes of a stagnant franchise” (quote courtesy of the Globe and Mail)…… I just don’t see it. Unless of course you want to go with the precedent of Jay-Z joining the New Jersey Nets (as an owner, not a Global Ambassador….. meaning he had to pay). The Nets were awful, and have since moved to Brooklyn, and become mediocre.

Here’s what I think is happening. Toronto has once again sold itself short. Here we are, hosting the NBA All-Star Game in a couple of years, selling all kinds of tickets to games even though we aren’t that good (and that isn’t easy), and just being awesome in general terms….. but we think that somebody famous is going to come in and ‘turn it all around’. Turn what around??? Do you think that people won’t come to the All-Star Game if Drake isn’t an employee of the Raptors? Everyone goes to the NBA All Star Game, including Drake, no matter where it is! What’s he gonna do?? Mention the Raptors in his Rap lyrics?? Is he going to wear a Raptors Jersey at his shows?? Are you suggesting that the Raptors marketing staff that are (hopefully) loaded with sports marketing professionals, know less about marketing a sports team than a Rapper?

Or is Drake just good at fixing things??? If so, can we get him to end the American Government shutdown?? Maybe he can go to the Middle East and resolve all the conflicts. Maybe he can negotiate the release of all the hostages being held around the world. Maybe he could visit the Anne Frank house, and piss in a mop bucket to take some of the heat off Justin Beiber. Here’s the best part…. Who can we blame if it doesn’t all go down like it should?? Can we actually blame Drake if he does a bad job as our Global Ambassador??

I have 3 messages regarding this
1. Toronto…. you are awesome, you don’t suck….. why do you care what famous people think about you?? Stop seeking approval. You’re like a teenager. Grow up.
2. Toronto Raptors…… you do suck…… have you ever asked yourself why the Boston Celtics have the same uniform that they’ve been wearing for the last 50 years?? For 50 years, they’ve played basketball…. and played it well…. they have a tradition of winning basketball games. All the publicity stunts, jersey/colour changes, Rappers and Global Ambassadors can’t make up for winning basketball games. Stop embarrassing yourselves.
3. Drake….. This actually isn’t your mess, I would totally take that job too. I hope you can Rap us all the way to an NBA championship!

Your Favourite Basketball Player is Who???

Lebron??  Kobe??  Jordan??  Bird??  Magic??  All good choices I suppose.

I have this thing about me which people don’t seem to understand.  I like to think it’s a sharp combination of originality and loyalty.  You might prefer to think a lack of insight mixed with stubbornness.  My favourite basketball player of all time is Stacey Augmon.  Who???

My love affair with basketball started in the 80s when it was rarely on TV where I lived.  At that time most casual observers were either Celtics fans or Lakers fans.  If your favourite player wasn’t Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, then you were more than just a casual fan.  I liked Danny Ainge.  Mainly because he used to play baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays, and I was far more into baseball at the time.

By the time the 90s rolled around, things had changed.  Michael Jordan had become the most exciting athlete in professional sports.  Somehow the NBA had now become huge!  Was it Jordan?  Nike?  David Stern?  Cable TV?  I don’t know, but even though I lived in a city/country that didn’t yet have an NBA franchise (and some would argue that we still don’t…… zing…. friggin Raptors….. get it together!!!), I was all into basketball when I was in high school.  To give partial credit to the above factors, and add in fashion trends inspired by Hip Hop, in 1990 NCAA basketball reached a new level of popularity in Toronto.  This is even more interesting because we had no regional loyalties due to being in Canada, so we were able to pick any team to follow that we liked.  My father who used to travel for business from time to time had previously purchased me a UNLV t-shirt when he had been in Vegas.  I did a little background to see if it made sense to get on board with this team.  I mean I needed to have an NCAA basketball hat, and everybody had already jumped on the Duke, Georgetown, Syracuse and Michigan bandwagons.  I needed something a bit different, but a bit the same, and that seemed like a good formula.  After researching college ball a bit, I learned that UNLV was a pretty good team already, and had a new Junior College transfer named Larry Johnson (GRANDMAAAAAA!!!!!!) who was supposed to put them over the top and make them awesome in the coming year.  That’s it!!!  This is my team!!  I bought a red UNLV hat from Champs Sports, and I was off to school to represent!  Now I have to find out something about these players.  One of their games finally came on TV.  I would check out LJ and their top returning player Stacey Augmon.  I didn’t want to get caught not knowing my shit in case some locker room debates heated up.

This Augmon kid was crazy!!! Left-handed, wiry, could jump out of the gym, had crafty moves, and highlight reel finishing around the basket.  Dick Vitale called him the best defensive player in the country!!  A country that included Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo playing on the same team……what college team….scratch that….. what NBA team do you remember having 2 defensive centers of that calibre playing at the same time???  Ridiculous!!!

The season moved on, and I was rocking my UNLV hat like everyday to school.  The team was amazing too.  They were quickly becoming the best team in the country, and I had bragging rights…..(You know I had this hat first, fool!!!!).  The better the team played, the more TV coverage they got.  I would tape those games on the VCR on Saturdays because I was cooking chicken at KFC at the mall wearing brown polyester bell bottom pants, and the most undesirable shirt in the history of textiles.  I’d get home and I’d watch 3 future NBA players (and another that could have were he not a 5’11 shooting guard) tearing up all these other college teams to the point where I got to know their scrubs really well too because the game was usually out of reach by the middle of the second half and coach Tarkanian (who chewed on a towel during the games) would empty the bench and give these other kids some quality minutes.  The best part was watching my new favourite basketball player (because let’s face it, the NBA had taken a back seat to this for a while) Stacey Augmon.  I don’t ever remember thinking he was the best player in the league or anything, but his odd  yet diverse skill set just made him so interesting to watch.

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels won the NCAA championship that year.  I celebrated with a few converted Rebels fans.  The entire starting 5 while eligible for the NBA draft (and 3 of them would have gone high) opted to stay in college for their senior year to defend their title (What???  You may never see that again.)  They proceeded to go undefeated during the regular season, but lost improbably to the same Duke team (not really the same….they now had Grant Hill) that they embarrassed in the finals the previous year.  To this day I still blame the officials for that game.  A darker side of me believes that there may have been some ‘Vegas Style’ foul play by some bookies, although I’d like to think not.  A pretty successful couple of years to say the least, and due to some NCAA violations that program has never come close to soaring to those heights in the 20 years since.  As an adult, Las Vegas is probably my favourite vacation destination for completely unrelated reasons.  I’ve been to the Thomas & Mack Center where the Rebels play.  It’s nice to see Stacey Augmon’s #32 up there in the rafters.  There’s a lot of pictures and memories from that team.

The following year Larry Johnson was the 1st over all pick in the NBA draft.  Augmon went 9th, and Greg Anthony (decent point guard, but probably a better TV analyst) went 12th.  I followed their entire careers in the NBA, but particularly Augmon’s.  He played 16 years in the NBA.  the first 5 as a really promising young shooting guard for the Atlanta Hawks.  I remember always wanting to watch Hawks games when they were on.  Even those Ahmad Rashad Saturday morning top 10 highlights of the week which Augmon was frequently on, but when he moved to the Pistons and later the Trailblazers, Hornets and Magic, he had settled in to an ‘off the bench-roleplayer-defensive specialist’ role.  At the end of the day, even though he was one of the most amazing players I had ever laid eyes on, he didn’t have a jump shot.  This was a problem because he played a position called ‘shooting guard’.  In the NBA, there’s an assumption that shooting guards can shoot.  It’s a fair assumption, but an inconvenient truth for Augmon.  He had just about everything a coach could want.  Great work ethic, athleticism, incredible defensive abilities, and he could even score in a very non-traditional way.  So he carved out a niche in the NBA, and was always able to have a job in the NBA until he was pushing 40 and lost his quickness.  16 years is a long time to play in the NBA, but for a guard with no jumper????  It’s an eternity!

So why is Stacey Augmon my favourite basketball player of all time??  I don’t know…. who’s yours?  Kobe?  Lebron?  Does a player have to be an all-star to be my favourite?  Does he have to be the best for me to follow his career?  When he went from starter to bench player, should I have made the switch and got a new favourite?  I like him because he showed up to work every day.  I like him because he busted his ass and did the dirty work.  I like him because he wasn’t perfect, but he really had his great moments.  I like him because when the USA Olympic basketball team that he was on (last team to use college players before the dream team of 92) won the bronze medal, he was so distraught about not winning the gold, that he threw the medal off a bridge into a river (although I never would have done that, and I think he’s regretted it every moment since).  I like him because even though his game had a serious deficiency (no jump shot) he carved out a 16 year NBA career (and never played on a bad team).  I like him because when he got his minutes, he always brough energy and the team played well when he was on the floor.

Maybe I see a bit of myself in the Stacey Augmon tale.  We’ve all had our ups and downs.  Every day is not a victory parade.  I think I came into this world with a fair bit of talent as well.  I think in my life I’ve spent time as a ‘starter’ (in life)and as a ‘bench player’ (in life).  I like to think I have an odd yet diverse skill set that makes ME interesting to watch.

Or maybe it was just a random selection who did enough good but not enough bad to earn my loyalty.  Maybe it was my way of being an individual instead of some mope who just follows the masses and doesn’t think for himself.  At very least I do think that the Lebron James and Kobe Bryants of the world have enough people cheering for them.  There are far more Stacey Augmons (actually I don’t really believe that, there is only one), and they could use a cheering section.  Imagine what we could all accomplish if we had cheering sections even though at the end of the day we are just a bunch of Stacey Augmons.  That wouldn’t be so bad.

Making the world a better place……..one random basketball favourite player selection at a time.