Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What does it entail?

Being a black man in America brings about many ordeals, including the cliché hardships, the obligatory stereotyping, and the residue of bitterness that plague many of my Baby Boomer forefathers.

But I stand here, to profess what being black means from my vantage point:

As a 22 -year-old Atlantan born and raised in the city, but has experienced a few other cultures and geographic presentations that this world has to offer.

As a brown-skinned, wide-eyed, inquisitive kid who had, like everybody, his sense of innocence about the world burst like a pin in a balloon. As a college-educated individual, who has spent the better part of the last five years sitting, studying, and sweating side by side with people of the Caucasoid division. As a sports and music aficionado who –along with the rest of the world - have followed the collapse and decadence of black America’s biggest stars: Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, O.J. Simpson, and Clifford “T.I.” Harris.

Which brings me to my first point: Being black does not absolve you from acting right. Seems like common sense, right? But these days, that sentence has to be said. There are certain standards that transcend race, gender, and occupation. Decorum is one of them.

Being a black man is when you are working in a newsroom where you are the only man of dark hue, thinking that you are a token and realizing that somewhat, your skills and effectiveness are a representation of the whole black race.

Being a black man is watching your fellow brethren become statistics on a weekly basis. It is riding around on Campbellton Rd, Cascade Rd., and College Park and seeing many youth fall by the wayside, whether by neglect, apathy, or incompetence.

Being a black man is watching my father and mother and uncles and older cousins shake off the vestiges of having to integrate schools and experience firsthand the degradation that the fairer-skinned people dished out.

Being a black man involves witnessing your peers wallow in their self-pity and ignorance. By maintaining a provincial mindset, self hate and lethargy remains rampant.

Being a black man is combating the easy and embracing the challenge, so that new statistics such as more black accountants, black doctors, black journalists, black owners in professional sports can be forged.

Being a black man is realizing that that will never happen.

Being a black man is rejecting that last sentence and pushing for it anyway.

Being a black man is realizing that misogyny and philandering has no place in the progression of our race.

Being a black man is dealing with the back-handed compliments. It is sitting in your Marketing Problems course in your last semester of college, and having a fellow Asian classmate loudly saying to you, “I love your vocabulary man. Black people really have a way with words.” It is wondering whether he was being funny or paying homage. It is having to thwart the discomfort and embarrassment of having been called out on account of your race in front of many.

It is me asking “What you mean by that?” and realizing that that question was more from ignorance and awe than from disparagement and contempt. For that student was, as I found out later, a student of hip-hop, an avid admirer of the wordplay of Jay-Z, Nas, and Lil Wayne, among others.

Being black is the dichotomy of loving Tupac, Biggie, and Jay-Z’s rhymes, but realizing the damage that their lyrics can cause on impressionable minds, which constitutes a great many.

It is knowing that, as Ebony founder John H. Johnson said, to change institutions and acts you must change images. Which is why it is a problem when BET and other networks contribute many of the images that contributes to the lowered self-esteem of our race.

I am 22 years old, and I have read and glimpsed the currents of those rivers that Langston Hughes wrote of. The legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medger Evans, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, and James Costen set the tone.

The unsung heroes of the civil rights movement in America, Nelson Mandela in his fight for freedom in South Africa, Booker T. Washington in his zeal for black economic empowerment, and W.E.B. DuBois in his fervor for civil rights and education, wrote the composition.

Being a black man is internalizing that and running with it.

Utilizing your talents.

Knowing your personal responsibilities, and handling them.

Calling an ace an ace, a spade a spade and taking on a higher internal locus of control.

It is discerning that fast wealth is fleeting and real wealth is slowly built.

It is making the decision to do what you can everyday, by yourself, to handle yours.

It is being the father to your children that mine was to me.

That… is what being black is to me.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dirk Nowitzki

The main problem I had with the selection of Dirk as MVP was the fact that outside of scoring, he did not help his team win. Watching this Dallas-Golden State game tonight, this deficiency is made more conspicuous. Among the cornucopia of flaws in Dirk's game, his defense and rebounding are the aspects that brings down the Mavericks more than anything.

Quick, name another past MVP who only lifted his team in only one aspect of the game?

Just what I thought...

Case in point tonight:

He is again rendered ineffective by this Golden State defense, sitting at 3-10 from the field with 10 points. But more infuriating for a basketball purist such as myself is the lack of interior presence against the Warriors, and his lack of presence on the boards. He is seven feet tall, there is no reason that a big man as skilled as him shouldn't be eating right now. Compound the fact that he can't get any reprisal against a Warriors team that punched, slapped, drop-kicked, and trash-talked him out of the playoffs last season. I expected to see more than this.

The 2006-2007 NBA MVP will forever be marred. The man who received it wasn't/isn't worthy. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan...Dirk Nowitzki.

Give me a break.


Cooler Talk

The NBA season, in its plus week-long existence, have managed to offer us the tantalizing (the Celtics), the surprising (Clippers), the rejuvenating (Sam Cassell, more on this later), and the glimpse (the Hawks). Of course, there are more entries to fit in each of those categories but I just gave the most salient ones that came to mind.

Kevin Durant looks to be the deal, sans a few amino acids. Scoring 18 in the first half against the undaunting defense of Phoenix in his second game, he put up another nine in the next half on the way to a 106-99 loss.He is putting up 22 a game on 40 percent from the field (not great, but better than I'd expected), but so far the young fella is winless in six tries. It appears to be getting to him:

"I hate to lose, basically. I don't care if it's an 82-game season and people say you have to lose - I hate to lose. Period," Durant told the Canadian Press. For a kid who just turned 19, team atrocity will either embitter him or fold him. I would bet on the former. People are made when exposed to the hard-knocks of the world, not by pampering. It is almost always better to suffer with a losing team first, and then come up with a winning team than to win and then have a sucky team. Such is life: Better to not have and gain - for it will humble you to not ever not have again - than to have and lose. Look at Kobe Bryant. He came into a situation in LA when they were making the playoffs with Shaq, Nick the Quick, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, and company. Now he is insufferable, because his team isn't winning like he is accustomed to winning.

Bet on the wunderkind to exhibit perseverance a la Jordan (yes I said it) before it is all said and done. He doesn't seem prone to giving up.

An interesting Kevin Durant comparison here...Michael Beasley is his name.

What is up with the Clippers? The lone lossless team in the Western Conference, they are winning with Brevin Knight as their starting point guard. They are doing it with Cuttino Mobley shooting the lights out, Corey Maggette being the free-throw machine he is, and a where-did-this-come from game by Sam Cassell. Paging Bill Simmons! This looks like a perfect case for the Patrick Ewing theory, with the Clippers doing all of this without 6'8 rebounding, scoring, and blocking behemoth Elton Brand.

Chris Paul had the season's first 20 assist game Tuesday night. This guy has done nothing but perform since he came into the league in 2005. And he is not even the best point guard in that class.

This guy is.

Game to watch tonight: Dallas Mavericks @ Golden State. 10:30 pm on TNT. The Warriors are still looking for their first win (0-4), however, they are going against a team who they have trumped seven out of the last nine times they have faced them. Dallas hasn't won in Golden State since January 2006.

The Southwest Division is hands down the most competitive division in basketball. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans will all make the playoffs. Memphis will compete - well, they should compete. That leaves four spots for the rest of the conference. Just saying.

Why are the Bulls winless???

Now for the BEST:
I (along with countless others) have seen every second of every Hawks game, here are the most palpable, yet subtle points of the young season for the Birds.

The Hawks have knocked off the two best Western Conference teams (record-wise) last season. I can't find another team whose schedule is as brutal as the Hawks right now.

Joe Johnson seems hesitant to take over games. Perhaps because of his selflessness, fear of alienating his teammates, or zeal to make the Hawks' success an egalitarian effort, it is an obvious, yet unmentioned occurrence so far this season. Johnson is lacking that Dwyane Wade-esque killer instinct, which showed in the Detroit game, in which Joe waited too late to take over (hence his two three pointers with under a minute left to play). What if Joe would have taken over earlier, when the Hawks offense was sputtering? Just a question. We'll see how this plays out...for this must change!

Josh got to take the bad with the great. There is nobody else in the NBA who produces more anger-provoking yet jump-out-your-seat-in-jubilation moments than Smith. One one hand there's that awful 38% field goal percentage (which is just dreadful for a 6'9 power forward) and turnover problem (four a game). And then there are the blocks, the steals, the passing, the stat stuffing. It is hard to argue a case against him, so I won't. But I will propose a turnover reduction solution: Post him up more. Kudos to my man Sekou at the AJC for pointing that out. Stop giving him the ball at the high post and ceasing all ball movement. Do you see Phoenix giving Shawn Marion the pill far away from the basket while granting him the liberty to do as he please? No! The point guard on the floor must enforce this. They cannot let Smith do as he please on the offensive end.

Al Horford has done everything the Hawks have asked of him defensively. It is clear in bold letters why Florida won those championships. Those who say he is another Shelden Williams is clearly not paying attention (no shot at Shelden, who is also playing well). He will be a perennial All-NBA defender in the coming years. That is apparent. His offense isn't there yet, but it is more because of diffidence than a lack of ability. I guess Billy Donavan really imprinted that team philosophy in his head, because he seems extremely deferential to his teammates. It also appears that his teammates aren't looking for him as much in the post either. Feed the big man more. You got to feed the beast if you want him to keep guarding your house.

Acie...looks like a rookie. But that is not exactly a bad thing. He is feeling out the offense, also showing a deference to his teammates. The best way to combat this is for Woodson to let him play through his mistakes and trust him to run the team. Acie will probably not be an high-assist guy with the Hawks, simply because Joe Johnson is the lead guard in this system. Also, Joe rarely catch and shoots: he prefers to iso for a jump shot. Teams with shooting guards who play in this manner tend to have low assist point guards (see Jordan's Bulls, Lakers with Kobe, Dwyane Wade with Heat, any team with Tracy McGrady, etc). So Acie shouldn't get down on the low assist totals. He should focus on running the team to its maximum efficiency, i.e. getting the ball to players in spots where they can make a play. So far his defense leaves a little to be desired...just a little.

Marvin Williams is playing great. His jumper is automatic from mid-range. He is helping on the boards (six a game). He is playing within his game (only two three-point attempts, both to beat the buzzer). He is also playing admirable defense (helped hold a red-hot Tayshaun Prince to eight points).

Mike Woodson is doing a good job of keeping his team upbeat and playing hard on the court. Nobody has ever accused Woodson's teams of quitting on him over the past three years. However, rotation and making in-game adjustments has not been Woodson's forte. Keeping Lue in the game at crunch time against Detroit was brutal, and like the smart team Detroit is, they took advantage. Taking Marvin out in the first quarter against the Nets while he was hot is equally as brutal. Managing players minutes, exploiting mismatches, and ensuring that they keep up the desired pace of the game are a coach's main responsibility. In crunch time against Detroit for example, the players played tense and slowed down the pace, which played right into Detroit's hands. Against the Nets, when the Hawks were looking for offense, why was Salim Stoudamire on the bench? Woodson admitted to this mea culpa after the Phoenix game, in which Salim played for the first time this season and drained two huge three-pointers in the third quarter to thwart a Phoenix run Monday night. "I probably should have played him in Detroit or New Jersey when we were struggling for offense," Woodson said to reporters after the game.

By the way, here is the box score for that game

As the coach of this team (any coach on any team for that matter), Woodson has to play to the Hawks strength at all times. Capitulating to another team's style is the biggest sin for a team that wants to win. A winning team forces the tempo at all costs.

So what if two teams have the same strategy, but unequal talent? The team with the lesser talent, to win, must find a mismatch somewhere and drill it endlessly. If a coach cannot find that, then that is one must concede victory, but only after a well-fought game.

The Hawks shouldn't have this problem. They can find a mismatch every night (even San Antonio: Tony Parker isn't exactly Dennis Johnson on the defensive end, and Bruce Bowen can be taken in the post, Joe. Just a couple of them). The Hawks mixture of length and quickness on the defensive end can cause any team fits, if applied efficiently. Some nights offense will be a problem, simply because the Hawks don't have another play-maker who is skilled enough to create their own shot consistently. Even so there should be no reason why this team shouldn't make the playoffs, barring injury. If they do, we know exactly who should get the finger.

Not that finger; the one that points.

Directly at the strategist.


Friday, November 2, 2007

The power of sex transmutation: Turning salacity into sagacity

Is there anything that is more salable than sex? From the porn industry to sitcoms to talk shows to music videos and down to the content of books, music, and even video games, lasciviousness is everywhere we go. Even the strongest spiritual giants get sidetracked with the issue of sex. Pastors, priests, deacons, deaconesses, and even your mentors, they battle lust daily. Sexual preference notwithstanding, it is an issue.

Many parents and overseers use Biblical doctrines and palliatives to keep people from indulging, but it fails in many cases, because sexual desire is so innate. How do you tame a beast that you were born with in abundance? There is no sense in running from this power. Embrace it, and learn how to transmute.

In the long-standing classic Think and Grow Rich, Napolean Hill writes about the virtues of transmuting sexual desire into genius, and more tangibly, wealth. He states that the driving power for most great men is the desire for sex, namely women. He states that the “desire for sex is the most powerful of all human desires,” and that when driven by this desire, “men develop keenness of imagination, courage, will-power, persistence, and creative ability unknown to them at other times."

History is full of characters of great accomplishments that had a muse (or muses) to propel them: Cleopatra (Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony), Napolean Bonaparte (Josephine), John Kennedy (Jacqueline and others), Martin Luther King Jr., Sigmund Freud, Duke Ellington. These are among the few who used the boost from that sexual energy to produce greatness. Whether these characters were consciously aware of this energy is irrelevant, the fact is that it was there!

It is there! Problem is, many feel that overindulgences in sex is what is necessary to neutralize this power. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before I go into how to transmute sexual energy into works of art (or high effectiveness), it is important to understand why sex is so salable:

1) It offers a deviation from reality. We all love life, but let’s face it, reality is harsh. And for the black population, it can be downright cruel. Fro dealing with drug addict relatives to leeching friends to looking over your shoulder at every step, we have so much to focus our attention on that it becomes a war to stay relaxed. Relaxation is the enemy of turbulence, which is the killer of effectiveness. The emotion of sex heightens awareness and sensitivity, two keystones of creativity.

2) Sexual emotions drives, lifts one from complacency to achievement, so the prevalent notion goes. There is an inborn yearning to have that beau or beauty on your side. As a man, there is nothing more esteeming or aggrandizing than a beautiful woman on his arm, for everybody to see! When a man is after the woman of his desire, he concocts an array of creative material to hook her with, whether it is a night at a poetry lounge, a fulfilling of a woman’s most embedded fantasy, or an elaborate dinner. But the most important thing to remember is the creativity caused by the stirring of sexual desire. It is often stated by scholars that the Beethoven classic “Fur Elise” was inspired by a woman named Therese (Beethoven was a notorious hopeless romantic). A number of Bob Dylan records were inspired by Joan Baez, including the often referred “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”

3) It makes you feel good. Simple as that. People, at their most primitive levels, are driven by pleasure, and few things are more pleasurable than sex.

Corollary to the last point: This becomes a problem when it is abused (like anything) and when it is the sole force operating. That is exactly what this column is intended to prevent: controlling and channeling something potentially bad into something that could yield one much fortune, or at the very least, peace of mind. At the same time, this is not a piece to persuade one from enjoying sex per se. Its purpose is more about delayed gratification; to use the power of sex to augment other areas of life.

Sex addiction is an underreported problem in society, perhaps because of our proclivity towards it. But as Napolean Hill wrote, a sex-mad man is as dangerous as a dope-mad man. Both signal the loss of one’s control over the zeal for ecstasy. Dutch scientist Gert Holstege reported that scores of men liken climaxing to shooting up heroine. That instantaneous high, followed by that low (men often become sleepy and want again; women don’t experience this instant low, they are aroused and lowered more slowly than men, but the effects are still the same) is what perpetuates the addiction.

Many are being robbed of their potential by debauchery, unwarranted sexuality, and clouded reason. This is not a problem exclusive to men. Women of all locations are susceptible to being influenced foolishly by lust. Too much sex, not enough love and romance. Love is the balancing beam of a relationship, the rock. Romance is the companionship aspect, the mentally stimulating component. Sex is the life force, the physical enjoyment. No relationship can healthily survive on love alone, just as it cannot survive on sex and romance alone. But all three elements fused together, form a synergy that is the key to genius (and ultimate success in relationships).

The discipline lies in keeping a balance of all three together. Being that sex is the most powerful of the three, this requires the most attention. So the next time you are faced with venereal urges, turn it into confronting a problem that you have been facing. Exercise. Write a screenplay. Read a book. Clean that kitchen you’ve been putting off. Construct a business concept. Write down your goals. You will be amazed at the level of productivity you will accomplish with this newfound outlet. Then you will be catapulted above the rest and be a step closer to living the life you want to live.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

American Gangster: My take


In the midst of all the anticipated theatrical releases of 2007 - Saw IV, The Borne Ultimatum, The Simpsons Movie, Rush Hour 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3: World's End, Spider Man 3, to name a few - one movie ranked supreme on the most wanted list. Two Academy-Award winners in the lead, an Academy-Award winning director, a star-studded cast, and a storyline that is sure to excite and horrify at the same time.

American Gangster. A play off the BET series documentary that airs every week on Wednesday, it is almost an arrogant announcement to the world of underworld thugs that, yeah there may have been gangsters, but this is THE gangster, so make way.

And make way, director Ridley Scott did. He attempted to capture the essence of one of the most notorious gangsters of the 70's. Few would argue that he didn't do that. You be the judge.

The movie takes place mostly in Harlem, where the movie's opening scene shows a grotesque harbinger of things to come. Denzel captured Frank Lucas' sadism off the bat, completing Bumpy Johnson's (played by Clarence Williams III) dirty work. The credits roll in, with the caption American Gangster in bold red. It was clear that Scott wanted to establish a dark, iniquitous tone for the movie, showing Frank Lucas as a dry, focused, pupil, imbibing the wisdom of Bumpy Johnson. Johnson would have a heart attack, but not before sharing a nugget with Frank that would shape the rest of his life:

Go straight to the source, cut out the middleman.

So Franks heeded, and headed to Thailand to get the reduced-priced but high quality heroine (100% to be exact). Going through the jungle to meet the "source" of the junkies in the Vietnam war, Frank established a connection that would be lucrative and yet destructive at the same time. Instantly, Frank branded Blue Magic and became the man on the streets. Assuming mega-profits (relative to the other dealers of that time) because he cut out the middle man - he was the middle man - he rose to the top in the streets. He was even above the Italian mafia.

Naturally as a black man, this was sure to arouse jealousy among the fairer race, for no black man - as it was euphemistically put in the movies- "has ever accomplished what the Italian mafia has" in hundreds of years. The premise of the movie was cliche enough: the rise and fall of a drug kingpin. But this movie also added an interesting twist: The insertion of a cop's life that adds spice to the movie.

In essence, the movie featured the dichotomy of Richie Roberts (ably played by Russell Crowe) AND Frank Lucas life (quadrotomy?). Roberts was the super-honest cop who once turned in a million dollars of unmarked cash, but was a womanizer who was in the middle of a combusted divorce. Lucas, as I pointed out earlier, was the ruthless, reflective, enterpriser who harbored a contorted mix of morals and leadership that would make Zig Ziglar proud. He took his mother to church every Sunday, he was honest, exhibited integrity, and loyalty. He made money for his family, with whom he shared his business empire with. He was also a man with a quick temper, exemplified with his quick strike lash-outs with his incompetent family members.

Many business parallels can be salvaged from this movie; the kind of parallels that makes you wonder if Frank Lucas would have been as successful a CEO of a software company as he was as a heroine distributor. He gave a lot of business lesson platitudes and aphorisms (the use of brand naming, trademark infringement, the importance of wholesale purchasing versus retail purchasing for a business owner) that any aspiring entrepreneur can use. At its underlying core, you realize the core genius of a man who took what life gave him and made lemonade. He saw a life with no options - or shall I say limited options - and made the most out of it. Problem was, it was illegal. Perhaps his race increased the fervor with which the law - and opposing underworld members - brought about his incarceration. Or perhaps it was because of his belief in family loyalty (which greatly precipitated his demise). Or his nature to please his woman (which seems to be a common trait in the downfall of man).

But I am afraid that the masses who see this film will take the wrong message from it. They will see a guy, uninhibited, full of temerity, and smart who took what was his. They will see a guy worth emulating, because they will only take away the mistakes he made, and say to themselves "I won't make that same mistake." They will see the money. The respect. The front row seats. The beautiful wife. The mother who he moved into his home. All of which caters to the self-interest and vanity that plagues society.

They will forget how he brought a great many of his family down. How he led to the destruction of one of the richest black communities in the U.S. How black people are still suffering to this day as a result of the heroine, later turned crack trade. How he snitched his way to 7 years instead of 70 (albeit it was cops who he snitched on, snitching is a code irrespective of who is the snitched). How he grieved his mother and lost his wife.

Masses will miss the major point: That these type of people set goodwill and the balance of society back exponentially. And that disturbs me. Hopefully I will be proven wrong, but a conversation I heard among a group of four while exiting the movie theater did nothing to allay my fears:

Guy #1: Did you see how gangster he was (he exclaims this with the excitement of a six-year old at Christmas)?!?
Girl: I know! Denzel was so sexy! He is the man with those roles.
Guy #2: That is how you do it...the way he went about his business, how he popped that guy in full view if everybody...BOOM!
Guy # 1: What a great movie!

Well, he wasn't lying about that last sentence; it was a great movie. A few things were missing though. The lack of subtlety of the film: in baseball terms, it was more Nolan Ryan than Bob Gibson (and let's face it, Gibson was by far the better pitcher), the lack of a back story that led Frank into a life filled with murder, mayhem, and money. The egalitarian focus on Crowe and Denzel: it appeared that the director wanted to make them equal, but it was clearly Denzel's movie. I leave the minutiae to the Eberts and Alan Smiths of the world.

But Denzel and Russell, the scene in which they finally met face-to-face, was chilling. It was a bit awkward, yet scintillating. A climax of the movie indeed. But again, I'll leave it to the film critics to analyze the denouement and buildups.

I am more interested in the anthropological effect of the movie. A friend of mine told me early in October that this movie will have the same impact on black people that Scarface had on the Latino community. I disputed this, simply because this is a different era and we are more progressive now than we were then. But I didn't fully believe that.

Am I right? Only time will tell.

Oh yeah, I would be remiss to forget to include the rest of the stellar cast that was in this film: Chiwetel Ojiofor, Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ruby Dee, Rza, Common, T.I. (minus $3 million dollars...that's a bad joke), and Roger Guenveur Smith.

Now go see for yourself, for research is the first step in intelligible banter.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Socks, Pats, Colts, and Roundball

Boston fans, live it up.

This is your time. You boast the two best teams in football and baseball, with an outside chance to grab that title in basketball. Well, not really. The Celts are a point guard, a center, and a bench away from that. Too many ills to overcome, being that the season is here.

You are going to hear the biggest hype machine this week about the impending Pats-Colts showdown. And it will be totally justified. We all know the prolificacy of both of these teams, so I won't bore you with details.

Sunday at 4:30. Game of the Year. You can miss it if you want. Three story lines are salient about this historic match-up.

Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick - Could there be two more distinctively opposite people? One is a no show-boating, God-thanking, subdued coach that was blasted by his kicker...and the other is a sweat shirt wearing, abrasive, mad scientist, laconic coach that is impugned weekly for his lack of sportsmanship. Belichick has the edge in this match-up, with a 12-2 playoff record (2-1 against the Colts), and has undoubtedly had this game circled in the front of his 1200 page play book. Dungy claims that his team prefers the underdog status, but any competitor wants respect. The Pats are six point favorites despite being visitors and despite losing to this team nine months ago on this field. This has to raise the embers of the Horseshoes.

Peyton and Tom - Are there any two quarterbacks in the history of the NFL whose careers are as linked as these two? Peyton has a ways to go catch up with Brady in the SuperBowl ring department, but his team has shown no glimpses of any relapse. But let's face it, what Brady is doing this year is unprecedented, while he is on his way to having, statistically and record-wise, the best season by a player in NFL history. Peyton is on pace for another- ho hum- 4,000 plus yard season with only nine picks. Battle for league quarterback supremacy could take precedence in this game.

The league's top passing offense vs. the league's top passing defense - In years past, you would have pegged the top passing defense to the Pats and top passing offense to the Colts. Nope. The Colts D is something to be feared, led by the head-bussin' Safety Bob Sanders...while we all know about the Pats' panoply.

Other notables about the world:
Interesting read about emergence of youth at the top of companies. Refreshing to see, especially considering my considerable youth.

Tonight is opening night of the NBA season. Three games, a lot of story lines. More to come later in the week.
Portland @ San Antonio 8 pm
Houston @ Los Angeles 10:30 pm
Utah @ Golden State 10:30 pm

Another high-profile somebody is being taken to the cleaners.

Seems as if the reports have spoken. If Barack Obama loses the democratic nominee, it isn't because he isn't getting any help from the media.

A German inmate escaped a suitcase!

I saw American Gangster on Monday night...expect a review soon.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Winning, Part II

In guiding souls to prominence, what is more pertinent in a leader: A philosophy-laden leader, or a strategist and a tactician as a leader?

This was a question posed by AJC's own Sekou Smith, and one that brings about much thought. Since sports is a microcosm of life, we are going to use sports to examine the question.

Even strategies have philosophies. Perhaps the philosophy is to bludgeon a team with short passes or an up-tempo offense or small ball tactics. To instill doctrines, surely a strategy is there, albeit more subtle. Philosophers pay more attention to the psychologies of their pupils. They aim to maintain optimal biorhythms in their players/team. More apt to play mind games, these types invoke fear in opposing teams in a different way: their cunning is often in the minds of opposing coaches. Opposing coaches find themselves trying to decipher the next moves of a philosopher, whereas strategy is easier to defend against. That is why philosophers are more preferred to establish a dynasty than a tactician.

Give me a coach who can design convoluted machinations all day, but I would take the guy who has a M.O. that can't be defensed. It's hard to defend what you cannot see.

It is possible to be both a philosopher and strategist, but such occurrences are rare (we will get to this later).

The strategist is more tangible, keeping a team pliable to each game, making and implementing switches to adjust in the heat of the battle. That is what makes Joe Torre different from a Jack McKeon. Let us observe the following case study.

Torre has the been the recipient of talent, and inherited a team in 1996 that just made the playoffs for the first time in 16 years in Buck Showalter (1996 was also the first year that the wild-card format was implemented. The Yankees were a wild-card team that year). His first year as manager: World Series. Surely, he was an influence in that leap, but it was made less salient by the fact that the Yankees added a number of impact players the year of Torre's arrival: Tino Martinez, Mariano Duncan, Kenny Rogers, Ruben Sierra, David Cone, and Mariano Rivera, among others. Torre had something he never had before, talent, and he had it in abundance. His job was made easier, for he didn't have to be a strategist anymore (his previous stints in St. Louis and Atlanta and NY Mets were met with inadequacy.) Torre's claim to fame in a pinstripe uniform stemmed from his dexterity with managing talent. His ability not to overreact, to stay calm, trickled down to the multi-million dollar egos that tend to do that when things don't go their way. His influence was more visceral, and less concrete. Therefore he gets the role of the philosopher.

Jack McKeon took over a Florida Marlins team in 2003 that was 16-22. He quickly came in and instilled a new culture in the Florida Marlins clubhouse. He brought a laid-back, yet stern attitude to a young Florida Marlin bunch. His style was perfect for the short-term: for he wasn't brought in to be a long-term solution. In fact, he wasn't expected to turn this precocious bunch into winners either. But he did. The Marlins would go on to a 75-49 record during McKeon's tenure, and eventually the World championship. They overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Cubs and upset the Yankees in the process. But how McKeon accomplished this lies the splendor: he allowed his top two hitters Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, to wreck havoc by debunking traditional methods (they had a combined 118 walks; in fact, the team was ranked 13th in base in balls). He allowed a young Miguel Cabrera to shine and had the clairvoyance to place him in the clean-up spot as a 20-year old on the biggest stage. He also contradicted a common practice of giving pitchers at least four days' rest, by sometimes placing his pictures on the hill with three days' rest. There wasn't much philosophy in the sense of slogans and quotes and tacit confidence. McKeon simply placed his players in positions where they could succeed through minute tactics; almost transparent at first glance. McKeon is a strategist.

There are stark differences in the methods of a philosopher and strategist. A philosopher doesn't indulge in the X's and O's as much as it instills a paradigm. Mike D'Antoni is not successful because he created Phoenix's up-tempo style. He is successful because he allows his talented team to flourish; he simply reminds them to keep it up. His mode is to reinforce and delegate roles and keep everybody's psyche at a maximal peak. On the other hand, Larry Brown micromanages (which succeeds in drawing the ire of his players, but is successful nonetheless). Brown's success lies in his ability to get the most out of less. His 2000-2001 Philadelphia team made to the NBA Finals, despite a dearth of big name talent outside of Allen Iverson. It is with this example where we notice our most startling differences in the two titles: strategists make their bones through lesser talent, whereas philosophers manage the higher talent.

Philosophers don't care what you do, they are going to stick to their game plan. Strategists are flexible so they can adjust to the ebbs and flows of the game. Think of the philosopher as the big, huge corporation (Disney) and the strategist as the smaller, flexible organization (Southwest Airlines). Both are flourishing, but through different methods.

There are downfalls to both, but for long-term flourishing, bet on the philosopher. All the great dynasties in sports (Yankees, Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Reds, 49ers) were operated by a philosopher at the head coaching spot. But philosophers THRIVE on premium talent, in fact, they cannot burgeon without them. Everybody cannot manage talent. Philosophers can.

Schemers have the hardest problems managing talent, because they rely on more parts. These types of coaches need not as much talent as philosophers, but they don't last as long. See Larry Brown, Chuck Daly, Don Nelson, Mike Shanahan, Mike Scioscia, Rick Adelman, Joe Gibbs, Marty Schottenheimer. These guys are excellent coaches in their own right, but live and die with physical execution. This success is short-lived, and it is really hard (next to impossible) to instill a empire with these type of leaders.

There are instances of both: Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Greg Popovich, Sparky Anderson, Billy Donovan and Bob Knight, to name a few. These cases are rarities, but when you catch both in one, you have a legend on your hands.

So which coaching adjective is better for your teams, the thinker or the maneuverer? I'll leave that for you to debate.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Winning, Part I

Triumph. We all want it. Some more than others, but it is there in all of us. That desire to emerge at a place in life where we feel like we have accomplished what was set before us to accomplish.

There are many classes of people in regards to coming out on top: those who want it, but don't have the desire to make it happen. Those who want it, but don't know how to make it happen (and thus gives up trying). And those who want it, and make it happen. Sounds simple enough. You could get more taxonomic than that, but I'm not. At least not in the next few paragraphs.

So, what is a winner? It is, in my humble opinion, not a title that should be handed out arbitrarily. Take sports for an example. In sports, the object is to win. So if a player is a 25 point per game scorer, but his team has a 35% winning clip, is he a winner? Me would think not, and I would probably hear dissenting views, citing the fact that a player must have help around him to win. Nobody does it by themselves, they would say. But those who express this view overlook one key element:

In the history of sports, the greatest players are recognized by the fact that they collect championships. The trophies, the rings, the dousing of the coaches. That's what it is all about. If I ask you to identify the greatest player who ever played in the NBA, NFL, and MLB, you would probably tell me Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, and Hank Aaron. Or Magic Johnson, Jerry Rice, and Babe Ruth. Or others. The point is, that the names you will think of when asked said question will probably have won a ring at a point in their careers.

Barring exception, the greatest players in each sport have acquired a championship at some point in their careers. I am sure everybody would agree with that.

Now here is where the interesting part comes. What about Karl Malone, Ted Williams, Fran Tarkenton, Carl Yastrzemski, Alex Rodriguez (career still in progress), O.J. Simpson, Dan Marino, and all the other countless players who put forth great careers and yet could not capture the jewelry? Are they not winners? So without further ado, I will attempt to explain a winner through a case study of the NBA (I would examine cases from all three on the blog, but that is coming in a forthcoming book), thus implementing a framework in which a winner can be quantified.


Robert Horry has won seven NBA championships: two with Houston, three with Los Angeles, and two with San Antonio. He has played a prominent role in all of them. He was the 11th overall pick of the Houston Rockets in 1992, and has never missed the playoffs. Despite being a 6'9 power forward, he has averaged over seven rebounds a game only once. His season-high in points-per-game is 12.0. His last five championship runs, he spent the majority of his games coming off the bench. He is a guy who prefers to play his role, and perfect it. Yet, he does not come off as a tireless worker who excels at any one thing (a la Bruce Bowen). Perhaps that is what makes Horry so special, his ability to perform a number of different roles well when it is needed the most. Some players have that in them, some don't. Or the fact that Horry was just in the right at the right time, after all, luck is a component in coming out on top. But what some people call luck, others may call a calculated foresight: Horry couldn't control where he was drafted, nor where he was traded (to Phoenix, then LA) but he had a direct control over his decision to sign with San Antonio. He is blessed to have played with four of the best players to ever play in the NBA (Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan), yet no one can say that he rode on those players coattails solely. While he is not a player whom you would build a franchise around, he is a player who your franchise could not win without.

Charles Barkley and Karl Malone are two of the best power forwards in NBA history. But yet, they have no championships. Barkley has played with Julius Erving, Moses Malone (albeit at the end of their careers), Kevin Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, and Clyde Drexler. Yet, his cupboard is as bare as a newborn. Karl Malone played with John Stockton, another Hall of Famer who is the all-time assists and steals leader, as well as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Gary Payton (another future Hall-of-Famer).

Barkley and Malone has achieved massive personal success in their career. They both played in the midst of the second and third best dynasty ever in the NBA (the 90's Bulls and 80's Lakers, respectively). But despite the enormity of their stats, they could not, even with help, capture the essence of a player's true greatness. Is it their fault? Perhaps not. You could not question their desire to win. They gave 100% on the court every night. Sometimes in basketball, your contributions cannot be measured through quantifiable lens. You just have to recognize a winner from a stat stuffer. A lot of basketball players (Pete Maravich, Allen Iverson, Adrian Dantley) excel in pure basketball talent, putting the ball in the hole or making the pretty pass. But in performing those moves, are these players aware of the objective? Winning basketball is about everybody fulfilling their roles. Players have to trust each other on the rotations, in hitting the open shot, in hustling. This is often overlooked in not only basketball, but in all team sports.

Barkley and Malone, like many others, couldn't get it done. What do we make of this category? My proposal is that we make a separate pantheon for those who were great talents (stat stuffer and/or game dominance) AND won a championship. These people should be exalted higher because, contrary to popular opinion, you PLAY THE GAME TO WIN. Period. Anybody can make excuses for why a certain player didn't win (bad talent around him, bad coaching, played in era where Michael Jordan ruled, etc.), but I won't do that.

That's too lazy and easy.

I'll be back. We're not finished yet.


Thursday, October 11, 2007


The greatest people have it.

They know how to suck you in, make you imbibe all that they have to say, and have you take it as gospel. How do "they" do it? Who is "they?" How can you become "they?" Are "they" avoidable?

The Art of Seduction, a book (better described as an anthology of anecdotes and principles) by Robert Greene outlines, explains, and gives you everything that is needed to become a seducer. "They" are the JFKs and Marilyn Monroes (whose real name is Norma Jean Mortenson I just found out) of the world. Cleopatra from Egypt, Bathsheba from the Old Testament, and Queen Elisabeth were cited as prominent examples of women that used their innate and covert abilities to get what they wanted. No doubt, reading a few pages of this book will have you looking at people in ways more sinisterly than ever.

Which begs and brings me to the pertinent question: Is a seducer somebody to be avoided? Better yet, should we resist the urge to become a seducer, or learn the ways of a seductive individual?

To answer this question, we must examine the rudiments of a seducer and their prominence. A seducer is known to use guile, cunning, wit, and most of all, charisma, to capture the hearts of others and their own desires. This seems amoral right? This mode of operation is countercultural. After all, we are taught to treat everybody with fairness, honesty, and kindness. Manipulating people is anything but fair, because the recipient of the manipulation is often defenseless. It certainly isn't honest. And kind? Please.

What makes these type of people different from your pastor? Perhaps a pastor has more pristine motives, but the methods and ideology are highly congruent. Maybe the tools are different as well (an atheist would convince you of the illogicality of believing in God, while a pastor will harp on historical documents and supernatural occurences to prove His sovereignty). But above all, you can point out a similarity between a Joel Osteen and a Adolf Hitler.

They both possess massive charisma.

In truth, all seduction practitioners use channels in which they know will be most effective to reaching their "target market."

Ah, target market. I love that term (I was a marketing major). Life is like a 360 degree object, and likewise, everything in life comes full circle. Apple Incorporated launching a new product, performing the necessary due diligence, creating the mass amount of the said product, and promulgating it to the world is no different than a Kappa on campus pulling a female of his liking through subterfuge. Will Apple tell you about any product defects before it hits the market? Maybe, but it is always after the consumers point it out where transparency comes to play. Apple is in business to make the sale; as much as that as that lady in the club to acquire free drinks from a guy who takes interest in them.

Pretty extreme you say? Part II coming soon...


Thursday, October 4, 2007

NBA 2K8: The Review

A most anticipated arrival on the sporting scene surfaced on Tuesday, Oct. 2. NBA 2K8 and NBA Live 2008 both made their retail debut on the starting day of NBA practices. Since the inception of 2K series (in both football and basketball), I have been all over it, at the exclusion of the EA Sports of the world. I have buddies who still consume EA Sports games, so I still get the chance to play those games to keep my bias system somewhat in tact. What I find when I play EA Sports games these days (Madden 2005 was the best Madden game to come out in the last 3 years...possibly ever), I find that the laziness, negligence, and progression factor is more palpable with these games each year. Madden 2006 regressed because the creators took away the defensive AI that made '05, and '07 is only slightly better than '06. It has gotten to the point where the only reason I purchase Madden every year is because of two reasons:

1) The updated player rankings and the new rookies coming in. There's unique fascination in seeing fresh meat make their interest into virtual competition before the actual season starts. Plus, seeing some middling or decent NFL player have a career year the previous NFL season translate into starkly increased ratings on Madden is always a sight to behold (see Frank Gore and Mike Furrey).

2) Unassailable habit. The same reason people buy drawers, why black youth buy Jordans, why Bobby Cox feels the need to get the hee-ho from the men in blue. This can't be stopped.

With that said, I don't own NBA Live, and haven't since 2001. As I mentioned earlier, I play it from time to time, coming away underwhelmed everytime because it doens't capture the experience that a basketball purist like myself clamors. So I go with the game that does.

NBA 2K8 does that and then more. Play with or against Baron Davis, and you get a point guard who drives to the hole with his shoulder down and goes up HARD (Devin Harris and Jason Terry know all about that). Play with or against Nash, and you get a skinny white guy who uses screens overwhelmingly to weave into the whole to find an open man. Dallas, you get Dirk's one-handed pose after a shot and a aversion to driving - and going up strong - to the hole.

To score, you cannot simply just drive to the hole with a ball-handling beast like Allen Iverson and be successful. You have to actually call plays and exploit mismatches. I was playing with Golden State against Phoenix, and I realized I had Barbosa guarding Stephen Jackson for large stretches. I didn't realize until the third quarter to start going at him.

I had 13 points that quarter with Jackson.

The AI is smart too. They realized that Baron Davis was killing Nash off the dribble, so they decided to collapse the lane when he drove. This forced me to pass it out to open shooters. With GS shooters, I was able to stay close with this strategy (this has has given me a deeper appreciation for how important penetrating point guards are for shooters). I focused more on gameplay than game modes, so I didn't stake out the dunk contest and three-point modes. I did play the street modes, where the game offers 1 on 1, 2 on 2, 3 on 3, 4 on 4, and 5 on 5. I found this mildly entertaining, mostly because of the ease of which I could score. So I trekked back to the Quick Game mode.

Gamespot gave the game 8.5, while IGN gave it a 7.9. This is utterly preposterous. Anybody who plays this latest version will not come away disappointed. Sure there are some issues. For one there's that annoying double-team quirk, when the player being double-teamed doesn't have a chance to escape it before being forced to give up his dribble. I counteracted this problem by recognizing the double team early and passing, or just blowing by. So I didn't find this to be too much a nuisance, but it is one nonetheless.

Another is the ticky-tack foul calls in the paint. Perhaps this is because I haven't mastered the timing of blocking a shot, or because the refs have been touched with the Tim Donaghy bug, or because of the idiotic mechanism implanted into the game's foul calls (I really loathe bad calls). But this is another irritation that can be overlooked, because the game is otherwise so flawless.

So do yourself a favor. Don't debate with anybody the merits and demerits of Live vs. 2K. Don't ask anybody. Just buy 2K8.

Thank me later.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Law and other rumblings and observations from the Arena

Law talked more about the elation of buying his mom and dad homes in Atlanta ("A dream come true. First thing I did was buy my mom a car). He compares himself as a mix between Sam Cassell and a smaller Chauney Billups, and had a slight look of disgust when asked about his "knock": that he was more Jason Terry than Jason Kidd (in terms of position, not skill).

"Critics never bother me. I play the game. At A&M, I was called on to score. So people judge me off that, but I can play and that's why the Atlanta Hawks took me with the 11th pick."

On the Hawks struggles over the years: "I am here to define my own legacy. I can't define nothing that I wasn't apart of.
I really can't put that pressure on me because I haven't been through it. It really doesn't matter to me. I have to define my own legacy. They can't judge me off of what happened from 1999- 2007. I care nothing about that. Whatever happened before I got here matters nothing to me."

On Summer League: "I played a lot better than I thought I would. Don't get me wrong, I always expect to play well but I played better than I expected. That just basically gives me that much more confidence heading into training camp."

His model for success in the NBA is Bill Russell, a guy not known for his lack of championships.

Other rumblings and observations from the Arena:

-Smith feels like he was jobbed in the All-NBA Defensive voting last season: "I definitely should have gotten more love and been on the team." He also said that his dribbling and shooting have vastly improved; but he still considers himself a power forward ("I want to be a different breed...I chose to work with a (Hall of Fame point guard Calvin Murphy) this summer to improve my shooting and dribbling and footwork, but this still doesn't change my mindset. I still plan on being on the inside.")

-Speedy said he is as mobile as he has ever been. On the scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, he is about "an 8." He also feels that he is All-NBA Defensive worthy when he is healthy, but the voting is politics. "Bruce Bowen is the best on-the-ball defender in the league and has been for years, but he has never won a defensive player of the year award."

-Salim Stoudamire looked as jovial as ever.

-So did Marvin Williams.

-The lack of an inside enforcer was due to lack of depth of big men, said Shelden Williams. With the added depth, Williams claimed that he could now be that enforcer.

-Solomon Jones stated he wanted to be among the top leaders in the league in blocked shots this season.

-Bob Rathbun told me an interesting point. "When was the last time the Hawks have had a penetrating point guard, a guard who can get into the middle of the defense and dish? Not since Mookie Blaylock have they had one. (Tyrone) Lue is more of a shooter, a come around the screen and shoot guy. He's not a penetrator. You have to have a guy who can get in the lane on that dribble penetration. It's very hard to score on a set NBA defense everytime down court. That's why Phoenix likes to score in seven seconds or less. They have a point guard who can use his dribblling skills to get in the inside of a defense and kick it. So if I had to pick one player that is integral to the success of the Hawks, it would have to be Speedy Claxton, because of his ability to provide that penetration and kick."

-Alston Lister spoke of the keys of the big men on the team improving on the defensive end: "We have unlimited potential here. It is all about harnessing it. We have a term, "do your work early," which means that we keep other players active and not letting them get position. It is a mindset man, that's all it is." This gave off the indication that the Hawks lack of defensive prowess last season was due to lack of effort, as well as injuries.

-Speedy on a perimeter stopper a la Bruce Bowen or Tayshaun Prince or Raja Bell: "We definitely need someone to step up and provide that role for us."

For the Hawks, the center position figures to be a battle commensurate with the point guard battle. Lorenzen Wright, ZaZa Pachulia, Shelden Williams, Solomon Jones and Al Horford figure to give each other lumps in the month of October, in a battle for prime playing time at the 5. None of the big men I talked to came out and said it (they are much too polite a group to insinuate rivalry), but there will be some serious jockeying on the pecking order in that paint.

Two ends of the scale, two battles.

Not a bad problem to have if your last name is Woodson.

Day of grinding begins today.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Hawkings from the Arena

Basketball season begins today for NBA Live and 2K fans.

Practice begins for the real guys tomorrow. I know this because they said so.

Monday, October 1 began the unofficial first day of the season for the Birds, and there was an aura of newness to the court. And it wasn't because of the seemingly never-ending offseason either. As Sekou Smith commented to me yesterday, when you don't make the playoffs, the few months of the off-season seems an eternity.

The Hawks, as we all know, come into the season with the longest playoff drought of any team in the Association. But you couldn't tell that from the ambiance at Phillips Arena.

Perhaps because this team know something that we don't know. Or the fact that the two newest additions to the team - the ones who are counted on to provide significant spark to this squad - come from winning programs (well I guess Marvin and Shelden did too).

They also care nothing about the playoff desert that plagues Hawks fans (their words). So that's who, in the humble opinion of this writer, were the subjects of prime interest on Media Day.

So let the world herald Joe Johnson's finesse and skill, Josh Smith's athleticism and potential (despite working with a Hall of Fame point guard and center on his offensive repertoire, his number one goal is to be on the All-Defensive team), and the fact that the Hawks have won 69 games in the last three years (only two less than Dallas last season).

I am focused on the mindset of the rookies. They are the most unaffected, which is perhaps what this team needs to obviate this thirst that Hawks fans want quenched in the worst way.

Horford spoke copiously of the minutiae that defined his championship run at Florida.

"Teamwork and sacrifice" were the hallmarks of those teams, he said. Horford comes to the team after having been apart of history, where many felt that he was held back statiscally for the betterment of the team (something he later confirmed). But there are others who feel that his numbers at Florida will not grow in the NBA. This, Horford claims, is "not how you should look at it." He stated that getting to the NBA by posting less numbers was a collective strategy by those Florida teams.

Picture this.

After the 2006 NCAA season, after winning the national championship, Noah could have left and become the number one pick in the NBA Draft. Horford wasn't going. Neither was Corey Brewer (now with Timberwolves). Neither was Taurean Green (Trailblazers). So Noah decided to stay.

A year later, all four left for the NBA. Horford, Noah, and Brewer set a NBA Draft record in the process by becoming the first college teammates to be drafted in the top 10. Noah sacrificed, and was last of the big three to be picked. Had he left in 2006, perhaps Horford would have had a great year, maybe not. But they knew that all of them together was better than all of them apart (pun).

This type of altruism in pro sports is rare. With bucks being thrown around to top picks like flyers at a protest site, it a wonder why any one of those players didn't go for numbers (the leading scorer on both championship squads was Noah and Green, who were the last two Gators drafted respectively).

This cannot be belabored enough.

"The way that we saw it was, if you look at our points per game, nobody scored more than 13 or 14 points on our team, Horford said. "So we knew that if we won, that would get us to the NBA. If we (the Hawks) can buy into something similar, then we would be good.

"I feel like anybody in our starting five from Florida, if Coach Donovan asked us to score 20, could have done it. If he wanted for me to average 20 and 10, I could have done it. But I don't know if we still would have won. So that's how you have to look at it."

This is what Horford spend the better part of 10 minutes explaining to this young writer.

He also went on to say:

-Joakim Noah was held back at Florida: "I feel like he would have scored a lot more if allowed to."
-His style of game is similar to Elton Brand and Tim Duncan...only from what people tell him: "I really didn't watch that much NBA basketball."
-His preferred position is power forward.
-There is not much difference between a power forward and center.
-Energy and physicality are the two components that Hawks fans should expect from him.