Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How Old Do You Think This Man Is?

I want you to stare at the picture to the left of these words. Stare at it for three seconds. Now close your eyes. See the picture in your mind. How old do you think the man in the picture is? (You can click on the picture to enlarge it).

The picture is of Greg Oden, basketball superstar. Notice the cast. He's been playing with the cast on his shooting hand. His shooting percentage? 60%. He can't really shoot right-handed foul shots with the cast, so he takes all his foul shots left handed. His foul shot percentage? 60%. With his left hand! He's not as good as Bo Kimble was with his left hand, but still, 60% is not too shabby. Oden's injury might be the best thing that's ever happened to him. It is possible that he becomes ambidextous once the cast is removed. With his back to the basket, he might be able to turn either shoulder and finish with either hand. Currently, he's averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks. For Ohio State. He's a freshman in college.

He turned 19 years old a little over a week ago. That man in the picture is 19 years old! My girlfriend guessed that he was 35. What did you guess? (post it in the comment section, if you want.)

A Note About Hoosier Basketball

I don't know if I ever really liked "Hoosiers" (the movie). I wanted to like the movie, but all fifteen times I saw it, is sort of disappointed me, got me down a bit. Sure, I loved Gene Hackman. But Dennis Hopper's character sort of creeped me out, and the super-shy players made me uncomfortable too. In any case, I always wanted to like Indiana basketball, but I never really was inspired by Jared Jeffries. Didn't it seem like Jared Jeffries played at Indiana for something like eight years? Anyway. And their last coach was slim and severe-looking and looked like a substitute teacher that wouldn't find my antics to be funny. And the team was constantly overrated, or really not that good. Or so it seemed too me. I really only watched their team out of the corner of my eye.

Now, suddenly, Indiana has a fun team to watch. They have this new short-ish and round-ish coach who is a nice combination of jolly and stern. I watched Indiana beat UConn, and I learned three things:
1. D.J. White was the best player on the floor
2. UConn's 7'3" Thabeet was the tallest.
3. Some guy named Johnson on UConn had flying-from-out-of-nowhere dunking ability

Anyway, Indiana just beat Alando Tucker and his #2 ranked Wisconsin team. The Big 10 has some good teams, but Indiana might be the best right now. D.J. White, that guy has really broad shoulders. I'd say he's in my top ten favorite college players right now. Number one? I'd have to go with Greg Oden. He's good enough to deserve his own post.

A Thai Pun and an American Bloke

One of the writers of this blog, Musa D., is currently in Thailand. Every few days I will write a quick entry describing what I imagine his experiences to be like:

"While I was on the plane on the way over to Thailand, I thought of this awesome pun using the word 'Thailand' in it. I was so happy about it because it was so intensely clever, and I am rarely clever. I was so excited about my pun that it was almost like I had to go to the bathroom, that's how antsy with excitement I was! I nearly called Anson using the airfone to instruct him to post the pun immediately. Instead, I wrote it down on an airplane napkin so that I'd remember it, but while I took a nap my girlfriend used the napkin to spit her gum into it and then she left it in her seat pocket. The pun was something like, 'It's impossible to win in Tie-land,' only much better.

"During our first day, my group absorbed this other American bloke into it. He was a nice guy, but as soon as he was drunk, he became a really interested in botany. After he sobered up, I asked him a few questions about botany, and he was like, 'who cares, dude?' I don't know if he was faking his botany interest when he was drunk, or if he was faking that he was not into botany when he was sober. Either way, the bloke was a bit of a faker, and so my group pretended to go to a bathroom in a restaurant and then snuck out the back door and gave him the slip.

"I'm using the word bloke a lot so that if someone reads this over my shoulder, they'll think I'm British and not American. Next time I write in I'll describe the street urchins, the cats, and the headwear of choice. Lao jer gun (see you again)!"

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Detroit Tigers Have No Holes

...according to this article by John Donovan of

"The Tigers, top to bottom, are the most solid team around. Stronger than '06. No holes. Really. As long as Sean Casey stays healthy at first, they'll be tough."

I got an oil change yesterday, and when my car was returned to me, the radio was tuned to a sports talk station. The caller was shouting at the host because he thought the Patriots football team had not spent enough money on their players. The host was shouting because he disagreed. I suddenly found myself caring not at all about football and thinking about baseball for the first time in months. Will first baseman Dan Johnson of the Oakland A's hit over 30 home runs? Is King Felix Hernandez going to dominate? Was Zito overpaid? And will Helton, who has been sub-par for the last two years but now claims he's injury-free, play closer to his career averages? Will Daniel Cabrera win or lose 20 games?

Aside from the radio being left on, the oil-change guys left me a few other gifts: A wad of pink bubble gum was balancing on my dashboard and strips of what looked to be uneaten Big League Chew bubble gum were on the passenger seat. I also found a few things that are less relevant to the sport of baseball: A lug nut, a greasy towel, and, inexplicably, a dreidel with the "gimmel" side facing up.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

King James

I just got the first six issues of Young Avengers in the mail from an ebay seller and the guy was nice enough to throw in some freebies, a Spider-Man "Back in Black" postcard, some Planet Hulk and Civil War cards, and an issue of the Daily Bugle. But the most incredible freebie was a comic book from DC called King James: Starring Lebron James. Good lord, is this awesome. The basic plot is that Lebron has been selected by the "Hetairia", a shadowy organization "looking to control every major athlete in sports...not just, art, and who knows what else" to play in a one-on-one tournament to decide the "King of Basketball". It's basically a 28 page ad for Powerade, which Lebron is constantly chugging between games, but there are still some incredible panels, especially since Lebron is drawn to be as big as the Incredible Hulk, and there are about a hundred different sound effects used during the games. For instance, there is the understandable "swish" for a sweet finger roll layup and several "whoosh" sounds for long range jumpers. However, there is the less well-known "bishhh" for the game-winning heave while being fouled by Flexxor in the Court of Illusion, as well as "whumppp" for a slam dunk, "booshhh" for another long range jumper, and "whoom" for the underhand falling away shot. The best are the sounds of missed shots, "bink" and "blapppp" and then the inexplicable "kalasshh" when Yuri Dragonin, the Siberian hoopster, causes an ice avalanche to fall on a crowd, requiring Lebron to allow Yuri to go in uncontested for a slam dunk while he saves the imperiled cheerleader. Lebron ends up the King of Basketball and I am ready for a six-part series. As far as sports comics go, it's ten-times better than the New Universe stinker, Kickers Inc. (and let's not even discuss NFL Superpro from Marvel) but, it is nowhere near as amazing as Godzilla vs. Barkley, the greatest of all sports comics (Okay, Musa D, "Eddie Stanky, Baseball Hero" is pretty good too).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sinkhole Superstars: Steve Deontay Logan

One of the perks of working for a stats-graphics company earlier this decade was getting front row seats to NCAA tourney games. Sure, I spent the entire game as a "spotter," meaning that I had a two-way headset on and was reporting game stats to an input guy so that they would appear updated "live" on CBS. Still, front-row seats at the NCAA tourney are pretty sweet.

I was at Steve Logan's region the year he was a first team All-American, his senior year. He was, hands down, the most interesting player to watch. Imagine a player with the moves of an Iverson but the body of an El-Amin. You are imagining Steve Logan. In addition, he had a very unselfconsious, slow, and smooth walking style. He was almost as much fun to watch between plays as he was when the clock was running.

He also looks like a old friend of mine. After recently bumping into my friend at the free introductory class of an otherwise expensive Jazzercise program at the local YMCA, I decided to check up on Steve Logan and see how the rest of his career panned out.

Despite being ranked as high as a mid-first rounder by many draft "experts," he fell to the second round where he was taken by Golden State. Some say his height, which is listed as 6' but is probably closer to 5'10", was the reason for people passing on him. I think it is because he only has three fingers on his left hand. He got into a tiff with Golden State over contract stuff and was eventually traded to Dallas. Without ever playing an NBA game, he moved to the ABA and then the EuroLeague. He was released in 2006 and, as far as I can tell, he is currently out of organized basketball.

Cleveland, OH (Lakewood (OH) St. Edward)
1998-1999: Cincinnati (NCAA): 8.9ppg, 1.5rpg, 2.2apg
1999-2000: Cincinnati (NCAA): 10ppg, 3.7rpg
2000-2001: Cincinnati (NCAA): PointsCUSA-1(20.9), 2.4rpg, 2.4apg
2001-2002: Cincinnati (NCAA): 33 games: 22.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.1 apg
2002: Drafted by Golden State Warriors (NBA,2rd(30))
2002: July: Southern California Summer Pro League in Long Beach (Golden State Warriors team)
2002-2003: in Jan.'03 signed at Mobile Revelers (NBDL), but left the team the same month for personal reason
2003: San Francisco Pro-Am League (SF City team)
2004 July: Southern California Summer Pro League in Long Beach, CA (VR Sports team)
2004: In Sep.'04 his right were traded by Golden St. Warriors (NBA) to Dallas Mavericks (NBA)
2004-2005: Texas Tycoons (ABA)
2005-2006: Mersin Buyuksehir Belediyesi (TUR-D1,1T), Turkish League: 12 games: 21.7ppg, 2.4rpg, 5.3apg, 1.5spg, 2FGP: 56.0%, 3PT: 40.0%, FT: 82.0%; left in Jan.'06, then joined AO Kolossos Rodou (GRE-A1): 3 games: 10.7ppg, 1.0rpg, 2.7apg, left in Feb.'06 due to personal family reasons, next month joined Benfica Lisbona (POR-TMN): 4 games: 16.3ppg, 1.8rpg, 8.5apg


Monday, January 15, 2007

After a blizzard but before the plows come

I spent the last eight days on Vieques, a small island (21 miles long and 3 miles wide) off the coast of Puerto Rico. I was away from home long enough to forget which direction to turn my torso to reach the wall-mounted toilet paper roll of my home shitter.

Until recently, 60% of Vieques was owned by the U.S. military, which used it as testing grounds for bombs, missiles, and other weapons. When, in 1999, a Vieques native named David Sanes was killed by a bomb dropped by a military jet (it fell 1½ miles away from its designated target) during bombing exercises, the residents of Vieques suddenly had considerably more leverage in their battle to kick the U.S. military off the island. The Navy finally left Vieques in 2003 and the lands previously owned by the Navy were turned into an ecological preserve.

In a few years, I’m guessing that the 40% of the island that isn't ecologically preserved will experience the effects of land speculation, over-development, and resort-ism (if that be a word), but in its current state, the recently-opened-to-the-public beaches are beautiful and unpopulated. I found it oddly pleasing to be on pristine beaches without anyone else around; it was like skiing down the middle of a Manhattan street after a blizzard but before the plows come.

Of course Vieques does have its share of problems: unemployment is around the 50% mark. 70% of its inhabitants live below the poverty line. When you rent a car, you are instructed to leave the car empty, unlocked, the windows rolled down, and the glove compartment open to prevent smash-and-grab theft. These statistics are easy to forget when swimming in the Mosquito Bay at night, a bioluminescent bay whose water particles glow like millions of miniature fireflies anytime the water is disturbed. As you swim, you can pick out the neon-yellow glowing outline of darting fish and shrimp.

Apropos of nothing, my sister, who is working for the Foreign Service in Equatorial Guinea, has started taking a French class on the side. Here is an excerpt from one of her e-mails:

"Back in French class, too, and this time the teacher is excellent. The professor is Guinean, as is most of the class. We work off of photocopies of what I can guess is an Alliance Francaise book. Anyway, this past week we have been working on verbs and nouns having to do with food. When asked to name fruit the class came up with mango, papaya and banana. There were pictures of apples and pears in the workbook and most of the class didn't know what they were. The professor explained that they are exotic fruit from Europe."

Makes me wonder if the exotic fruit of David Beckham will translate to the U.S. The knee-jerk reaction of the ESPeNis-types is to say anything that will create a Beckham backlash. End, tangent.

While on Vieques, I was without television and internet, and so all I know about Florida’s defeat of OSU is from what I’ve read online in the twenty hours since I’ve been home. What strikes me and my Rip Van Winkle perspective most is the rise of a new category of sport athlete: the Booed by his Own Ornery Fans athlete. My definition of the BOOF phenomena is as follows: an over-hyped player, who, though playing a high level, is not playing like an superstar, and the player’s fans, unsatisfied by his lack of perfection, boo him. The only way to shed the BOOF label is to do something that only a superstar can do. This usually means winning a championship.

Consider Florida quarterback Chris Leak, who was the top-ranked prep player coming into college. When he didn’t win four Heisman trophies, Gator fans grew impatient and wanted him benched for backup QB Tim Tebow. When, six days after the fact, I found how the Gators had won, I was sad to have missed Chris Leak calmly removing himself from the BOOF category by leading his team to a National Championship. BOOF removals of this magnitude only happen once every few years.

Another potential BOOF-label shedder, former-Gator-and-current-Bear-quarterback Rex Grossman, was booed by his own ornery fans as he warmed up for his first playoff game start—this after leading his team to a 13-3 record. He went out and played well in a close playoff win. The Bears play their next playoff game at home against the Saints. I wonder if Bears fans will boo him during next week’s pre-game warm-ups. Probably. Once applied, it usually takes winning it all to shed a BOOF label.

Alex Rodriquez is a BOOFer. Can you think of others?

Incidentally, I thought LeBron James, when he was coming into the NBA, was a strong BOOF candidate. He was so incredibly hyped that I had a hard time figuring out how he’d satisfy his fans. I thought he’d score 14 points a game on 37% shooting (sort of like Adam Morrison is doing now). Which would have been excellent stats for a 19-year-old in the NBA. But anyway, he went 21, 5.5, 6 and shot 42% and amazingly managed to duck BOOFdom. I'm hoping Barack Obama pulls a LeBron in '08.

Anyway, I find myself strangely compelled by these BOOFers; they are a collection of odd ducks, and they are somehow more human-seeming than other athletes. Current BOOFers are like a 1999 Vieques: They are being bombed like crazy by critics, but as long as they continue to fight for their cause, they might one day experience a pristine moment of athletic achievement.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Alma Step-Mater

My girlfriend and I went next door to a bar the other night to watch some of the BCS Championship game. We both went to the University of Florida as graduate students, and sitting beside some real Gator supporters while my girlfriend chanted “If you’re not a master, then mas-tur-bate!” got me thinking about a grad student’s ties to a big, spirited school like UF.

During my two years in Gainesville (2003-2005), I enjoyed baseball and softball games in pleasant weather, as well as the football team’s spring scrimmages, but I wasn’t a backer, despite the campus trashcans’ explicit exhortations to “Put it in the can, Gator fan,” which made me smile daily. When I taught undergraduates, the lure of the big game and my writing assignments vied for their time and energy, and my writing assignments, with no tailgating on offer, were the Prairie View of Undergraduate Time and Energy. The football players rode around on free mopeds while I labored for a salary that barely broke five digits. Worst of all was the basketball team, which, to the eyes of someone weaned on Michigan State hoops discipline (yes, Spartan discipline), was a pack of over-hyped gunners.

In my mind, though, the dichotomy wasn’t Righteous Scholars versus Jocks and their Ovine Admirers, Abundant Funding, and Kymco ZX 50 Scooters. (Though a scooter would have been pretty convenient, since I was riding a bicycle that was so undersized that I was described by one observer as “a giraffe pushing a rolling pin.”) The dichotomy was between the slick, successful new university and the erstwhile school in the middle of a swamp, stocked with oddballs, where professors held office hours in a seamy bar or a bowling alley hosting a party of mentally challenged adults, and where sporting events involved firearms, livestock, or competitive eating--the institution I wanted to attend, and did, on days I stayed off campus. The Authentic vs. the Synthetic, or something similar, awkwardly translated from the French.

Then I left Gainesville, and college’s natural de-selection of over-hyped gunners resulted in a scrappy UF basketball team that I kind of like, and Chris Leak showed up his own team’s fan base by winning it all, and I realized I’d oversimplified matters. The athletic department at your grad school is like inessential in-laws—your spouse’s cousins, maybe. You’re allowed to hate them as long as you keep it to yourself. And you do, until the day you hear they got together and worked night and day at a literal drawing board and figured out how to fit all twenty-eight of themselves into a Geo Prizm, and then they succeeded, and are now included in the Guinness Book of World Records, and you say to your spouse, “Spouse, I never liked your cousins (other than Vince Young) that much, their small stature and commitment to record-breaking always kind of creeped me out, but this demonstration of flexibility, endurance, and familial intimacy impresses me greatly.”

The equivalent cheer, with football substituted for fitting adults into a Geo Prizm, I hereby send out to the University of Florida!

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Did you or did you not receive the figs?

I'm still pretty broken up about the Titans playoff drive finally coming to an end. However, we seem to be relating snippets from our holidays, so here you go.

I called my grandfather yesterday to thank him for the christmas gift he sent me. Not to brag, but I am well-loved by my grandfather, probably his favorite grandchild (he has many). I was prepared for a long conversation, which, in the spirit of the holidays, I was happy to do, even though I was in the middle of the 1987 "Stark Wars" arc of Iron Man and wanted to finish it to see the big moment when the silver centurion armor was put to rest. So I called and he answered and he was, how to put it, not very interested in talking to me. When I told him that I had already started reading the Cormac McCarthy novel he'd given me, he responded with "That is...that's a good thing. Yes." When I asked him if he enjoyed the fig preserves and fig cake (he likes figs) and peppermint brownies we'd sent him, he said, "Oh, of course. I...yes I did." When I said that we had not tried the fig cake ourselves and so we were worried that it might not be very good, he replied, "I'm sure...I'm sure it will be fine when I get it." "Wait, Pawpaw?" I said. "Have you not gotten the package from us yet?"

"What...yes. I mean...are you talking about the figs?"

"Yes, the figs. Did you or did you not receive the figs?"

"The figs are here and they're fine."

That cleared up, I proceeded to ask how his new year was and he said, after a long pause, "What now?" There were three possibilities for what was occurring.

1) My grandfather had turned senile since I saw him at Thanksgiving.
2) My grandfather was drunk.
3) My grandfather did not realize it was me and thought it was one of his other grandsons, Jeff perhaps, who is not so interesting.

I finally gave the phone to my wife and he was polite but cursory with her and then he hung up without talking to me again. My wife informed me that he was in the middle of watching the Tennessee-Penn State game. Apparently, watching a Nittany Lion recover a fumble and run 88 yards for a touchdown was more exciting than talking to me about fig cake (which, no joke, is hard to find). Nevertheless, happy new year, Pawpaw. Next year, Vince Young is getting a fig cake for Christmas.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year

Although I typically do not celebrate the holiday that occurs in the ten seconds following 11:59.50 pm on the 31st of December (three years ago I was swimming laps in a pool, two years ago I was sleeping, and last year I was on a plane), this year, inspired by Musa’s open-minded view of Christmas, I decided to mix it up and give the holiday a chance.

During the days leading up to the New Year, I was on the west coast of Florida visiting my parents. I was scheduled to head back to the northeast on the night of the 31st, but when I found out a recently-single friend of mine who was staying on the east coast of Florida was going to head down to Miami to try to pick up women at a New Year’s day party of a friend of a friend of his, I changed my flight and agreed to meet him there and be his wingman.

The party was full of men who were about to start balding but were putting up a good fight. Gel, it seemed, was the weapon of choice; apparently a palmful of gel and some delicate fingers can carefully coif hair in such a way that minimizes the visual effect of thinning hair. It is a spiky look that allows for direct viewing of the scalp, but in a sort of abnormal way that is unlike thinning.

Since I am usually cut off from society, spending the majority of my time pursuing the solitary activities of writing and running, I sometimes struggle to communicate with others. To make it easier for me to relate this story to you, from here on out I will describe everything about this New Year's day party using running analogies / metaphors.

After entering the party, it didn't take long for to me to size up the women's field:

There was the race-grizzled veteran, battle-scarred and embittered, although still quite competitive, especially in the early going. She made an early move before fading badly at the finish.

There was the inexperienced, greyhound-bodied youngster who made bold moves and then looked around for approval.

There was the out-of-shape superstar, a freak of genetics that could compete even when not at her best, but ultimately her lack a love for the sport would be her undoing.

There was the hardworking over-achiever, but she chose not to race; she showed no interest in my friend--her moves were being saved for a future race with higher stakes and more to gain.

To help my friend win out over the other men at the party, we had a plan. The goal was for me to rabbit the race, to run the first half at a fast clip and then to drop off the track. When the gun went off, my friend went out so hard that he passed me, and I struggled to keep up. I was a little annoyed at his fast start--it wasn’t part of the plan--but then I thought to myself that perhaps it was a good sign, a sign that he was committed to getting over his ex-girlfriend, committed to a night of fun. Soon he fell into line behind me and settled into his pace and conserved some energy by drafting. I went through the halfway point at even splits but began to tire. My friend took the lead, and I stepped off the track and at that point I became his head cheerleader / coach, shouting splits to him as he breezed by. He put on a series of smaller moves, and then at the critical moment, he put in a huge surge that put the other racers into difficulty.

His winning move involved his piano playing ability. My friend is a classically trained pianist and there happened to be a dusty electronic keyboard sitting on the top of the bookcase. A few hours after midnight, with the night winding down, he pulled the keyboard down, plugged it in, turned the volume to its highest setting, and played a very stylish version of the Gnarles Barkley song “Crazy.” He had everyone at the party singing at the top of their lungs. Smiles were on their faces. He stood over the keyboard in a half-crouch and banged away at the keys. I was exhausted, sitting in the corner nursing a diet root beer, contemplating the two-hour drive I had ahead of me. Even in my exhausted state, I found I was tapping my foot to the music. My friend was sprinting to an easy victory.

And then something strange happened. When he finished playing the song, he did one of those piano hand-sweeps from the lowest key to the highest. The air was buzzing. The other men looked awed by him and the women that could still stand up began to swarm. The greyhound-girl had a hand on his shoulder. The grizzled-girl was staring at him intently from across the room. Even the hardworking-girl stood hesitatingly in the middle of the room, seemingly considering if she should enter the fray. Only the genetic-freak-girl didn't move towards him: she was passed out on the couch next to me, drooling.

My friend beamed--grinned liked he had his lips around a frisbee--and then he walked straight out the door. I sat up, spilled some diet root beer on my jeans, awkwardly said goodbyes for the both of us, and then followed him out. I didn’t catch up with him until we were nearly at our cars. “What the heck was that?” I asked.

“I’m still not ready,” he said. He had a strange look on his face: he was grimacing and smiling at the same time. A grimile.

We said our goodbyes and agreed to meet up again soon. I drove back across Alligator Alley to my parents’ home, intermittently slapping my face to keep myself awake.