Posts Tagged ‘NBA’

Breslin and Berry, Two Originals: RIP

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin ... originals

Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin … originals

And so it went … A brief look at a few of the significant stories of the week just past:

  • Jimmy Breslin died. He was 88. And a pioneer. If you’re a New Yorker of a certain age — at least in your 30s, but especially 50-plus — you know the name and you remember the words. The quintessential big city columnist. Bold, brassy, tender, sarcastic, funny, biting, egotistical, fearless and relentless. For decades, his columns in The Herald-Tribune, Daily News and Newsday were the heart and soul and voice for millions of readers. I began reading his sports columns as a teenager with the Trib and followed him to the News and Son of Sam. I carried his philosophy of bringing a sports columnist’s approach to writing about life in general when I left college — where I was a sports editor — and got a job as a police reporter. Don’t focus on the score. Find the real story. Write it like a novel. Breslin had ego and attitude and an uncanny instinct for people. And he could write like hell. He pegged a fellow New Yorker famously known as the Donald as a phony who played the media (“the plural of mediocre,” Breslin wrote) like a fiddle and used other people’s money to con still others out of theirs. “A white Al Sharpton,’’ Breslin once called him. I ran into Sharpton when I was writing editorials in Middletown, N.Y., and he was loudly defending 15-year-old Tawana Brawley against non-existent rapists in Dutchess County, across the Hudson. Fake news is not a new phenomenon. You can look it up. “30,” Jimmy.
  • Chuck Berry died. He was 90. He was rock ‘n’ roll before it became rock, acid rock, punk rock and whatever other kind of rock legions of Berry wannabees dreamed up. He created the beat, the attitude and the philosophy that spoke to 1950s teenagers looking for a music of their own. “Sweet LIttle Sixteen,” “Johnny B. Goode”  and “Roll Over Beethoven” were upbeat, hard-driving and unlike anything previous generations had claimed as theirs. Irresistible. Plus, you could understand every word he sang and he could play the hell out of the guitar. Another pioneer. Check him out on YouTube, youngsters.
  • Shaquille O’Neal said the Earth is flat. The NBA Hall of Famer is known to be a jokester, but he’s apparently serious about this. He says his proof is that when he
    Shaquille O'Neal

    Shaquille O’Neal

    drives from Florida to California his car does not go up and down 360 degrees. And, sorry, Mr. Einstein, Shaq’s not convinced about that gravity theory either, even though something made his free throws fall far short of the basket. The flat-Earth theory is gaining traction among NBA players, which may be a commentary on so many of its stars coming out of college too early or not even going to college. Or it may simply be a sign that it’s not just fans, but even the players are getting bored with the lack of meaningful games. Maybe if the stars played in all the games when they’re healthy it would prompt more interest — and less resentment — among fans who pay hefty prices to see them sit on the bench. Put a round ball in your hands, dribblers, and stop thinking the sun rises and sets on your command.

  • FBI Director James Comey told a congressional committee in a televised hearing that there was no evidence that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped the residence of his successor, despite that successor’s repeated claims to the contrary. Comey also testified that the FBI is investigating possible contacts between the current president’s campaign aides and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign with the goal of influencing the outcome in favor of the current president. Republicans in Congress appeared to be most concerned with how this possibly treasonous behavior came to be public knowledge. There was also no indication that the current president would apologize to his predecessor for falsely accusing him of a federal crime. Stay tuned.
  • Breslin would say I buried the lead. Not this week.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Tom Wolfe, LSD, Orange Hair and Me

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

By Bob Gaydoskool-aid-book

I have been in a funk since Nov. 9. That’s the day I woke up with the realization that millions of Americans had lost their minds, if not their souls, and elected a man who is morally, psychologically, intellectually and spiritually unfit to be their president. The dumbest thing that has happened in my lifetime.

I stopped writing.

Finally, in desperation for inspiration, I turned to sports and that great philosopher, Reggie Miller (older Knicks fans can boo now.) For younger fans of the National Basketball Association, think Steph Curry. Shooters. Scorers. What do great shooters do when they are in a shooting funk, when everything seems to clang off the back rim or fall inches short of the basket? They keep shooting. They don’t pass the ball to someone else. They shoot themselves out of the funk.

Swish!

Now, I am not saying I am in the same class as a writer as Reggie and Steph are as shooters, but I have been writing for a long time and I think I have some skills so I figured the instincts would kick in once I started.

So instead of writing, I started reading. Tom Wolfe. Purely happenstance. I picked up some used books at the library because my son, Max, was looking for reading material. Short stories. He wasn’t interested in Wolfe’s “Hooking Up” and I had never read it, but had really enjoyed his “Bonfire of the Vanities.” So I ventured in. I quickly remembered why I liked him.

Then happenstance melded into serendipity. My partner and I watched “The Right Stuff,” the movie based on Wolfe’s book. Enjoyed it. There’s more. The last essay in “Hooking Up” detailed Wolfe’s assignment, with Jimmy Breslin, as the first writers/reporters for the Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine, New York.

My favorite newspaper as a teenager and my favorite magazine. I grew up reading Breslin and, as it turns out, Wolfe. After a brief, there’s-no-way-in-the-world-I-want-to-do-this-the-rest-of-my-life flirtation with engineering, I started writing. In more than 50 years, I have only stopped for brief intervals. Going with the universal flow, I went back to the library and picked up a couple more used Wolfe books, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “A Man in Full.”

By the way, this is by way of answering those sympathetic friends who have asked me what I’ve been doing since The Dumb Event. For one thing, I’m trying to do things that make me feel better, things I can control.

… But let me digress.

To all those who pooh-pooh the Russian election connection, who doubt the Kremlin hacked into Democrats’ e-mails and released them in an organized effort to elect You Know Who and who further doubt that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with it, I turn again to sports and the biggest story that got lost in the election — Russia’s decades-long government-sponsored program to cover up the use of performance-enhancing drugs by virtually all its Olympic athletes.

A report recently released by a Canadian lawyer, Richard H. McClaren, who works for the World Anti-Doping Agency, confirmed it all. McClaren and his team made short shrift of Russian denials. Medals were repossessed. Athletes were banned. A Russian official involved in the program said the direction came from the top. In Russia, there is only one top. This is the Russian way, or at least the Putin way. Of course he knew about the steroids. Of course he knew about the hacking. No Russian would dare do either without his approval. Not if he didn’t want to wind up with poison in his vodka.

… So where was I? Right, reading.

I’m learning much more about Ken Kesey and the acid/pot/speed hippie freaks of the ‘60s than I ever intended to. The meaning of life on LSD.  It’s a good read. I found it especially interesting how Kesey came to write “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nothing like first-hand experience. I just started the book, so there will likely be more on this later.

What else? I started looking for local issues I might be able to help out with since I believe change starts close to home. I’ve also recommitted to my off-and-on interest in photography. Living in an especially scenic area of the Hudson Valley, it works well with my inclination to report on what’s going on around me. On my travels the other day, a farmer walked his cow across the road right in front of me, casual as could be. Nonchalantly, I missed the shot. But I know where he lives. Gotta keep shooting.

… Speaking of nukes, Putin recently said he wanted to beef up Russia’s nuclear weapons capability. Our soon-to-be Twitter-in-chief knee-jerkedly responded that he planned to do the same with the United States’ nuclear armaments and that no one would be able to keep up with the U.S. in a nuclear arms race. Be still my patriotic, tax-paying heart. Robert Reich, a voice of sanity on social media, reported the above and asked, “What do you think?”

Robert, I think Putin is playing his puppet for the fool he knows him to be. I think all the Republican officials who applaud every time their “king” says something insane are shameless toadies. I think Putin is setting Orange Hair up to act like a big hero at a summit conference in which Russia and the U.S. decide to stop the war of nuclear words and de-escalate, rather than escalate, the nuclear arms race. In exchange, of course, for U.S. concessions. Drop those sanctions for grabbing Crimea. Hold back support for NATO countries that don’t pull their own weight. Let Russia handle things in Syria. Buy some Russian goods (whatever that might be). Don’t retaliate for Russia’s hacking. Stop criticizing Putin’s treatment of dissidents. Give him the respect, he deserves. “Da da, you understand that, my presidential friend, I’m sure.”

I think Putin wants to increase Russian influence over the world, not destroy it. He knows he can do that by pushing buttons and pulling strings.

I also think it would be beneficial to Americans if Ivanka revoked Daddy’s Twitter privileges and read some history to him every day and tested him on it the next day.

And finally, I think maybe I’m feeling a tad better, but the funk is not defunct. Sorry, Reggie, I may have scored a couple of points, but I think I have to keep on shooting.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

  

 

And So It Went … A Review of the Events of the Week

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Ridicule, lie, insult, lie, mock, lie, bully, lie. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

White, white, white, white, white, white, white. Hate.

God bless America. God bless Donald Trump.

She said/she said. She said she said/she said.

Ego, ego, ego. Lies, lies, lies. Fear, fear, fear. fear.

Hate.

For those fortunate enough to miss it, the preceding is my synopsis of the Republican National Convention, which dominated the news last week. This is by way of resuming my contribution to the Internet dialogue with a regular Sunday collection of events that piqued my interest, tickled my fancy or struck me as almost too dumb for words (see above).

For this first installment, I’m going back more than a week because the major media apparently had no time to report on anything but the white supremacist rally in Cleveland. So …

  • Mick Jagger is going to be a father,
    Mick Jagger ... proud papa to be, again

                              Mick Jagger
                 … proud papa to be, again

    for the eighth time. Gathering no moss (sorry), Jagger, who is a great-grandfather, will be 73 when the baby is born next year. Mom-to-be is a 29-year-old former ballerina, who is said to be quite content with her relationship with the Rolling Stones frontman, which includes everything but marriage, living together and Mick changing diapers. Mine not to judge. I was 50 when my first son was born, 52 for the second. But I changed a s***load of diapers. Also, vasectomies are safe.         

  • Interesting footnote that occurred to me as I researched Jagger: He has four children, aged 18 to 32, with his former partner, Jerry Hall, 60. She and Jagger split 17 years ago. Earlier this year, Hall, a former model, married media mogul and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, 85. There’s no talk of additions to their extensive families, but Hall chose a favorite site of her old Rolling Stones days for her honeymoon with Murdoch, who just seemed happy to complete the climb to get there. Draw your own conclusions.
  • The Russian track and field team was disqualified from the 2016 Olympics because of what was described as a state-sponsored comprehensive doping program involving the 2012 Olympics and other competition. (The International Olympic Committee, never known for bold action, decided not to ban the entire Russian team, leaving that decision to the ruling federation of each sport.) The sports world was not shocked at the news, but, responding on social media, Russian fans criticized the author of the report that fingered the Russian testing lab and government officials by saying he was a typically biased American. He was, in fact, a typically neutral Canadian academic. Denial knows no nationality.
  • Pokemon Go. Why didn’t I buy Nintendo stock two weeks ago? I have no idea how the virtual reality game works, but these people should be working for the CIA. Maybe they are. (By the way, there’s a Charmander hidden in this copy, which you can find if you buy the app. Only $1.99. See the e-mail below.)
  • The National Basketball Association moved its 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans. The principled move was a response to North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law, which is a classic example of the fear-based legislation proposed in the Republican platform at that hate-fest in Cleveland. Well-played, NBA.
  • Terry Collins, manager of the New York Mets, had the honor of managing the National League team in this year’s baseball All Star Game. He had two Mets on his roster for this exhibition of the sport’s best. Players consider it an honor to be chosen. They consider it even more of an honor to actually play and when your manager is the All-Star manager, you figure on having a good chance of getting in the game. Go figure. Bartolo Colon, at 43, the oldest all-star and a fan favorite, never got to pitch. Neither did Jeurys Familia, the Mets’ star relief pitcher. They were not happy, but politely kept it to themselves. Collins managed to get players from the 14 other teams in his league in the game, but said his guys were only going to be used in “special” situations that didn’t arise. Terry, Terry, Terry, the whole game was “special” and it didn’t mean anything in the standings. These were your guys. Special treatment would have been letting each pitch to a couple of batters.
  • Roger Ailes was fired as the boss of Fox News, by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News. Ailes was shown the door
    Roger Ailes ... Fox boss no more

                                Roger Ailes
                         … Fox boss no more

    (with a hefty severance check) when Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox anchor, filed a lawsuit  against him claiming sexual harassment. Other females then joined in to say Ailes had behaved the same with them. The move by Murdoch was swift. (It’s good to be the king and a billionaire.*) It was also without much controversy, probably because Ailes is well-known as a thoroughly despicable person. He is, in fact, in large part responsible for creating the orgy of anger and paranoia reported at the top of this   column by molding Fox News into an organ of fear, bigotry, misinformation, disinformation, and hateful, negative, bordering-on-compulsive propaganda directed at Democrats, in particular Barack Obama, the first black American president, and Hillary Clinton, who, if there really is some method to all this madness will soon become the first female American president.

R.I.P. GOP. Lincoln rolled over in his grave last week. So did Eisenhower and Reagan. John Boehner cried. Paul Ryan lied. And so it went.

* With a nod to Mel Brooks.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Donald Sterling: NBA Plantation Owner

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling

Once again sports, which are supposed to be diversions from real life for most of us, have delivered a morality play. There is no title for this tragi-comedy, nor indeed, a final act. What there is is a villainous main character who offers many reasons for hating him, a crucial supporting character who will win no accolades for her own behavior, and a host of bit players, who find common ground in attacking the main character.

The villain is Donald Sterling, a narcissistic white male, 80-year-old, pot-bellied, misogynistic, racist, adulterer, liar, ingrate, real estate tycoon, lawyer, multi-millionaire, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team.

Sterling would have been right at home as a plantation owner in the Old South. Until recently, he had a 31-year-old girlfriend/mistress (the latest in a succession of women to whom he admits he gave lavish gifts in exchange for sex). The girlfriend, V. Stiviano, is the supporting character.

In a taped private conversation made public, Sterling tells Stiviano he doesn’t want her posting photos on the Internet of herself with “black men” or coming to Clippers games with black men, including Magic Johnson. Stiviano is of Mexican and African-American heritage. Sterling’s basketball team is composed of African-American men. Indeed, more than 90 percent of the players in the National Basketball Association, in which the Clippers play, are African-American.

Sterling’s comments grabbed headlines, dominated TV news and the Internet and caused a furor within the NBA. The new commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, acted quickly, banning Sterling from the league for life, fining him $2.5 million and asking other team owners to demand that Sterling sell his team. Silver is as close to a hero as we get in this play because he is new to his job and took decisive action.

But the thing is, no one in the NBA — owners, officials, players, coaches — should have been surprised by Sterling’s remarks. In fact, most probably weren’t. He has been sued more than once for discrimination against minorities in his housing projects and paid millions of dollars to settle the cases. He was sued in 2009 for wrongful job termination on the basis of race and age by a former team general manager, Elgin Baylor. Baylor, 79, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, said in his lawsuit that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure,” of instilling a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude towards his team and that Sterling wanted the team to be ”composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.” Baylor further said his salary was frozen at $350,000 a year for six years while the white head coach, who theoretically reported to Baylor, was given a $22 million contract.

Sterling also sued one of his former mistresses for the return of gifts he gave her. His deposition includes him referring to her as a “piece of trash” and “a total freak,’’ whom he called “honey.” He said he calls “everybody” honey, especially women with whom he’s having sex “because you can’t remember her name.”

That was in 2004, a time when he was running the cheapest plantation-style organization in the NBA. He wouldn’t pay for good players. Nobody said or did anything about Sterling then. Not much fuss was made about Baylor’s suit (from which he dropped the racism claim and which he eventually lost). The NBA — and the media — also apparently didn’t see any problem with the bias lawsuits that Sterling settled out of court. And no one said a word about his attitude toward women. Shhh, that’s just Donald being Donald.

Sterling is the classic example of something we have seen too much of lately in America, in politics and business as well as sports: the rich white guy who believes he can do as he pleases because, well, he’s a rich white guy. He feels entitled to treat people as he wishes. So he can have a girlfriend 50 years his junior, of mixed racial heritage, and tell her not to hang out with black men — because he’s given her two Bentleys, a condominium, lots of cash and who knows what else. He can boast about feeding and clothing his team of talented black athletes because, after all, those are his boys out there on the court. And that’s his beautiful half-black mistress at his side. I pay you. I own you.

Except that V. Stiviano was no innocent. She got her lavish gifts (Sterling’s wife is suing to get them back, claiming her estranged husband was sought out and enticed). And Stiviano taped his racist remarks, though her lawyer claims she didn’t release the tape to the TV show TMZ and others.

In the age of instant communication, the NBA’s secret — Donald Sterling, who owns a team composed of black athletes, is a racist — was now public. The NBA players, many of whom are millionaires themselves, are unionized. Not exactly chattel. They talked about boycotting the league’s showcase event — the playoffs. Advertisers dropped like flies from the Clippers’ account. Even the president of the United States was condemning Sterling. Suddenly, he was no longer just an embarrassment that the rest of the league could try to hide or ignore; he was a threat to the image and financial well-being of the other wealthy owners. Oh yeah, and for the record, he’s a racist and virtually all our players — who are, after all, the lure of the league — are black. The misogyny apparently still gets a pass from the league and the press.

So, the era of complicity in the NBA regarding Donald Sterling is over. But he says he has no intention of selling his team and might challenge any such demand from other owners in court. He might have a case, but if he sells he’ll make a huge profit. Stiviano says she didn’t mean to harm Sterling. She is also fighting Sterling wife’s demand to return his lavish gifts. Potential suitors are emerging to buy the Clippers, who are now a good team. And Clippers players and coaches are still trying to win basketball games.

More remains to be revealed in this saga. But what is abundantly and depressingly clear is the arrogance of Sterling and the license his wealth gave him to flaunt it for years. The NBA’s silence for so long on him is as much an indictment of the league — owners, officials, players, coaches –as Sterling’s words and behavior are of him. Ignoring racism, hoping it will somehow go away of its own accord, never works.

As for Sterling, he apparently believed so strongly that his wealth gives him power to do and say as he pleases and make other people do as he pleases, that he didn’t hide his racist feelings from Stiviano. It was second nature to him. Nor, in his arrogance, did he suspect that she might try to set him up by taping their private conversation. Which in the end may go to prove that there’s still no fool like an old fool. Rich white guy or not.

 

One Man Out in a Nation of Intolerance

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

jason-collins-comes-out1By Bob Gaydos

When Jason Collins revealed earlier this week that he is gay, it was widely hailed as the first time a male athlete who was still actively playing in one of the four major professional sports leagues had revealed his homosexuality. A watershed moment. And it is, if not quite the watershed as has been described.

Collins, 34, made his announcement in a Sports Illustrated article that appeared on the Internet after the season had ended for his team, the Washington Wizards. An athlete of modest talents and tremendous character, Collins is a free agent now, meaning he has no contract with any team and is free to sign with anyone who wants him. That creates an interesting scenario for next year in the NBA. Collins says he wants to keep playing basketball. Will some NBA team oblige? Will his open homosexuality be welcomed as an asset by some progressive team owner, along with his 7-foot height and “team player’’ reputation, or will Collins be shunned and wind up, in effect, like other male athletes who have come out only when their careers were over?

Make no mistake, given the homophobia that dominates locker rooms in male sports, his simple declaration is at once matter-of-fact and bold. The overwhelmingly encouraging response to his statement, especially among his NBA peers and other pro athletes, attests to the respect with which Collins is perceived as well as to the fact that this country is, albeit slowly and torturously, turning a corner on yet another moral issue. For those reasons, barring injury, I think Collins will wind up with a contract in the NBA next year and become the perfect role model he has been called in stories announcing his decision to stop living a life of lies.

But this is just the beginning of what is likely at times to be an ugly, hateful path to acceptance. The truth is, this “melting pot” of a country does not handle “different” well. Whether it be skin color, religion, nationality, language, country of origin, gender, age, sexual preference or even food choice, many Americans speak and act today as if liberty, justice and equality are rights granted solely to them and their ilk because, well, because they say so and that’s all they need to know. So please, do not bother them with the facts and save your moralizing for your socialist, atheist friends. (Put political views on that list as well.)

I ascribe this harsh reaction to “different” to fear and ignorance, the bellwethers of the tea party faithful who have cowed the Republican Party into submission. Greed, too. Many people, I believe, are afraid that they are going to lose something they perceive as rightfully theirs if someone else of a different race or nationality or religious belief or country of origin or sexual orientation, or, in the case of many men, of a different gender, is afforded the same opportunities as them. Sharing is not an option, whatever their religion preaches. (Put economic status on the list, too.)

Despite our pumped-up national pride and high-minded ideals, we do not always practice what we preach. We have, in fact, become a nation in which angry, self-righteous, holier-than-thou and, sometimes, just plain dumb people dominate national debate because of the vehemence with which they express their views and the money they are willing to spend brow-beating the rest of us. Loud is good. Louder is better. Nasty is good. Insulting is better. Facts are bad. Phony TV ads are good. Compassion is for the weak. Guns are the answer.

The Jason Collins story is definitely a positive one about wider acceptance for people simply for who they are. He is 7 feet tall, black and gay. He went to Stanford and plays basketball. Young gay men who play sports, or not, may be more likely to follow their dreams because of him and less likely to be fearful, secretive and easily bullied. It’s a start.

But this is not a simple feel-good story. Collins has a twin brother who also played in the NBA and who says he didn’t know his brother was gay until the rest of the world found out. That’s sad. And it’s sad that Collins felt the need to hide his homosexuality even from himself for so long because a lot of people in this country are so busy minding everyone else’s business and deciding what is right and wrong. I personally don’t think they are a majority, but they are a persistent, aggressive minority.

That means those of us who disagree with them must shed the comfortability of basking in our own, self-assured sense of enlightenment and do battle with the forces of hate and ignorance. That means speaking out against all forms of injustice and exploitation, insisting on laws that protect individual rights, not corporate profits, and electing representatives who will pass those laws. It means exposing bullies for what they are, punishing those who see violence as a means to their ends, insisting on helping the disadvantaged (as our duty, not their entitlement), and not letting fear or weariness prevent us from exposing fraud and simple prejudice.

It also means telling those who would tell others they see as “different” to get over it. Mind your own business. Live your own lives. A gay man in a locker room? They’ve been there for decades. Also in Army barracks. They just had to hide it because of institutional ignorance and bias. Again, this is changing, if slowly, in America. Tolerance is a bitch. It requires one to simply accept another person for what he or she is, in toto, without insisting that person change or agree with one’s particular set of “rules.” It can be uncomfortable, but so long as the person represents no real (not perceived) danger to one’s well-being, there should be only one rule to apply to everyone: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” There’s a reason it’s called the Golden Rule.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

 

NBA Players Too Occupied with Greed

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

By Bob Gaydos

Having spent most of five decades tracking, reporting and commenting on the news of the day, I have developed a routine, a defense mechanism actually, for dealing with those days when the news is just too damn depressing. I turn to the sports page.

Of course, in the past couple of decades, sports news has been far from the guaranteed escape from the real world it once was. Some of that is probably due to my evolution as a human being (leaving behind childish things, etc.), but most of it I am sure has to do with the devolution of sports from fun and games to law and order. Hue and cry. Sturm und drang. Sue or be sued. Pick your couplet.

Monday was one of those days. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for some reason decided to go Big Brother on the Occupy Wall Street protestors, sending in hundreds of police before dawn to break up the Zuccotti Park encampment while preventing legitimate news media from covering the action and even arresting several reporters. Instead of trying to talk to protestors and resolve complaints about the occupation, the mayor and police used the oldest and lamest of excuses for their illegal actions against the press — it was for their safety. Right. Just like tossing the protestors belongings into dumpsters was for their health and well-being.

What with police on the West Coast dealing with Occupy movements by beating Iraq War veterans and college students and using tear gas as if they had a quota to meet, I needed a break.

I turned to sports.

Thanks for nothing, NBA players union.

On that very Monday that thousands of Americans across the country, ranging from college students to retirees, union and non-union, encompassing all census classifications — the truly average Americans — were being manhandled for protesting against the profound economic inequities that have turned so many of their dreams into nightmares and bullied a once model political system into becoming an obedient servant of wealthy masters, the very talented, privileged and self-absorbed players of the National Basketball Association rejected an offer from team owners to share half the income derived from playing basketball.

That’s a long sentence; let it sink in.

Not only did the players reject the latest offer from the owners, but they also decided to decertify their union and sue the league under anti-trust laws. We can start with how dumb this is by noting that, with no union, the owners say there are no contracts and, thus, no pay checks. For most Americans, this is considered a powerful incentive to work out a deal, but apparently not for pro basketball players.

That may have to do with the fact that the average salary of an NBA player is about $5.5 million a year. That’s an average, which means even the guy who only gets to play when the game is out of hand, is a borderline millionaire.

What the players did not consider, however, was the impact of their decision on all the other people — the 99% that the Occupiers are demonstrating for — who will also lose their jobs if there is no NBA season. No games means no need for concessions, no maintenance crew, no security, no ticket sellers, no locker room employees, no trainers, maybe even no office personnel for teams with smaller bankrolls. And of course, no games.

The irony of their action, taking place in Manhattan not far from the OWS crackdown, was lost on these young millionaires, locked in a struggle with billionaires over how to divvy up the loot from their overpriced tickets. I will go out on a limb here and state that probably not one of the NBA players — multi-millionaires to borderline millionaires — was part of that 1% of wealthiest Americans before signing a contract to play professional basketball. I don’t ever remember reading a story about some really rich kid deciding to play pro ball. If someone else has, please let me know. No, they were, I feel secure in saying, rock solid members of the 99%. And not long ago, either.

Instead of arguing with the team owners — who will survive a lost season but who do after all have a right to try to control their product and get a fair return on their considerable investments — the NBA players could have taken a cue from other labor unions and marched with the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Imagine Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James walking with the OWS throng and speaking out for the need to regulate the way large financial institutions deal with other people’s money. Calling for a lessening of the power rich corporations have over politicians. Demanding that those who caused the worldwide economic crisis be prevented from continuing to profit on it while others pay the price in lost jobs and homes.

“Hello 99 per centers! We stand with you! We have been fortunate to become successful and be rewarded financially for God-given talents, but we came from you and we understand your frustration and anger with the inequities in our society. It is time for our elected leaders to work for the benefit of the 99%, as well as for the 1% who finance their campaigns. Indeed, it is time for all of us to set aside selfish demands and begin to work for the common good. We are going back to playing basketball, which is what we do, so that others can go back to doing what they do. And we told the team owners we would take a smaller percentage of the profits if they reduced the price of tickets. Whaddya say, owners?”

Can you imagine the response? The players would be real heroes. Unfortunately, for the players at least, that didn’t happen. They’re still looking for more money and are not playing basketball. Fortunately, for the rest of us in the 99%, the Occupiers understand the situation and are committed to fighting for a larger goal — a more equitable society for everyone, whether they can dunk a basketball or not.

bob@zestoforange.com

The Incredible, Shrinking Man

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Lebron James grew smaller with each game.

By Bob Gaydos

There was a story in the papers Monday about the smallest man in the world. No, not Lebron James, although I can understand the confusion. The official smallest man, according to Guinness World Records, is Junrey Balawing, of the Phillippines. Junrey turned 18 Sunday, qualifying him for the title. He is listed as 23 1/2 inches tall and weighs 12 pounds. Or just about the size of one of Lebron’s thighs.

When Lebron was 18, he was 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about as much as a football linebacker. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was the Chosen One. King James. Savior of the Cleveland Cavaliers, first pick in the NBA draft and heir-apparent to Michael Jordan.

On Sunday, Lebron played basketball like he was the smallest man in the word. Indeed, as the National Basketball Association championship series marched on to its conclusion. Lebron shrank inch-by-inch with each defeat for his Miami Heat until he was virtually invisible at the end of each game and a mere bobble head of himself at the end of the series.

Indeed, his shrinkage was made even more pronounced by the growth with each passing game of Dallas’ seven-foot giant, Dirk Nowitzki. Mr. Softee became Mr. Clutch. James just became irrelevant.

This is not about basketball. If it were, I would say that the Dallas Mavericks, a very talented group of players, were simply better at playing as a team than were the Miami Heat, which is true and rather important in a team sport. But this is one of those sports-as-metaphor-for-life moments. An allegory for all times and my favorite kind, because it involves sports, which, at most, are a pleasant distraction from all the other stuff. No one gets seriously hurt when Lebron James comes up small in the biggest game(s) of his life except maybe for some degenerate gamblers who should have known better than to bet the ranch on a classic narcissist whose life has been a testament to hubris. (Gotta love those Greeks.)

Took a while to get there, but that’s the life lesson. If you are told from childhood that you are special, you are bigger, faster, stronger and far better than others, that you can do no wrong, that you are, indeed, the Chosen One, it can be extremely difficult when something goes wrong (say, the other team wins a game your team should have won) to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “It’s my fault. I didn’t play hard. I didn’t lead. I didn’t do all I could have to win that game.” After all, you can do no wrong.

But behind the arrogance and exaggerated sense of self-importance present in the narcissist, usually lies an insecure individual with low self-esteem who has trouble dealing with failure or criticism. Because he has never been wrong — or so he was led to believe — he doesn’t know how to react when blame (for his team’s loss, for example) is laid at his feet.

Someone with a more realistic self-image who also happens to be a superstar (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson) will take it upon himself to do try to do better the next time and, if he fails, well at least he gave it his best shot. But a narcissist — say someone who starts each game with arms outstretched messiah-like in a cloud of white powder — can’t deal with failure, so he’s likely to avoid taking risks that could result in defeat. An Average Joe might blow off a job interview. A basketball player might avoid demanding the ball and taking important shots late in a basketball game, even when his teammates are counting on him to do so. Let Dwyane do it.

Unfortunately, for Lebron and his teammates, Dwyane Wade couldn’t carry the team this time. He tried and failed, which is no shame. It still put him one significant step ahead of Lebron.

As I said, this is no-harm, no-foul for most of us. Fans move on. The players get paid well and will try again next year. Young hero-worshippers learn a valuable lesson about clay feet and hopefully file it away for later in life.

For Lebron James, though, it will linger, despite his day-after bravado about moving on with life. There is a lesson — actually several lessons — in this painful public humiliation for the young man who held a nationally televised announcement to reveal that he was leaving Cleveland, where he was the unchallenged King James, and “taking (his) talents to South Beach.” To wit: You are never as good as the people who surround you say you are. No one is perfect. The Chosen One has yet to arrive. Showing up is 90 percent of life. Losing is not a disgrace; not doing your best because you’re afraid to be blamed for the loss, is. Humility is a virtue. And, not for nothing, hubris was considered a crime in Ancient Greece.

* * *

P.S.: Junrey Balawing got no cash from Guinness for his smallness, but he showed up for the ceremony, smiled a lot, got a plaque and a birthday cake and gifts from around the world. He seemed certain that no one, not even a star basketball player from America, would claim his crown.

Bob can be reached at bob@zestoforange.com.