Friday, June 25, 2004

Heaven Sent from Oregon:

I've been reading some of SI's articles from their 50 States sections that have been running over the past eight months...

I loved this one by Oregon native and former Sports Illustrated writer and Olympian distance runner, Kenny Moore. Moore's recent SI article on the Steve Prefontaine Classic in Eugene and what the event means to not only the track and field world, but most importantly, to the state of Oregon is a great one.

Moore says that former University of Oregon Track and Field coach and Nike founder,Bill Bowerman, who is one of my all-time favorite icons, once explained the story of the people who settled Oregon after traveling the Oregon Trail in 1845 as "The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way...I guess that leaves us, doesn't it." Statements like that sum up the man they called "Pre".

Photo: "Pre's Last Race"

Many people now know the legend of Steve Prefontaine, "Pre", from the movies that came out with a bleach-blonded Jared Leto or Billy Crudup starring as the 'logger' runner from Coos Bay, but did the films really capture the spirit of Pre..."Prefontaine" came close, but no movie ever could or will....However, if there is a public event that can honor and capture the spirit of Pre, it's the Prefontaine Classic, which is held each June in Eugene, Oregon.

Moore describes the event eloquently by saying. "And every year at this time when he left us, when the roses and peonies are most potent, when the rhododendrons in Hendricks Park bend under tons of wet, pink blossoms, we have Pre's track meet. This is his time, blending the two opposites that met in him, the voluptuary and the ascetic."

Yes, June is Pre's time...It's the time to hit the pavement and push that finish line just a little bit farther. As Moore states. "Prefontaine loved rough, lascivious talk ("Envision a satyr," Frank Shorter once said) and was quick to whine about injustice, but nothing was more obscene for him than surrender. He ran hard, he castigated those who didn't, and yet he loved the girls, loved the rush of life, loved kids, loved love. His morning 10-miler, he said, was to keep him from getting fat on the pizza and beer of the night before. He swore that if he didn't run, he'd gain four pounds a day, indefinitely. He was all appetite and power. His heaving chest in a race could seem luridly sensual. He had bellows for lungs, blasting his furnace with 84.4 ml/kg/minute of oxygen, the highest VO2 max reading ever recorded in a runner. Air for the burning.

You can't think of that chest without thinking of the accident, of Pre in his last battle, his convertible having rolled that May night in 1975 and come to rest on that great chest. He had not broken a bone. It was simply the weight of his beloved butterscotch MG pressing the life out of him."

Yes, we did lose a great one on that night in May of '75, but because of the Pre Classic, there's just enough air to preserve Pre's spirit in Eugene.

Don't let life fade away in the woods or on the trail today...Here's to Pre, Eugene, The Pre Trail, Hayward Field, and Hendricks Park....Thank you Kenny Moore for the great article.

Pre Lives

Monday, June 21, 2004

The Los Angeles Zoo

I've been thinking about what championship era teams that I could compare the Lakers teams to...

Although I don't like to make comparsions between teams in different sports because each organization is different. I have to say that the Laker teams over the last three seasons have reminded me of the "Bronx Zoo" New York Yankees' teams of the late 70s....A team of big ticket items that can't get along together as they travel through a season with a dust storm of drama swirling around it all times.

So, when looking through the crime scene tape surrounding the Staples Center in Los Angeles this weekend, you have to wonder what clues GM Mitch Kupchak and Dr. Jerry Buss are looking toward when deciphering their reconstruction of the Lakers for the next five years...Because they look absolutely clueless with the directions the team is taking.

After reading Tom Friend's article in ESPN The Mag tonight, it's pretty clear that Bryant is the straw that is stirring the Lakers' drinks...His statement that he didn't like Phil Jackson "as a person" should make an observer raise an eyebrow considering that Jackson has nine championships in fourteen years by meshing the talents of stars and role players together to act as a group driving toward one goal...the championship.

However, when you look at the late seventies, didn't we see the same drama unfold in the Bronx in the 70's?...Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin feuding along with the meddling of a front office presence George Steinbrenner , who eventually made some bizarre moves by giving away the future to surround his bratty talent of his superstar in Reggie Jackson. His moves at the beginning of the 80s affected the direction of the franchise for a decade and a half.

So when considering Kobe's mood swings, his dissatisfaction of the proven team-oriented offense, his bewildering selfish performances throughout the Finals and the end of the regular season, along with his aloof antics that he displayed by showing up late to practices and Jackson's sacred team building sessions, the move to build the team around Kobe is disappointing for a team purist.

After all, Kobe is very Reggie like, and finally people are going to see that he is probably one of the most selfish players that have come through all of the professional sports in quite some time. (Mark my words...Watch) The fact that a team that is seeped in tradition is bowing beyond any means necessary to keep Kobe in a Laker uniform is baffling.

Why are the Lakers banking on a player who not only may be playing with a low-jack on his ankles in two to three years, but also banking on a player who threw the strychnine in the team's chemistry potion that was brewed by a coach who is known for his expertise of creating team cohesiveness?

Well, when you think of the some of the subtle antics that Shaq has pulled over the last twelve months...the antics that took place in the short blurbs of page 6 behind the headlines as much as Bryant's trial, you an understand why Kupchak and Buss are going to ship O'Neal is going to be shipped to a deserted island.

After all, it was Shaq, who nailed Kupchak to the wall this year with his comment that "he (Shaq) is a better GM than Kupchak" and his insinuations that Kupchak did nothing to assemble the Laker team over the past two to three years.

It was also Shaq, who not only made a perennial entrance into camp overweight, but also made the asanine choice of taking on an operation as soon as training camp opened this past year so he could have his foot operated on during "company time" and not during the summer off-season, which would have allowed him to be ready for the upcoming season.

That incident alone probably burned Buss's pants more than all of the dropped ashes that have fallen in his lap over the last ten years. So, when Shaq ends up back home in Orlando or another franchise that will be surrounding him with inferior talent, he should look back at how he dealt with some of his choices on the Lakers "company time".

Yet, when analyzing the Lakers' dismantling, the fall-guy that shouldn't be Los Angeles is Phil Jackson. To think that the Lakers are actually thinking of replacing Phil with Rudy Tomjanovich is a sham...You're replacing the proven Zen practices of a championship coach with a laid-back style of a coach, who is coming off major health problems and not used to dealing with the media barracudas in the LA media...c'mon.

As I stated in a previous post, my only hope is that Jackson ends up hanging out whijle giving motivational speeches over the next few years so he can land himself in the right position....Golden State (My personal hope), New York (Isiah and Phil...not likely), a Vegas franchise headed by MJ (Possible, but still far-off, that is probably more of a dream on my part dream).

However, I am glad of one thing for Phil while viewing this mess...Phil Jackson is leaving the "Zoo".

Fans of Bryant who have made the absurd comparsions to MJ are now going to get their chance to see how strong of a player Bryant is...He's going to be playing for the first time without one of the most dominating centers of all-time. The system will be designed solely for him, and the pressure is on. He got what he wanted the world will evolve around him....Now all you Kobe sweatees better hope that he can get someone to follow his rotation...

Believe me it's going to be awkward...As awkward as Kobe's combination of a Yankee jersey and a Dodger hat at Dodger Stadium tonight for the Yankees/Dodgers game on ESPN's game of the week...For some reason, he just doesn't seem to get it....

Let's see what Kobe can do now,

Thursday, June 17, 2004

A Champion Leaves the Ring...

I wanted to post my thoughts on Ralph Wiley's sudden passing a few days ago, but I wanted to be able to sit down to give my thoughts from Monday afternoon some justice...So, I'm going to pass them along now.

I first saw Wiley's work as a teenager with my vast collection of SI stories. Not only was his coverage on boxing, basketball and feature stories on athletes superior writing, but his portrayal of athletes and his ability to capture and reflect what's going on in society through his portrayal of athletes in his feature stories ignited my passion for urban culture at a very early age.

When I first saw him on Roy Firestone's "Up Close" sessions on ESPN in the early eighties, I immersed myself into every word that he said on the screen. How he talked with his fingers pointing to his mouth, the vocabulary that he used, the clarity of his voice. His opinions that he expressed through his ways of communication made me cringe, question, love, and hate the issues surrouding race in sports.

At first, I couldn't understand the viewpoints that he expressed, but his viewpoints led me to seek the questions that could respond to his arguments. As a teen, I used those interviews with Firestone in the eighties to expand my foundation for understanding the different sides of the race. Wiley took me through black nationlism, Spike Lee, the issues surrounding Prop 48, Malcolm X, a better understanding of John Thompson, and why Huckleberry Finn is important to us as a nation. For that journey, I am ever grateful....

Believe me, there was no one who was addressing those subjects better than Wiley at that time.

Yet, remembering Wiley shouldn't be caught up totally in race. Yes, his articles like his SI feature on a young Anfernee Hardaway, which covered race in sports, his books "Dark Witness" and "Why Black People Tend to Shout" were incredible examples on what is going on in this society. However, when reading those works, I've always looked at Wiley not as a writer who provided the 'black' side of race in sports and society, but as an example of what can be produced with a passion of writing.

This guy loved to write. His book with Spike Lee, "Best Seat in the House" is one of my favorites, and his columns on ESPN Page 2 display a love for life.

Page 2's 'Remembering Ralph Wiley' on Tuesday was incredible. The assembly of talent expressing their praise says it all...I think SI senior editor, Roy S. Johnson, gave a great reasoning why Ralph was so great when he stated.

"He (Wiley) clearly brought a unique perspective. He was never afraid of bringing a consciousness that was often overlooked in the sports world. It was one that valued the athlete and went the extra mile to discover the essence of either their greatness or tragedy. At a time when people look at the surface or look at stats, Ralph kind of threw them in the trash, and tried to get to the essence of the athlete."

Yes, he did capture the essence of the athlete, but it was with passion. As Bill Conlin from the Philadelphia Daily News, who went up against Wiley in a lot of high-energy arguments on tough topics, stated it forced you to look at what's going on.

"Ralph Wiley was born to make people think. He was born to infuriate readers of newspapers and magazines, to outrage TV viewers and Internet browsers, not so much with the intensity of words that often left bare, bleeding flesh, but with the realization that he was probably right. We most likely deserved the back of his hand upside our heads.

As frequent panelists on ESPN's "Sports Reporters," Ralph and I debated the opposite sides of many issues -- some even involving sports. But what he did even better than debate was write wonderfully from a solid platform of intellectual accomplishment. As Ralph entered mid-life, I fully expected to see his name atop the best-seller lists with an important novel or a wet-hands-on-a-hot-wire collection of essays treating the often harsh realities of being black in America."

Over the past twenty-five years, there's a short list of great sportswriters that are in a category of their own....That's Frank Deford, Jim Murray, Rick Reilly, and Ralph Wiley....We lost a great one on Sunday night. As a writer, I feel that most of all we lost a voice of authority that eloquently explained the point of view from the other side like a Bob Gibson fastball aimed at your head.

We lost a Champ on this passing....Continue his legacy...

Read, Read, Read,

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Graduation Citings

I heard a varied responses toward Julius L. Chambers' graduation speech from UNC Chapel Hill this past month. The reports ranged from a "great history lesson" to "was that supposed to be advice to push me into the future much less the present."

I didn't hear the speech, but I did read excerpts. Kudos to the choice commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education with the Director of The Center of Civil Rights speaking at Kenan Stadium. However, with a graduation speech, shouldn't a speech address people to push forward or to contemplate what's going on now?

Now, I'm not saying that life in the Jim Crow days and during the oppressive times for blacks in the fifties and the sixties should be ignored. However, if the speech was to be a forum about civil rights, wouldn't it be best to not just have a history lesson from the Director of The Center for Civil Rights, but to gain advice on how to react with race still segregating society today.

UNC is going to be right in the heart of a major segregation issue with the opening of the BCC away from the center of campus this fall semester. With a large portion of African-American students leaving "The Pit" and the central parts of campus to hang out at the new BCC, a question has to be addressed. The question is will this segregate the campus even more? It would have been great if Chambers could have guided a few faculty members, administration, and students on this subject instead of giving a history lesson guided by guilt.

In my opinion, I thought a great excerpt of a speech came from 'Color of Purple' author Toni Morrison, who addressed the student body at Wellesley. Here's what she had to say:

"I'm sure you have been told that this is the best time of your life. It may be. But if it's true that this is the best time of your life, then you have my condolences. Because you'll want to remain here, stuck in these so-called best years, never maturing, wanting only to look, to feel and be theadolescent that whole idustries are devoted to forcing you to remain.

One more flawless article of clothing, one more elaborate toy, the truly perfect diet the harmless but necessary drug, the almost final elective surgery, the ultimate cosmetic all edsigned to maintain hunger for stasis. While children are being eroticized into adults, adults are being exoticized into eternal juvenilia...

There is nothing more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood....The process of becoming one is not inevitable. Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard-won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of..."

That's pretty damn good, and it made me want to move my ass into the mix to start developing in life...Great work.

Here's another great excerpt from Robert Redford's speech at Bard College in Annondale-on-Hudson, NY...

"Years ago I had the advantage of making a film that dealt with Watergate. And I spent four years...because I thought it was important to illustrate investigative journalism. It had not been done on film yet, and I thought that was new territory to explore. I just happened to inherit a pretty great platform dramatically.

But it was also about how close we came to losing First Amendment rights. And now I realize that many of the systems of checks and balances that were in place then, now have been infected by everything from media consolidation, to greed, to limited ideologies and the worst of all, apathy."

"People, People...We gotta get over before we go Under!" - James Brown

Power Forward,

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Just Not There

The RL Store has a Sale going on this weekend, and I've been selling clothes like crazy over the past few days. My feet feel like Bill Walton's hooves in 1979. However, I'll be back with some links and a few stories tomorrow.

I have a lot of opinions on UNC Basketball signee, Bobby Frasor...When I heard that Carolina landed my fellow Chicago South Sider, I yelled out a "YEssss" out the window at the line at 'The Magnolia Bakery'...I honestly believe that Carolina will win a national championship within the next four years. Not because of him, but because of the team that Roy Williams is assembling at Carolina.

When I jump back into the pool tomorrow, I would like to throw a few links from around the way that I've picked up over the last week....So watch out...

Now go out and enjoy your Saturday. I have to get some winks...I have to move some clothes tomorrow.

30% OFF,