Monday, April 24, 2017

Weekend Bliss

Religion, according to Karl Marx, is the opiate of the masses (or to quote more accurately), the opium of the people. But in America, with the masses increasingly identifying as non-religious, or at least non-affiliated (Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian dropped from 78 to 70 percent, while the percentage of self-identified unaffiliated rose from 16 to 23 percent, according to a 2015 Pew study.)

In these fractured times, we do as a people need some solace. Some bread and circuses at the very least. We need a goddamn opiate.

Thanks to a handful of gifted humans, we got our share this past weekend.

El Clasico might've been the most classic ever.



John Wall got pissed off about trailing by 25 in the first half.



Overtime playoff hockey always delivers, even when it kills my team.



At least the locals were on the right side of the bouncing puck.



And Kevin Chappell got his first even PGATOUR win.



I'm buzzed. At least for a minute.




Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chronicles of an Aging Gheorghie: Memory Lane, Bubbachuck-style

The latest from Dave Fairbank takes those of us who grew up in Virginia and/or spent any time near the Peninsula on a journey back in time. Most of us were too dumb and/or lazy to realize that we could've driven 20 minutes to see one of the greatest athletes of all time do his thing.

I’m reminded of my advancing age regularly, in ways large and small. Failing hearing, inability to pull a name I know, celebrity I’ve never heard of, random ache, technology advance that leaves me flummoxed. (Editor’s Note: I don’t know whether it was me or Fairbank who wrote this opening sentence, because it’s as true for me as it is for him.) The most recent came this week in a newspaper column from longtime compadre and fellow keyboard jockey David Teel, writing about Allen Iverson and the prep all-star hoops game he hosted in Hampton Roads last night.

A paragraph midway through the piece began, “Iverson, 41, said he’s always amazed when younger people approach him in airports, restaurants and hotels.”

Allen Iverson, age 41? Can’t be right. Wasn’t it just the other day that I was chasing his spindly ass all over the Virginia Peninsula? Or watching him careen through Georgetown and the NBA? In 30 years as a newspaper hack in Newport News, Va., I was fortunate to see an absurd amount of homegrown talent. Alonzo Mourning, Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker, Michael Vick, LaShawn Merritt, Percy Harvin, Aaron Brooks, Ronald Curry, J.R. Reid, Joe Smith, Terry Kirby, Chris Slade, baseball’s Upton brothers. Dozens just below them in ability. But Iverson remains the damnedest athlete I’ve ever seen.

The first time I saw Iverson was in a summer league game run by local AAU hoops impresario Boo Williams. It was the summer between his freshman and sophomore years in high school. Local basketball types said I needed to check out this guard from Bethel High. One evening I ventured to Hampton and the outdoor courts where Boo used to stage league games. I settled onto the metal bleachers, one of several dozen people in attendance, and located Iverson.

Holy shit. The kid was a lightning bolt, a revelation. He was impossibly skinny – 5-10, 5-11, maybe 150 pounds. His team pressed on defense. Or maybe it was just him. He harassed the dribbler, then when the kid picked up his dribble and tried to pass cross court, Iverson darted back, rose up as if he were levitating and intercepted the pass. Scooted downcourt and laid it in. He got from Point A to Point B and covered ground more quickly than anybody I’d ever seen. A 15- , 16-year-old kid. Honestly, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. I’m sure I sat there with my mouth hanging open for the next 45 minutes.

The legend only grew from there. Bethel basketball game became events. People lined up to get inside. Folks were turned away and I’m certain that fire codes were obliterated by the crowds that did manage to get inside Bethel’s gym. They started holding games at the Hampton University gym, Holland Hall, which held a couple thousand people, because it was a bigger venue. They held games periodically at the Hampton Coliseum, an 8,000-seat barn, and thousands attended. Guaranteed draws: The Dead, Phish, and Allen Iverson.

Iverson was virtually unguardable in high school. He was quicker, faster and more fearless than anyone lined up against him. He got anywhere he wanted on the court. Even in AAU and summer ball, when teammates and opponents were better and often national-caliber, he was nearly always the best player on the floor. His running mate at Bethel was a kid named Tony Rutland, an excellent player himself who had a solid career at Wake Forest. A couple times a game, they would run a backdoor play where Rutland on the perimeter threw an alley-oop pass and Iverson dunked effortlessly. Bethel won a state championship in 1993 with Iverson, Rutland and a handful of role players.



This was months after Bethel won a state football championship, with Iverson at quarterback and defensive back. That’s the thing most folks don’t know or don’t remember. He was an amazing football player in high school. As difficult as it was to corral him on a basketball court, imagine him on a football field. He wasn’t a great passer, but he was practically impossible to tackle. He rarely absorbed a solid shot, he extended plays and he was a nightmare for opposing defenses. The late Joe Paterno, pre-Jerry Sandusky scandal, routinely attended coaches’ clinics in Virginia and had some success recruiting top-shelf prospects in the state. I asked him once, years later, about some of the best prospects he’d seen, and the first person he brought up was Iverson, who he said would have been a terrific college football player.



Iverson didn’t have a senior year in high school. He was convicted for his part in a bowling alley brawl in Hampton in 1993. He did time at a local work farm before former governor Doug Wilder commuted his sentence. It’s hard to convey how polarizing a figure he was at that time, in our little corner of the world. Some viewed him as a victim, others as a thug. Not much middle ground.

Anyway, Iverson did the alternative school thing to graduate high school (a different post all its own), and wound up at Georgetown with John Thompson. His college debut was Nov. 27, 1994, versus defending national champ Arkansas in Memphis. He made only 5 of 18 shots and committed eight turnovers against the Razorbacks’ 40 Minutes of Hell defense. But coach Nolan Richardson was sold.

“I ain’t never seen anything like that in my life,” Richardson said that day. “I’ve been to three calf shows, nine horse ropings, … I even saw Elvis once. But I ain’t never seen anyone do what Iverson does. We doubled him, trapped him and he broke it. I’ve never seen anyone that quick with the basketball.”

Iverson became an All American and went on to be the No. 1 NBA draft choice in 1996. He was Rookie of the Year and 2001 MVP, when he dragged a mediocre Sixers team to the NBA finals. He was unapologetic and indomitable. There’s a famous Sports Illustrated cover of him – scowling, shirtless, tatted up, hair in cornrows, holding two flower bouquets, with the title “Love Story”, about how he and his notoriously demanding coach, Larry Brown, finally started to get along. Guessing that David Stern and the NBA office weren’t thrilled with the image, but that was Iverson.

He scored more than 24,000 points and averaged 26.7 points per game for his career, despite barely scraping 6-feet and weighing a buck-sixty-five. He is arguably, pound-for-pound, the greatest scoring guard in NBA history. He was rightly inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame last year, first ballot.

And now he’s 41 – he’ll be 42 in June – and inspiring a new generation of players, who hear tales from their dads and uncles and dig up his videos on YouTube. That’s the thing about Iverson. Words don’t do him justice. You had to see him. The quickness, the speed, the fierceness, the passion, the will. There was no one like him. There may not be another.

Still, Allen Iverson. Forty-one? Man, we’re gettin’ old.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Snoop Dogg and Me. And a Few Others.

Yeahhhhhh, soooo....met the "Snoop Dogg" as they call him. Snoop! Snoopy! The Snoopster! Snoopman! Yeah, he's my man. Just look at this picture...sums it up entirely.
Great pic heh mate? I'm the lone jackass looking at the wrong camera. In my defense, there were half a dozen pointing our way. How the other blokes knew where to look is beyond me. Pretty snazzy group of fellas though no? It screams, "LOOK AT ME IN MY KHAKIS! WITH SNOOP DOGG!" I'm only somewhat embarrassed with the pose and facial expression. Could be worse.

A few years ago we befriended a guy named Keenan at Augusta, a Diageo guy who puts on parties, promos, and commercials for the giant liquor and spirits company. We actually put him up two years in a row on a couch in our rental. One night he started in on this idea of renting out this joint in Augusta called "The Country Club," a big Country & Western bar and concert hall. He threw out a few names of entertainers he thought he could wrangle in. We weren't quite buying it to be fair. He wanted us, a group of 4 or 5, to front it and reap the rewards. Of course when these talks were had it was usually late in the evening and under the influence. Sounded good! We were all in! Then the week ended as did the concept. The following year we never saw Keenan at Augusta.

A week before heading there for this year's event one of the guys in the pic who I work with comes into the office and tells me Snoop is going to be in Augusta. At the Country Club. And Keenan is the guy behind it. Shut the fuck up! Googled it. Sure enough...he's coming. And it's a Tangueray (Diageo) affair. Oh, and we're hooked up with VIP credentials, whatever that means.

We go to dinner w/some clients on the Wednesday eve of the tourney, the same night Snoop is to get his groove on. To be totally honest, we almost bailed. We're old, middle-aged, lame white guys (see pic) I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Plus, we weren't totally believing of the fact that we were going to be hooked up. And...we figured it would be hours and hours before the headliner came on stage. We were sleepy peepers! Seriously though, We had only been in GA two nights but had already been nicked up pretty good.

Fuck it. It's right down the street. Let's check it out and see what happens. We show up and get shown right in the door and brought up to a small section adjacent and above the stage with room for a couple dozen people or so. Keenan comes right out and sits us in the best spot against the railing overlooking the stage. Free booze, lots of it. Some pretty good people in the mix. Could be a jolly old evening.

About 90 minutes into cocktails and chatter, Keenan comes and gets us and brings us downstairs into this room.....(Keenan is the dude in green)
What happens after I turn the video off is the picture at the top, which was preceded by a brief handshake and "sup" with SD. Prior to the video, we hung out in the green room chatting w/Jay Harris of ESPN. He was with Snoop and Keenan during the day as SD hit the links with accompanying videographers and PR folks at a nearby golf course. Jay is a very nice guy who happens to from the Virginia Beach area. We talked for a good 15 minutes or so of VA, Winchester (duh!), and golf. Jay was the MC for the night prior to the main act hitting the stage.
 
So after our little photo opp we head back up to our table to continue the ingestion of copious amounts of booze. About fifteen minutes later his highness makes his way to the stage. At the 36 second mark, you'll see the back of a guy with a gray shirt and glasses - that's my new best buddy Jay. Not really but, we did have a moment.
You'll see here that he was DJ'ing. With exception to a couple of songs he performed on his own that is what he did most of the night. Here he is doing one of his own... 
The night not only didn't turn out to be a bust, it was an all around blast. We couldn't have had more fun. And one quick aside...the really white guy in the top pic to my right...that's Lloyd. Lloyd is a Brit who now resides in California. He's a client. It just so happens that his seat mate on his way to Georgia was Snoop's bodyguard, "Tiny". He's the guy in the beard standing behind SD in the 2nd video. They became pretty chatty and when Tiny saw Lloyd, he greeted him with a big handshake and hug. Once the show got started, he pulled Lloyd down on but behind the stage to have him take a pull off of a big old heater. Lloyd's not a smoker, but he obliged. Would be rude not to wouldn't it?
 
Lloyd and I bolted at about 2. My two other compatriots hung out thinking they may be going out late night with Snoop and Keenan. Though that didn't happen, they did chat it up a bit more and one of the gents exchanged numbers with Tiny. Tiny actually called him to make sure he had his number in correctly. So there you have it. An evening to remember fer sher. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Where Are the Waldos?

Happy 4/20, people.  It's an old story by now, but for the few uninitiated...

1971... Five friends at San Rafael High School in California ("The Waldos") coin the term "4:20" as a euphemism for smoking pot. April 20th becomes a popular day to spark one up, as does 4:20 pm. Note that the Boston song "Smokin'" clocks in at 4 minutes, 20 seconds, and if you multiply the title numbers in Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 And #35," you get 420. Dude!
      --From songfacts.com

Now more than ever, weed is in the social conscious, and the punny headlines everywhere reflect it:

Marijuana's big day is here: '420' celebrations ready to roll

Marijuana has truly gone mainstream, survey finds

The Etymology of 420 by Fred Gardner
My Stan Smiths are a shirt!


4/20 is Black Friday for marijuana merchants

The origins of 4/20, marijuana's high holiday

How to Have the Perfect 4/20

Cypress Hill - Insane In The Membrane

Weed-to-know facts on how to legally celebrate "4-20"

4/20 poll: Support to legalize marijuana at all-time high

DC activists to hand out joints near US Capitol

"Rock the vote, motherfuckers..."

The chances of Ween launching their spring tour on 4/20 being a coincidence? About 1 in 420.  

Enjoy the day.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

All My Friends are Squirrels/Take it Slow

I don't think many of us have spent much time at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual meetings, but that's our loss. Those party people just shook up the world.

Yale University's Stephen Chester partnered with Jonathan Bloch of the Florida Museum of Natural History and William Clemens of the University of California, Berkeley to prove something I've long believed to be true.

Squirrels, it turns out, are the perfect mammal. And in fact, are the progenitors of the human race. My people are the template from which all people were created. You, all of you, owe yourselves to me.

Chester, Bloch, and Clemens found full fossilized remains of Purgatorius, the world's oldest and most primitive primate, at Purgatory Hill in Montana. Our ancestor was "a tiny, agile animal that spent much of its time eating fruit and climbing trees." Sound familiar?

The 1.3 lb. mighty mite may have played a role in the extinction of dinosaurs, and ushered in the Age of the Mammal (which scientists believe will end when a golden-maned assmonkey starts a nuclear war with North Korea). According to seeker.com, "Purgatorius lived during the Paleocene, shortly after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs. Given the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, the new era began the mammal-dominated era, which we are still in."

Unwritten but obviously assumed in that quote is the notion that Purgatorius single-handedly kicked dino ass and set primates upon a path to, um, primacy.

You're welcome, monkeys.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Filler Recognize Filler

In the first season of The Wire (unquestionably the best television series ever aired), the producers introduce the character of Proposition Joe in the context of an East Baltimore vs. West Baltimore streetball game. Today, Sports Illustrated gives us a long-overdue oral history of that scene.

There's some amazing nuance to the story, and it's evocative of the role that Baltimore itself played in the series. If you've got a few minutes, there are worse ways to fill your time, if you can get past SI.com's kludgey and slow-loading site.




Saturday, April 15, 2017

Damn

Kendrick Lamar is among the most buzzed-about of today's hip hop artists. His performance with Imagine Dragons at the 2014 Grammys gained him mainstream notice (in this case, mainstream as defined by forty-something suburban dads), and his incendiary rendition of 'The Blacker the Berry' and 'Alright' at the 2016 Grammys was among the best things that ceremony has ever seen.

He dropped a new album this week entitled DAMN, and while I'm certain the old rap heads here have heard it, I can't recommend it enough for one and all. That it's really excellent is only part of the story. Rumors abound that he's about to release a second record right on top of this one.

Damn, indeed.

Check out HUMBLE, my favorite track on the new record here: