Tag Archives: lakers

…it’s a name for a girl – Part 1

I need to caveat, from the start, that I don’t usually write about serious topics here, and don’t plan to make a habit of it.  Not that writing, U2 and the Lakers aren’t serious for me, but they’re not “if we disagree, and keep discussing it, tempers are likely to flare and we’ll both stomp off muttering curses under our breaths, slightly sick from the adrenaline rush of actual emotional conflict” serious.

But that’s sort of where tonight’s post will lead.  It’s not like it’s all that controversial, but I’m also not likely to be in the mood for non-committed back and forth on it.  Most topics, I can take either side, enjoying the effort more than what side the victory is on.  Not this one, I don’t think.

I also need to caveat that I don’t plan to go into detail about any of the tangential topics that this one would naturally raise.  I’m going to give you the minimal amount of background necessary to grok where I’m coming from, and then we’ll move on.

And I finally need to caveat that this post already has two (and now three) caveats more than I like—my blog, I get to do what I want, when I want, and shouldn’t have to explain things.  But as I noted, this is a somewhat serious topic, and since I don’t tend to go publicly diving in those waters that often, I’d like for them to be clear and not open for a variety of troll-baiting interpretations.

And now, with sufficient baggage strapped aboard, we’re off…

So, here’s the background.  Once upon a time, I was very religious.  Serious case of bornagainitis.  Probably because I was first introduced to religion at a critical moment in my life…parents recently divorced, transitioning from elementary school to high school, puberty, intellectual awaking…all that great after school special crap.  My mind and heart were desperate for something deep and involved to sink their teeth in to, and a fervent Born-Again Christian meal just happened to be walking by.

I will now skip ahead 20 years—and easily a couple hundred thousand words, if I just stuck to summarizing the high points—and expect you to keep up.

These days, I don’t like religion.  I don’t think my actual beliefs have changed all that much, but I am a lot clearer on A) what exactly “a belief” is, and B) what mine are.  There’s been a demi-glace-like reduction to the overwhelming symphony of ideas and concepts I first walked into 20 years ago, distilling the core principals to their essences while somehow increasing and balancing their complexity at the same time.

Which are pretty words to sum up something I already posted here a while ago:  Before enlightenment:  chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment:  chop wood, carry water.

To conclude the incredibly-brief background section of this post:  I once was Christian, in an organized fashion, and while I now pursue disorganization (spiritually speaking), my beliefs are rooted in that ground, and despite two decades of scrutiny, and wide-spread exploration into a large number of seemingly-incompatible belief systems, those aspects I’ve identified as the basic principals of Christianity stick with me to this day.

One of which is the topic of the post I’m almost finally about to start writing.

(And no, I’m not talking about the Bud Light version of Christianity, the “Jesus was a cool guy, and what we can really learn from the bible is to be good to each other and love each other and maybe go to church on Easter, but there’s no need to get too bogged down in the details” version…fucking pussies.)

(And, one more [fuck me, does that make four?] caveat:  when I mention the word God, no, I do not mean it the way you think I mean it, except yes, I mean it exactly the way you think I mean it.  Which is to say, I’m not about to get into specific definitions here in this post, and do not assume that I’m being vague because I’m assuming that y’all already know exactly what I’m talking about; I’ve just spent 645 fucking words setting up this post before even mentioning what the post is going to be about.  I’m not leaving out a specific description of God because I’m aiming to be brief.  You want to challenge what I have to say because I mention God, and how absurd is it to believe in a dude with a beard on a throne living up in the clouds?  Well, I don’t believe in that either.  When I say God—at least for the purposes of this post—I could be talking beard-dude, I could be talking Yahweh, I could be talking the Ineffable, I could be talking tP / t…meet me halfway, if you would.)

What I want to talk about is grace, and why it’s a unique concept, one that blows apart the typical Christian-centric structure that usually encloses it.

I think I can say—without tempting too much in the way of debate—that as long as we’re moving along through the dimension of time, we’re all heading from something to something else.  There is an ideal, no matter how minor, vague or undefined, that we’re moving towards.  It can be superficially consumerist (“I’m not thin enough,” or “I’m not rich enough.”), it can be more personally meaningful (“I don’t take good enough care of myself,” or “I need to treat the people I care about better.”), or overtly hedonistic (“I am not nearly as baked as I should be,” or “I have not slept with nearly enough girls as I’d like to.”) ,or overtly spiritual (“I am not yet as far down the Eightfold Path as I aim to be,” or “I have yet to properly give Satan his full due.”), or any of a million different variations of all of the thoughts that pass through our heads in any given day.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be fully conscious:  dropping trou and squatting is moving you closer from the present state of stomach cramps to the ideal of “deuce successfully dropped,” no matter how consciously you’re staking out those milestones.  We’re talking prime mathematic givens here, not specific recipes.

When the spiritual aspect is considered, just about every possible path (I hesitate to call them “religions,” since there are far more people pursuing spiritual paths without the trappings of religion than there are people genuinely pursuing a religiously-defined path, as opposed to giving that religion lip service while more actively following one of the consumerist/personal/hedonistic/etc. paths already mentioned) is just that:  a path.  Today, you are Here.  Tomorrow, you will be There.  If successful, that There will be closer to the ultimate goal than Here is.  And most of the time spent walking that spiritual path is focused on defining the steps needing to take you from Here to There, and monitoring your progress.

This is true even for most Christian paths, which to my mind completely misses the point.

See, Christianity has this unique concept, one that none others have or embrace, called grace.

Grace is a gift.  Grace is something un-asked for, given regardless of whether or not it’s deserved or has been earned.  Grace is, in the context of the notion of a path described above, a profoundly disturbing disruption of the basic understanding of how things work.

Put another way, grace is the fucked-up quantum entanglement to traditional religious Newtonian processes.

In the specific context of Christianity, grace is the given forgiveness of your sins before you can ask for it and with zero comprehension or concern for the notion of atonement.  Grace is the gift given by God that removes the need to walk any distance down a spiritual path.  Grace says that you do not have to earn the ideal you are pursuing by measuring yourself against some external spiritual yardstick—you already have it.  Grace says “I have a pancake on my head; your argument is invalid.”

Enough with the platitudes:  let’s get down to business.

Here’s what’s amazing about the concept of grace:  because it cannot be earned, it is given to everyone.  That fat fuck next to you on the bus, the one you caught staring at your ass, making you wish you hadn’t worn the low-riding jeans, knowing he’s saving up the brief, furtive views for his spank-bank later?  Yeah, he’s been given grace.  Your boss, the one who gave you a list of things to do today, and then kept passing on emergency requests from his boss, and then spends his time in the break room bitching about how you’re too lazy to get through the short list of easy tasks he gave you earlier?  Yup, he’s been given grace too.

…That guy who screamed out something in Farsi before triggering the ball-bearing-laced plastic explosive he has strapped to his chest in the midst of a crowded market?  Again, yes, he’s been given grace.

Which is kinda the point:  if grace can’t be earned, then when given, it’s given to everyone.  There’s no criteria for being an eligible receiver.  That’s what’s beautiful about it:  the drunk puking on himself in the gutter is as beloved and worthy of grace as you are, and while that might feel like a bit of a raw deal for you and your paid-my-rent-on-time-no-speeding-tickets-in-two-years self-esteem right now, it very profoundly says that all of the joy and wonders of God and the universe are equally available to both of you.  All of you.  All of us.

Which is how it should be, or else what’s the point?  I don’t want to believe in a God that would pick and choose which people are worthy of Him based on an ever-changing, semi-objective matrix.  I mean, are we to assume that God was okay with Abraham having multiple wives back then but isn’t in favor of it now?  That’s too much like trying to get into the right clique in high school.  Sure, he might like caring for puppies now, but who’s to say he won’t like people who paint their dicks blue later?  Sure, that sounds absurd…but it fits within the set.

It’s far more likely that the ultimate point of convergence with God isn’t defined by nor dependant upon details like that.

But that makes for a difficult follow-up question:  if everyone has been given grace, does it matter what we do?  Are we all going to heaven (or whatever you want to interpret that particular phrase to mean)?  And if we are, then does it matter one bit what we actually do?  Can those people doing what strikes us to our core as evil be just as promised the Promised Land as those of us who try each day to do more good than harm?  And the people who aren’t even paying attention, who are wandering through life in a self-induced haze, do they get to wake up at the pearly gates and say, “Hey, there’s a heaven.  Who knew?”

I don’t think so.  It’s not that it isn’t there, waiting for them; it’s that, fundamentally, gift giving requires two people.

Anyone who’s been a scout of any kind (boy, girl, whatever) or had a father/relative/etc. teach them more “traditional” skills will know what an Active Transfer of Control is, even if that particular name wasn’t used.  It’s the first lesson of knife safety.  When someone is handing you a knife, they hold it out and say, “I’m giving you this knife.”  You reach out, put your hand on it, and once you have a firm hold of it say, “I have the knife,” at which point that someone lets go, and the knife is yours.  Or there’s the rock climbing ritual of “On Belay?” “Belay On.”

What it comes down to is a clear, active decision with awareness of what that decision means, with no unstated assumptions.  And that’s the second half of the grace equation:  the gift has been given, but you still have to accept it.

And really, the only way to do so is with a prayer I learned long ago, when I first joined the Church, just read along and say the words out loud as you do, “Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name I repent of my sins and open my heart…”

Ah, I’m just fucking with you.

Not to say that that particular method isn’t perfectly and completely valid.  Here’s where that thing I said earlier, that I “hate religion”, is proven to be not entirely accurate.  You certainly won’t hear me speaking against—especially to denigrate—anyone’s particular religious beliefs (unless there’s a joke to be made, because one of my most profoundly-held beliefs is, if you can’t take a joke, fuck off).

The flip side of grace being available to everyone means that everyone has to be able to receive it, if they’re willing, and that notion is incompatible with having a single, set, pre-defined path for doing so.  Which does mean that all paths are valid, including the familiar, stereotypical ones you all already know about…

…within reason.

Because—and here another traditionally-Christian tradition pops its useful head up—words are cheap.  Or as a youth pastor back in my high school days (for reals…which may help explain my willingness to do some desert wandering, given his mentorship) quoted to me, “Money talks and bullshit walks.”

You know and I know that unless you’re dealing with a world-class actor—or you’re intentionally willing to deceive yourself because of some unresolved and possibly unrelated issue—it’s pretty damn easy to tell when someone’s going through the motions.  My six year-old daughter may say “Sorry” for sticking her fingers all through my rice, but she was laughing when she did it, and sullen when she says it, and I know the only reason she’s saying “Sorry” is because she doesn’t want to get punished again, not because she’s honestly understood that her actions have negatively impacted another’s life and desires to communicate to that person her awareness of the consequences of her actions, both empirical and emotional, and regrets her actions, and her willingness to make amends.

And she’s a lot better at faking it than most people I know my own age.

There’s a reason you don’t handle knives with just anyone, and why you don’t rock climb with people you don’t know.  The giving-accepting relationship requires trust, since the only definitive proof you’re going to get of the other person’s trustworthiness is when you pull your hand away, and either the knife falls to the ground, possibly impaling your foot, or slices your fingers as the other person fails to release it, or when your handhold slips and the rope that’s supposed to catch you shortly after you fall whistles through the carabineer loud enough for you to hear the entire way down.

To sum up the point of these analogies, it’s pretty obvious to God, however you define Him…and to yourself, really…whether or not you’re telling the truth when you consciously decide to accept the grace that’s been given.

I’m not going to tell you what specific fruit will be borne when you do that.  I have my own thoughts on the matter, but there’s a reason I ultimately decided against going to seminary and becoming a preacher, and it’s because I have a hard enough time sorting this shit out for myself, and the most difficult thing to do was de-brainwash myself from all the rules and regulations other people had posted on my walls.  I’m not about to just switch seats here.

But I can at least tell you what I think are some pretty critical components of the process, however they end up manifesting themselves:

You have to know yourself.  More importantly, you have to be willing to know yourself.  Borrowing from David Brin here when I say that the greatest inherited skill human beings have today is self-deception, especially rationalization.  You take the dumbest motherfucker off the streets right now, hand him one more beer than he knows he should really drink tonight, and he’ll find some way to convince himself that not only is it okay to drink that beer, but the world is a better place because of it.

In order to accept grace, you have to be able to know if you’re telling the truth or not.  You can ask any smoker who’s in the car on the way to 7-11 even though they’re trying to quit how hard that can be.  I found it through the progressive mind-clearing zazen of Zen.  Others find it through prayer and bible study.  Others find it through rigorous adherence to the scientific method, even when their pet theory—the one that’s going to get them tenure and an extra zero on the end of the grant check, maybe even that ½ paragraph blurb in Time magazine’s year-end round ups of the “best of” in science—turns out, by the evidence, to be completely wrong, and not in the “well, then the opposite must be true” way, but in the “wow, I have no fucking idea what’s going on here” way.

It just requires an acceptance that most of what you think you know about yourself is completely, flatteringly wrong, and a willingness to turn that laser-sharp ability to dissect others’ faults onto yourself.

Simple, right?

Next time:  so you’re willing to examine how much of a shit you are…what’s next?

Advertisements

Sore and tired

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about for this next post.

Lakers?  The NBA’s in its deadest spot of the year right now, mid-summer with most of the major personnel moves already made and training camps still more than a month away, but I can always come up with something to say there.

U2?  I could let you know the results of this mad march through their entire career (still going, btw, with Zooropa just about to wrap up as I type this; I’ve had to take the expected breaks for family/food/bathroom/etc., so it may not finish tonight), or any of a hundred other thoughts I’ve briefly touched on here and elsewhere and expand on it in full.

But no, neither of those, at least not tonight.  If I’m going to complete this Refresh of the blog, catching both it and everyone who swings by up on where my head is at right now, then I need to cover all the bases.  And aside from my family (which I will not now nor at any point the future be writing about here), the three most important things in my life are the Lakers, U2…and writing.

So, a post about writing it is.

I need to point out something that I’ve mentioned in the past but never quite explicitly laid out before:  writing has seldom been a compulsion for me, the way it seems to be with every successful, productive writer I’ve read and admired in my life.  Sure, there have been stretches in my life where nothing has felt right unless I’ve been at a keyboard, or sitting with a notebook and good pen, churning out the wordcount.  As recently as this past spring, I had stretches where I was putting down well more than 10,000 words a week.  (To give a reference point, the average published novel is approximately 90k-100k words, meaning at a rate of 10k words a week, you could write five complete novels in one year.)

But that’s the exception, not the rule.  I don’t ever really get hit with writer’s block; it’s more what Kevin Smith so eloquently referred to as “writer’s laze”.  As in laziness.  As in, more often than not, I don’t want to expend the energy to create something that will entertain others as much as I want someone else to entertain me.  Getting back into a groove where that someone who’s entertaining me is me takes a convergence of events that I have yet to fully understand, let alone master.

Viewed another way, my relationship with my writing would be familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time working out.  When you’re in the thick of it, taking even a single day off leaves you feeling awful, with your entire life out of sorts until you get your body moving again, muscles working, sweat flowing…  But if you take more than a few days off, it gets harder and harder to remember how good it feels when you’re in the thick of it, and easier and easier to reach for the remote/beer/chips instead.  That’s not the whole of it, but it’s a measurable part.

And I’d have to say, right now, I’m very comfortable on my writing couch, and finding it harder to remember how good it feels when I’ve worked up a wordcount sweat.

Part of it is just that this stuff is cyclical, and not something I’m going to beat myself up about.  If I ever, ever feel like writing is something I have to do, and begin chastising myself for not doing it, like a sinner eager for the burn of confession, then I will stop cold turkey.  Writing improves my life, its presence in my life makes it a better thing; I will never allow it to be viewed in reverse, that writing is the default baseline, and its absence is a sub-optimal, suffering existence.  So, I’m not working right now at the same pace I was recently.  That’s okay.  I love the people around me, I show up on-time for my job and work hard while I’m on the clock there, I find lots of things in my life that make it well more than worth living…a downswing in my writing production does not negate any of that.

Part of it is the new job I’m working at.  There’s a much longer post in my head, waiting to be written, about this specific sub-topic, but the short summary is that after eight years of joy and suffering, I’m in a new place, with a new vocabulary and syntax—and I don’t just mean the words we use at the workplace, I mean the rhythm and intent that the entire workplace operates at—and it’s taking me some time to figure out how my life fits with all that.  Imagine a musician, just joined an orchestra, learning a new piece of music.  And while he’s not worried about his ability to play the new piece and play it well, and fit in well with all the other musicians around him, it’s still new to him, and so all the little things that define him as a musician worth having around have to come from conscious intention, rather than unconscious trust.  I know, after I’ve been there for a while, I’ll know the people, places and processes well enough that I can focus my conscious intent on what’s truly important, rather than the moment-to-moment logistics, but at the moment, it’s consuming rather a large percentage of my mental RAM, which doesn’t leave a lot left for working on a novel that has three main characters, their stories intertwining, all while a massive religious war is breaking out (and I’m right now at the moment when the armies are invading and alliances are forming and breaking…it would be a bit much to wrap my head around if I were reading it, let alone trying to create it out of blank pieces of paper).

And part of it is just that the creative tank is low, and I need to fill it up.  You don’t tend to realize just how limited your input of vital nutrients is until you push yourself out of your comfort zone and start relying on every last ounce of what you’ve got.  Borrowing from an analogy earlier in this post, about six months ago I started working out in earnest, driving my body to do more and more each day, only to completely crap out a month ago, and realized that I hadn’t paid any attention to my diet.  I was still eating the same crap food, but my body needed far more of it, and much better of it, if I was going to be able to keep up at that pace.

If you replace “body” with “writing output”, and the food bit with creative stimulus…well, that’s where I’m at right now.  I can’t work off just the pure adrenaline that accompanies the realization that I can work, I need to make sure that all aspects of my life are pulling in harness, input supporting output, the rhythm and routine of things resulting in a harmony that’s pleasing and worth pursuing.

I’m in the earliest stages of that process right now, and thus the actual wordcount output has been a bit low.  I don’t expect that to last.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting an old story tomorrow, one of my all-time favorites, just to keep the fiction blood fresh here.  Something to keep the pump primed until the spice begins flowing again.

Huh…what?

Been a while since I’ve dropped by, and I refuse to feel guilty about it.  There are plenty of reasons why, foremost being that—as I said from day one—these are the rules of engagement.  Sometimes I’ll post with relentless regularity, sometimes I’ll drop off the face of the earth for a while.  Don’t argue with the rain for being fucking wet, buy an umbrella.

There are plenty of other reasons why I’ve been away…many of which will pop up in the next few days as I try to get back into some semblance of regular posting…or at least try to brain-dump the accumulated detritus I’m carrying around in my head right now.  Because, while I haven’t been posting lately, I have been Writing, especially in the “If you’re talking to a writer, and explaining some involved situation to them, and get to the end and ask them for their advice on what you should do, and they kinda stand there for a few seconds, then nod and mumble ‘Uh-huh,’ and walk off, they’re not ignoring you, they’re Writing” way.

But first, the obligatory Lakers thoughts…good goddamn, the summer is a long fucking drought until training camp opens.

Also, note the nifty Tweet button at the bottom of this post (only seems to show up when you’re looking at the specific post page, not the site as a whole). So do me a favor and retweet this mother.


I think I finally understand why Jordan Farmar went to New Jersey.  On the surface it doesn’t make any sense.  You’ve got a young PG, feeling held back, sublimating the best parts of his game to fit in on a championship-caliber team like the Lakers, so the obvious move is to…go to the worst team in the NBA as a back-up to an All Star-caliber PG like Devin Harris, the kind of guy who’s locked in for 35+ minutes a night.  He’s going to get reduced minutes to play for a god-awful team, which is clearly so much better than playing 20-25 minutes a night for a championship contender, right?

But there’s more to it than that.

First, Devin Harris gets hurt.  A lot.  I’m pulling these numbers out of my ass, but I don’t think the guy has played more than 60 games a year over the last three years, and it would be an even-money bet that he won’t play more than that this year.  Which means for 20+ games this season, Farmar is going to be starting and playing big minutes, which is a huge upside over playing behind an iron man like Fisher.

Second, he’ll be playing for coach Avery Johnson, the polar opposite to Phil Jackson.  Avery is a feisty point-guard, guided the Spurs to a championship with his passing hands and squeaky voice, and I’m sure Farmar is drooling over what he can learn from someone who’s game was very similar to what he does.

Third, and most importantly, Farmar has an almost absurd confidence in his own abilities, even if he hasn’t had a chance to show them off fully yet.  (Though, two years ago, when Fisher was suspended for a game against the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs after forearm-shivering Sciola, Farmar started and had one of the best games of his career, both numbers-wise and in his overall maturity and ability to run the team.)  Whether it’s just something he and his people have tossed around, or maybe someone in the organization said something to him off the record, I think he believes that the Nets are willing to consider him as more than just another body off the bench.  Surely he took note of what happened when Chris Paul went down last year to injury and Darren Collison—Farmar’s former understudy at UCLA—got a serious chance to start at PG, and played so well that many serious observers were suggesting that the Hornets should give the starting spot to him and trade CP3 for parts to put around him.  I think, in Farmar’s mind, there are two possible scenarios over the next year or two:

1)      Farmar plays well enough that the team decides he could start for them, and decide to trade Harris (and his hefty salary-matching salary) and other pieces for a superstar forward or SG (something that was speculated on last year, even without a competent back-up for Harris).

2)      Farmar plays well enough that other teams with serious PG needs (Atlanta [Bibby’s not exactly young], New York [realizing they won’t ever get CP3], Bobcats, etc.) ask for him in a trade that would bring solid pieces back to New Jersey and push Farmar into the starting spot on a better team.

No idea if any of this is true or would actually happen, but it’s the only way I can wrap my head around the decision.  Other than the possibility that it was the only/best offer out there for him.  Which, given that FreeDarko got a 4-year, $20 million deal this summer, isn’t too likely.

Anyway, the fucker went to Taft, took the Bruins to the Final Four, and picked up two rings for the Lakers.  He’s family, wherever he is, and will always be loved and welcomed home.

A Belated Anniversary

Just sitting here tonight, listening to the new album by The Choir, Burning Like the Midnight Sun.  It is damn, damn good.

They’re a Christian band, that’s how I first found them, but by God, if you weren’t told that fact, you’d never know it on first listen.  They aren’t Christians like those God-awful “the power of worship” CDs sold late at night on TV; they’re like the cool Christians you hopefully know, the guy who doesn’t immediately come across as religious or fanatic, just a nice guy, probably the only one who looks like he shaved that morning every morning, and when you find out later he’s turning in early Saturday because there’s church the next morning, it’s not a creepy thing, and doesn’t really surprise you.

I mean, it’s got lyrics like:

And we’re sadder than hell, cuz we miss you dear friend

Still it’s good to know your great heart is glad and restored

Forever smokin’ fine cigars at the table of the Lord

I discovered them when I was in the midst of my born-again-itis, many, many years ago, and they’re one of the few—very few—things that have stayed with me since.

So, anyway, I’m sitting here, listening, and realizing that there’s a few things I should get down on this blog, and as long as I’m at a keyboard…

  • Started a new job this week; it’s an entirely new industry, let alone a new company, and I’m finding myself trying to figure out just basic terminology from the context before the person I’m talking to gets too much further along in what they’re saying and I miss something else critical.  Haven’t had these kinds of butterflies in a long time, and it’s a good thing.  I am both completely confident that I’ll be able to figure it all out and succeed, and also completely convinced that each moment will bring an opportunity to fuck up so royally that they won’t just fire me, they’ll be calling DHS about rendition.  But that’s the kind of thing that’s important, and something I’ve been lacking for too long…quoting again from Internet Jesus (part of the same thing I said in my first post here over a year ago), “It [pretension] means ‘an aspiration or intention that may or may not reach fulfillment.’  It doesn’t mean failing upward.  It means trying to exceed your grasp.  Which is how things grow.”
  • Speaking of, yeah, this blog has been going on now for over a year.  First post was made on June 26th, 2009.  I’m frankly stunned out of my underpants that I’m still here and posting.  This is like my tenth blog since the word first existed, and all the previous ones petered out and died within a few weeks (I think the longest one lasted into the second month before I abandoned it).  Yet here I am, a year later, still going on this one.  This will be my 62nd post, which isn’t nearly as great as if I were comparing myself to the standard of a “blogger” (that would require multiple posts every day), but if you think about it, most of what’s up here is long—1500 words or longer (and some absurdly longer, like 6-8k words in some cases)—and contains original content well beyond my thoughts on the current debate over fan fiction legality on some message board somewhere, or why I decided to have a sandwich for lunch and the absolutely hilarious reasons (seriously, they were great, trust me, if you didn’t laugh, it’s okay, it was still a riot) why I ended up having soup instead.  For over a year, at an average rate of more than once a week, I’ve been posting some pretty substantial shit.  I don’t care about comparisons, I’m patting myself on the back for that; you can join in if you wish.
  • As for posting more of that substantial shit up here…well, we might be taking a bit of an unplanned but completely necessary break on that.  There’s this really intense debate over sandwiches vs. soup in fan fiction over at this—  But, seriously, I cranked out thousands of words on the novel during the first bit of my time off from work through May and June, but around the 50k words point (combined since I started it in December; that’s not 50k words in like 5 weeks), I hit a bit of a wall.  Correction: I woke up several hours later with a bump on my head and no real memory of what had happened.  It’s now the longest thing I’ve ever written, and I think there are a dozen different reasons why I absolutely feel like my fingers are embedded in cement any time I sit down to work on it now (none of which are worth going into in a bullet-point post about several random things).  That’s one of the reasons for the recent Lakers posts (aside from the silly, absurd joy of it all), and why you might be seeing more stuff like that in the near future (meaning both Lakers and non-fiction-type stuff)…I need to keep my fingers moving, and if they aren’t able to go in a certain direction at this particular moment, then like that idiot with the headband and shuffle strapped to his arm, I’m just gonna jog here in place on the corner until the light turns green again.

Anyway, it’s been an epic year, too many things to even consider the good/bad breakdown.  I am nowhere near where I thought I’d be back then, which is good, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  That’s how we grow.

Thanks for hanging out with me along the way.

If Phil leaves…

Another post about the Lakers, because hey, my blog.

(There will be some writing stuff coming along soon here, updates and the like, if that’s more your speed.  Patience, grasshopper.)

If Phil leaves the Lakers…well, the first thing I’m going to do is fly up to Minnesota, find Rambis, and kick him in the shin, shouting, “If you’d just waited one more fucking year…!”

But, aside from that, if Phil leaves now, it presents the team with a difficult choice, one that has little to do with the “system”, triangle vs. whatever.

Despite all the dark, shimmering cloaks of mystery that surround the triangle offense, it’s not some freakish aberration of what most people consider basketball.  Players in the triangle do run plays, the same kinds of plays that every other team under the sun do.  Down-screen, baseline backdoor, pinch-post P&R…it’s all in there.  Here’s the only real difference:

In a “normal” offense, the point guard brings the ball across the timeline, calls a set play that the team has practiced (usually passed to him by the head coach, either from the sideline or during the last play stoppage), the team runs that play and either finds success or doesn’t.  If it doesn’t work and they have time, they’ll run another play, a Plan B that they’ve prepared, or else they’ll give it to the guy on the floor who can create his own shot and hope that he does so.  The plays they run can have options, based on what the defense does, but they’re pre-planned and dependent upon the players practicing the moves over and over so they know exactly what they’re supposed to do.

In the triangle, one of a couple of players (usually guards, but anyone who can handle well will do) brings the ball across the timeline, everyone gets into their proper spacing (three players in a triangle—post, wing and corner—on one side [hence why it’s called the “triangle” or “triple post” offense], the other two spaced at the wing and high post on the other side), and then the offense is “initiated”.  If on the strong side (where the triangle is), the initiation is usually a pass into the post player; if on the weak side, there’s either a pass made into the high post or a S&R with the two of them.

No specific play is called, not yet.  The offense is initiated, and then the players observe how the defense reacts.  And based on what the defense does, the offense will do something else—say they run a double-team at the player in the triangle post, well, that leaves someone else on the court open, or at the worst in a 2 on 1 zone, and the offense’s job is to get the ball to the open man.  And there are a variety of ways to do that, each dependent upon exactly who that open man is, where exactly the defense is, etc.

So, the triangle does result in running the same kinds of plays that a “normal” offense does, but instead of having it pre-planned, it grows organically out of what happening right then, in the moment.  If you have a team running the triangle that’s unfamiliar with it, or is made up of players who aren’t that bright, or are more “athletes” than “basketball players”, or who haven’t spent much time playing with each other, or who don’t really trust each other, it can be a mess.  No one knows where they’re supposed to go, nor where anyone else is going to be going.

But when you have a team of high basketball IQ players who know each other well and trust each other, it is sublime.  Pau will get the ball in the post, with Odom at the wing and Fisher in the corner.  Fisher’s man shades in to start double-teaming Pau, and so Odom’s man shades down into the lane to be ready to help out.  Odom sees this, and dives down the lane towards the basket.  Pau looks to pass to the diving Odom, but sees that not only has Odom’s man recovered, but Bynum’s man, seeing the diving Odom, has moved away from Bynum to help as well.  Bynum sees this and flashes to the far side of the rim, Pau ignores Odom (who is now needlessly double-teamed off the ball), and lofts a high pass to Bynum for an easy layup.  Or he fakes that pass, forcing Fisher’s man to turn his head and run to help, and passes to Fisher for the open corner three.  Or any of another dozen options.

A “normal” offense is like an orchestra, everyone trying to be exactly where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there, doing what they’re supposed to do, exactly as it says on the identical scores in front of them.  The triangle is like a jazz combo:  they all know the tune, they’ve all played it together before, they know what the others like to do, so they pay attention to each other, and if, say, the guy on keyboards gets into a really good groove and sounds like he wants to kick the pace up a bit, the other guys will either pick up their own playing to come along, or will ease back a bit, giving him the space to shine.  It’s organic, everyone moving towards the same goal, with the moves and the goal defined on the spot, wordlessly, growing out of a shared, instinctual awareness of what’s happening exactly in that specific moment.

It’s a beautiful thing where the joy comes not from achieving the goal but from being in perfect unison with four other guys who you know, and trust, and care about, and are sharing that specific moment with.

And it doesn’t matter who the Lakers bring in as coach if Phil leaves, do you really think, after all the years these players have spent with each other, and the success they’ve had trusting each other, if they’re running a set play, and see the defense reacting a certain way, that they aren’t going to immediately abandon that play and react to what the defense is doing?  And that that won’t happen several times, every game?

So the system the next coach has isn’t as important as how he will react to what the team is doing.  Will he empower the team to do what they know how to do, even if it means they regularly toss his carefully-constructed offense overboard?  Will he encourage that?  Or will he be upset that they’re not doing what he wants them to do.

This is really my only concern with Byron Scott.  He’s a true Alpha male who has already butted heads with two teams previously.  Is he secure enough in himself—and trusting enough in his team—to take that step back?  Or will it turn into a battle of wills?

And we also have to worry about the opposite, which is really my only concern with Brian Shaw.  Will the players respect him enough to know that it’s his hand on the wheel, no matter how much he leaves to them to sort out on their own?  Or will the inmates—for lack of a better analogy—end up taking over the asylum, with Shaw little more than the guy doing sideline interviews after the first quarter in a suit?

What we need to replace if Phil leaves is not a system, but his presence and leadership.  Phil is the ultimate leader, a guy who commands respect without ever having to say it.  A guy who steps back, points at what needs to be done, and lets his charges sort it out for themselves, without ever giving up any of his authority.  Who empowers his players to own what they do, without any of them ever forgetting that he, ultimately, is where the buck stops.

I don’t know if it’s possible to find a perfect replacement for that…guys with eleven rings, and his particular demeanor and philosophy, don’t grow on trees.  But I’m convinced that, regardless of the X’s and O’s, that the real battle for success in the first season without Phil will happen here, in the shared hearts and minds of the players and the coach.

83-79

I feel a tremendous joy today.  It is not the joy of an unexpected miracle; it is the joy of agony averted, a hinting shadow of what a prisoner must feel when the governor calls as they’re strapping him to the chair.

Game 7 was both ugly and beautiful.  I have never seen such effort expended, and yet it was in all the worst ways:  smothering defense, game plans permanently disrupted, everything that is beautiful and graceful about the sport tossed aside as the largest and most physically-capable athletes in the world fought with every ounce of their being for one more inch than the other guys.

It was exactly the kind of game the C*****s wanted; the ugly, physical mockery of “sport” is what they’ve built their foundation upon, with the understanding that they can’t compete with the best in a battle of skill vs. skill, so they make sure everyone has to suffer through the worst night of their lives, expecting to be able to endure the pain longer than their foes.

And last night, the Lakers endured.  When option A didn’t work, and option B didn’t work, and option C wasn’t even possible, they got ugly too.  In the end, enduring ugliness and pain is also a skill, and a question of will, and the Lakers had more of both.

It felt like two fighters, beating each other senseless, both falling to the mat, and the winner isn’t the one who’s left standing, it’s the one who can somehow manage to regain their feet before the bell rings.

Some other thoughts, walking through it by position:

  • Kobe has, in the past, led the league in scoring.  Kobe, if he wanted to, could lead the league in rebounds.  Or assists.  Or steals.  Or, probably, blocked shots.  He has the will, the skill, and the unsurpassed understanding of the game to do whatever he wants to.  He knows in his heart he’s a scorer, and what he wants to do is win rings, so he finds ways to do what he can, and has proven over the last few years that–instead of gathering those stats for himself–he can create the space for his teammates to contribute.  So they’re built up, and in that one, critical moment when Kobe can’t do what he knows needs to be done–the shot takes a weird bounce off the rim and he’s on the wrong side of the court to get the rebound, or the player he passes to slips, going from “wide open and ready to hit the shot” to “potential turnover”, or his own shot is having one of those horrific nights when the ball is clearly bigger than the hoop–his teammates have the confidence and experience to get it done to help him.

Last night, Kobe’s shot was toast.  I’ve said for years, just like on some nights you can’t miss, no matter your form or where you’re shooting from, some nights the iron is unkind, and there’s no way outside of calling a timeout and playing 1 on zero that the ball is going in.  And so not only did he eventually trust that his teammates would be able to make the shots he couldn’t–note his pass to Artest with 1 minute left that led to a three to push the Lakers’ lead back to two possessions–he found other ways to contribute.  He hit the boards, set screens, orchestrated the defense.  More than anything, he didn’t panic, never allowed his teammates to see a look in his eyes that suggested he didn’t think they would win.

There’s an old saying (paraphrased here, not sure if there’s an actual quote to be strayed from) that it’s easy to be a friend when things are going well, but you know who your true friends are when things are going awfully.  And the corollary from last night is:  it’s easy to win when everything’s going well, but only the greatest can find a way to win when everything’s going wrong.

And I have to comment on this:  I have never seen him so un-guarded than he was in the post-game interviews.  He is always stoic, most often the most intelligent person in the room and willing to say and do whatever he wants to shape the mood and moment.  And last night, he let it all hang out.  When asked what this one means for him personally, he replied, ““Just one more than Shaq.  You can take that to the bank. You know how I am. I don’t forget anything.”  We all know that’s the truth, he didn’t need to say it, and never does, because it gets in the way of what he’s trying to do.  But damn, he said it.  When asked about the meaning of the victory over the Celtics, after denying that there was anything special about it for weeks, just another game, who it is doesn’t mean anything, he said, “I was just lying to you… You guys know what a student I am of the game. I know every series that the Lakers have played in. I mean, I was just a Laker nut, and I know every Celtics series, every statistic. It meant the world to me.”  Again, we knew that, he didn’t have to say it, we knew why he wasn’t saying it…but damn, it was amazing to see the walls come down, just a little, and actually hear it.

  • Is there anyone you’d want more in a foxhole next to you than D-Fish?  The guy is limited, and aside from his rainbow jumpers (when they go in), his game is anything but aesthetically pleasing.  But he is relentless.  Sometimes it gets him into trouble; I can recall well more than a few times when it’s looked like he’s in a complete fog, just putting his head down and charging forward, hoping that his head is stronger than the brick wall he’s charging at.  But there’s no one you want by your side more when everything’s on the line.  He gives everything he has to his teammates, and in doing so silently demand that they give the same back.

I remember a game two years ago, mid-January, nothing of great import, early second quarter.  Ariza got tangled up with someone under the basket–I think it was Gerald Wallace–and they were yelling at each other, in each other’s faces.  Wallace got the best of it, stepping to the line and making his free throws, and it looked like Ariza was completely out of his game; it was the kind of sequence that leads to the other team going on an emotional run while you come unraveled.  But D-Fish spoke quickly to Ariza, and then, on the next defensive possession, used some veteran trickery to get in Wallace’s blind spot and take a charge, Wallace’s 3rd foul, forcing him to the bench for the rest of the half, ending the run and getting the Lakers back on track.  That’s revenge.  That’s how you stick up for your friend.  That’s both Judo and chess, in one brief sequence.

That’s D-Fish.

  • I love Artest.  Love, like I want to hug him, then lean back and howl at the moon with him, then give him another bearhug.  The guy is insane.  I don’t know the diagnosis, but when I say he’s crazy, I don’t mean “wow, that dude’s crazy!” I mean “I hope he is under a doctor’s care so he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else.”  There’s clearly some ADHD, maybe mild Autism or Asperger’s…it’s like he has no Ego, and is just pure Id–impulsive desires–and super-ego–loftier thoughts about the right thing to do–with absolutely no moderator to guide his actions through that minefield.  The kind of guy that, if he was 5’10” and working next to you at your job, you’d get excited about going out drinking with him on Friday, but only if you wanted a seriously wild night that might lead to trouble (intentional or not), and you know that within six months at the most he’s either going to screw something up or piss his boss off enough to get fired.  Again.

And here’s why I love him:  he knows all of this himself.  He knows that he’s not fully right in the head, and has sought out help.  And he’s gotten a little better.  He said multiple times in his press conference last night that he owes a lot of his success–and his life–to his psychiatrist, because she’s helped him.  He knows he’s not good at things–being poised under pressure, trusting himself and those around him, doing what he knows he’s supposed to do instead of just going with whatever wild thought pops into his head–and he asked for help, and trusted that help, and got better.

For all that a person like Artest can be sad, and even a little scary, with all that potential mixed with a blind self-destructive impulse, the joy is all the greater when they manage to fight through it and improve their own lives and those around him.

And so, I love Artest, because of the joy he has found and brings.

  • Gasol was just pure last night.  The game was ugly, he couldn’t hit a shot, and looked more often than not like the hero of a kung-fu movie during the fight scene where he’s attacked by a dozen enemies at once, flailing and striving just to keep them at bay.  But he was pure, the effort he gave, the passion he brought…if you see that shot of him in the 4th quarter, after he’s put back another missed shot, with multiple bodies slamming into him (again), and he’s heading back up court, screaming with emotions too big to name…it should be the goal of every person alive to have even just a single moment in their entire life where they feel that passionate about something, anything.  And last night, there was no censor, he opened himself up, bared every bit of his being in the moment when it mattered most.  Pure.
  • Not sure I’ve ever been as proud of an athlete on a team I follow than I am of Bynum right now.  The guy’s got torn cartilage in his knee.  I’ve had the same injury, to a much lesser extent than he does, and I had difficulty walking across the living room.  That boy–sorry, correction, that man strapped it on and went to fucking work.  He was a beast.  The box score doesn’t show too much, but he was like the body blows a fighter throws early in a fight to wear their opponent down.  Even if they don’t connect, and don’t knock the other guy down, and don’t even get counted by the scorers of the fight, the impact sends shivers through the other guy, and you can’t take too many of those before things start to break down.  And that was Drew, all playoffs long.  Strapping it on and punishing the other guy over and over again.  No credit for a rebound, but his man so thoroughly boxed out that they’re already half-way down the court by the time Pau get the board for himself.  Credit for a missed shot, but you could power a small town for a week with the energy his defender had to put out to force the miss.  Why were the C*****s so out of gas last night, that they couldn’t hold on at the end?  It started with Drew knocking them silly at the start.
  • Not too many thoughts on the bench, really.  Odom finally showed up, playing focused and present.  Farmar and Shannon didn’t contribute too much, but neither did they screw anything up.  I did want to note one thing, though, and it’s a comment both on Sasha and PJ.
  • Late 4th quarter, 12 seconds left.  Lakers up by three, with possession, taking the ball out of bounds at the sideline, Boston sure to intentionally foul in the hopes that the Lakers will miss one or more free throws (which they’d been missing all damn night) and give them another chance.  And all year, Sasha has been in the doghouse.  Not sure why, but his minutes almost entirely went to Shannon Brown.  The guy who was the first off the bench in 2008, who’s dropped 30+ against a Spurs-caliber defense, had more DNP-CD’s than meaningful contributions over the course of the year.  But he kept working, kept fighting, and in this exact situation, PJ not only puts him into the game, but calls the damn play for him.  12 seconds left, the game and entire season on the line, and you pull a guy from deep off the bench and call his number?  Serious, serious testicles.  And the best part of it is:  Sasha takes the inbound pass, gets fouled, and then machine-like hits both free throws.  Like both he and PJ knew he would.  There are subtle levels of trust and history there that are beyond me.  All I know is that it doesn’t surprise me that PJ would make that call, nor that Sasha would step up and hit them both, icing the game.

And so that’s the season.  We have months of drafts, deals, free-agent summits, three-way trades, and all that other nonsense.  Like the Gods on Olympus, peering down through the clouds at the petty, endless machinations of the mortals below, the 2010 Lakers are above all that, drinking of ambrosia, waiting for the next contender to challenge them.  Because there’s only one team that can accept challenges to their throne:  the champions.

Randomness, April 18, 2010

Was going to post a process piece tonight, recapping where all the stuff I’m working on is at and how it’s getting there, but today has been good enough that I’m shelving that piece and just going to try to capture a small snapshot of the day.

Lakers won, and while it wasn’t pretty, it was convincing. Big Drew was back in a big way, and Artest…well, I don’t care what voted awards that goaltending goofy-grinned Ed Hardy douche is getting from sportswriters in Orlando, Artest just took the greatest player at his position–and arguably one of the top 3 players in the entire game–and made him look like he was on the JV and realizing he still had at least another year to go before making varsity. Lakers in 5, barring injury.

KG suspended for a game, just a small interest payment on the bad karma that fucknuts has earned over the last 3 years. His retirement is going to be a serious bitch, and I’ll be smiling the whole time.

Dodgers won, Manny pinch-hit homerun in the bottom of the 8th, Kershaw looking every bit the ace he’s supposed to be someday through 8 innings.

Got good news from work today, an unexpected move by the powers that be that’s putting quality first, and I’m both pleased and surprised by the whole thing.

Got some serious momentum flowing on “The Last Star”. It won’t be done this weekend, but I finally found the hole in the page and fell in, so I know this isn’t just an exercise, it’s a real Thing.

Made the single best slow-cooked tomato/meat/wine pasta ragu I’ve ever made, it’s the love that’s the difference.

Watched U2 ZooTV in Sydney, was reminded how absolutely beyond anything else before or since that tour was…amazing rock, high theater, and a true modern evolution of opera, all in a 2 hour, 500,000 Watt package.

And in between everything else, spent most of the day with both daughters crawling all over me and laughing. It’s not hyperbole: there really isn’t anything better than that.

If I could sleep in tomorrow morning (and thus stay up late working more on “The Last Star” without too much penalty), the day would have been perfect, but I’ll settle for pretty-fucking-great with a smile on my face.