Saturday, March 31, 2012

Students versus Faculty

The Internet blogosphere was buzzing (not really) about the status of Jaime Flaco for the annual student/faculty basketball game. My August 9 injury and August 12 surgery put the game at about seven and a half months after my last basketball game. As I began running in early March, I harbored crazy fantasies of a Willis Reed-type comeback, of playing a few meaningful minutes (I was at least realistic enough to realize that conditioning, or lack thereof, would be a huge obstacle to my stardom) and leading my team to victory.

But, even with my gradual improvement in conditioning through my consistent running, I knew categorically that it would not be happening.

About a week before the game, with my players seemingly forgetting my fall and winter of wheelchair coaching, crutches, casts and walking boots, I fielded a series of questions probing my status for the upcoming game. The optimist in me says that they were scouting their tough competition, but the realist in me says they were just making conversation.
Game night arrived this past Thursday, and, dressed in slacks and shirt and tie, there was no chance I could make a gametime decision to play. The scene was incredibly ripe for a huge victory for the players: the team won its league, got to the second round of the playoffs, and faced a teachers' team without four or so of its best players. Two top players were out of town, and a talented coworker felt my injury hit close to home and sat out the game. As he watched me agonize through my recovery, he made a firm decision-one that softened as game day approached-to not get injured and therefore not play in the game.
As the game progressed, I found myself sitting first on the bench, serving as a sort of coach for the faculty, jumping up when the teachers scored a big basket or made a key defensive play, to eventually sitting a few rows behind the bench, laughing and joking with friends, and even cheering a bit for the student team.
The students took an early lead, up about seven after five minutes, and went into halftime with a fourteen-point lead. With the teachers living and dying-mostly dying-by the long range jumper (set shot?), the game was over very early. The final score was 67-41.
The bad? It was rough watching others carry the burden I know I could have eased. The trash talk between teams was vague and boring, since I couldn't back up my words on the court. I felt like there was a big party, and I wasn't invited. And I wouldn't be invited for a whole year.
The good? Without my participation, I know that it's impossible to prove that we would have won had I played.
But it's also impossible to prove that we still would have lost had I played...

Teachers versus Students Bball-A Personal History

2005--Students won, by about seven points; I think I can be forgiven for my lack of specific memory. On the first two possessions, I dribbled around a bit before hitting two three-pointers to lead to a palpable buzz in the crowd. A few minutes after my second jumper, I got a long defensive rebound and headed up the right side of the floor on a sprint with a lefthanded dribble. Seeing a defender a few feet in back of the three-point line and maintaining a good rhythm with my dribble, I pulled up from NBA three-point range for a "Why the Heck Not?" shot. All net! My legend had been secured, and the rest of the game was fairly unremarkable. I probably ended up with about 15 points and five or six rebounds.
2006--I had just been hired at the school, and with some stellar players on the teachers' team, including my brother, my playing team was fairly limited. There were no standout moments, but my seven points and three assists helped the teachers solidify a ten point win.
2007--A new school brought with it the most talented student team I've faced in all my games. This team ended up making it to the city semifinals, and their twenty-point win over the teachers was easily earned. In an unofficial vote, I was named MVP of the Teacher Team for my 15+ points, three or four steals, and five or so assists.
2008--The school did not hold a Student versus Teacher game. :(
2009--I truly believe my credibility as basketball coach was strengthened by my 15 or so points, block of a breakaway layup, and no-look pass for a game-changing three-pointer. Teachers won by eight.
2010--Part of this game can be found on Youtube; namely, the end sequence in which the teachers fail to score at the buzzer to overcome a one-point deficit. I scored a ridiculous 16 points in the first-half, including two long three-pointers on the fast break. My second half totals were unimpressive, as I finished with 20 points. The first-half barrage, though, was enough to secure my legend at school, as students I knew and didn't know regaled me with, "Flaco for threeeee!" for weeks after the game.
2011--See May 15, 2011 post

Passing of the Torch?

Two nights ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder came to LA and easily handled the Los Angeles Lakers-102-93. The younger, quicker Thunder wore out the aging Lake Show with 12 fast break points in the third quarter, pretty much ending the game there. The young legs of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant were too much against the Lakers Big Three of young Andrew Bynum, aging but still quite effective Pau Gasol, and aging but still All-NBA First Team Kobe Bryant.
Yes, this was just one game. Yes, the Lakers just got younger and quicker with the acquistion of point guard Ramon Sessions. Yes, the Thunder just got a bit older with the recent signing of former Laker Derek Fisher.
Still, one couldn't help but see this game as a passing of the torch, a changing of the guard. The Lakers huffed and puffed with Ron Artest/Metta World Peace, Kobe, and Gasol, while the Thunder sprinted past them with Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and their youthful legs. While Kobe struggled to even get a shot, going an ugly 7-25 in the process, Westbrook and Durant made it look too easy in scoring a combined and smooth 57 points.
It looks to this observer that the Thunder, with an average age of 26.2, have paid their dues in losing to the Lakers two years back in the playoffs and to the Mavericks last year, with both the Lakers and Mavs going on to win the NBA Championship. Even the 26. 2 average age is a bit misleading, as 34 year Nazr Mohammed barely plays, and the team's "Big Four," which includes athletic big man Serge Ibaka, has an average age of 22.5.
Youth has been served so far in the regular season. Look for it to win out in the postseason, too.
Then again, with Kobe Bryant a slightly-different player than a few years ago, but arguably almost as productive, is it lack of talent or aging that has brought the Lakers down? Or are the two qualities one and the same?

"Talkin' Bout My Generation..."

Who were The Who talking about in the song title above? You know and I know that they were referring to those born within three to five years of the band members. I may be a little conservative with my three to five year estimate, but you get the point. When we speak of "my generation" or "our generation," when does this generation end? It seems that when we speak of our generations, we mean the time of our childhood, up through our teenager years, and perhaps into our early twenties. Why do we stop there? In yesterday's class lecture about the impact of America's "Roaring 20s" on the world at large, I began speaking about the classic "Saved by the Bell" episode in which Jessie Spano freaks out with too much studying to do and starts taking speed pills. "I'm so excited...I'm so...SCARED!" (C'mon, you know you remember this episode...) It's a logical connection to make, right, between a formulaic 90s teen sitcom and an American cultural movement of excess?
While this episode aired often in rerun form during my early teenage years, a surprising number of my students, most of whom were born in 1995 and 1996, were familiar with this episode, thanks to TBS and Nick at Nite. The episode aired for the first time in 1990, when I was nine, so can I even claim this Jessie Spano soundbite as part of My Generation?
Well, even those who cannot expand their minds enough to see this connection can see a big reason why we think of Our Generation as that time when we were "young" (what a loaded word). Was the rise of hip hop in the 80s and 90s my generation? Partly, as I was born in 1981 and came of age during the days of NWA, Nas, and the Wu-Tang Clan. But the question is, when did music stop being of my generation? Did the rise of 50 Cent and Kanye West, which took place starting around 2001-2003, coincide with My Generation, or did it come slightly after? Was 9/11 (I was a 20-year-old college sophomore when it happened) the defining event of My Generation? When does another generation wrest control of this event from the preceding generation, in the same way as the Baby Boomers claim November 22, 1963, and April 4, 1968? In our world, youth is king and queen, and the fact that between the forty-year-old and the eighteen-year-old transfixed by the horrific events of September 11, only the latter seems to claim the event as of his generation, tells me enough. Youth is one's entree into generation ownership; the others are just jealous.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

If I Could Turn Back Time...

One of the greatest moments, one of my crowning achievements as a person, was the day-I was probably fourteen or so-that I figured out how to freeze time on Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis. The idea that I could continue playing, continue racking up points with no advancement of time made be positively giddy with adolescent nerdiness.
Many of us, perhaps more males than females (though I have no empirical data to support my thesis), live in this world. This is particularly true as we advance in age, as we move away from the Year Zero that was our last in competitive sports, or last year in college, and on and on.
The team we played in our football playoffs would have beaten anyone that plays today. Today's players aren't as fundamentally sound as they were in my day. These high school freshmen are much smaller than we were as freshmen...
Or the best-the vaguely arrogant, vaguely accusatory towards that "society" that doesn't seem to include the speaker-"You never know about people these days."
In fact, that team from the football playoffs started three linemen who weighed 180, 170, and 160, and would have been killed by many of today's behemoth teams.
Today's players may not be as fundamentally sound, but is it entirely their fault? Who taught them, or didn't teach them, these fundamentals? Who packs the sports highlight shows with dunks and crossovers, pays Allen Iverson to hawk Reeboks through his "fundamental" jukes and ridiculous athleticism?
In fact, the freshmen of today are more or less the freshmen of your day-some tall, some short, some physically mature, some not.
And, in fact, as Hemingway and others have repeated throughout the years, borrowing from Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun."
But, man, wasn't it a great feeling to suspend time on the Sega, and isn't it a great feeling, a comforting feeling, albeit temporary, to live like it's 1995 when it's 2012?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Get Up, Stand Up

A few nights back, I went running for the fourth time since my August injury. My PT gave me the go-ahead to start running some three weeks back, and I waited another two weeks or so before attempting to run. The first strides were incredibly awkward, the successive strides slightly so. A sort of stiffness made my strides stilted, though not painful. The feeling is one hard to describe, though I did manage to compare it to running with the left leg being an on-the-ground version of a stilt in a phone conversation with my dad.
My PT has had me doing daily sets of ten of a stretch in which I flex the left foot forward to regain the natural flexion that has been missing since that fateful day some seven months ago. The need to continue with this exercise becomes very apparent as I run like Hop Along Cassidy, the left leg slightly frozen in its flexing.
The first time I ran for about five minutes, and the pain was minimal, the awkwardness more than minimal. As expected, my conditioning was way down, and a few minutes in, I was already feeling cramps. All right, gotta crawl before you can walk (metaphorically).
The second time I ran, I logged about seven minutes, with my left foor still stiff. The third time, seven minutes, and the fourth...well, about twelve minutes combined.
Moving easily that night, I finished a weight workout and decided to run home. Seven minutes into the run, an uneven sidewalk put me onto the asphalt, my phone skittering some twenty feet ahead. Embarassed to say the least, I was at least relieved to see that no one seemed to see my fall, as I had ducked onto a quiet side street.
The fall was in uber slow-motion, and a grunt escaped my throat as I sprawled on the ground. Aw, man, this sucked. The running, the conditioning, was starting to improve, and now a microscopic lift in the sidewalk planted me on my belly.
My phone (those protective cases do work!) was fine, my keys a bit dirty from laying in a quasi-garden on the side of the road. My phone's timer was still running at ten minutes-I figured about two minutes since I fell--and I too decided to, after a minute of walking with my head down, take my licking and keep on ticking. Crossing the street, sure that no one had seen me fall, I quickened my pace.
I lifted my legs-the left one weighed down by a stiff Achilles tendon, the right one soon-to-be scabbed from an unceremonious fall-a bit higher with each step. I started running.
I kept running. The clock was stopped in unison with my running stopping. Fourteen minutes, of which about twelve were running minutes.
I got up. Kept running.