S T E V E N
L E B R O N
by: ALEX WONG
STEVEN LEBRON AUTHOR
A L E X WO N G
M A R K M A L A ZA RT E
J. O. A PPLE G ATE , M A DDI SO N B O N D, T E SSA CH O N G, JE F F RE Y D OWDY, LE O N J I M E N E Z, M I K E M CG R AT H , NAT H A N M CK E E
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS AND EDITORS
A N D RE W F ORBE S, DAV I D ROT H , A N DR E W U N G VA R I
N E X T M E D IA A N I M AT I O N S, K E I T H F U J I M OTO, STE PH A N I E L I M , J O NAT H A N N G
CONTACT WE BSITE TWITTER E -M A IL
ste ve nl e b ron. com @ ste ve n_ l e b ron i nf o@ ste ve nl e b ron. com
DEDICATED TO MY NEPHEW HENRY BECAUSE YOUR MOM TOLD ME TO
steven lebron vol. 1
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
NMA ANIMATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
DENNIS RODMAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
MIDNIGHT FICTION: DWIGHT HOWARD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ASHE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
FINISH YOUR BREAKFAST (JOHN STRICKLAND) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
THE ORAL HISTORY OF NORMAN EINSTEIN’S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
JORDAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
POP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE MASK (“RIP” HAMILTON) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
MY HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL CAREER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
BONDS: OR THE HALL OF FAME VOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
JEREMY LIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
TOM THIBODEAU, UNQUIET MIND . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
VINCE CARTER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
KOBE BRYANT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
MONROE & DIMAGGIO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
CREDITS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A L EX WONG, STEVEN LEBRON
Art by : Te s s a Ch on g
henever I read stories about people living life to the fullest, I get a little panicky. Here I am, turning 30 this year, writing this introduction while sitting in a cubicle feeling like another day has passed without having lived all of those moments that make life so memorable. The decision to self-publish this book can best be explained by a book I read last year by the author David Grann titled The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession. In the book, Grann profiles people who are relentless in the pursuit of their interests, no matter how strange they may be. There is Richard Lancelyn Green, who spent his entire life drowning in the work of Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to the point that his sole goal in life was to retrace every step of Doyle’s life in order to write the definitive biography on him; there is David O’Shea, a marine biologist from New Zealand who repeatedly ventured into the seas in search of the giant squid, the Holy Grail for oceanographers. The idea of these people pursuing what they truly believed in resonated with me.
A passage from one of Grann’s features was especially poignant. It was about Forrest Tucker, a notorious stickup man and an escape artist who accumulated millions of dollars through decades of thievery. Even though he was arrested many times, Tucker would constantly escape from prison, sometimes even just for a few hours before he was found and returned to custody. This pattern of repeated behavior led one of his relatives to observe, “I think he had this desperate need to show the world that he was somebody.” At the heart of it, I think that quote defines what this book is about. The project was driven by a desire to show people who I am, but also to answer, or to begin to answer the question, “What are you doing to pursue what you really want, instead of complaining about your current predicament?” For you, the reader, I hope the book is fun, that you discover some insightful writing and enjoy the wonderful illustrations. I also hope this book inspires people to pursue the things they want to do. Don’t just talk about the things you want to do. Instead, sit down, form a plan, and see it through. Don’t be afraid to fail, or think that your ideas aren’t good enough. Don’t let anyone box you in, or feel discouraged when everyone thinks you should be doing something else instead. If the first question someone asks you when you tell them you want to do something out of passion is how much money you can make it, end the conversation and talk to someone who understands your intentions. As long as what you want to do makes sense to you, that’s all that matters. Okay, I’m rambling now. Enjoy the book. 1
n 1993, I immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada. My parents broke the news abruptly that summer, while I was a just a nine-year-old kid mostly concerned with collecting Dragon Ball Z cards. Still, I had an idea just how difficult the transition would be. Or so I thought. The hardest thing about leaving the place where I grew up was saying goodbye to my aunts, uncles, cousins and especially my grandparents. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with them and the realization that we would be on opposite ends of the map was terrifying. My initial concerns upon arriving in Canada were mostly trivial: whether my favorite mangas would be released at the same time, where I would be able to watch the television shows I was following, and
so forth. Despite being in a foreign place, I still held onto hope that things would not be much different from the life I left behind. Soon, a series of events would remind me just how far away from home I was. *** nitially after we immigrated, my dad traveled back and forth between Hong Kong and Toronto to tend to his fabric company back home. So when the first snowstorm hit in the winter of 1993, it was my mom, my older sister and I who found ourselves unprepared. In a stroke of perfect timing, we had run out of food at home We hopelessly shoveled snow off our driveway so we could take the car out to pick up dinner. After thirty minutes and realizing that driving was out of the question, we put on our best winter coats and walked kneedeep in snow for half an hour to the grocery store at the end of the street. We arrived at the store to find a sign at the front that said they were closed for the evening because of the snowstorm. We walked back home empty-handed, hungry and depressed. At school, I felt out of place before I had a chance to meet any of my classmates. On my first day, our thirdgrade teacher pulled out her attendance sheet and started calling out everyone’s names
in order. Just a few months earlier, my dad has asked me if I wanted to pick an English name for myself as he was filling out my elementary school application. Because I was playing a game called “Alex Kidd in Miracle World” on my Sega Master System at that very moment, I named myself after the main character of the game. I sat at my table in the classroom, with people around me who looked and felt like strangers, and waited for my name to be called. And then I heard my Chinese name. Chi Land. Chi Land Wong. My dad had filled in my name wrong. Immediately, I could hear people chuckling around me and making jokes about my birth name. I would dread the start of every school day that year. In an attempt to integrate me into more social groups, my parents soon took me to the local rink to sign me up for after school extracurricular activities. Instead of joining the hockey team, I was enrolled in beginner figure skating class. I spent several years mastering the art of skating backwards, making full stops whenever I approached the end boards, and even attempted a few basic jumps. *** y seventh grade, having picked up the English language and feeling comfortable enough
to flash my sense of humor, I was starting to fit in at school. Instead of being isolated from everyone, I had a group of friends whom I spent time with, whether we were learning the lyrics to our favorite rap songs together, going to two-dollar movies on Tuesdays, or wandering the food court at the mall for girls to talk to, it was always fun. I started to feel as if I belonged. One of the best things that happened to me was when we moved to a bigger house in seventh grade, which allowed my parents to install a basketball net on our driveway. At around this time, I started getting into watching and playing sports. After school, I would spend hours on my driveway with a basketball in my hand, mimicking my favorite players’ free throw routines, practicing three point shots, and when I felt ambitious enough, I would even lower the rim and attempt a few dunks. My basketball career started in eighth grade. My friends and I formed the core of the team. But just as I was getting excited to grow up with these new friends I had made, my parents told me that because we moved houses into a different region, I would have to go to another high school. I was devastated. It was time to start all over again. In ninth grade, while I was no longer worried about
being ridiculed for having my birth name called during attendance, I felt the same anxieties on the first day of school. I spent the entire first year of high school being stubborn and resistant towards making new friends. I only wanted to be with my elementary school friends. I tried my best to stay in touch with them that year, but after hanging out a few times, I realized that things weren’t the same anymore. I stopped feeling like I was part of the group. I was no longer involved with the stories they would share, or be included in their inside jokes. I drifted apart from them that year, and never kept in touch after that. I was feeling isolated all over again. It affected me a lot to be viewed as a loner at my high school. I was an introvert, not by choice, but because there was no other option for me. I did join the basketball team that year, but I didn’t know anybody on the team. On top of that, we were terrible on the court. Practices felt like a chore, bus rides to the games were anything but fun, and playing the games felt like an exercise in repeated failure. It was a rough year. *** n tenth grade, I started making a concerted effort to integrate myself with my high school class-
mates. Turns out, if you’re open-minded and personable, people are actually pretty receptive; all I needed to do was to let my guard down a little. Because I was born in October, I was a tenth graders who was eligible to play on the ninth grade basketball team. After having gone through a season from hell the year before, I was eager to join a team with a new coach, new teammates and a fresh start. It was obvious very early on in the season that things would be different. Even though I did not know most of the guys on the team, we clicked immediately. There were no egos, or individual agendas, just a bunch of guys who loved playing basketball together. The entire season was exhilarating and remains my favorite experience since moving to Canada. I’ll never forget the tournament we attended in the middle of the season. Because our school’s semiformal dance was happening on the same Friday, more than half the team could not make it to the tournament. We went with just six players. At the time, I was the team’s starting small forward who guarded the other team’s best defensive player, provided three-point shooting and tenacious rebounding. Because we were missing half of the team, coach told me during warm-ups the night of the
tournament that I would be playing point guard. He only gave me one tip: try to not foul out because we only have one guy on the bench. I was excited for all the selfish reasons. In high school basketball, or any level for that matter, the greatest feeling is knowing that there are no restrictions to your minutes. No one ever wants to sit and watch from the bench. On this night, except for the occasional short breather, it would not be a worry. I want to say I scored 27 points that night. I can’t remember exactly, but given the number of shots I put up, I’m comfortable standing by that number. In the fourth quarter, the other team’s point guard was so frustrated that he was losing to a short-handed squad that he grabbed onto my jersey while I was attempting a clear path lay-up. He was called for a technical foul, and as I walked to the line to shoot my free throw, I gave him a grin that I would never forget. It was my superstar moment. By the time the playoffs arrived, it was time to focus on team results instead, and we had a team with a realistic shot at winning it all. We won our first round game handily and were headed on the road to play an opponent which we didn’t see during the regular season. If you’ve played or
attended high school basketball games, you know that the crowds are usually sparse, and made up of friends and family only. But this gym was filled, and on top of that, there was an upper level bleacher area that oversaw the entire court. As we were warming up, we heard the heckling coming from up top, it was as if there were vultures hovering over us. While all of this took us by surprise, I didnâ€™t think our team was nervous. We embraced playing in this type of environment and raced out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter. There was a sequence in the first half when I grabbed a defensive rebound, looked off my point guard and dribbled upcourt by myself. There was an opening down the middle of the lane, so I drove all the way in past two defenders for the lay-up. And one. I was so excited by what I had just done that on my way to the free throw line, I highfived all of my teammates and delivered loud, audible slaps on their butts. The crowd did not appreciate this showmanship, and hurled every type of insult at me as I shot my free throws. I was loving the moment, enjoying it all, and most importantly, excited that we were this close to the semifinals, and two games from the championship.
By the fourth quarter, we had run out of gas and were struggling to hang onto our lead while fighting against a fullcourt trap. After a series of turnovers, and a sequence of made three-pointers on their end and missed free throws on ours, we had blown our lead and were headed to overtime. By then, we were discouraged, and just a bit rattled. We never had a shot in overtime. We never found any rhythm on offense, and they never stopped missing from three-point range. After what seemed like a sure victory on the road against an impressive opponent, we were done; losing by seven points and headed home. There would be no semifinals, no practice the next day, no more leaving early from school to catch a bus for an away game, no more three-pointers in front of my parents. It was all over. *** remember the quiet bus ride back to our school after that loss. I was devastated that we had lost and shocked at how it had all happened so quickly. I was used to dealing with disappointment by this point, and I knew that after time passed and I reflected on all of this, I would come to appreciate just how great it was to accomplish so much with such a great group of guys. But at that moment,
all I wanted to do was cry. Reflecting back on the season now, it was a pivotal moment for me from a personal standpoint, because after having gone through such bouts of isolation, humiliation and self doubt, a lot of things that happened in that basketball season helped me regain my self belief. It also made me more comfortable to be myself and worry less about integrating into groups and in the process, made me stop being someone else for the sake of fitting in. Most important of all, it made me realize that I could become something as long as I put my mind to it. It helped give me perspective on what was important, what it took to succeed, and the joys of working together. All of which sound clichĂŠ, but my high school basketball career really did lay the groundwork for the type of person I would eventually become.
LIN Edited by: andrew forbes
hen I write about Linsanity, or even think about everything that transpired during that time period that already seems like so long ago, it is impossible to consider the real story that was happening behind all the excitement on the court. Because of this, I’m always confronted by two sets of feelings. The first type of feeling is euphoria. As an Asian in North America, seeing Lin become not just the biggest story in the league, but everywhere in the world beyond the realm of sports, was exhilarating. In the same manner that we as fans tend to live vicariously through the success of our favorite teams, depending on wins and losses, Lin elicited those same dependencies, but on a much more personal level. The second type of feeling a sort of disappointment that things transpired as expected, in that Lin’s remarkable run was in fact short-lived and the
racial aspect of the story did go from a celebration of our culture before slowly morphing into a reaffirmation of why a lot of Asians feel a type of despair that often comes with success. Just as a basketball story alone, Lin’s out of nowhere rise was improbable enough. He had bounced around the league, and out of necessity, he was given a chance to log heavy minutes with the Knicks when it seemed like he was destined for a lengthy career in the D-League or somewhere overseas. But the improbability of the story was also because Lin was an Asian American, and someone with his appearance, and as a result, with his limitations, was never suppose to be more than a passable but forgettable career in the league. There’s a reason why these type of insecurity manifests itself, to the point where it feels like success was never meant for people like us. Art by: Leon Jiminez
ere are my own experiences with racism. Discussing them and writing about it at length is always a difficult process, not because they make me feel shame, but I’m embarrassed in how consequential these experiences feel. We live in a world where cases of extreme racism can be found everywhere, and for all different types of races, and seeing how tragic things can be just because of someone’s skin color makes the things that make me feel angry about racism seem minor in perspective. But that’s also the other thing: most of my feelings about race and people in general are based off what I have personally encountered. So regardless of how small and even petty they make me, the collective of these experiences are in the end what shapes my line of thinking. After awhile, I’ve learned to classify the racism I’ve come across into two categories. On one hand, there’s the ignorant racism that happens
in everyday life. This can happen when I’m walking home with my friends after a night out, and a bunch of guys from across the street will yell idiotic things at us. Example: ching chong, chink, pulling their eyelids and making Asian faces at us or a joke about how we can’t drive. These are not specific comments directed at me, but simply a rolodex of stereotypes and misconceptions that ignorant people choose to throw out there. People are not careful with words, especially in certain group settings where they feel safe to do so. The anger I feel may even be more because of the fact that I feel disrespected, and not even some offense felt because people think of us as Asians. It’s the carelessness that bothers me. The second type of offense is what I call casual racism. These tend to happen with people that I know, but not too well. They can be a coworker that I don’t consider a friend, or someone I meet at a party or another social event.
These are not strangers, but because they don’t know me well enough, they’ll try to see what is acceptable. They’ll throw out racist jokes to the point that it makes me feel like I’m part of their own little social experiment to see exactly where the line is. Somehow, it becomes my responsibility to either feel offended, or debate whether I’m being overly sensitive. The part that bothers me with these two kinds of racism is that while people think it’s harmless, they’re not. After awhile, the culmination of these experiences creates an inferiority inside me about both myself and my race.
his is the same inferiority that permeated the Linsanity experience. Every time Lin played a game, there was an anticipation that this could be it. Even after the incredible performances just kept piling up, the individual highlights and game-winning shots kept adding up, there was always an uneasy feeling about how fleeting the Linsanity era seemed. And then Jason Whitlock’s unfortunate tweet happened, there was the Chink in the Armor headline on ESPN’s website, and then I couldn’t help self-inflict more anger by running Twitter searches for Lin and any particular racial epithet (chink, gook, nip; you see, people are racist and incorrect sometimes). The fact that these things happened upset me. But it’s the fact that these things offend me at all that bothers me. It would be great if Lin and personal feelings of racism could be two topics that weren’t mutually exclusive. But that’s not where we’re at.
When you’re angry at people that you don’t even care about, it’s the very feelings you feel that makes you upset. I’d love to be the person who can fully brush off anything race-related and chalk it up to people’s stupidity and ignorance and move on. But I can’t. I don’t think about this stuff all the time, but I am hypersensitive to anything that can be perceived as offensive to our race, and that sensitivity makes me a more cynical person, it makes me think a certain way, with a distrust towards the things people say, or what I assume they’re thinking when they see Asians like myself. If it sounds like I’m dwelling on these particular feelings, it is because I am. I wish there was a way for me to tie my feelings about race and what happened with Linsanity and talk about how it changed everything for me. But it didn’t. I do appreciate the actual impact Lin had on Asian Americans, and appreciate how the storyline revived
the possibilities of narratives in sports, in that they can actually be as magical and inspiring as they’re all made to sound. But I’d much prefer there comes a day when I can talk about Lin’s accomplishments, or my own accomplishments, without having to even explain these feelings about how racism causes these overwhelming feelings of disappointment and inferiority. That would be a good start.
T he following are tweets I wrote on the night Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. T his is conclusive evidence that tweets do not age well over time. I wish I never doubted you, Rob Hennigan.
MIDNIGHT FICTION Bedroom, dim lights, quiet murmur outside. Mitch Kupchak texts David Stern using a burner, “Kiss my Laker ass.” Metta World Peace hears about the trade on a return flight to Vancouver to find his Mike Bibby jersey which he misplaced at the Delta Whistler. Kobe is still up even though it’s middle of the night in London. He is drafting his Olympic posts ahead of the games. He stares at his computer screen, all it says is “Mamba Out.” Steve Nash, kicking a soccer ball in the middle of nowhere, starts crying, doesn’t understand what’s going on. “Owners actually spend money??” Antawn Jamison, in a quiet room, takes a shot of Jameson out of irony. Kupchak, still laughing to himself in bed, finishes charging his Discman, puts on Reasonable Doubt. “Ok. All reloaded”. Andrew Bynum is in a gym somewhere shooting corner threes, oblivious to it all. In his basement, Daryl Morey breaks three iPads upon hearing the news. He drunk dials Larry Coon to see when Jeremy Lin can be traded for draft picks before Kevin Love hits free agency. Kobe texts Dwight, “Remember when I baptized you with that dunk?” Dwight denies being dunked on or ever wanting a trade. Phil Jackson turns to Jeanie Buss in bed, “You know all I have to do is place a call and Mike Brown will mysteriously have family problems tomorrow.” Rob Babcock calls Rob Hennigan, leaves a voice message laughing in his best Ned Flanders rendition. Mitch Kupchak still can’t sleep, rolls around in bed, shuffles his iPod. “Stay Scheming” comes on. I’ma ride for my Lakers dawg. END SCENE.
Art by: J.o. Applegate
A rt by : N A TH A N M CK E E
Dennis Rodman - in -
n March 12, 1994, the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets played each other in a matchup of the two premier teams in the Western Conference. It was billed as a battle between David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, the two best centers in the league. But this game would turn out to be about something else entirely. It would involve Dennis Rodman, a missed flight and a towel apology. Following the wrong itinerary, Rodman missed the team flight to Houston and arrived at the arena just minutes before tip-off. Spurs head coach John Lucas decided to send a message to his power forward by benching him for the entire game. Rodman responded by writing an apology on a towel. It read, “I’m sorry, can I play? Please.” On the corner of the towel, Rodman wrote a small note saying hello to his
daughter Alexis. Television cameras at the game caught him on the bench waving the towel with a mischievous grin on his face. After the game, Robinson told the media, “Dennis has to learn that he has a responsibility to all of us as his teammates for the actions that he took. You have to have accountability, and Dennis is going to have to realize this. I need Dennis on the floor with me.” Rodman had his own take, “I’m still going to be as feisty as I’ve always been. To hell with everything else. I’m still going to be late. I’m still going to be raising hell, creating all kinds of havoc.” The Spurs would put up with Rodman for two years before trading him to the Chicago Bulls prior to the 199596 season.
A rt by : N A TH A N M CK E E
Dennis Rodman - in -
t seems strange — almost unbelievable — to say this now, but Dennis Rodman used to be my favorite player. He was not perfect, but it was cool the way he never cared to be. I would watch him on the court and be amazed by his ability to take over games with his tenacious defense and dominance on the boards. Compared to my other favorite players in the league, Rodman stood out because he was his own archetype, and because he showed me how to watch the game differently. Of course, any team who acquired Rodman had to deal with the inevitable distractions. He kicked a cameraman during a game, showed up at his book signing in a bride’s dress and made many impromptu trips to Las Vegas during the season. On and off the court, Rodman was pushing boundaries and changing our view of the modern day athlete. In doing so, he came off looking selfish, as a man who had this strong desire to be noticed. The funny thing was, Rodman’s basketball ability was all he needed to garner all the attention that he ever wanted.
A rt by : N A TH A N M CK E E
Dennis Rodman - in -
DA L L A S I
n 2000, just two years removed from winning three consecutive titles with the Chicago Bulls, Dennis Rodman was a 38-year-old power forward without a job. He eventually signed with the Dallas Mavericks, for a stint that lasted all of 12 games. Rodman’s debut with the team drew the highest local ratings for a Mavericks telecast since 1994. In his second game with the team, he grabbed 16 rebounds against the Milwaukee Bucks, but was ejected from the game after arguing a foul call. After the game, he sent a few shots at the commissioner, “I wish me and David Stern could put some damn gloves on and go in the ring. We’ll see who comes out the winner.” The Mavericks were a team with playoff aspirations, having won 10 of 13 games before Rodman’s arrival. With him, the losses kept piling up. After a blowout loss to the Sacramento Kings, Rodman’s disruptive side took over as he criticized his teammates and the organization, “We’re like that movie Lost in Space. We have no sense
of direction. We’re lost. There’s not much else to say. We really need some players to fill in the holes we have here. We need a backup center, a starting center, a true power forward, a couple of guards. Above all, we need some more veterans to come in here and provide some leadership. If we don’t get that, then this team is always going to be on the bottom. And I won’t stay on a team that’s always at the bottom. I’ve been on the top too many years to do that.” The next night, Rodman directed his anger towards owner Mark Cuban, who allowed Rodman to stay at his guest house during his stint in Dallas, “He doesn’t need to be hanging around the players like he’s a coach or something. That’s like Jerry Jones, and it’s dumb. That’s why the Cowboys went down. He needs to be the owner, step back and put people in who can get this team in the right direction.” The morning after his latest tirade, Rodman was released by the Mavericks. It marked the end of his NBA career.
E d i te d by : D a v id ro t h
e d i Ins A: M N
Our Taiwanese Animations, Ourselves
here are sports and what they provide — the awe and inexplicability and the like — and then there’s a great and growing everything else. The silent chatter on Twitter, the GIFs and homemade highlights: the commentary and second experience that attends the thing itself. It is instantaneous and mostly goofy, generally without shelf life, and its silliness is, in a way we’ve maybe yet to figure out, actually important. If this did not exist, then Next Media Animation (NMA) would not exist. You know them — and you most likely do know them — as the people behind “the Taiwanese animation treatment.” NMA is based in Taipei, Taiwan, and was founded by Jimmy Lai in 2006 as a unit of Next Media Limited, Hong Kong’s largest publicly listed Chineselanguage print media company. The television channel went live in late 2009. It is Asia’s largest full-service 3D animation studio, and one of many product lines
produced by the company. It is also one of the strangest things on the Internet, and it is part of how we do that everything else. “Mr. Lai is always looking to the future, anticipating where our society is bound,” NMA’s Julie Huang told me. “Often, there are breaking news stories that have no video footage or there are amazing technological and scientific breakthroughs that go beyond what film can capture. Animation fills that void. Animation can recreate events and even go beyond what a camera is capable of.” “Our goal is to make everyone laugh with our animations,” Huang says. “We want our viewers to come away from watching our animations with their stomachs and cheeks hurting because they’ve laughed too hard. At the same time, our writers strive to drive home larger points about values, society, institutions and the people who lead them with our animations. Anything you can imagine, we can animate.” 19
NMA’s video interpretation, deconstruction and destruction of a given news story often hit the Internet while the news story is still at its first-day apex. This is a tribute to the work of over 300 animators, modellers, storyboard artists, motion capture artists and writers at the animation studio. Stories are selected, researched, written — in English, then translated into Chinese — and then storyboarded; animators base their drawings upon photos and videos that the initial writer finds on the web, and are then set in motion when motion-capture actors perform the script. Every 30 seconds of animation can be completed in about two hours from script writing to storyboard to animation to the final video. Whether it is “good” or not is mostly beside the point — the animations are pegged to events in the news cycle but are not quite about news, or information. They are noise, but carefully made,
immediate, collaborative, and wildly stream-of-consciousness noise. What we imagine — more to the point, what we bullshit about on Twitter — is what they animate. “The technology is improving,” Huang says. “The visual quality is improving, and we’re also getting faster. Next year, we’ll be able to animate within 30 minutes. Pretty soon, there will not be any technological barriers. We’ll be able to animate as fast as the facts come in.” It is not hard to imagine NMA outgrowing the need for facts entirely. If NMA is the visual shape of our goofier Internet conversations about sports, and if these Internet conversations are increasingly as vital as the sports who are their ostensible subject, then what does the popularity of these videos say about that conversation? The short answer is “nothing much,” or maybe “nothing that is any more signifi-
cant than some in-the-moment Twitter pun or mini-meme.” NMA has found its niche because its videos come out fast and weird, as the high-speed news cycle demands. The absurdity helps, of course. Sports are as weird as life, or weirder. NMA’s psychedelic ridiculousness, in this case, almost qualifies as realism. It is tapping into a weirdness that is already present, if not quite that explicit. We might make these jokes on Twitter, but the jokes also sort of make themselves. NMA just gives them another dimension. The videos can be funny, but there’s another less-flattering dimension to watching them, if only because of the way in which they make concrete not just the weirdness of the subjects they sortof-satirize, but their epic insignificance. The sports discourse may yet achieve some kind of elevated consciousness that allows these goofy, gossipy stories simply to filter through us, with the better stories
— ones that deserve and demand more reflection, and something other than an instant-reaction mock session — allowed to play out in their own time, with contributions from all sides. There will, hopefully, still be room for goofy jokes in that enlightened future. But it is decidedly not the present. And in the present, we have NMA. They succeed at what they do because they’ve tapped into a need. They understand the same thing that the mainstream media outlets understand — that what’s now and next is what matters. NMA’s animators just have the good sense to make jokes about whatever that now and next happens to be. Maybe that’s progress. A version of this article originally appeared at The Classical on February 6, 2013.
ASHE A rt by : te s s a chon g
TENNIS LEGEND ARTHUR ASHE PASSED AWAY IN 1993 AT THE AGE OF 49 FROM AIDS-RELATED PNEUMONIA, BUT HIS LEGACY AND IMPACT REMAINS.
hen asked whether contracting the AIDS virus was the hardest thing he’s ever had to deal with, Ashe responded, “No, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with is being a black man in this society.” Not only did he help pave the way for other African-American tennis players, Ashe was also very outspoken regarding social causes. His crusade against Apartheid in South Africa was well documented. For voicing his opinion, he was denied a visa into the country to compete in a tennis tournament during the 1970’s. In 1973, Ashe was finally granted entry into the country and won the doubles title at the South African Open. At the time, the National Party — an Afrikaner minority party — was in power and enforced a series of laws which became known as Apartheid. These laws enforced white supremacy and outlawed participation in politics for blacks, who also had their citizenship revoked. Before Ashe left the country, a luncheon was arranged for him in a town called Stellenbosch. The lunch meeting was set up for Ashe to meet a Professor of Anthropology named Christopf Hanekom and some of his Afrikaner students. Over 50 guests were invited to the luncheon, set in a lovely courtyard, where tea and finger sandwiches were served on tables with clean, pressed white tablecloths. The conversation eventually moved into a debate about Apartheid. Ashe looked at Hanekom and asked if he was scared. Hanekom answered no. Ashe replied, “Boy, I’d be if I were you.” He then listed instances of white South Africans’ brutal-
ity towards the minorities, including murder, rape, political imprisonments and executions. The conversation remained civil, but after some back and forth, Ashe decided to make his stance clear. He told the group, “All the sophisticated arguments aside, all the intellectual and political position papers forgotten, in your heart, do you think it’s right?” Before Hanekom and his students could respond, Ashe pointed at the only other black person present at the luncheon — a man named Conrad Johnson, a salesman dressed in a suit and tie just like the rest of the guests — and asked, “What about this man? Why can you vote and this man can’t? Why are you free and this man isn’t?” Hanekom had no comeback except to say, “Mr. Ashe, that is an ace up your sleeve. I can not defend that.” It would be many years until the fall of Apartheid, but on that day, Ashe went into enemy territory and stood up for what he believed in, because he was always more than just a talented athlete.
This is the oral history of Norman Einstein’s. This is the story of Norman Einstein’s Sports & Rocket Science Monthly. This is Andrew Reilly, Ben Birdsall, Brian Blickenstaff, Cian O’Day, Fredorrarci, Graydon Gordian, Jason Clinkscales, Patrick Truby and Stephanie Lim. This is sports. 24
THE ORAL HISTORY OF NORMAN EINSTEIN’S
PH OTO BY : ca i tl i n regan
n June 2009, Norman Einstein’s Sports & Rocket Science Monthly published their first issue online. Their roster featured names familiar to anyone who had followed the growth of long-form sports writing online. Over the 21 issues they published, the online magazine displayed a level of creativity and style in writing that few have matched since. In 2012, Norman Einstein’s creator Cian O’Day successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign to publish a greatest hits collection titled Normanthology. During this time, I reached out to O’Day and many of the publication’s contributors to speak about their experience together. This is their story.
I. T HE BEGINNIN G Cian O’Day: The name for the magazine came from the Joe Theismann quote, responding to Bill Belichick being tabbed a genius, “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.” I wanted this sense of aspiration and genius. But I have a dry Midwestern humor, so I can’t
really approach things directly. Instead, I have to make a joke about what geniuses we all think we are. I plunked down a few bucks for web hosting and the domain name and started by begging everyone I respected in the sports blogosphere 25
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who wasn’t making any money at it. My thing was to not shoehorn talent into a preconceived notion. I tried to sell writers on the idea that they should feel free to try anything. I explicitly set no limits on word count. I only wanted a piece seen through to completion. I didn’t care if I agreed with a piece or its viewpoint, the only concern was that it was well done. I gravitated towards the idea that it would be a monthly magazine, to go against the online trend of becoming more granular. A month is an eternity in Internet time. I wanted to have some marker that the magazine was attempting a bit more substance. I set the date for the first issue but had no idea if I would be publishing just my essay alone. On the morning of the launch, I was actually sitting in my kitchen editing my essay, resigning myself to a very small first issue. In the eleventh hour, Joey Litman and Jake Lemkowtiz sent in two great pieces. I was ecstatic to have such great writers on board. Fredorracci: Cian got in touch with me in the autumn of 2009. I didn’t know him, but I had been a subscriber of the magazine and liked what I had seen. I had the idea for a while to write something inspired by Hans van der Meer, who took these marvelous photographs of non-league soccer pitches all throughout Europe. Cian’s invitation seemed like the perfect excuse to make something of it, which turned out pretty well. In the early days, it was great to see the whole thing coalesce month by month as all these great writers started coming on board. There 26
was a buzz about seeing a piece that you’d worked hard at—that you took a degree of pride in—sitting alongside such a lot of quality work. It was nice to be a part of something bigger, where a bunch of people had a common yet pleasingly approximate aim to write good shit. Jason Clinkscales: Cian emailed me from out of the blue about the site. He read my blog and thought I could fit into this interesting mix of people he had pulled together. It was a funny thing because I had been writing for a while online and for a weekly paper in hopes of being noticed, yet I was unsure how it would come about. Most of the folks Cian had brought along had their own established corners of the internet where I was the newbie. Graydon Gordian: I honestly don’t remember when I first became aware of Norman Einstein’s. I do remember before I began writing for the magazine, inviting Cian to have a drink with me when I was visiting my girlfriend in Brooklyn in the spring of 2010. We watched a college basketball game at a bar in Prospect Heights. We discovered that we had a similar way of approaching not just basketball but sports as a whole. We had a shared belief that the way in which we narrate the sports we love largely fails to do them justice, and that the aesthetic potential of athletics is not sufficiently mined. At the time, I had already been exploring the relationship between aesthetics and sports in my writing, but Cian encouraged me to do so with much more depth and imagination. While the group of writers he brought together was terrific, the importance of his guiding editorial hand can’t be overstated.
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Brian Blickenstaff: I started a soccer blog called Touch and Tactics but didn’t really keep up with it. At that point, I was only getting around five readers per post, and the whole thing depressed me because I wanted a bigger audience. I was also writing occasional pieces for The Run of Play, which was basically the king of all soccer blogs at the time. I liked the exposure it was giving me but wanted to write about things other than soccer. I looked at what some of the other contributors on the site were doing and discovered that Fredorrarci wrote for Norman Einstein’s. I thought the site was really cool and sent Cian an email asking if he needed contributors. He seemed really excited to have me contribute. It was a great feeling. Patrick Truby: I had been writing at There’s No “I” In Blog with a couple of friends and was using Twitter to generate some sort of readership. From there, I got connected to Jason Clinkscales, who had already been involved with Norman Einstein’s. He liked my writing and got me in touch with Cian. It was extremely helpful for me at the time. I was still in the process of finishing my M.F.A. in creative writing, and the approach Cian took and the quality of work translated to both blogging about sports and writing fiction. Andrew Reilly: A few years ago, I ran The 35th Street Review, a now-defunct White Sox blog that achieved a modest amount of fame in some of the more detached, cynical corners of the sports blog arena. Cian stumbled upon the blog and invited me on board.
The immediate appeal of contributing to Norman Einstein’s was in how open Cian was to both format and form. The writers were more interested in the long view of sports and if not always answering, then at least exploring some of the bigger questions attached to that world. What’s really happening out there? What are we really getting out of this? We know what we’re watching, but what are we actually seeing? PH OTO BY : S TE PH A N I E L I M Ben Birdsall: About eight issues into their run, Cian shot me an email inquiring as to whether the writers at There Are No Fours were interested in contributing.
I believe Fredorrarci tipped him off about us. I had read a few of the pieces from previous issues, so I was happy to jump at the chance to contribute. It was a great opportunity to take a little more time than I usually did for blog posts. Also, working with Cian as an editor was fun. It was also only a bonus to be in the company of other writers whose work and viewpoints I respected. O’Day: Over the first several issues, we were just trying things with no idea if they would work. I did this huge college football preview with all these different team bloggers, and it was just wild and unwieldy. A friend of mine Stephanie Lim started shooting photo essays for us, and it really came to define us in that first year. She has this great eye for the odd detail and makes this connection with a subject which she captivates through the camera. It definitely became easier to get folks on board once we were regularly publishing these great photo essays. 27
PH OT O BY: STEPHANI E LIM
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II. PHOT O FINISHES Stephanie Lim: I’ve always been surrounded by photographers. When I first lived in San Francisco, my boyfriend was into photography as well, and we would spend our weekends lugging his gear to races and concerts. Because I was always around these guys, I picked up a lot of pointers but never even attempted to invade their territory. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I got away from other people’s work. I was one credit from graduating, so I decided to take an architectural photography class. After that, I wanted to take photos of everything and see what I could come up with. After two years of graduate school, the immediacy of photography and the ability to share the images with someone fulfilled my need for immediate gratification.
A lot of magazines weren’t interested in using my photos, so I more than happy for Cian to use them. After that, he began to offer me the opportunity to shoot photo stories. My initial thought was that I would be weak as a sports writer but that if I supplemented my writing with photos, it could even out. But sports writing is hard, and Cian rightfully understood that Norman Einstein’s wouldn’t be a good testing ground for me. I think sports fans read a lot more — and are more critical of what they read — than a lot of literary folks, and the writers at the magazine brought those sensibilities to the table. I do think that my writing background has informed the way I shoot photo stories — which makes them a better fit for Norman Einstein’s than, say, just a single, stand-alone money shot to accompany written pieces.
Just as architectural photography required something totally new from me, sports photography forced me to try out a lot of new things too. I’ve always been lazy at sporting events. I usually don’t try very hard to understand the appeal of what’s going on, but going in as a journalist gives you a reason to try and understand things. Writing is my passion, but — as much as I hate to say it — people pay more attention to imagery on a daily basis. Even when I was in journalism school, I would read a news story by simply glancing at the headline, photo, and caption. Still, more and more publications are using stock or recycled photos.
PH OT O BY: STEPHANI E LIM
THE ORAL HISTORY OF NORMAN EINSTEIN’S
III. EVOLVIN G AS A SI T E, AND PERSONAL FA VORI T ES O’Day: I always asked writers to give me something more than a blog post. It could be more research. It could be going on site somewhere and doing real reportage. I just didn’t want someone to sit down with an idea, finish writing about it in three hours and be done with it. I required a specific pitch from everyone. Often times, the most important work I did editing someone else’s work was in the pitch phase. I’m a fair writer though not the greatest editor for grammar and rules of style. But I’m a very good editor in the realm of ideas and how those can be best brought out in someone’s writing style. If I do anything well, it’s hearing the voice the writer wants to speak in and help to bring that out with clarity and power. I think our process helped to define us. That and I got everyone talented I could find to write for me. We really excelled in four areas of essay writing: reportage, personal report, theory, and profile. In issue 12, Graydon Gordian recorded a 12-minute monologue about the beauty of the hard foul in basketball. Gordian: The monologue wasn’t the first time I had touched upon the topic. Back in 2008, I wrote a piece that was based on much of the same thought. My original intention was to write something that expanded upon that idea. Not many people know this, but the decision to make it an audio piece was actually an act of desperation, not an aesthetic choice. I intended to write it on a flight back to the
U.S from Guantanamo Bay, but my last night there I got wrecked – I’m talking deeply, profoundly drunk — with some Marines at the Officer’s Club on the base. On the flight, I was so incredibly hungover that I couldn’t write a word. I got picked up at the airport in Washington and immediately had to go to rural Virginia for hostile conditions training. I was sitting in my room at the hotel in Virginia, completely incapable of writing a word because I felt like shit. The piece was already passed deadline. On the fly, I called Cian and came up with this bullshit about an audio piece. He liked the idea, so I turned on my recorder and just talked for about 15 minutes. I recorded most of the piece in one take. The foul is a revelation. It’s an admittance that the player is incapable of stopping you without breaking the rules, and for that reason it’s a very intimate moment. The fact that such a revelation would come at such an intensely dramatic time makes it all the more powerful. Hard fouls bring out lots of righteous indignation in the fan. So for both the fan and the players involved, there’s real potential for the foul to be a brief, untidy emotional climax amidst the broader structural climax of the playoffs. In Issue 15, Andrew Reilly wrote “Near Mint: Lessons On Value”, reflecting on his longstanding fan-athlete relationship with Roger Clemens. I asked Reilly to reflect on his career, and whether we would ever be able to find a right way to view the best players from The Steroids Era.
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Reilly: I’m not sure there’s a right way to look at those players and their accomplishments in a game so dependent on so many players, but I think at some point people will have to accept that, like the booze hounds, racists, and gamblers that came before them these were simply the sporting jerks of their day. On one hand, Roger Clemens still had to hit the gym, still had to put in work to reap the benefits of whatever he was on, still had to go out there and strike all those guys out, still had to first decide to throw the ball at a batter’s head rather than the catcher’s glove and then actually go through with it. On the other hand, without the juice, he’d probably have spent the last decade back in Texas hitting on cocktail waitresses instead of collecting Cy Young awards. I’m not sure either one is really any better or worse than the other. In Issue 16, Brian Blickenstaff wrote a piece titled “48 Seconds”, which detailed the history of boxing culture in Hattiesburg, Mississippi through his own personal visit to a local boxing event at the Hub City Boxing gym. Blickenstaff: I mentioned my little brother in that piece. For about four years, I was a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Every week or two during those for years, I’d hang out with my little brother for a couple of hours. We went to a lot of sporting events together. In 2010, my little brother had just started boxing at Hub City Boxing. He wanted me to see him practice, so I went and sat in the gym one afternoon to watch him. I couldn’t take my eyes off the training they were doing in the 32
ring. The footwork was so precise. I had no idea. Before they had started the training session, I learned the professional debuts of two other boxers were coming up, and I knew right then I had a story. So I watched them practice, did some interviews and realized Hattiesburg had a history as something of a boxing town. The fight was pitched as a return to Hattiesburg’s boxing roots. In my story, I wanted to capture the history as well as the feeling that this professional fight was a big deal — especially the African American community, which my brother and all the fighters were members of. I wrote about half the story from the passenger seat of my Corolla as my wife, and I took turns driving south from Wisconsin, where we had vacationed that summer. Originally, I wrote an ending that captured none of the emotion and energy in the gym. Irene, my wife, read it and told me I had to come up with something more because the ending sucked. I went and sat on my bed and decided to write about my little brother’s excitement and my realization that it wasn’t just him that was excited and dreamy afterward, but the whole community. In Issue 17, Ben Birdsall contributed a piece titled “Freedom and Agency: The Summer of LeBron James” in which he commented “whether such a team is good for the sport as a whole is a nebulous question that can’t yet be answered.” I asked him to revisit that question during the 2011-12 NBA season, one in which the Miami Heat would end up champions. Birdsall: I stand by the notion that players
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banding together to join a single team is a reasonable exercise in free agency and personal determination.
in a few hours.
I think the biggest result going forward will be a conversation about the possibility of something similar any time more than one of the transcendent talents of the NBA is a free agent. It will be interesting this next off-season, for example, to see how Chris Paul and Dwight Howard deal with being free agents at the same time. I don’t know that I would bet they’ll join forces, but the possibility of such a move will probably cause a team or three to clear the cap space for them. The possibilities of free agency have expanded. It has certainly carved out space for intrigue, so to that extent I would call it a good thing. Lim: My favorite assignment was probably Rumble On The River, which was the first thing Cian assigned me — a charity boxing event in Manhattan. When I got up next to the ring, I told an old pro that I was a little nervous because it was my first time there. I asked him for a few tips and then told him I hoped I’d get something good. He laughed at me and said, “Are you kidding? It’s fucking boxing.” It was just kids doing a free exhibition show for charity, but it was very memorable. There were these guys in the front row who had paid twenty-five dollars for theirs seats and they were heckling the kids. The crowd was full of assholes. I wouldn’t call myself a sports enthusiast at all, but that night really showed me the spectrum of brutality, intent, emotion, and spectacle all 33
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IV. T HE ELEVA T OR PI T CH I asked several of the contributors to describe to give me their elevator pitch of what Norman Einstein’s was and what it stood for. Fredorracci: A website that published lots of good sports writing monthly. Gordian: At times I’ve heard a number of Einstein’s contributors – and I’ve probably said this myself – refer to it as an “experimental” sports writing magazine. But as I’ve thought more about it, I don’t think that’s the best term for it. I prefer the term radical. I don’t mean radical in a political sense. The values of the magazine undoubtedly fell on the left side of the spectrum, but politics and its relationship with sports was not touched upon all that often. When I say radical, I mean it in its original sense: fundamental. I felt that we were searching for what is fundamental about sports. And what is fundamental is that sport is culture, plain and simple.
That might seem reductive, but in fact it is the exact opposite. Thinking about sports, not as this separate category of human activity but merely as one manifestation of culture radically alters the way you approach a number of other subjects: beauty, ethics, politics, history and epistemology to list a few. That radical approach allowed us to tell the stories of sports in imaginative ways. At the end of the day it always comes back to storytelling. Lim: I never told people it was a sports journal. I always said it was writers writing about sports. That was a huge distinction in my mind. Blickenstaff: I’d say it’s an alternative, sportsbased monthly full of good, young writers.
PH OTO BY : S TE PHAN I E L I M
PH OTO BY : S TE PHAN I E L I M
THE ORAL HISTORY OF NORMAN EINSTEIN’S
V. PART IN G SHOTS Clinkscales: Norman Einstein’s was not only a tremendous opportunity to expand my profile but also a platform to challenge myself when it came to new content. Fredorrarci: Cian’s enthusiasm was apparent from the fact that he created so much work for himself for no reason other than that he loved it and believed in what he was doing. And he did it with good humor and a gentle but firm editorial touch. It was a very pleasant environment to write in. You knew that an idea you had would be tended to with care and attention because Cian gave a shit, which is a quality you can’t take for granted. Gordian: I think some of the best work I’ve ever done was published there. I was always so excited to work on pieces with Cian, partly because I knew my work would appear alongside the work of writers whom I truly admired. But mostly because he placed a tremendous amount of confidence in me and always encouraged me to tackle ambitious topics and complex questions. My self-confidence as a writer partly derives from the pride I feel about the work I published at Norman Einstein’s.
banner displayed tastefully and not have the issue cluttered with a bunch of blinking ads. That never really got off the ground. And as the content developed the tone and style of the magazine, I started to see the importance in ensuring Einstein’s was this commercial-free zone, ideas developing for the sake of the ideas, undertaking the conversation, the dialectic because the best and worst in sports compels us to. There’s integrity to it that I’m really proud of. Not every single piece worked, I’m guilty of that more than anyone else, but everything aspired to advancing the conversation, the story of sports. As far as regrets, I have too many to list in general, but not a whole lot related to the magazine. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I made plenty of mistakes. But the whole point of the project was to try things without fear of failure. I was just lucky that the things we tried worked more often than failed. I only mailed in one piece of the several I wrote, and I regret that. So, no major regrets, which is something I can’t say about my slow-pitch softball career.
O’Day: In the beginning, I had this idea to monetize the magazine by selling each issue to one sponsor. The notion was to have their
he man they called The Franchise was larger than life, as charismatic a showman as he was talented on the court. John Strickland once averaged over 40 points per game playing for Nike Pro City, considered one of the best streetball leagues in North America. According to people who saw him play, Strickland would often run up the court, deliver a crisp pass to one of his teammates, then stare at both of his hands and say, “I see dead people.” Strickland, a former Globetrotters member, once pulled out a cell phone during a game to taunt his opponents. Ever the crowd favorite, he would jump into the stands after hitting a shot to interact with the fans. The Franchise was invited to training camp with the New York Knicks in 1996. He scored 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a preseason game against the New Jersey Nets, but failed to make the team. He later landed a tryout with the Miami
Heat, but never played in the NBA. Strickland was a career journeyman, once dubbing himself MLK, the Minor League Killer. Even in later years when he was a self-proclaimed crafty veteran for the Halifax Rainmen of the Premier Basketball League, The Franchise remained a fan favorite. Asked before a game on what to expect when watching him play, Strickland said, “I go with the flow. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but the fans are gonna be very entertained. They’re definitely gonna get their money’s worth.” Strickland passed away in 2010 at the age of 38 from an apparent heart attack. He will not be remembered by his countless highlight reels or professional achievements. But I’m confident that the impression he left on those who saw him will help carry on his legacy.
Art by : M i k e M cGra th
Art by: Jeffrey Dowdy
THE MASK A
fter breaking his nose several times early in his career, Hamilton was advised by doctors to wear a mask for the rest of his career to prevent significant nasal reconstructive surgery. Over time, Hamilton has grown fond of his mask, “I love it. It’s like my identity. If someone doesn’t watch basketball, an old lady, they always know who wears the mask. It’s my identity and I’ll wear it the rest of my career.” In perhaps the greatest tribute to the mask, when Hamilton walked off the court after the series-clinching win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, he removed his mask, held it up to the crowd and pointed to it with his index finger. I don’t know about you, but I think the mask belongs in the Hall of Fame.
BONDS, OR THE
Art by: Nathan McKee
remember my first encounter with baseball as this frustrating exercise of figuring out what the R, H and E represented on the box score that would pop up on my television screen every time the game went to commercials. Back then, I couldnâ€™t just look anything up online and educate myself. There was also the problem of knowing very little English, so the commentators were no help. It took a good two to three months before I figured out what innings were, why managers made pitching changes, 40
the strategy behind bunting, why the pitcher kept throwing to first when a runner got on base, and so forth. And yes, I eventually figured out the R, H, and E stood for runs, hits and errors. Itâ€™s strange to remember a time when baseball felt so innocent because it is such a stark contrast to how things are today. Because when we talk about baseball in the present tense, weâ€™re really talking about performance enhancing drugs, urine samples, an unfair playing field, and a game filled with cheaters and hypocrites.
arry Bonds was my favorite baseball player growing up. Because of him, I bought the San Francisco Giants hat on three occasions, even splurging on his jersey once. In 2001, he hit a record 73 home runs. The numbers Bonds put up were unfathomable. He walked 177 times and had an on-base percentage of .515 during his record setting season. In the three subsequent years, his walks and on-base percentage totals were, in order: 198-.582, 148-.529 and 232-.609. These were astronomical feats in a sport that
prided itself on the measurement and celebration of individual statistics. Except, it was impossible to relish in Bonds’ accomplishments against the backdrop of his connections to BALCO, and because it happened as baseball began a very public campaign to clean up the game. Even without the drug connection, few people were excited about what Bonds was doing anyways. Because he was terrible to the media, disliked by his own teammates, Bonds had very few people in the game who were willing to defend him. So in his final season at the age of 42, even though Bonds led the league in on-base percentage, and made it clear that he wanted to continue his career, he received no offers in free agency and was forced to retire. *** n the surface, this was a story about a player who was punished for not playing fair. Because he had put up remarkable numbers with the aid of illegal substances, Bonds was shunned from the game and unable to leave on his own terms. But this was also the story of about how the best player in the game was made to feel neglected and forgotten, while some of his peers – Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, cheating the game themselves, as we would find out much
later – were celebrated as they chased the home run record. Bonds watched all of this unfold, and decided to level the playing field because no one governing the sport was doing anything to stop the cheating. So out of necessity, out of pride, because of his ego, and the need to keep up with the competition, Bonds became the next in a long line of baseball players who knowingly used performance enhancing drugs to improve their individual performance. When you consider Bonds’ story from this perspective, it becomes clear that he is simply the creation of baseball’s own ignorance. *** ven though he has been eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame for two years, Bonds has not come anywhere close to getting in. Neither has the rest of colleagues – McGwire, Sosa and Roger Clemens to name a few – from The Steroids Era. Unless there’s a drastic change in the coming years, future generations will visit the Hall of Fame and find that there is very little representation from the best players of this era. Of course, the Hall of Fame is just one way that for fans to learn about the history of the game. These days, if a kid stumbles upon a baseball game and can’t figure out how
to read the scoreboard, the answers are much more accessible. Because of this, and because of the growing discourse among fans of the Hall of Fame voting process, baseball and the righteous voters are badly mistaken if they think they can simply make people forget by punishing these players and excluding them from the Hall of Fame. With or without their names on a plaque, we’ll all remember Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and everyone else who were first celebrated, then casted to the side when baseball decided it was no longer convenient to associate themselves with these players. We also won’t forget how these players attained the numbers that strengthened their case to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. As time passes, it’ll only become more apparent just how incompetent the folks governing the game of baseball were, and how they chose to turn a blind eye to the problems at hand, acknowledging them only when there was no alternative We’ll remember all this, and when we talk about the cheaters and hypocrites who took over the game, it won’t be just the players we talk about, but also the people who were supposed to govern this whole thing.
Art by: maddison bond 42
Monroe & Di\aggio F
or the longest time, the perception was that Ted Williams was selfish, uncaring and hard to deal with while Joe DiMaggio was elegant and polite; the prototypical superstar athlete. According to Frank Deford — who detailed this in his memoir Over Time: My Life As a Sportswriter — this was not the case. From his personal experience, he found Williams to be more affable while DiMaggio was not the universally beloved figure that everyone had thought he was. Deford offered up an exchange between DiMaggio and his wife (they were married for nine months) Marilyn Monroe as example. When DiMaggio was playing exhibition games in Japan with the Yankees just before he retired from baseball, Monroe left Tokyo for a brief time to travel to Korea to entertain the troops there. When Monroe came back, she told DiMaggio, “You just can’t imagine what it’s like, playing before forty thousand men and all of them cheering for you.” To which DiMaggio replied, “Yes I can.”
TOM THIBODEAU, UNQUIET MIND S
ince Michael Jordan left the team, the Chicago Bulls have: handed the keys to Tim Floyd, given a five-year, $32 million contract to Eddie Robinson, rebuilt the team around the teenage versions of Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, and made other decisions that were somehow worse than any of the aforementioned. Some worked better than others, but none of them really worked. And so the Bulls didn’t participate in the playoffs for six seasons after Jordan’s departure, before coach Scott Skiles and an improved roster pulled them back into the postseason. Another longish lull followed, but the lottery victory that was Derrick Rose in 2009 delivered unto the Bulls another franchise player. And yet the team remained stuck, losing a memorable first round match-up to the Boston and a not so memorable series to Cleveland the year after.
The leading intellectual light and half-psychotic workaholic heart of that Celtics team was Tom Thibodeau, an assistant coach who became the 21st coach in Bulls history before the 2011 season. This is what happened, but it’s not the whole story, for Thibodeau or the Bulls, or otherwise. It’s a cliché, and a silly one: the player who was born to play the game. Plenty of tryhards and enthusiasts and people with short arms and legs love to play basketball and find their fullest fulfillment in it; born-to-play only works as a guarantor of highlevel hoops success if you’re born with a specific body and temperament. Thibodeau was not born to play the game of basketball, but it’s hard to argue that he was not born to coach the game. Before finally getting his first shot as a head coach, Thibodeau spent 21 years as an assistant, starting with the
expansion Timberwolves in the late 1980’s, and eventually with Jeff Van Gundy’s New York Knicks and Doc Rivers’ Celtics. He earned a reputation as a defensive guru because he understood team defense in a way few basketball thinkers do and because it was the subject to which he devoted seemingly every moment of his life. A quick scan around the league and the coaches currently employed reveals, for the most part, two things: a recognizable list of recycled names who have somehow managed to find another sideline to stalk despite a history of ineffectuality or ineffectiveness; or, former players who are given a chance to transition from running a team on the court to running a team
from the sidelines. Thibodeau fits into neither of these groups. There is a thing we do with great coaches: the writing of intention and structure onto the inherent chaos of an NBA game, the ex post facto crediting of the suited guy on the sideline for what happens on the court. Thibodeau is the beneficiary of this, to an extent, but his Bulls are also a different thing. They do really seem to play, on both ends of the court, in the way that Thibodeau thinks. A coach’s vision can only extend so much onto the court — ultimately, the players are the ones who execute these best laid plans. But how they play reveals the structure and trust that Thibodeau has built.
Art by: Nathan McKee
his is where you really notice Thibodeau, and start to notice that to watch the Bulls is actually to watch him, at least to an extent. It doesn’t matter who the five guys on the court are; what matters, and what works, is that they’re executing a particular system, knowing the particular spots to cover, a merger of Xs and Os and externalities that are out of sample to everything we try to quantify, all of that on display at once. And all of it choreographed. And so watching the Bulls is to watch Thibodeau confront the notion that individual players and overall talent trump all else most of the time. And to see the Bulls succeed, on any given play, in any given game, is to appreciate how he’s working to change that belief. There are things that we universally admire and respect about athletes, things that accrue a sort of cliché however true they are: the tireless work ethic, the insatiable drive to succeed, that sort of thing. We admire these things, from our couches or arena seats or barstools, because we want the players to be a reflection of ourselves. Because we care so much, we think that they should too. We’ll take the illusion of not caring — we can even write a sort of defi-
ant heroism onto it in select cases — but we can’t accept a mindset that doesn’t equate to our own. We mostly want players to work as hard as we like to imagine ourselves working. But in this particular fantasy, it is not player but the coach that most readily represents these things to and for us. The care, the dedication, the devotion to a particular craft; in most of our lives, this is not a physical task but an intellectual and behavioral one. The thrill of watching basketball is in large part the thrill of watching a game we know well played without the physical limitations that define most mortals’ experience of it. If that on-court mastery is basketball’s most attractive aspect, it’s easiest to relate to what’s left. The coach’s brain, the feats of motivation, the ability to lay a foundation and create a secular belief system for a franchise: this is strong currency to buy our admiration as well. It certainly is closer to most of our day-to-day experiences. That is Thibodeau, who is the focal point in the narrative of the Bulls just as surely as Rose is. In the same way that Phil Jackson was tasked with winning championships every calendar year without ever spending a single sweaty minute on the floor, Thibo-
deau is building a team that expresses his own will. He sets those same expectations to a team full of role players and misfits, and then goes about convincing those players that his expectations are realistic, even when they are not. Talent wins in the NBA, but coaching can lose. Thibodeau is closing that gap and making the coaching position — an inscrutable figurehead in many places, slashing realtime workplace satire in some others — more important than it ordinarily is. Coaches will always matter — for better or worse — in the NBA. But none matter more clearly — none win or lose more transparently — than Thibodeau. We don’t watch to watch him sweat and thrash and scream himself hoarse; that’s not the show. But we will watch what he makes, and know just how much he did to make it. A version of this article originally appeared at The Classical on November 29, 2012.
n the early 1970’s, Gregg Popovich was an Air Force captain at the U.S.S.R.-Turkey border. Having taken a course in Russian, he was fluent in the language and was destined to be recruited into military intelligence. However, there was a fallout, and Popovich returned to the Air Force Academy as an assistant coach. In 1986, he took a sabbatical as the head coach of a Division III school in California and traveled around the country to improve his basketball mind. Popovich visited Dean Smith at North Carolina, Larry Brown at
Kansas and Hank Egan at Air Force, where he would literally just go through film and attend practices to gather ideas. There’s another subject that Popovich is very passionate about: wine. He has over 3,000 bottles in his wine cellar, and claims a third of them won’t be ready to drink until he has long passed away. Popovich even has preferences on the wine he drinks when breaking down game film, “If it’s during the day and the weather is warm, it has to be a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc. If it’s evening, a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.” When Phil Jackson’s retirement became imminent, Popovich said, “Phil would be missed if he decided not to coach again. I don’t pretend to understand what people are going to do or not do, I think it’s good for the league when guys like that are there. It’s good for all of us for all of the obvious reasons.” I’m going to express the same sentiments when Popovich leaves the game.
Art by: Jeffrey Dowdy
Art by: Mi ke Mc Grat h
VINCE ON VINCE CARTER, THE SELFISH FAN, AND THE FAN-ATHLETE RELATIONSHIP
he first jersey I ever successfully asked my parents to buy me was a Shaquille O’Neal Orlando Magic jersey. Shaq, Penny, Horace, 3D and Nick Anderson. That was my team. They were a breath of fresh air compared to the Knicks, Pacers and Heat, a worthy foe to Jordan’s Bulls; on top of that, Shaq was just larger than life. Having transplanted myself from Hong Kong to Canada, and in a city without a basketball franchise, I never really had a team that I rooted for. Instead, I followed Shaq from Orlando to Los Angeles and became a huge Lakers fan, and stayed with Kobe after the Big Fella left for Miami. Because of this, conversations about the home team and loyalty in sports has always been a bit awkward for me as I never really grasped the concept of it from the very start. Without
an attachment to a particular team, I’ve often felt like a bandwagon fan, which is about the worst term you can associate yourself with in sports. A bandwagon is a person who not only can switch his allegiance at any point, but more often or not has the stigma of not truly investing himself emotionally into sports, as silly as that sentence sounds when you take a step back and read it without context. My argument has always been that binding your loyalties in sports mostly based on geography seems absurd. The notion that you should attach yourself to a team as a function of where you’re located seems unfair to yourself, and completely ignores the importance —or in my case, a complete lack thereof —of a franchise with an owner that’s committed to winning, a front office team to execute that plan, and some
semblance of talent and luck to translate the approach to concrete results. Life is too short to have to suffer through an inordinate period of time putting up with incompetence; says the same guy who has spent two decades waiting for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs. When Toronto was finally awarded a NBA franchise that would start playing in 1995, I couldn’t be more excited. This timed perfectly with my growing interest in basketball, and the whole concept of having a team in a league that you only thought existed in other cities was genuinely exciting. The early Raptors years brought great memories, albeit just brief glimpses and periods of them. The inaugural season brought us our first superstar, Damon Stoudamire, and unforgettable moments like our upset of Jordan’s Bulls, a team that went onto win 72 games and the championship that season. The feel-good story quickly turned sour, as part owner, Executive Vice President, and the man who brought cred-
ibility to the whole expansion operation Isiah Thomas left the franchise after a failed majority ownership coup. Soon, Stoudamire was traded, and the team was no longer on its way to a natural progression towards the top. We were starting all over again. The honeymoon stage with a team can come and go as quickly as you learn to embrace them. This wasn’t suppose to be the case with an expansion franchise, where losing could be accepted for a period of time as long as the team was exhibiting growth. By hitting reset on everything from the roster to management just two years in, fans like myself were introduced to the harsh realities of competing in a league where it is very difficult to move yourself into the upper hierarchy. This is what made Vince Carter’s arrival in 1999 so important. It reinvigorated the team, the meaning of basketball in the city of Toronto, and sent the franchise towards the upward trajectory that we all thought they were headed
towards after their inaugural season. By the time Carter cemented his stardom in 2000 and guided the team to its first ever playoff appearance, we were part of the national conversation. Sure, like everyone else, I’ll never forget the Slam Dunk Contest that year, but equally as satisfying was turning on NBC on Sunday afternoon and watching Hannah Storm, Peter Vecsey and the rest of the crew talk about our team. This league that only belonged to other cities was suddenly ours. Of course, the ebbs and flows of following a team and its superstars can test your patience over time, especially in a sport where superstar athletes continually — and if I may add, in many cases, rightfully — dictate their next employer once a situation no longer fits their long term plans. After an exhilarating playoff run in 2001, the Raptors retained their core group in the offseason, added Hakeem Olajuwon as well, but never reached the same heights with Carter again.
By 2005, the player and coaching turnover, along with a general malaise that was falling over the franchise that had failed to improve on the team’s potential with one of the league’s top superstars created a toxic situation where Carter made it clear he needed to go. After lengthy, very public and often messy last few months, the team finally divorced themselves from the player that put the team on the map. As fans of the team, we were right to be upset. When a player asks out of a situation, to be removed from the longterm equation of a franchise, it feels like a disrespect to yourself as well. And certainly that was the feeling around these parts. Time, of course, lends perspective and allows hurt feelings to dissipate, but when the team traded Carter, it was also when I decided it was time for me to step away from the team. For fans who follows franchises who are well-run, competitive and positions itself both for the short and longterm, it may be bewildering to
hear fans become so frustrated with their teams. In fact, the more sports I’ve followed, I’ve come to realized that incompetence is actually the norm. If a team is stable and set up well for the present and future, they are in fact an outlier. Whether the franchise put itself in a position to lose its star player, or it was a selfish decision to put himself ahead of the team, Carter’s divorce from the Raptors was not without merit. At the same time, I understood exactly the point of it all. Just as players are always searching for a place and a team that they can believe in long-term, fans are doing the same. For the player, the choice can be much easier, given the leverage that exists in basketball for them to force themselves into a new situation. As the superstars come and go, and usually leaving us to only remember the go part, we are the ones left to pick up the pieces. Our choice is much more limited, binding yourself to a particular team is almost an expectation in sports, if
only because of the heightened stakes and the personal attachment that comes with the experience. But there does come a time when standing for incompetence and waiting too long for things to change becomes an issue. In this way, a front office change in the franchise inevitable creates optimism and a fresh start that you can get behind. Bryan Colangelo’s hiring did that for me, as has the recent addition of Masai Uijri as our new architect. You wonder how many times you can cycle through the same range of emotions, and to see it all end in disappointment, until it’s enough. We can say all we want about our detachment from our teams over time. But truthfully, we’re still there, it’s just feigning interest and creating a distance makes the pain easier to stomach.
foreword by: Andrew Ungvari
T h e r e l at i o n S h i p between a city and a star athlete is one of those things that can be described as both ridiculous and incredible. Ridiculous because often it is only a notch below stalker on the crazy scale and incredible in that one person’s ability to perform a skill has the ability to unite a city and remove those invisible barriers between strangers. More often than not, it is no different from a husband and a wife or a father and son. Sometimes it is one that ends in an ugly divorce where the kids side with one parent over the other. Sometimes it ends in an
amicable divorce where both sides openly admit to falling out of love and doing what’s best for everyone involved. In the case of Kobe Bean Bryant, the relationship between he and the City of Los Angeles is one with many layers. You could say it most closely resembles that of a foster family. Kobe was the hotheaded teen that had a falling out with his parents, got kicked out of the house, and thought he knew everything when, in fact, he didn’t know shit about the things that mattered. L.A. was the naïve mom that was going to defend her son because he was her son dammit, and that was as good a reason as any. He might be an asshole, but he is my asshole. If you asked a hundred Angelenos what Kobe means to them, you might get a different answer from everyone. If you asked someone born before 1990, they might tell you that Kobe is the torchbearer in a long line of Lakers and star players who have represented the city. Ask someone born after that, and you might hear
Andrew Ungvari is a screenwriter and NBA blogger born, raised, and still residing in Los Angeles. He has been a Lakers fan since 1982 and a season ticket holder since 1989.
words like idol, worship, deity, and God. You can not begin to understand what Kobe means to the city without first understanding what the Lakers mean to the city. Like every other major metropolitan city, L.A. is made up of transplants from all over the world, many of whom will not get out of their cars in neighborhoods, where the billboards and storefronts are written in languages they do not understand. As a result, most prefer to be scared or remain ignorant rather than celebrate and share in all of these rich and wonderful cultures and nationalities. Heaven forbid we might enjoy the food in Thai Town or maybe learn something new at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. Something magical happens when the Lakers win a championship. We all put our guards down and become a little nicer. We’re more likely to exchange a smile and a nod at a red light with the guy in the car next to us—the one with all the Lakers flags and
LKRLOVR on the vanity plate. Suddenly, everyone is approachable. You can tell because you will end up having conversations about the Lakers with complete strangers everywhere you go. It is at the championship parades when we see the city at its utopian best. That is when we laugh together, cheer together, and cry tears of joy together. Any athlete or owner that has played a part in bringing that feeling to the city will forever be remembered. Those who have done it as many times as Magic or Kobe are granted iconic status. They move from the sports section to the front page, from sports heroes to a part of the city’s history. Magic was my hero growing up, so my feelings for Kobe are a little complicated. I’m not one of those people who thinks he is better than Michael Jordan or even the greatest Laker ever. I can not understand how anyone who was raised on Magic’s brilliance would not prefer his approach to watching a guy take 30 shots a game. That does not mean that I’m
still not amazed not only by the things that Kobe can do, but by what he can still do after so many years of mileage. I would best describe having season tickets during the Kobe Era like getting two for every one you buy. There’s the physical ticket gets you inside the building, and then there’s the invisible lottery ticket that comes with it—the one that gives you the chance at witnessing history. You could say that a ticket to any game in any sport comes with the chance to witness something historic. The difference with Kobe is that it is almost expected. It could be a miracle shot at the buzzer that sends a game into overtime, followed by another that wins it in overtime. It could be 21 points in the game’s final 12 minutes to lead the Lakers back from a 27-point fourth quarter deficit. It could be 42 points in a half, like he did in his final game against Michael Jordan, or the 62 points he has scored in only three quarters, or the 81 points he scored against Toronto.
I’m 36, so Kobe has been a Laker for nearly half my life. My dad and I have been Lakers season tickets holders since Kobe was still in elementary school. If you include playoff games, I’ve probably watched him play in person over 400 times. So when I think about what Kobe means to me, it is not just about how much joy he has given me or how many times I’ve been able to be a witness to history, it is about how many of those moments and memories I was able to share with my dad. When you reach your mid30s, you begin to notice every time an athlete older than you retires from his sport. Before you know it, you can name all the ones who are left. It is hard to imagine what life is going to be like without Kobe because it is so hard to remember what it was like before Kobe. I know it will not be an easy adjustment. I’m so lucky to have been able to watch two of the most breathtaking athletes of all-time. I’m worried that I will never get the chance to see another.
Art 54 by: Mike McGrath
n a sports culture where we tend to criticize and over analyze our athletes, it has sometimes made me stop and think: just what actually makes a perfect athlete anyways? Who is that someone who would be immune to all our criticism and embody the characteristics of someone who we would actually find easy to root for. If we’re constantly disappointed in the athletes we follow and demand a higher standard, is it not fair to at least consider and establish what that standard is? Perhaps it is as simple as this: the perfect athlete doesn’t exist and we’re simply taking stances without an understanding of what this imaginary moving target of perfection really is. The athlete that I’ve followed for an entire career that’s triggered these thoughts for me is without a doubt Kobe Bryant. His career has been esteemed, controversial, polarizing, a lightning rod for intelligent and petty sports discussions, and for me: a realization that even your favorite athletes aren’t perfect, except they all strive to be one version of it or another. The early version of Kobe — straight out of high school, the one who went to prom with
Brandy, before the Lakers became a dynastythat-ended-too-soon —was awkward, a little too picture perfect to be believable, and in general a difficult concept to buy into, given that his talent had yet to crystallize to meet the expectations he had placed on himself, and in turn, we had placed on him. Do you ever look at advertisements while flipping through magazines, come across people in a particular ad, see their empty smiles and attempts to create an everything-is-alright environment, take a step back, and realize that in no other walk of life can you imagine someone taking a photo like this and how hard to believe this image the ad is trying to conjure is? That’s the best way I could describe how I felt about Kobe early on. He felt artificial. It was almost as everything he did was too choreographed as if he was projecting to us what he thought we wanted to see from a perfect athlete. As his career progressed, the image he had meant to project started to fade. At first, it happened slowly, starting from the perception — and sometimes reality — that he was a selfish player on a championship team. Even as he was on his way to three titles with Shaquille O’Neal,
the championship runs were marred by reports of infighting, a clash of egos, all of which —while most definitely not his fault entirely — eventually lead to a him or me decision that ended a partnership that would have likely delivered at least one more ring, if not more than that. While his image was taking a hit, his on-court success still kept it from being permanently damaged. But soon, with his out-of-nowhere and very public sexual assault case, there was no turning back. When you strive to position yourself as perfect, it takes much smaller faults than one Kobe had committed for the entire thing to fall apart. The squeaky clean public image had now been replaced by something else entirely. There was no choice for Kobe, but to repair himself and to abandon the approach he had taken. Years later, it feels ridiculous just how far Kobe’s image fell but just as surprising, how he was able to rebound and re-position himself in the eyes of the fans. In the post-Shaq period, Kobe was free to assert his individual dominance while achieving minimal team success. Several years later, as the Lakers always do, they were back as championship contenders. While the selfish tag still followed Kobe, he also demonstrated an overt willingness to integrate himself into the team structure, and become
kobe by the numberS NBA TITLES
OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALS
ALL-STAR APPEARANCES FINALS APPEARANCES
PLAYOFF GAMES PLAYED songs featuring tyra banks
a leader while doing so. Two more championships in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure fully established Kobe as one of the most accomplished players of all-time. But what about that image that he had so carefully constructed only to see it torn down by one, giant mistake? In recent years, as a new generation of great players have entered the league, Kobe has become this grizzled veteran, in search of a sixth championship; the last man standing from the previous generation. Because he had unwillingly forced us to take a closer examination of him as an athlete and a person, he had no choice but to make a transition where he could feel more real. Not just another ad model you come across in a magazine, but an actual person with flaws and two decades of backstory that made you understand his every move, even if you didn’t always agree. Kobe will leave the game as one of the greats. That much is not up for debate. Another rather easy argument is that he was not perfect. But perhaps the truth is this: there is no perfect athlete, and without his flaws and the truths we found out about Kobe along the way, we would have never understood him at all. Or maybe it’s this: believing you can be the perfect athlete is the worst thing you can do.
jan. 22, 2006 staples center los angeles, ca v.s.
AS OF 2013-2014 SEASON
33, 8, 24, 10
year won SLAM DUNK CONTEST year won mvp
GAMES SCORed 40+ PTS
GAMES SCORed 50+ PTS
GAMES SCORed 60+ PTS
CAREER HIGH PTS
1 st 2 ND 3 rd 4 th
14 12 27 28
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Published on Dec 24, 2013