Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It's not you, it's him...

Eleven months ago, on this very space, I wrote: “And here we are, innocent as a child, and yet shaking and guessing and hoping and trying to reason with ourselves that tomorrow the sun will rise, and same goes for the day after that…” I wasn’t talking about a job or a woman or an election. I was talking about the apparent coin flip that was Lebron James’s decision regarding where he would spend the next seven years of his career. I want to look back at that and laugh, and discuss how silly and trite I appear; how utterly insignificant that moment has become in the ever-changing landscape of the bullshit news cycle and flaccid technocracy we live in. A lot has happened in the last eleven months that, at least in the minds of many, dwarfs that moment that I magnified to a world event. But still, for many people in my hometown, that moment still resonates with the amplitude that it did then. The NBA Finals may have even re-magnified that decision to July 2010 levels. And to tell you the truth, it’s a little embarrassing.

I have, since the moment Lebron took his talents wherever the hell he took them, compared this decision, and the ensuing series of events to a very dramatic breakup, many times. Maybe I have too much Rob Gordon—the fictional record-store owner in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity—that I have no trouble finding elements of romance and breakups in any circumstantial news. Maybe I have heard three or four too many Bright Eyes records to separate free agency from love. Maybe, paradoxically, my breakups more resemble free agency than the other way around…

“What came first, the music or the misery…”

But literary musings aside, the comparisons are there for the taking. One party, content with the status quo, understanding that the relationship has not blossomed into what both parties had hoped for at consummation, but hopeful that a little more work on both sides would lead to a place in which both parties would be satisfied. The other party, obviously the party with less baggage; doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Maybe that party has stayed in a little better physical shape than the other; maybe that party doesn’t necessarily agree with the other party’s group of friends and personnel decisions; or maybe, as is the case with both Lebron, and many of my early relationships, that party just sees the grass a little greener with someone else. The relationship to one is steady and satisfying, while to the other, there just seems to be something a bit stale, a bit rudderless, perhaps a bit contentious, and a fresh start with someone else, seems like the answer. This allegory would appear particularly apt if relationships required multi-year contracts every couple of seasons.

So Lebron left. Women have left me. I’ve left women. Sometimes they had something better already lined up, whether that be freedom or a better looking, more successful, funnier guy, who may have already had a championship ring. I’ve left women for similar reasons, although I have universally regretted my “decision” moments later. But at the end of the day, noble or not, “right” way or “wrong,” traitor or not, that’s what Lebron did. He said “Guys, thanks, we’ve had a great run, but at this point I think it’s best for me to move on.” And looking at it from this perspective, it’s hard to be down on the guy. We all know a lot of people in relationships that have gone on for too long, and we are often relieved when one party has the decency to end it. The problem with this breakup was that the other party, the breakup-ee if you will, was the population of the Cleveland Sports Fan Base…a group of people very proud, but also very tightly knit thanks to years and years and more years of collective heartbreak. These are the people that watched John Elway, and Michael Jordan, and Jose Mesa. These are the same people that lived through Art Modell, Albert Belle, and Josh Beckett. And we did it together. We are one giant Elliott Smith, without the butcher’s knife sticking out of our chest, although it certainly feels this way.

Three years ago, I wrote a paper for a class called “Space, Place, and Architecture.” In it, I argued that the civic identity of the industrial Midwest is a product of our bleak weather, our crumbling industrial economies, and of course, our love for our sports teams. The paper was the first time I was ever published, and I was very proud of it. I ended the paper with a quote from Lebron James, noting that he has become the lone symbol of hope for our collective consciousness. That our identity, one forged in steel mills under gray skies, with championship failures, had become hopeful. I compared it to the first day of spring. We, as a city, as an identity were in love with Lebron James. So, when Lebron, seemingly one of us, seemingly, not merely cause for our hope, but an effect being that he was born and raised under the spires of Akron rubber mills, told us that he had met someone else, that he was moving on, that he was FUCKING TAKING HIS TALENTS TO SOUTH BEACH, it stung like the time that my high school girlfriend told me she didn’t want to be with me anymore. It hurt like the time my college girlfriend told me she was dating someone else. And I’m sure it hurt like the times I did that to all of those girls.

“Love’s an excuse to get hurt. And to hurt. Do you like to hurt? I do, I do, so hurt me….”

But guess what? After all of those girls broke my heart; after they told me they’d cheated on me, or got sick of me, or told me they weren’t attracted to me anymore…I got the fuck over it. Sure, my therapist will tell you that with some of them it took me a while. Maybe a little too long. Sometimes, SHAMEFULLY too long. There were late-night phone calls, and 4000 word e-mails. There were sappy love songs, and sleepless nights. Maybe a few of my less-proud hookups in attempts to either rebound myself or shamelessly, and always unsuccessfully, conjure even the slightest bit of jealousy. But in time, I moved on. I met new people, I talked to new girls, I turned back into myself, not forgetting the lessons that love and rejection had taught me. And like all of those times, the Lebron thing followed the same path. That night was tough. So was the night he hung 35 on us in Cleveland. But over time, I began re-appreciating things I had neglected in our sometimes tumultuous relationship. And I started to realize that all good things have to come to an end.

The bitterness of him doing it on national TV wore off. The sadness of watching my favorite NBA team become a joke sucked for a while, but became relatively palatable when I remembered this was exactly what it was like to be a Cavs fan eight years ago, and I still had no problem watching every game back then, and going wild the night Wesley Person tipped in an errant Lamond Murray prayer at the buzzer of an overtime game against the then-mighty Sacramento Kings. And my hatred for Lebron dimmed and dimmed when I remembered so many reasonable aspects of his decision.

1. - I, like many of my friends, left Cleveland the first chance I had. For weather, for women, for men, for jobs…whatever. We left because we weren’t as happy in Cleveland as we could be elsewhere.

2. - Whatever went on behind the scenes with Delonte, and Mo, and Shaq—and trust me, we will never really be sure—obviously had some effect on what went on.

3. - Two of his best friends wanted to spend a few years in their mid-to-late twenties playing basketball together in a city that Will Smith once sang a four-and-a-half minute rap song about.

4. - He’s a fucking grown-up, and he was done putting in time to a relationship that he thought wasn’t going forward for him

So he left. Do I resent him? Of course. Do I wish he stayed? I won’t even answer that. (Which certainly poses the question, “then why did I ask it?”) But do I think he is a bad person because he wanted to play ball in a city that I haven’t even been able to call home since Barack Obama was in his second year as a senator? No. He’s a twenty-five year old who gets to spend nine months a year under palm trees with his boys. So why is it, that so many people in Cleveland, so many people that I have a lot of respect for are so vehemently angry with him, eleven long months later?

I look on my facebook page, and every time the Mavericks win, it looks like the Cavs just won the Finals. There are people changing their avatars to Maverick logos, and people who rooted for the FUCKING Boston fucking Celtics for two regrettable weeks. Seriously? You guys are that fucking juvenile that you haven’t gotten over it? Look, I don’t think you need to root for the guy, or even that passive resentment is wrong, but the passion with which so many people are rooting against him, and spewing venom at him and his teammates, is…honestly…sad.

In 2007 I broke up with a girl that I had dated for a short, but passionate amount of time. We lived together for a bit, but never really got along. And after a few tumultuous months, I ended it. Days later I regretted it, and tried to win her back, but she, wisely, resisted. Months went by of me chasing her, losing sleep, grilling her about where she was the night before, and resenting her for a lack of affection despite ME ending the relationship months earlier. It was some of my least proud moments, and quite frankly, a period that shaped a lot of who I am today, not merely in the realm of relationships, but in life. I no longer allow my own emotions get the better of me to the point that I become a nuisance to both myself and anyone else. Eventually, but not quickly, I moved on. I started dating again, I started leaving the bedroom with a smile again, and she ended up moving back to Cleveland and moving on as well. I, to this day, hold no ill-will towards her, and genuinely hope for the best for her. But I remain utterly ashamed of my behavior for those several months when I acted as immature and childish as I did when my first girlfriend broke up with my when I was seventeen years old. I also have no doubt that those close to me were relieved to see such an unceremonious period of my life come to an end.

Yet these same people, the same ones that surely chided my behavior and my inability to cope with reality, are the same people that are staying up on weeknights, ACTIVELY resenting a guy who left them almost a year ago. It’s gotten ugly. It’s gotten stupid. It’s gotten to the point that by default, I have started passively rooting FOR the Miami Heat. I am rooting FOR Dwayne Wade, a player I think is as overrated and artificial as any in the history of the game. I am not standing and cheering baskets, or even paying close attention to the series. But at the end of games, I want Lebron to hit shots. I got upset (but admittedly familiar) when he missed two fourth quarter free-throws yesterday. I don’t necessarily want him to win, but I find myself, in response to the downright infantile hatred of an NBA free agent, overcompensating. Almost like when I convinced myself that the Kings of Leon’s later albums were crap because I hated these bandwagon business majors discovering a band I was into when they were still in Intro to Macroeconomics.

My point is that we, as Clevelanders, as an incredibly passionate and devout group of people, need to collectively move the fuck on. Don’t forget about him; don’t miss the lessons of what he this situation taught us about singular love for an athlete, just start rooting for the Cavs to win and not the Heat to lose. It’s over. It happened. He’s not coming back, and he’s never, ever, ever, no matter how many signs or chants or websites we construct, going to regret his decision. He, like my first girlfriend and her husband and twins, is history. We are all making fools of ourselves, and I for one am embarrassed.

"It's time to move on, it's time to get going, what lies ahead I have no way of knowing..."

Hopefully, next month, we’ll meet a new guy, Kylie, or Derek, or Kemba, and we can go on a few dates, and work through some shit, and get back to the place we were with Lebron. But until then, the sun is out, girls are wearing tank tops and playing Frisbee. The Indians, even after the worst stretch of baseball I remember since the first montage of Major League, are STILL amazingly in first place, and if you haven’t noticed, one of the best NBA Finals I can ever remember is starting to get even better. Cleveland, please grow up and move on…it will be better for both parties.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Favorite New Neighborhood that I live -2010

Favorite New Neighborhood to Live

Downtown LA

Tis no secret to anyone that knows me, even on a peripheral plane, this past February, my roommate Olsen and I moved to Downtown LA. I’m not sure that “Downtown” is supposed to be capitalized when merely describing geography, but in this form, the form describing an almost living, organic entity, it is most definitely capitalized. Before we moved downtown, I didn’t know how the grid system worked, I didn’t know the layout of the neighborhoods, and I certainly didn’t know what to expect with the people I would be calling my neighbors. At first glance, after observing the surface of downtown, particularly my neighborhood, The Historic Core, one could imagine a pretty standard gentrification army or artists, skinny jeans, and big plastic glasses. The homelessmen begging for change, the Mexicans parading up and down Broadway, and the old, worn-down architecture are all certainly consistent with that type of white person. And to a man, these people are around. But they are well ingrained into a minority, a minority that co-exists well with the dominant, but certainly does not drive the aesthetic or culture of the neighborhood.

And to me, it is that fact that makes the current Downtown, the Downtown that I live in so special. As of now, and I’m sure this is very likely to change in the somewhat near future, there is no truly dominant aesthetic. There is no real way to categorize the people of Downtown, particularly those east of Broadway. Sure, there are definitely large pockets of artists, and pseudo-artists, and the lofts around the core, the warehouse district, and the arts district obviously lend themselves to accept the scenester type, but look around; in my building there are artists, professionals, bartenders, families, whites, blacks, Mexicans, Asians, people grilling on the roof, people ordering chili burgers at 2 AM, everyone lives here. And then you walk outside.

Outside my building is an insane amalgamation of people walking to the bank, walking to their cars, walking to ask for change, walking to the store. There are people eating lunch at LA Café, and people riding their bikes to and from work all over. On my block alone, we have two bars, a nightclub, a café, a Mediterranean grill, a dry cleaner, a convenient store, a juice store, and a dessert place. These businesses cater to so many creeds, walks, and ages of people that it’s impossible to locate who exactly makes up our culture. Of course if you go one block west, the beats and drones of mariachi music pollute the air, and thousands, literally thousands, of working class latinos are walking to and from unknown destinations. Furthermore, a few blocks east, and you’re literally on skid row; a tent city filled with so many homeless shelters that the neighborhood has developed its own aesthetic of homelessness.

So here is my little pocket, specifically bordered by Broadway to the West, 2nd to the North, Main to the East, and 7th to the South. A total of ten city blocks makes up this impossible to place, difficult to comprehend, collection of people, businesses, and apartment buildings.

A lot of people try to compare it to New York City, specifically the lower-east side, and there are definitely some similarities. The lower-class grifters co-existing with twenty/thirty something artsy set; the ancient buildings converted into classy lofts, I get it…but to me, the biggest difference is that Manhattan has been developing its culture and aesthetic for a century-and-a-half. Sure, there have been iterations and radical moments that have changed a particular neighborhood at a particular time, but all of these moments have merely enriched the already dynamic culture of Manhattan. Every Armory Show, or Beat Movement, helped create the neighborhoods we think we know today. DTLA is different. DTLA, especially this neighborhood, has been sitting pretty abandoned for much of the second half of the twentieth century. Only in the last decade did this part of Los Angeles really start to develop any aesthetic at all, let alone the one it’s trying to form right now. And so you have so many competing cultures, still not ready to stake claim to the ground, but definitely not ready to just move out and make room for anyone. Despite the opening of more than a handful of nice bars in the neighborhood, the grifters haven’t exactly slowed down, and most importantly the people in those bars don’t at all represent some sort of categorical archetype. The only thing we have in common is that we found this somewhat secluded corner of the least secluded city in the world, and we also found parking. That’s it. There is a common sense of irony shared by a lot of the people walking around, but that ironic mindset merely comes from the age, level of education, and level of pay that the city accommodates down here. Some are wearing plaid button downs, others are wearing dress shirts. Some girls are wearing high boots and carrying purses, others ride their bikes and roll up in long-sleeve t-shirts. Downtown can’t be placed. Downtown can’t be described, or authenticated, or confirmed. It can merely be romanced and mythologized.

To that last point, I have noticed a trend outside the confines of DTLA. When I encounter people, particularly those older the age of 35, but not always, that don’t really know downtown outside of the LA Times and the film 500 Days of Summer, they almost inevitably have the same reaction. “It’s supposed to be really cool down there now, do you live in one of those lofts?” It’s become like the church bells at Notre Dame…right on schedule, every time. And let me tell you why: Because it’s still a tiny bit, but just enough, intimidating to try to understand the complexities of what exactly is going on down here. Sort of like when a music movement begins to occur and those on the outside, without the ability or thoughtfulness to begin to try to understand the origins, complexities, or foci of the movement, they concentrate on one visual aspect of the mythology. To this day, flannel shirts are associated with grunge, almost more than the music. Spiked hair was punk. Backwards caps with early hip-hop. And with downtown LA, it’s these precious “lofts” they read about in the LA Times two or three years ago. These lofts have become our flannel, our spiked hair, our metonym for what it’s like to live downtown. There is no visual or aesthetic trait that binds the state of downtown together like skinny jeans of echo park, or the beach cruiser of Santa Monica; they don’t bother mentioning the pre-prohibition era cocktail movement that is now beginning to spread out of downtown, nor the incredibly vibrant arts scene; just the fact that people are living in old banks converted to lofts. I guess that’s good enough mythology for me. We aren’t hipsters, or artists; we don’t dress a certain way or behave like each other; we don’t all line up at the same restaurants because we’re too dim to think for ourselves (my obligatory subtle jab at the west side, not in caps); we just all live in lofts.

Well except Olsen and I. We have an apartment.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My interpretation of the Inception ending

I don’t think that I’m going too far in saying that Christopher Nolan’s last two films were very heavy on themes of philosophy. In fact I can say that this is actually a flaw in the Dark Knight as he spent so long trying to dial up the difference in Harvey Dent’s carnation of Kantian rationality with Bruce Wayne’s Hegelian reasoning that the film ran twenty-five minutes too long and knocked it out of Oscar contention. I think that Heath Legder’s Joker, not unlike his best supporting actor predecessor (Bardem’s Anton Chiggur); act as a point of reference for amorality, which actually earns some minimal sympathy from the audience as both the Coen’s and Nolan illustrate the difference between amorality and immorality. But the Dark Knight’s best moments come not during Nolan’s explorations of moral philosophy, but the sweeping panoramas, the tensions (particularly the game theory exercise on the two boats), and the great performances by everyone not named Christian Bale. Furthermore it was a technical masterpiece that won several technical Oscars while being shut out of the marquee nominations.

Inception is only somewhat different. Instead of an action movie with themes of philosophy, it is an all-out exploration of postmodern philosophy with some great action scenes. And I think Nolan even one-upped himself making a film even more technically breathtaking with this one. Analytically, despite several smaller themes throughout the 148 minutes, the over-arching theme, to me, is that of blurring the line between perception and reality. Cobb’s sub-conscious projection of Mal, a character who appears in almost every dream, is obviously not real in the sense that she is a living breathing organic organism, but she is “real” in the sense that she is involved in almost every plot turn, and more pertinent to this discussion, she is real in the sense that Cobb treats her as if she exists. He makes decisions based on how they will affect the not-so-real Mal.

To take this one step further, real Mal was consumed by the idea that her perception was not reality, so much so that it eventually killed real Mal, only to spawn “real” Mal who has accepted her perception (limbo) as reality and is comfortable with that. I think what Nolan is using “real” Mal to do is show Cobb’s subconscious struggling with his own grasp on reality.

Inception explores this question. Unlike the Matrix, which, based on Beaudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, argues that nothing is real and one cannot truly be free until they learn that, Inception merely asks the question “What makes real?” To me, this question comes from the ideas of Juan Luis Borges, which not-so-coincidentally was the primary influence on Beaudrillard’s philosophies. So, instead of coming outright like Lawrence Fishburn’s Morpheus in the Matrix who illustrates that despite perception, your reality is not real, Nolan is asking a simple question: If one perceives reality to be real, does it even matter if it’s not? Or in other words: at what point does perception become reality? See, real Mal questioned reality and paid for that with her life, but in Nolan’s world, she didn’t so much die, as change worlds. In one world she questioned her own perception of reality; in another she had no choice but to accept her perception as real. This theme is the overarching theme of Inception.

This brings me to the ending (or at least my own interpretation). I’m fairly certain Nolan wanted to leave the question as to whether or not the top was still spinning ambiguous. It definitely looks like it’s going but there are several clues that it might not be, in particular sound designer Richard King’s audible clues that it might be slowing down. It should be mentioned that King won one of those aforementioned technical Oscar’s for the Dark Knight for sound design in that film, and could very well win again for Inception. King is obviously a master and it’s not a coincidence that the audience hears SOMETHING happening to that top as the camera cuts swiftly and without mercy to the title card. Nolan wanted us questioning what was happening. However, there was one very conspicuous person unconcerned with the fate of the top and that was Cobb. He spun the top, not unlike he had done several previous times, but unlike those previous times, he walked away not bothering to question his own perception. And this, I believe is the coup-de-grace: IT DOESN’T MATTER. Whether or not that top falls and Cobb is truly home to his same-exact-age-as-the-were-before-he-left children, or if he is in a dream created by Ariadne to believe he’s home is irrelevant. He is home because he perceives he is home. Unlike The Matrix in which perception is merely a figment of someone’s imagination, Nolan is saying that Perception=Reality. What we believe to be real is real not on the merits of its existence, but it is real because of our acceptance of it as “reality.” It’s a question that seems to be asked throughout the film and I think he doesn't use the ambiguity to leave the audience guessing, but instead to illustrate that any conclusions the audience come to are irrelevant as Cobb has accepted this perception as reality.

I get a boner for this type of philosophical exploration and I think this is one of the reasons I find myself thinking about the film more and more as the days go by. Of course I could be way off and trying to inject my own overly-academic mental masturbation into a 160-million-dollar action flick, or I could be onto something. At this point, I think I’m onto something not for any other reason that I perceive things this way, hence—at least in my own deranged consciousness—it is real.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm a mess

Dear Future Matt,

First off, I want to make sure this letter gets to the right person. When I say future Matt, I don’t mean fifty-five-year-old Matt, getting prostate exams and trying to lower my cholesterol Matt. I mean near future Matt. I mean the Matt that will start tonight, and exist forever Matt. Now that that’s out of the way, one more disclaimer: I’m not OK right now. I’m not drunk, I’m not high, I’m slightly delusional, but I’m definitely not “right.” My heart rate is over 120, my mind is doing triple axels around itself as we speak. The last place I should be right now is at a keyboard typing my thoughts, but I’m doing it for posterity. If I don’t have a memoir of the innocence right now, I might forget it as quickly as it disappears tonight. So I might misspell some words, or say something that doesn’t make sense, but I want to have said some things. When I say innocence, what I mean is that a potentially life-changing moment will be occurring in 120 minutes, and yet I don’t know what it will be. In fact, I have no clue as to the degree that I will be affected by it. But as of right now, as far as the fate of my life as a sports fan is concerned, I am innocent.

Which brings me to my point: to anyone who thinks that the admiration of a sports figure to the extent I have engaged in over the past seven years is shallow, or trite, or even foolish, I need you to take a step back and understand some things. For one, about two years ago, I was published for the first time in my academic career. The paper was a thesis on Midwestern regionalism in which I hypothesized that the character of children of the rust belt, particularly those in my generation, have the curse of Cleveland area sports ingrained in them. The narrative of our story, the lifeblood of our character, the common bond in all of our consciousnesses is, unfortunately for all of us, intertwined with the fates of the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Browns, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s not something I woke up one day and chose to dedicate massive amounts of time to, it is in my fucking blood. Secondly, this athlete, is not one I merely chose to admire because he was good, or the way he wore his hat, or he batted like me or something. This athlete is someone I first watched playing against my brother when he was fifteen years old. I watched him fucking grow up. Unlike Kobe, or Favre, or Jordan, he was already one of us. We had the same friends, we went to the same mall, we braved the same fucking atrocious winters, and the same disgusting summers. We rode the same roller coasters at Cedar Point, at the same wings at the Winking Lizard, it was like watching a friend or family member “make it.” There is something intimately special about that relationship. He was fighting for us, because he was one of us. And finally, and perhaps most applicable, it should be mentioned that for nine months a year, the equivalence of a school year, I, my friends, and my family have spent our evenings with Lebron James. Not in an intimate setting, and no, he doesn’t know, and obviously doesn’t care for us. But anyone that doesn’t understand the emotions of participating in the roller coaster (first time I’ve ever used the words “roller coaster” in the same paragraph twice) of a professional sports season, can’t really get it. You care, you give, you rejoice, and you cry. And then when it all comes crashing down in the cruelest and most twisted of ways, you shrug your shoulders, say “We’ll get em next year,” and get ready to do it all over again.

Until Now.

This time is different because this time there may not be a next year. This time there may not be a relationship. And that’s why this is so important. There is a decent chance that tonight, he comes on TV with Jim fucking gray, and says “I’m coming home.” If that is the case, then the last two months will merely be another memory to add to the growing banks. Seriously, this “decision” will merely be a slide in the powerpoint presentation. But if he chooses to end the relationship, to go off to some bigger city, then this is the only thing we’ll have. The bitterness of tonight will envelope the shot over Turk, it will eat the 25 in a row, it will destroy the first Wizards series, the triple doubles, the SI covers, the draft, the lottery, the “You see, we’re gonna light up Cleveland like it’s Vegas” promise. It will all be for naught. And that’s really the magnitude here. The memories can live on, or they can explode in our minds on national television. And here we are, innocent as a child, and yet shaking and guessing and hoping and trying to reason with ourselves that tomorrow the sun will rise, and same goes for the day after that, and reminding ourselves that there’s oil in the sea, and there’s lunatics screaming for the president’s head, and this fucking guy isn’t one of us anymore. But in ninety minutes, we’ll know. We’ll no longer be innocent, no longer be left to wonder. It’s either wait til’ next year, or fuck him in the ass.

By the way future Matt, at 4:26 PDT on the day he makes his decision, my guess is “STAYS.”


Fucked up, crazy, wants this all to be over so I can laugh about it Matt.


Lebron is no Curt Flood

I think Lebron has really misjudged the sports landscape. This whole thing, start-to-finish, was more than a ploy to garner attention, to “build his brand,” to do what’s best for him and his family; no, this is too much, this is too heady, even for the most doted-over superstar of the times to think is ok to do. I don’t think that even he thinks that hijacking the sports media and his home city for the sake of his “brand” is morally comprehensible. Nor do I think that Lebron is a selfish maniac who doesn’t understand the havoc he has created. On the contrary, I think he is one of the most self-aware athletes of the time, a child of the post-Jordan, post-ESPN News, post-internet sports landscape. I think what Lebron is trying to do here, is to change the power structure within the world of sports. I also don’t think that this is necessarily a nefarious motive. Not only that, but I also don’t think this is the alpha moment of this plan, but actually the culmination of what he thinks he started several years ago by jettisoning his management team to make way for his own creation.

Several years ago, Lebron came into a power structure that was, let’s face it, somewhat outdated. In the mid-1980s, David Stern, Michael Jordan, David Falk, and Sonny Vaccaro literally changed the way that we view individual athletes. Furthermore, they augmented the limits to what the individual athlete can accomplish. Jordan actually absorbed more of a “bigger-than-the-team” backlash than we would care to remember. Jordan was often criticized for being selfish and losing sight of the concept of “team.” Six rings later, everyone seemed to forget how selfish this immature ball hog was. But what Jordan and Falk couldn’t accomplish in one generation was the structure of how the money and power was distributed. Jordan still answered to Nike, still was somewhat of a politician, unable to fully capitalize on his own brand without the support of the league or Nike. Jordan’s recent purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats speaks to this: he wanted to be the one that not only scored the touchdowns, but also the guy that called the plays.

Enter Lebron. Lebron is not merely a product of the Jordan era, but an honor student. He has studied and remapped everything about the Jordan era to fit this new post-Jordan landscape, and he has, from day 1, been interested in building on Jordan’s legacy. He is the Plato to Jordan’s Socrates, or the Lennon to Jordan’s Elvis. Lebron wants not only to be the guy that shows up on the Wheaties box, not only the iconic silhouette (whether he is flying through the air or throwing up chalk), but he wants to be the guy who makes the cereal, names the shoe, and calls all the shots. Why should he merely be an admittedly extremely-well-paid tool to make other people money, when he can do it himself? I really think this is, and has been, Lebron’s thought process during this whole thing.

Not only that, but he has anticipated this backlash. He thinks of himself as a modern-day Curt Flood, absorbing the brunt of the force so that those who come after him will not have to. Existentially, there is something radically unselfish about those motives. However, paradoxically, his motives are to create a world where selfishness is more acceptable. It’s weird that many in the media, and millions of bloggers and commentators have called him selfish and a glory-hog because they think he is merely doing this for attention. That he is losing sight of his own mortality and trying to become some sort of post-modern media demi-god. I’m sorry, but after watching him for the last ten years, and observing him as one the most self-aware, cold-blooded characters to come to the stage in this media era, I find it hard to believe that he, only now, needs to create some sort of stratospheric “buzz” around his brand. He knows what he’s doing, he’s just wrong.

You see, the landscape that he has perceived as in need of fixing is not broken. I will agree that it is not entirely fair. We still live in a world where NFL Owners make gross profits by limiting guaranteed contracts to the players and exploiting the fans. We still live in a world where baseball players have it in their best interest (often their only interest) to abandon loyalty to teams and cities that reared them for greener pastures elsewhere. And we still live in a world where even the most successful athletes owe answers and money to agencies, management teams, ownership, and sponsors. But Lebron trying to knock down these barriers with one fell swoop, in an attempt to remodernize the power structure of athletics by hijacking the media and the hearts of the millions of northeast Ohioans who have adored him for the better part of the past decade is not only disingenuous, but it is downright mean.

Tonight, when Lebron announces on national television that he is leaving for Miami, he truly believes he is changing the way athletes are seen. He is thinking, why should ESPN, the news-media conglomerates, and a league made up of Donald Sterlings and Clay Bennets get to break this story, sell ad time, and put up the marquee for the biggest news of the summer. Why can’t he? And to some extent, he’s not wrong. But, unfortunately, he has left many Ohioans, most notably myself, sleepless over three days. He has created far more of a shitstorm than he ever could have anticipated in the national media, and he has altogether destroyed his precious “brand.” He set out on a mission to change the sports landscape, and for all intents and purposes he actually may have succeeded. Unfortunately it was at the cost of millions of fans, and years of dedication and admiration. I will now go put the finishing touches on my rooftop launching pad.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I love Kobe, kinda

This entry will be both a defense and an indictment (something he's not foreign to) of Kobe Bryant.  Angelinos seem to come after me, calling me a hater; telling me that I support Lebron in some non-existent dichotomy.  I have defended Kobe many, many times, and yet these cries go unheard.  I have called Kobe the greatest player ever but to no avail.  This is going to be the final time I make this defense.  Please, refer to this from now on.


In his Bulls career, including playoffs, Micahel Jordan played 1,109 games and logged 43,361 minutes.  Assuming his short-lived Wizards run never happened, we'll call that his career.  Comparably, Kobe Bryant has played 1,162 games and logged 42,873 minutes.  Pretty similar number right?  However, after Jordan hit the 1100 game mark, he quit.  He hung em up.  He stopped playing (at least until he became GM of another team and drafted himself).  Kobe will finish this current season somewhere near 1200 career games played.  He will (undeservedly) finish second in the MVP race, and most likely lead his team to the NBA Finals.  So, 100 games after Jordan retired, Kobe Bryant will still be near his peak.  This is a stat that no one has bothered to mention in the media.  This number is fucking staggering. 


Added to which, Kobe already has four rings, with a really good fucking chance at five or even six.  Which would equal Jordan's total.  However, Jordan's six rings came sandwiched in a transition era of the NBA, an era without another transcendent star playing in his prime.  An era when the style of basketball that Jordan spearheaded was still in its infancy, and Jordan's last ring was won when Kobe Byrant was in his second year,  Tim Duncan was a rookie, Dwayne Wade was a sophomore in high school, Carmello Anthony was in 8th grade, and Lebron James was in 7th grade.  The superstars that have made the NBA more competitive today than any era other than the mid-1980s were not stars yet.  The stars of the old guard were all retired or playing out the string.  Jordan was left alone to win ring after ring after ring with arguably the greatest coach of all time, and arguably the greatest second banana of all time.  Kobe has a chance to match Jordan's ring count, and do so in an exponentially more difficult era.  To not mention Kobe in the greatest players of all time discussion is fucking ludicrous.  He can defend, he can score with the fucking best of them, and he is arguably second only to Jordan in the competitive drive department.  Jordan's mythology will always outweigh Kobe's, much to Kobe's very visible chagrin—but mythology does not make history, and Kobe's career is second to none.  I mean that. 


But on the other hand…


This season has to be considered one of Kobe's strangest seasons.  Let me preface this by saying I am about to throw out numbers or "stats."  A certain Kobe apologist currently reading this seems to think that while stats are important, relying to heavily on them is unwise.  He has taken to calling me "a stat guy," as if my reliance on science, math, and numbers is some sort of political alignment akin to being pro-choice or pro-gun control.  Let me set this record straight.  We are all "stat guys."  Every one of us.  Yes you can learn a lot from watching and observing, but honestly, all you're doing is keeping your own stats.  When Kobe makes a long jumper with a hand in his face, it does not count for more points in the stat book, but nor does when he misses an open jumper.  Stats will show that Kobe makes less shots with a hand in his face, so the successful jumper probably happened with a frequency consistent with how often Kobe makes well-defended jumpers.  The stats refuse to lie.  I am not a stat guy.  Stats are simply numbers that tell you what happened.  You can't argue with them.  They're fucking science. 


In 55 games this season, Kobe has shot from the field less than 40 % fourteen times.  To put that in perspective, Lebron James has done so seven times.  Kobe has shot less than 35% eleven times, Lebron has done it twice.  Kobe has shot less than 30% six times.  Lebron hasn't done that all season.  I'm not trying to draw a dichotomy here, I'm simply arguing that a guy whose name is being mentioned for MVP ahs had six games in which he shot respectively: 5-20, 7-24, 4-21, 4-19, 2-12, and most recently 3-17.  That's 88 missed shots (essentially turnovers) in 6 games.  That's almost 15 MISSED shots a game.  Now I will concede that these six games represent the worst games he's had all year, and in those six games, his team managed to go 4-2.  I will also concede that for two of those games, he was hurt.  However, I am not arguing that Kobe Bryant doesn't have unfathomable ability to score the basketball.  I am arguing that in those six games, his team won DESPITE his horrible shooting night.  I am also arguing that those missed shots (the second worst result of a given possession) are products of Kobe buying into the same belief that Laker's fans continue to buy: that Kobe is the best player in the NBA.  Perhaps if Kobe did not have this maniacal drive to prove himself INDIVIDUALLY, he wouldn't have games in which he missed a staggering seventeen shots. 


I have to go to work now, and I will continue this tomorrow, please read tomorrow too..

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

#1 The Hills

#30 Hollywood Walk of Fame
#29 Yamashiro
#28 Hollywood Billiards
#27 Genghis Cohen
#26 Piano Bar
#25 Shmutzville
# 24 Loteria
# 23 The Griddle
# 22 Proximity
# 21 Hollywood Freeway
#20 Kitchen 24
# 19 The People
# 18 Sushi Eyaki
#17 Raymond Chandler
# 16 Jumbo's Clown Room
#15 Skooby's
#14 The Arclight
# 13 The Well
#12 Runyon Canyon
# 11 Canter's
#10 Hotel Café
#9 Body Factory
#8 The Troubadour
#7 Barney's Beanery (The Real One)
#6 Thai Food
#5 The Jukebox at Café 101
#4 The Lights
#3 Village Pizzeria
#2 Amoeba Music

#1 The Hills

And now, the time has come. I have been deliberating over this entry for a week (actually six weeks). Do I make this funny, nostalgic, whimsical, romantic? How do I draw this thing up? I feel that I'm a pretty good writer, and I could throw this blog entry down any way I want. I feel like I can take all of my emotions and put them into writing and make them ache, or I could ignore them and make a really cynical and funny list of things I will miss about the geological idiosyncrasies in Hollywood. I'm just going to start writing. This is how I will miss the Hollywood Hills.

Technically, my neighborhood was called Whitley Heights. But the Hollywood Hills, the not-so-tall, not-so-beautiful change in altitude in between Sunset and Ventura was still one of the more majestic hills I have ever crossed. Everything good about Hollywood either owes itself directly or indirectly to the eastern expanse of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Santa Monicas are the very little baby-sister to the giant transverse ranges to the very-near north; the San Gabriels and the San Bernadinos. As they travel west towards Santa Barbara, they grow and become a little more "mountainous," but in the city they really are just a series of hills. On the north side of the hills is the San Fernando Valley, flanked by the San Gabriels to the north and the Verdugo's to the east. The Valley is the suburbs of LA, a never-ending string of strip-malls, three-star dining, and inexpensive cookie-cutter apartments. On the south side of the hill is Hollywood, and the hills never let you forget that. Resting on the south side of the hill, Griffith Observatory, Runyon Canyon, the countless lit-up dots that the millionaires call home, and nine gigantic letters, cut and pasted to the hill as a giant letterhead reminding every poor speller in town exactly how to spell H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D.

And everywhere you go in Hollywood, those hills follow. Whatever major north-south thoroughfare you pass—from Doheney to Vermont—they look over you. The lights of Hollywood, described very poorly in my previous entry, are strewn across the greenish backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and it is within that framework, that Academy Award winning lighting scheme that my Hollywood exists.

If you take all of these entries, all of my puff and romanticizing about a mythical place that only exists in my imagination, all of my love for a place known just as much for traffic, parking, and other nuisances as it is for movie stars and swimming

pools, all of my affection for the place that I made Hollywood in my head, all of that, it all goes back to those hills.

Part of me wants to go into the magic and mystique that the hills bring. Part of me wants to get into the geography of Hollywood and mention Los Feliz, Beachwood, Laurel, and Coldwater. Part of me wants to talk about the painted sky that the hills brush every evening as the sun goes down, or the names of the streets whose iconography outweighs their avenues. Part of me wants to talk about what it's like to bike north up the hills, or look down from them. But none of this really matters. You got all of this in my last twenty-nine entries. And that's the point. The point is that while I was talking about bars, and food, and hikes, and parking spots; while I was going on about lights, and homelesses and record stores, I was always talking about the fucking hills. I've already said it all.

OK, I'm going to get this out and then end this project. Hollywood really is a magical place that you can't truly understand until you embrace it. At the risk of turning this into a Travel Channel piece, I say without irony, that Hollywood is as deep and complex a city as you will ever find. It is layered and hard and very difficult to take in without and eye for subtlety, and appreciation for history and literature, and a very keen ability to experience. It can be dirty, dangerous, and pristine all at the same time, at the same intersection. People can be frightening, friendly, and crazy merely while walking by you. Everything I've mentioned in this blog has two sides to it, and I have merely chosen to appreciate the side I have chosen to experience. While I understand why people who live elsewhere choose to hate the archetype of what Hollywood represents, I resent these people for judging a place as complex and layered as Hollywood without ever truly experiencing it from the inside.

My new bedroom looks west towards the city that I have been writing about. I am high enough up, that I should be able to see about ten miles out. But I don't live in Hollywood anymore. My view is obstructed by buildings much taller than my own and my view stretches barely over six city blocks. Ironically, this is the view that I desired when moving here, it is the trump card that makes our new place, Bar 1207, great. But now, with my house, my job, and my view broken off from Hollywood in both literal and figurative ways, I am left merely to romanticize and remember the Hollywood I built in my imagination. I will always look back on the last eighteen months of my life as some of the best, I will always remember Hollywood fondly, but I will always feel as though there was more that I never got to. More fictional smoky bars, more dark and hard corners, and more crazy people that never got to open my mind. Thankfully, I've been able to chronicle exactly what created that reality in my head over the last six weeks. Thank you for taking part in remembering this adventure with me.

Now onto the next….