Archive for the ‘Heaven is a Playground’ Category

Heaven is a Playground: Reflections eternal — Jan Vesely, I miss you already!

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Farewell Jan Vesely, we hardly knew you.

That’s right, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft — 2011, as in only 3 years ago — has washed out of the league.

The 24-year-old who famously sucked face with his smoking hot, basketball-playing future-fiancée upon hearing his name called by David Stern, has signed with a Turkish team for the upcoming season.

The dude who everyone called the second coming of Andrei Kirilenko – except 7-feet tall and much more athletic — lasted a paltry three seasons. Excluding cocaine addicts and victims of motorcycle accidents, only one other top-six pick in the past 34 years fizzled this quickly.

As for his lady-friend, she dumped Air Vessely back in January; it’s been a tough year for all of us!

I care about Jan’s departure for a few reasons.

One: I once lost a game of 2k playing with the 1988 Golden State Warriors to the 2012 Wizards, a game in which Jan scored 50 points including a buzzer beater to ice it. (I hope Greg Oden does something notable, so I can bring up the time I saw him at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles)

Two: He was an integral part of the 2011-12 Wizards, which means he has the rare distinction of having played with Swaggy P, Andray Blatche, and Javale Mcgee… at the same time.

Three: In the past eight weeks, a busted chin a mangled leg and ankle and several weddings have left me relatively material-less. Hopefully I can speedily get back to doing what I do best: nomadically meandering the country, playing basketball and writing about it, while interspersing outdated pop culture references in whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Having now attended a Hindu and a Catholic wedding, I am pretty sure some type of tribal competition is going on between these religions to see which one can torture their guests more. Both of these ceremonies made the directors cut of Water World look short.

As for Jan Vesely, don’t feel too bad for him; he’ll be playing alongside Bogdan Bogdanovic next year. I hope we see him and his epically bad free throw percentage (40-percent) again someday!

Heaven is a Playground: Rampaging at Hoopfest, round 2

Monday, July 14th, 2014
What basketball is all about.

What basketball is all about.

Has anyone seen the movie Falling Down? Before Michael Douglass was the creepy old guy bedding Catherine-Zeta Jones… wait, never mind — when he was 32 he married a 19 year old, so I suppose he’s always been the creepy old guy. But, before he was the really creepy, really old guy, he was in the movie Falling Down, where he played a nebbish divorcee who rampages through L.A. because McDonalds stops serving breakfast at 11:30 a.m.

A few weeks ago at Hoopfest, I had a similarly out of body breakdown. Except instead of yelling at lazy public works employees and blowing up their construction site with a rocket launcher, I went Shaqnosis in the paint.

Last Year, in my first go-round at Hoopfest, I played on two teams that made the 2010 Nick Young-Andray Blatche-Javale Mcgee Wizards look like a really good, fundamentally sound squad. While those teams were comedic gold (anchored by 8-mile and Gangle Arms), they didn’t yield much return on investment.

Losing all but one game and being relegated to the “consolation” (being the polite term for “you suck worse than Carrot Top”) brackets.

This time, E-hop and I were back like Ellen Page — Hard Candy Ellen Page not Juno Ellen Page.

It also didn’t hurt that our teammates weren’t anatomic oddities or rage monsters.

Game 1: The Nannemachers

Papa Nannemacher

Papa Nannemacher

The night before our first game, hanging out on the balcony of our indiscriminate Cigarette stained motel on the outskirts of Spokane, with a nervousness permeating amongst us, a teammate (who will go unnamed), registration packet in hand, began scouring the web for information about our opponents. I wonder how many of the 300,000 who journeyed here for this event were doing the same?

“Hoops I did it again” was made up of a father and his sons, the Nannemachers. They were Spokane locals, who had played in Hoopfest for the past 13 years. One of the sons had run track, the other owned ducks and roses, played the piano and was recently married – yes, this sounds psycho, but who amongst us hasn’t Facebook stalked a stranger before (or worse if you use OK Cupid)?

Judging by the piano player’s picture (he looked like the sweetest guy) I assumed we’d dominate.

Hubris has always been my downfall.

Of course, a family who has been balling up together since Jake and The Fatman was a thing has a distinct advantage over four dudes who had never met. Especially on a makeshift, lopsided, concrete street-turned-basketball court, where chemistry and spacing is everything.

All game, the old man was setting screens and his piano-playing son rained jumpers coming off them.

Life has certain predictability: tied at point, you knew the dude who looked like John Lithgow and had yet to score was going to be the hero. Doing his best Lew Alcindor impression, Papa Nannemacher iced it with a sky-hook in my face. A moment I will probably never live down.

Game 2: The Scrubs

We avoided the consolation bracket by blowing out a bad team, building chemistry and attempting to regain some of the dignity lost in the previous game.

Game 3: Win or Go Home

I am not a great man, nor a great basketball player, but for the 20 minutes it took to win game 3, I was both. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground — the late Prince Oberyn, the Freemont Troll and the Seattle Freeze

Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Balling up in Seattle.

Balling up in Seattle.

To paraphrase Prince Oberyn (pour out a cold one for the departed), one day, that pretty ass of mine will sag, my belly will grow soft, my back will ache in the night, grey hairs will sprout from my ears and no one will want me anymore.

When that day comes — I imagine sometime around my 30th birthday — I can see myself in Seattle. Perhaps, even with child. Yack!

This is probably the psychological consequence of Shawn Kemp’s mass insemination of the Pacific Northwest; maybe, subconsciously, I just view Seattle as being extremely fertile.

I’ve always had a certain affinity for the Emerald City. Growing up the Supersonics were my team (I also liked the Hornets, but what 4 year old didn’t idolize Grandmamma. On the hoop in our backyard, my best friend and I would pretend to be Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf; my blinding complexion usually pigeonholed me into playing the role of ‘White Guy’ — it’s all fun and games until your forced to play Luc Longley when your buddy gets to be MJ. It was an easy choice to root for them; Sam Perkins (my brothers namesake) was their starting center.

How can you dislike a city whose minimum wage is rising to $15 an hour? Yes conservative reader and potential Facebook troll, I am aware that a wage raise of this magnitude could result in the disappearance of many low paying jobs. No liberal reader and potential Facebook troll, I don’t disagree that income inequality is a symptom of a greater problem.

Everything is green in Seattle, Mount Rainier looks dope in the skyline, and Lever Burton-Michael Dorn enthusiasts finally have a safe place to call home at the EMP pop culture-Sci-Fi museum.

The Perrier that runs through the faucets is the best tap water I have ever had. Anyone who has ever tasted the horse urine that comes out of the pipes in L.A. or the C.H.U.D. bath water of New York City understands the importance of quality tap.

As far as the people go…well, they are not necessarily what I find so alluring about Seattle. Don’t get me wrong the locals are friendly enough, but they are strange, like Bison Dele strange. Seattle is a place of oddities; quirky things like the gum wall and the Freemont Troll are spread throughout. The people are the centerpiece of this oddness. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: Reflections eternal — LeBron and the hate

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
Hating on LeBron is tired, boring, and nonsensical.

Hating on LeBron is tired, boring, and nonsensical.

I’ve been out of commission for a while, the result of playing pickup basketball against a guy who plays for the San Diego Surf of the ABA. His vastly superior athleticism enabled him to propel his shoulder into my chin while we both went up for a rebound — parting my lower jaw like the red sea.

I suppose it was an accident, although I will admit, a smug sense of satisfaction came over me when I heard he had his eye busted open a few days later.

The gash had to be sutured, so at the moment, my face is itchy and dry, I can’t shave or shower, my hygiene is falling apart (although some would debate how great it was to begin with) and because it is nearly impossible to keep a bandage in place on a hairy chin, I am relatively confined to my apartment.

Mostly, I have been watching the Real Housewives of New York City and Orange County.

In between handfuls of Queso Salsa and middle-aged millionaire heiress’s throwing wine glasses at each other, I have managed to squeeze in a little playoff basketball. Though my interest has waned after the Warriors elimination.

Can someone please explain why everyone hates LeBron James so much? Even Gatorade was trolling the dude on Twitter after he left game 1 with the cramps. I’ve grown tired of the unofficial slogan of LBJ haters: “Jordan wouldn’t do that.”

Guess what, Jordan did do that, in game 4 of the ‘97 finals MJ took himself out because of… leg cramps.

I suppose to be fair I should say why do White People hate LeBron so much?

I don’t even have much of an opinion on the man; it’s just odd that he generates so much loathing. He is the best player in the NBA, and is really entertaining to watch.

Sure, he seems ego-maniacal, narcissistic and delusional, but what athlete isn’t? Scratch that, what 25-year-old isn’t?

Yes the ‘decision’ was a brutal, look-at-me, attention-grabbing spectacle, but so is your Facebook page. And in fairness, your social media doesn’t bring in $7 million worth of charitable donations; LeBron’s decision did.

People dislike Tim Duncan because he is too boring, they don’t like James because he is too self-absorbed. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground — Chicago: Polish Sausage, George Wendt, and drive-by-shootings in the basketball Mecca of Chiraq

Monday, May 12th, 2014
Finding a decent outdoor run in Chicago was often an exercise in futility.

Finding a decent outdoor run in Chicago was often an exercise in futility.

“ Like loving a woman with a broken nose”
― Nelson Algren, Chicago: City on the Make

Pensacola, Florida, has the country’s worst drinking water. When tested for chemicals, cyanide (you know, the thing that people take in movies and then DIE), chloroform (the thing people inhale in movies and then pass out) and something called radium (as in radioactive) appeared. You would literally be better off licking a New York City subway pole than putting the cocktail of death that is Pensacola public water into your body.

I’ve never been to this part of Florida, but, by reputation, I imagine it has some epic beaches and scrumptious seafood — the water will kill you, but the crawfish is life affirming.

Paradoxes interweave the human experience. You know, oddities like the hot dog to bun ratio. Or, as it pertains to micro-sociology and basketball, Chicago, a city whose streetball pedigree rivals New York and Philly, but whose playgrounds look more like Chinese Ghost Towns than basketball courts.

In August of 2011, the dream team of 2009 reunited in The Big Onion. Nearly three years later, Four things stand out about that trip: Our friend who was getting certified in massage Rolfing us silly; my caloric intake being somewhere around Michael Sweetney at Old Country Buffet (we woke up to find a neighborhood festival taking place 10 feet from the front door; Midwestern meat booths far as the eye could see); Lake Michigan being a terrible alternative to the beach (It’s overcrowded, the water is slimy and teenage lifeguards patrol the perimeter in rowboats, preventing anyone from going out farther than waist deep); and decent pickup ball being incredibly difficult to find.

At the time, most of what I knew about Chicago came from George Wendt’s professional barstool guide to beer “Drinking with George,” the SNL skit where Chris Farley chokes on an entire steak, Pizzeria Uno’s and the documentary “Hoop Dreams.”

Whatever gaps existed in my functional knowledge of the city’s landscape didn’t curtail my awareness of its place in the culture of basketball: Beyond the Italian Beef, Polish Sausage and Deep Dish Pizza, is a city whose reputation is as much basketball as it is heart disease.

It was Chicagoan and local legend Billy “The Kid” Harris who famously said: “I played against cats that would rather kill you than let you beat them. And I found a way to destroy them.”

How many times has ESPN postulated about Benji Wilson, Isaiah Thomas and Derek Rose and how their Chicago-specific styles of play could only have been learned on the cracked concrete of The Windy City? Hell, even the president balled up in Chi-Town last election day.

So I ask, where were all the hoopers?

In the brutal August humidity, by subway and foot we traversed the city in search of basketball. Jennifer Connolly went into the Labyrinth to save her brother, and while not quite as heroic, you probably could have watched the film twice in the time it took us to find a game.

The first thing you notice is the decrepit condition most of the city’s courts are in. Milk crate backboards, tired uneven rims and worn out, jagged concrete that screams torn ACL. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: Reflections eternal — a Bruins defensemen, balling up against the marathon bomber, and my home

Monday, April 28th, 2014
Repping UMass as a kid: The Minutemen, where my old man played his college ball, is the only hometown team I've ever rooted for. But my city will forever be a part of me.

Repping UMass as a kid: The Minutemen, where my old man played his college ball, is the only hometown team I’ve ever rooted for. But my city will forever be a part of me.

I woke up that morning 3,000 miles away from the Boylston Street finish line. I can’t say I ever much cared about the Marathon. For a native that’s an odd thing to say, but then again I am an odd Bostonian. I’ve spent my entire life detesting the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox, mostly because I find the part townie part pink-hat-yuppie fan base objectionable.

My distaste for townies developed through years of North Cambridge Little League. I never understood those rutty-faced dads who would run onto the field and scream “Horse Shit” in the faces of umpires officiating a baseball game between seven year olds. The wives of these men were no less unique. They would crowd together on the bleachers at Comeau Field and raise the bar for obnoxious, yelling to their sons “Fiyah, Billy, Fiyah!” (That’s “Fire, Billy, Fire!” for those unfamiliar with the Boston accent.)

Sill, the yuppies were worse. The gentrified, watered-down Boston that they have created is becoming an unrecognizable Mecca for Starbucks and hipster bullshit.

Growing up, I always felt the over-privileged looked down their noses at me, called me lazy and misunderstood fatigue and depression for failure. Their Ivy educated kids had it cushy compared to those of us who had to grind it out at Bunker Hill Community College. Even after I graduated from the University of Massachusetts with high honors I felt put out by them.

It’s not like I had much in common with the bleacher seat crowd at Fenway Park either.

We all want to fit in right? Maybe that’s why my relationship with my hometown has been so strained. I never felt I had a place there.

So, as soon as I graduated, I bought a one-way plane ticket for as far away as I could find – San Diego.

While San Diegan Meb Kelefighezi was becoming the first American in over 30 years to win the Boston Marathon, two time zones away, I thought about my life in the passenger seat of a Nissan Pathfinder: Where I had been and the steps it took to get here.

Driving through Southern California is meditative; it’s easy to drift into a state of tranquil reflection, something about the beautifully mountainous landscape opens up your mind. As a dude once said “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

I began hearing words I hadn’t heard in years:

“Hi, this is Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins. When I need to get on the ice at TD Banknorth Garden I take the T. The MBTA is a great way to see all this wonderful city has to offer.” (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: Escape From New York

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

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Exhale and release: I made it.

Seven months is not a long time, but in this city — the city that intimidated me to the point of not wanting to leave my house most days — time might have well have been some abstract concept: The type of philosophy taught to obnoxious 21-year-olds deluded into thinking they know the difference between book smarts and street smarts — seniors in college who think their fancy degrees mean something. I graduated Magna Cum Laude, but in this city, high honors means “go fuck yourself,” and if you’re one of those rich kids whose (white) privilege allows you to actually enjoy everything New York offers, then fuck you – yeah, I’m talking to you Lena Dunham.

Without a trust fund, living here is hell, but it’s the type of misery that molds you into a semi-worthwhile person.

What tangible skills do I offer society? I graduated college in 2012, which means I know how to do a lot of things on the internet; my attention span is a flat 20 minutes; I think I am super special; I want constant praise and validation despite the fact I have accomplished next to nothing in my life.

I’m not even putting myself down; I’m just giving an honest assessment of nearly everyone born between 1986 and 1994.

Thanks to this squalid hellhole, I can put real things on a resume, people contact me on Linkedin and I get called back for interviews. When I turned down grad school to move here someone said “New York is an education onto itself,” and they were right: I feel like I have learned more in the past seven months than I did in five years of college.

Where did you want to go after graduation: New York or L.A.?

The people who went the Angeleno path by in large disgust me: I get it, you watched a lot of Entourage and have transformed yourself into a total caricature.

New York City, though, with it’s brutal weather, inordinate cost of living and Christina Aguilera-stank quality of life builds character.You have to actually interact with reality here – in Los Angeles it’s urban sprawl and gated communities. In L.A.,The rich never leave their cars and are afforded the luxury of ignoring those in the caste below them. In New York City, where 8 million people live on top of one another, the impossibility of owning a car forces Wall Street to overlap with Brownsville.

What’s life in the Big Apple like? Everywhere you go you get the feeling the city is hanging you upside down by your ankles and shaking out every nickel. My one bedroom with an outdoor porch, gym and swimming pool in downtown San Diego cost the same amount as my crap box of a studio in Brooklyn. (more…)

Heaven is a playground: Reflections eternal — living with the real life Kenny Powers

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

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The Rum and Cokes were flowing; Vince Vaughn movies were illegally downloading, just another Tuesday night in my mom’s living room. Soon it would be time to saunter over to our favorite bar. Of course by favorite I mean not only could we walk to it, it was replete with loose townie women.

I don’t think either of us was entirely happy with where we were in our lives.

I was a senior in college, on my way to becoming a super-senior and he was a seven-foot one-inch professional basketball player. 2011, what a year – wait, I’m getting ahead of myself; if Peanut Butter Pie is going to tell you a story, he needs to give some context first.

Bare with me, I’ll try to get to the meat and potatoes as fast as I can, but you need to understand this is a story never told before; a story I never really planned on telling.

Well, life is funny I guess.

Now before I start this story, it needs to be noted that I hate pity more then just about anything: more than I hate Tom Brady, more than I hate Red Sox fans, more than Ham and tuna fish. I have led a blessed life, and I could easily title this something along the lines of #WhitePeopleProblems or #MillenialsOnEasyStreet. People face adversity and they deal with it.

This is no different; it just so happens that I write about hoops and life, and the adversity I faced centers around basketball, family and loss. Well, before the story ended it was about loss, now that its over its actually about new beginnings, finding love again and getting reacquainted with what you’re passionate about — maybe someday Zac Effron will star in the motion picture.

This story doesn’t start with a first kiss; a first drink; the first time I threw up in my mom’s bathtub over thanksgiving break because I had too many mojitos; or the first time I realized sex and youporn aren’t synonymous. While those moments were awesome (or in some cases, horrifyingly disturbing), they are not germane to this story.

This story starts in fifth grade, at Harvard Basketball Camp, with my first bucket; an offensive rebound-turned put back. Like a first kiss, it was clumsy, awkward and I had no Idea what I was doing, but it felt like Colbie Caillat was serenading me while I rode a Minotaur over a rainbow.

Eighth grade was a big year for me, as a basketball player and as a dude. Firstly, I went to Hooters on the class trip to Washington, DC, which instilled in me among other things a love of wings. All men at one point or another ask themselves “am I straight?” That question was answered by the time Desir’e the waitress brought us our second serving of ranch dressing.

More importantly, I played basketball for my middle school team, and for a team in Bedford, Mass. I played well enough to make two different all-star teams in two different cities. I was 13 and nearly six-feet tall; of course, at the time I didn’t realize this was going to be my peak as a player.

I had a pretty basic childhood; lunchables, Nickelodeon, Internet porn, the WWF, AIM (remember ASL, how many of us talked to 45 year old men pretending to be 13 year old girls? I SHUTTER TO THINK). Basketball was the thing I loved most; what I was passionate about. I’d spend hours working with my dad, running drills on the hoop in the driveway at my grandfather and his Bedford home.

This passion was passed on from father to son: at six foot six, my dad had been a star athlete at Bedford High School and went on to play Division I hoops in college. At 40 he was still throwing it down in games. As a kid, I considered basketball somewhat of a birthright; I imagine Colin Hanks felt the same about acting. I’d think to myself, “of course I just got that board, or scored that basket; my dad is diagramming plays and dunking in practice and yours is having heart palpitations watching the younger moms”.

Fast forward two years: Tryout week. I’m only a sophomore but I go to a small charter school, so I’m pretty confident I’ll make varsity. I get home Tuesday night and in a moment of pure cosmic significance, have what turns out to be the last conversation I will ever have with my father. We talk over the phone about basketball, about tryouts, how the team looks, what I expect the season will be like. In the words of Baz Luhrmann, “the real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”

The next day my dad was hit by a car, he died a month and a half later in 2004, when I was 15. (more…)

Heaven is a playground — San Diego: I played a game, but I learned a lot about life.

Monday, October 21st, 2013
I played a game but I learned about life.

I played a game but I learned about life.

Pandas, Mexicans, Bill Walton, fans who leave in the 5th inning, the largest annual gathering of Captain Janeway enthusiasts in the universe.

If not for a fortuitous meeting in front of a mechanical bull, that’s all Peanut Butter Pie would have known about San Diego.

Life’s funny; one minute you’re talking to an Army mechanic about the best floozy dens in the Gaslamp and then you wake up to the realization that you have been living in Seaport Village for 10 months. A man can get lost in the year round perfect weather, beautiful women, and half priced Tuesday tacos.

Of course, it’s not all tanning oil, free clinics and Maalox.

Tourists travel to places like New York, San Francisco Paris and Tokyo because they want to feel the pulse of the city. Metropolises like these are literally alive; they have distinct personalities, an intrinsic uniqueness. Tourists only come to San Diego for a few reasons; the weather, and events like Comicon or places like the Zoo.

I’m not hating. The Zoo is phenomenal — hands down the best I have ever been to — but these things hardly breathe life into the city, or give it an intangible authenticity.

A place whose reputation is predicated on its tourist traps is bound to have that So Cal strip mall feel. Inorganic is the word I would use. I mean we are talking about a downtown that actually has a chain dive bar — if it has a corporate structure and shareholders it aint a dive bar.

Things have a tendency to feel watered down. Little Italy for example, it looks pretty and all, but please go to the North End in Boston or Little Italy in New York and then talk to me about real Pizza. The best Chinese around is PF Changs (white people serving Chinese food is a bad sign) and don’t get me started on the lack of bakeries, sub shops and delis. On top of that, there is very little in the way of neighborhood culture Sans Hillcrest (the Gay neighborhood). (more…)

Heaven is a Playground — Hoopfest: Jorts, Magnum P.I. Cedric Ceballos and futility at the free-throw line

Friday, September 27th, 2013
A scrum of humanity at Hoopfest.

A scrum of humanity at Hoopfest.

The spandex wearers, the Hawaiian shirt guys, the full body suit people, Mario and Luigi, Spiderman, dudes in Jorts — Some people look really out of place no matter what context you view them in.

No I didn’t go to Comic-Con — although I have been told that I mean to basketball bloggers what Joss Whedon means to feminists. Where did I happen to see all of these outcasts and nerds? Amazingly enough, they all congregated at Hoopfest, the world’s largest basketball/streetball tournament.

Held in Spokane, Wash., Hoopfest features 42 city blocks transformed into 450 courts, filled with 7,000 teams officiated by 3,000 volunteers, viewed by 225,000 fans and the ice cream inside the Fudgie the Whale cake: Cedric Ceballos. Yeah, he was there — God only knows why.

The sheer volume of this event is truly awe-inspiring: Block after block of hardened weekend warriors of all ages and skill levels. When I say hardened, I mean Andre Rison at a strip club crazy. The chance to win a T-Shirt really brings out a man’s inner Jordan with the Flu Game 6: I saw an enormously obese 45 year old man dive into a group of teenage girls on concrete in an effort to stop a loose ball from going out of bounds – I can’t stress enough how hard these guys went.

This is one of those events where you see how important athletics are, not just in terms of the participants’ experiences, but the sheer impact Hoopfest has on the city of Spokane.

So how did I end up in the Nexus of the Basketball universe?

In Generations, Captain Picard went in to bring out his predecessor, Captain Kirk, in an effort to join forces in stopping a common enemy. I’d like to think I ended up in Spokane under similar circumstances.

My old buddy (and creator of one of the original basketball social media outlets, Hooptopia, which was basically a 2004 version of Infinite Hoops), E-hop, invited me to play in the tourney with his rag-tag Seattle basketball enclave.

In all my travels, I have seen some characters on the basketball court before. These guys did not fail to impress. (more…)