Archive for the ‘Heaven is a Playground’ Category

Heaven is a Playground — Saying goodbye to a good friend: The Downtown YMCA, San Diego

Monday, November 17th, 2014
The final pilgrimage of the lunchtime ballers.

The final pilgrimage of the lunchtime ballers.

I imagine that when the lights went off, the Ghost of Pete Maravich came out to run ball-handling drills across the battered floorboards.

On Friday, Oct. 31, the Downtown YMCA of San Diego closed its doors for the final time. Where do all the old ballers go now? The guys with the pointed elbows, who represent the promise of full frontal locker room nudity after the game; what becomes of the aged, shirtless lawyer in the bandana who used his low center of gravity to throw hip-shot-box-outs, or the dude with the off-balance set shot always guzzling down Starbucks before playing? Do the hairy backed rage monsters and past their prime arguers find a new basketball playing community to call their own?

How could they? Many of them had been playing on this court since Hanson was a chart topper. Their eccentricities already accepted, perhaps even admired — If Jon the Weeble had slapped cross-eyed T in the face over a loose ball in any other basketball enclave he would have assuredly become the victim of an assault so vicious, only Jim Ross could narrate it. But at the Downtown Y, it was all part of the game.

Sure, there were better players — younger, and quicker — elsewhere, but why would I have ever wanted to play with them when I had the Downtown Y?

Opened in 1882, the gym, which shared the building with a café and hostel, had no frills, no new equipment, and at times no electricity. Smaller than a regulation court, and with a running track in the rafters taking away the possibility of corner threes, ambitious newbs often jacked shots up from Ray Allen territory, the ball ricocheting off of the track, followed by chants of “rookie” from court veterans.

At one time, there was a scoreboard, then a clock, and then in the end, games were timed by cell phone. Populated by a lot of lawyers, an ABA player, young transplants, and the unemployed, lunch-time games ignored the standard meritocracy, opting instead for a form of basketball socialism where winners couldn’t play more than two games in a row if guys were waiting — every game guaranteed an argument over what the score actually was.

The characters made this place special. There was Black Mo (presumably for Maurice), Indian Mo (presumably for Mohammed,) and Old Mo (Presumably for… Morris?). There was Jim the hack, with the surprisingly young wife, whose big Halloween joke was coming dressed as a referee; Cha, who reeked of menthol and was missing most of his front teeth. You liked everybody, but also kind of hated everyone simultaneously. Guys brought out the best of athletic competition in each other. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground — Rose Park 26th and O: Stacey Dash, the orthodox shul and Washington D.C.

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


The shot goes up and rims out, spelling out H-O-R-S. The sun is down by now, it must be at least 8:45 p.m. The bats are out, feeding on the mosquitoes caught in the sticky Boston dog day air. Most everyone has gone home. Only the four of us remain: I’m 16, they’re all young in their own right, but through my lens 27 might as well be 65. If only everything could stay this simple.

Remember when the dad from 7th Heaven was all like: “There’s always going to be somebody who’ll try to take your dignity and self-esteem. Just never let them take your voice,”

And we were all like: “I wish Eric Camden was in my life; he’d know what to do when the foreign kid who sits next to me in 7th grade history starts drawing naked people again.”

Little did we know at the time that the dude who played Rev. Camden, Stephen Collins, was a serial child molester.

Of course, this all came out during my people’s High Holiday season — nothing spoils the kugel faster than the tarnishing of 90’s pop culture (I’ll never be able to enjoy Melissa Joan Hart and her wonky eye falling in love with Vince from Entourage in Drive Me Crazy again).

What’s next? Did the voice of Hey Arnold do something terrible back in the day?

Seemingly, if it’s not Ebola, the Ukraine, or Malaysian Airlines, it’s typecast, middling actors from 20-year-old crap sitcoms — the Stephen Collinses, Kirk Camerons, Victoria Jacksons and the Stacey Dashes — making the world a worse place. Movies like Clueless are supposed to take my mind off of the world, not remind me of how horrible it is. (Side note: Alicia Silverstone once fed her son via regurgitation, you know, like a mama bird. Side note two: Alicia Silverstone named said child Bear Blue Jarecki).

Basketball is how I make sense of things. Unfortunately, given the soul crushing nature of adulthood, run as of late has come few and far between.

At least I have the memories of anatomical oddities, head of broccoli eating homeless jump shooters and New York City trash talkers to keep me company while I sift through spread-sheets and navigate the high powered world of… honestly, I’m not even sure what my job title stands for.

With the retirement of Israeli superstar David Blu and the passing of Yom Kippur, my mind has been wandering back a few years to summer days spent in Washington D.C. — a trip highlighted by the former student body president of Columbia University chasing a pack of deer; unloading a stomach full of Eritrean food into the bathroom of a half-bar-half-bookstore; and playing a lot of ball at Rose Park on 26th and O street.

The first thing I noticed abut the court was that the majority of the players shared certain physical traits. They all kind of looked like they enjoyed washing the taste of Gefilte Fish out of their mouths with a tall glass of Manischewitz. I don’t have an answer for why Jews flocked to Rose Park — after all, it’s located in Georgetown, not Newton, Massachusetts.

Whatever the reason, it was like Tel Aviv East — to quote the aforementioned deer chaser “the whole orthodox shul definitely showed up.”

Playing there again six or so weeks later, the Ashkenazi were still out in full force. This Dude Donnie ran with us the first go round; upon our return, he was sitting in the same spot like we never left, rocking his Hebrew school basketball jersey — weekend warriors’ rep a lot of eclectic gear; that was the first time I ever saw a guy playing in rabbinical apparel.

The Boston crew plus Donnie ran the court that day, despite the blue-top soaking up the 90 degree D.C. heat. At the time I was a pastier, heavier, post operative, Peanut-Butter-Pie, as such my need for Central Air was far greater. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA World Cup 2014 — Human nature, Gilas Pilipinas and Andray Blatche’s redemption

Friday, September 12th, 2014


Human Nature is about as fickle as an 8-year-old boy chasing tumbleweeds through the backwoods of Georgia, or so I’m told.

Why are we so quick to judge and falsely label others, when we all know too well the feeling of having our insides ripped apart by the cattle prod of erroneous expectations?

I vividly remember my charter school basketball team playing a team with an Asian player. All game, on the bench, one of our guys called him “Yao” and “Soy Sauce.”

Given the level of disrespect hoisted upon us by bigger high schools, you would think we’d have developed an intrinsic appreciation for others not fitting the stereotype: They thought we sucked because we didn’t have our own gym; we thought he sucked because of our perception of Asians.

As the old New York City parable goes: The Italians beat up the Irish, so in turn the Irish beat up the Jews.

Remember when Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin’s then teammate, publicly ridiculed Lin’s potential contract extension as “ridiculous”? Or how about when an ESPN anchor referred to him as a “chink”? Or, what about Jason Whitlock playing the all too familiar Asian Men have a small endowment card? Ten years prior to “Linsanity,” Shaq said about a rookie Yao Ming, that he was going to drop step and put an elbow into his face. Around the same time, Chris Tucker went for the easy laugh in Rush Hour, hitting Jason Whitlock’s familiar punch line as an Asian dude’s towel came off.

These are just a few of the more visible examples of the perpetuating emasculation of Asian men. I’m probably guilty of it as well — most of us are.

Lets face it, despite outperforming every ethnic group in this country academically and socio-economically, Asians, especially Asian men, still get no respect in mainstream American society. It’s all mathletics, small dicks and hello kitty backpack jokes.

Which brings me to Gilas Pilipinas. I wonder how many players on the Philippine National Team have, at some point, suffered the same indignation as the kid I played against in High School? (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: I’m sorry, Senegal, I screwed up

Friday, September 5th, 2014


The passion Senegal plays with is why I love the game of basketball. What they have done thus far in the FIBA World Cup has been humanity reaffirming, touching and, above all, a tribute to everyone who has ever been marginalized or made to feel as less.

On some level, I understand why so many baseball players were taking (and continue to take) steroids: Every other player was doing it; not doing it meant getting squeezed out of the league, at least for the average player (for the Brian Roberts’s of the baseball world, juicing is human nature — it is not an ethical dilemma).

What I found unimaginably grating about the whole ordeal was the complete lack of accountability players were willing to take after they got caught. Instead of saying “everyone is doing it, If I didn’t I would lose my job,” all we got was a bunch of “I was young and stupid,” “I didn’t take steroids period… knowingly,” “I had a thyroid condition,” “It helps with my ADHD,” “I didn’t know what I was taking,” “I don’t know why I tested positive,” and a bunch of other bullshit (I’m looking at you, David Ortiz).

It was all meaningless white noise.

Power exists in a simple, “I screwed up; I wish I didn’t, but I did.”

So, with that sentiment, I would like to acknowledge my own mistake:

Senegal, I screwed up. I overlooked you as a team. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I am truly sorry. Watching you play has been a privilege and a pleasure.

In my preview, I wrote: If it weren’t for Senegal, Andray Blatche and his Filipino comrades would go winless.

While the statement turned out factually accurate, it doesn’t reflect the talent and heart both of these teams showed over the past week.

I then went on to say: This year the team’s sole NBA player is seven-footer Hamady N’Diaye of the Sacramento Kings. That is a completely false statement made in a moment of work-week induced laziness and lack of due diligence.

Minnesota Timberwolves Forward Gorgui Dieng has put the Senegalese team on his back, averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds a game. How did I manage to overlook him? For my money, he’s the tournament MVP.

Then there’s former D-league player Mohammed Faye, who has been a crunch time monster. What about the aforementioned N’Diaye? On a bad back the dude has dominated the paint defensively and put points on the board when he’s needed to.

Coming into this tournament, Senegal had not won an international game since 1998, before that you had to go back another 20 years for its only other win. By beating Puerto Rico, a country with a basketball pedigree and Croatia, one of the better teams competing in the World Cup, the country doubled it’s win total of the past near 40 years in two days.

Look at how improbable this run really is: (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Spain vs Team USA

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

spain us

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

As much as I’d like to predict another team besides the U.S. winning the World Cup, I just cant. For me to do so would be completely disingenuous internet prostituted trolling, done so for the sake of presenting myself as a genius on the infinitesimal chance another team pulls of a Buster Douglass-Mike Tyson upset, Ditto for Spain coming in second.

Really, the only team who could beat the U.S. is Spain, but they won’t.

Eight years ago, everyone knew the 2006 tournament would come down to these two nations; same at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. They’re just that much deeper than the field.

I don’t even enjoy watching or writing about these two teams because a sure thing is boring. I find myself far more interested in the competition for the Bronze Medal (though, in my opinion, the Greeks are a lock to win that, if you want that expanded upon by all means read posts 1-23).

Gone are the days of the Americans trotting out a 40-year-old Reggie Miller and Lamar Odom and expecting to cruise past other countries (wait, they actually tried that in 2004 and got their asses kicked).

We here in the US-of-A are still the best basketball-playing nation in the galaxy, but the gap has shrunken…considerably. Winning these tournaments now requires a full effort.

Without top-level NBA talent on the roster an American team is not good enough to beat many competing teams.

We all know whose not playing for this team: Lamarcus Aldrige, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love. If Australia, France, Lithuania and Argentina were all at full strength it might matter, but they’re not, so it doesn’t. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Lithuania

Saturday, August 30th, 2014


Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

What’s the best country in the world at the game of basketball? Easy, right? James Naismith and Julius Irving, Wilt the Stilt to Shaq, and MJ to King James, it’s the good ol’ U-S-A.

But the best country in the world at basketball per capita? The Republic of Lithuania — one of the whitest, blondest and smallest countries in the world.

Sound crazy? Try to follow me here:

Is there anything Rhode Island is better at than the other 49 states? I’d say legalized prostitution, but Nevada obviously has that locked down. When you think Rhode Island what are the first thoughts that pop into your head? For me, it’s happy endings, Family Guy, Pauly D, and a capitol city that would happily reelect a mayor that has repeatedly been forced to resign due to felonies such as assault and racketeering.

But Rhode Island is most known for being the smallest state in the union – a state of just one area code and a population of around 2 million.

What would happen if you build a basketball team out of the player pool of the state of Rhode Island and stacked them up against Team USA? With all due respect to T.J. Sorrentine, but Rhode Island’s finest would get annihilated. Take it a step further, sieve through the available players of any swath of 3 million Americans and put them up against Team USA and it is a 50 point bloodbath.

The United States has a population of more than 313 million people. Spain’s population is roughly 50 million. Lithuania is a country of roughly 2.8 million people — less than 1 percent of that of the United States. Over the past decade, Lithuania has routinely given Team USA everything it can handle. In the 2004 Olympics, Lietuva beat – and beat up — the American. In 2012, Lithuania lost a 99-94 nail biter to the new, Lebron James-Kevin Durant Dream Team – arguably the second greatest basketball team ever assembled.

Basketball is a religion in Lithuania – a religion the population is dominant at. It’s one thing to have your population be rabid fans; it’s another to produce elite talent en masse. Since regaining their independence in 1990, Lithuania has won three Olympic bronze medals, as well as a World Cup bronze.

Think about this, Zydraunas Illgauskas – the “Big Z” — never played on the national team. Imagine what that trophy case would like if he had. Matching him up in the 90’s with NBA Hall of Famers Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis would have been Bea Arthur naked terrifying.

Beyond simply being good at the sport, Lithuania is extremely fun to watch: They move the pass the ball, cut, and play selflessly like a typical European squad, but they run the floor, play well above the rim, and throw down alley-oops and elbows like their American peers. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Australia

Friday, August 29th, 2014


Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

Nathan Jawai looks like he eats a lot of vegemite.

I don’t know what it is about overweight basketball players, but something about the coalescing of spherical bellies and spherical balls makes the world seem more hopeful. Who didn’t love Kevin Duckworth back in the day? Or Rodney Rogers, Robert Tractor Traylor, and Oliver Miller? Fat people are the most invisibly maligned group there is, so watching a chubby body like Jawai (who at 6-foot-10 and 300-plus-pounds is affectionately nicknamed the Outback Shaq) dominate athletically feels akin to a victory in equality.

At any rate, I’m tired, my witticisms are waning and ribs are in the oven; lets talk Aussie basketball.

Ranked ninth in the world by FIBA entering the World Cup, the Australian national team is legit. Never having medaled in a major tournament and usually being shown the door by Lithuania, this team seems poised to finally make a serious run at the bronze.

Jawai, the former Timberwolves center, will be part of an outstanding second-unit bench mob, along with center David Anderson, previously of the Atlanta Hawks, recent Utah Jazz first round pick Dante Exum – regarded as a freakish athlete as a 6’6” point guard — and current Jazz power forward Brock Motum, forming a nine man rotation that can out score, defend and rebound the majority of the field.

The starting lineup features current NBAers Aron Baynes, Cameron Bairstow and Matthew Dellavdova, as well as former Rockets draft pick Brad Newley and Maccabi Tel Aviv 3-point specialist Joe Ingles. Ingles was a beast for the Aussies in the 2012 Olympics, leading them in scoring while dropping nearly five assists a game.

Imagine how good these guys would be if Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills weren’t hurt. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Greece

Friday, August 29th, 2014


Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

Kosta Koufous, you balding ass.

In his hilarious tell-all of his days as an end of the bench scrub at Ohio State, Don’t Put Me in, Coach, Mark Titus describes Koufous as someone who quickly alienated his teammates and the type of guy who would stand in front of a mirror, flexing his pecs’ while saying to himself, “looking good.”

That’s the type of sociopathic behavior typical of autoerotic asphyxiates.

By several accounts, Koufous quickly reprised his role as clubhouse cancer with the Greek national team. According to some reports, Koufous verbally committed to play for Greece, only to bail at the last minute; according to others, head coach Fotios Katsikaris gave him the boot.

Either way, I think the team is better off without him — maybe not from a talent perspective, but definitely from a “this guy’s a douche and his presence is ruining the team” standpoint.

This World Cup is ultimately a two-team competition between the U.S. and Spain, with Greece as the only team who presents even a remote chance of beating either. From a talent standpoint these three teams are an Andre the Giant sized gap removed from the rest of the scrum.

Led by “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece will win the Bronze Medal (though our editor may disagree). Coming off a monster rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks, there doesn’t seem to be anything the 19-year-old can’t do – he can cover three-quarters of the court in two dribbles!

When the NBA season ended the barely post adolescent stood at 6’9. A few months latter he has grown to 6’11”. Antetokounmpo’s freakish athleticism has caused speculation that the near 7-footer (who may well reach 7’ by the time the summer is over) will be playing point guard this season. Still growing – both physically and as a player — there is no telling how dominant this kid will become.

I was tempted to just put Antetokounmpo highlights and leave the post at that, but scarily, there is more to the Greek team then just The Freak.

Memphis Grizzlies reserve point guard Nick Calathes orchestrates the Greek offense and Real Madrid center Ioannis Bourousis holds down the post. A long-time mainstay of the national team, the 7-foot 270-pound Bourousis is huge and has been compared to Vlade Divac by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Shooting guard Nikos Zisis can shoot and power forward Georgios Printezis is a solid fifth option and would make a great villain in the next Expendables movie. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Argentina

Friday, August 29th, 2014


Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

If a glossy stock photo of triple-layered chocolate cake drizzled in a ganache glaze is considered food porn, Luis Scola’s post game must be hardcore basketball erotica.

A few years back, when I rocked what has been best described as “Samoan hair,” I was given the best succession of compliments I have ever been given, by a Chinese exchange student on the MIT basketball court.

Exchange student: “You look like Luis Scola!”
Me: “Um, thanks.”
Exchange Student: “You play like Luis Scola!” (Turns around and walks away before I can reply.)

That was like three years ago and I still think back to that when I need a pick me up.

Luis Scola is the ultimate craft player. Around the basket, his range of double moves and moves to counter moves are the most technically proficient basketball in the entire galaxy. WHY THE HELL DID THE PACERS NOT PLAY HIM MORE?

What I love most about Scola is his complete lack of verticality; in 2012, when he was a member of the Suns, I was fortunate enough to sit in the first row at the Staples Center and witness him miss a layup line dunk.

Internationally, Scola has been a savage with an average of nearly 20 points per game over his career.

Remember in 2004 when Argentina beat the U.S. in the Summer Olympics on the way to winning the Gold Medal? That team was stacked: Scola, Manu Ginobili Fabricio Oberto, Pablo Prigioni, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino and Ruben Wolkowyski.

And Argentina hardly got lucky and certainly hasn’t been a one-trick pony in international play; these Argentinians have been a dynasty. In addition to the 2004 Gold, won Silver at the 2002 World Cup and Bronze at the 2008 Olympics. Many of the original gang are still representing their country; Scola, Nocioni, Prigioni, Leo Gutierrez and the lesser known Walter Herrmann, who at 36 hasn’t played on the international team in eight years.

(Editor’s note: The Argentine national team is an international team itself, reflecting the different waves of European immigration to Patagonia, as Ginobili, Delfino, Nocioni, Prigioni and Oberto all hold dual Italian-Argentinean citizenship, Scola has a Spanish passport, Herrmann has German citizenship and Wolkowyski Polish). (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Croatia

Friday, August 29th, 2014



Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

I always thought Gheorghe Muresan was Croatian. I’m not exactly sure why I designated the Romanian as such, but any reason to talk about the star of My Giant is cause for celebration. Poor Gheorghe, back in the 90’s the joke on him was that he was born next to a nuclear reactor, the inference, that his size and physical appearance was due to radiation poisoning. The saddest aspect of that, at seven years old, I believed it true.

Croatia has produced a lot of notable basketball players, Muresan just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Just as Croatia was breaking away from the former Yugoslavia, guys like Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Zan Tabak (who is now an assistant coach for the national team) put the nation on the international basketball map. This core group of guys (minus Drazen after he died in a car accident in 1993) led the national team to Olympic silver in 1992, a World Cup bronze in ‘94 and Eurobasket medals in ‘93 and ‘95.

The current incarnation of Croat basketball might not be the force it was 20 years ago, but it’s still pretty talent heavy. Power forward Dario Saric, 20, was the 12th pick in this years NBA draft and compliments small forward Bojan Bogdanovic incredibly well. Bogdanovic ,whose NBA rights are owned by the Nets, is considered a potential NBA stud. Throw Indiana Pacers small forward Damjan Rudez and 7-foot-1 center Ante Tomic – who currently plays in the Spanish ACB league and remains coveted by several NBA teams — in the mix and you have a tough team to beat. Tomic was an absolute force at Euro basket 2011, going for 16 points and seven rebounds a game. (more…)