This is the section where NBA Scholar will share some thoughts about the Association and other topics. As usual, expect nothing less than Greatness (even if it could be a bit ordinary). Btw, respect for those who understood the title reference 🙂
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, before the immense lightning had dissipated to a single ray of light, I used to get lost in my thoughts.
What if there was only one Thunderstorm? Could I razzle dazzle the world? Could I shut up all the critics, for once?
After a few years lost on these cogitations, my secret thoughts became a reality. Like an elusive magic trick, all the others vanished. The Beard, Ibaka, now KD.
Suddenly, I realized there wasn’t a plan. I resorted to my good friend Kobe. He said:
“I’ll help you, but I’ll have the exclusive rights to write your biography, okay? As you know, I’m storytelling these days.”
“That’s okay. Whatever you want, Mamba. Please explain me”, I pleaded.
“Follow the guidelines written in this book. It will be out soon. It’s called “The Art of the Mamba: how to win making zero friends in the NBA.” Fun fact: I used your number for inspiration.
“What are you implying? I have lots of friends!”, I remember saying.
“Sure, like that KD cat, right? Trust me on this one… you shouldn’t trust anyone in the NBA!”
“That doesn’t even make sense, Kobe.”
“You’ll get it, one day. You’re still young.”
I went home and read Kobe’s new book. It featured cool illustrations and wicked imagery. I wrote down some ideas for a future clothing collection, inspired by colorful snakes in one of the book fables. It was a peculiar tome.
The most solid advice I got, right at the end, was: “Mid-range scoring is a lost art. One day there will be a disciple. A kind of “outlandish player” will come around and dominate using this ancient basketball art form. Forget about shooting threes all day or dominating in the post. The marksman deranged mid-range game, boy. It will drive your opponents crazy. They’ll foul you hard. Excel at the “drawing fouls game,” Russ boy. Their best defender can’t guard you from the bench.”
I was mesmerized by that book. I started applying its principles. It worked, but I needed more knowledge, so I resorted to Isiah Thomas, one of my idols. He told me I should read his book called: “The art of winning with a single stare while you distribute at will.” I found the title rather intriguing. The book was full of goodies, taken from the bad boy’s era. In one of the chapters, Isiah said:
“Forget about scoring, assists and all the other stats. Your goal is to demotivate your opponent. Make him feel he’s not even worthy to share the basketball court with you. Get him to feel small, even if he’s much taller than you. Use the stare after a great play. Use the stare after you dried his scoring production. Then giggle in a strange, crazy way. Make him feel you’re the meanest, craziest man on Earth (even if you go to church every Sunday and still take four calls a day from your mom. Just do the stare. Trust me.”
After channeling Isiah’s words, my game improved significantly. I developed a strange technique of Hulk meets Iron Man style of play where I played like a demented and tormented man, always 100% on. Sometimes I would fear I was being selfish and ask the teammates: “Are you sure your okay with me playing this way?” They supported me, showing their respect to “the real one.” It was a nickname they sometimes called me.
Weeks and months went by. My numbers were getting absurd. I was now averaging a triple double. From Japan to Alaska, people were raving about my wild, never seen numbers since the magnificent Big O. People kept saying: “Not even MJ did that! Not even MJ did that!” One time I even got a tweet from NBA Scholar saying to cool it down. I followed his advice, fearing the rage of NBA Gods. Everyone knows you don’t mess with NBA Gods. NBA Scholar is a wise dude.
After taking care of these situations, I felt my career could be at stake, much like those tasteless and overpriced steaks I once ate at J.’s diner. I got worried for my wild, careless style of ball. So I contacted A.C. Green, the real NBA iron man, famous for never losing a game. I asked him to explain how could he maintain a long sequence of games without debilitating the physique. He simply said: You should read my book: “The Art of Managing the Heat: the A.C. method.”
A.C. Green lectured me on how to eat well. That was the first and most important lesson. Never forget the green elements! Peas, broccoli, salad… mix it up with red fruits, the best there is. Raspberry, strawberries, the whole collection. Also, eat a lot of fruits. And nuts! Don’t forget the nuts – they’re very high on protein. Don’t eat chips or any kind of processed food. Lastly, stay away from Rice. ALWAYS avoid Rice!”
I found this part a bit odd, so I asked him why the hate towards Rice. He said Glen wasn’t one of his best buddies, “if you know what I mean.” I had no idea.
Finally, in A.C. Green’s book, it was said “one should avoid any gym exercises the day before the game. Instead, go for a walk and have extended sex sessions with your girlfriend (it was also advised to buy a kama sutra book if it was needed inspiration or if it was getting boring) or any recreational activity you found relaxing.
I followed all of the recommendations, religiously.
I was now dominating the technical, mental and endurance aspects of the game of basketball. That’s when MJ came to town. His words meant the world to me. Air Jordan is NBA Zeus, as NBA Scholar tends to say. I had to ask him before he left:
“MJ, I’m doing stuff not even you did – sorry for saying this, but I had to mention it…”
MJ chuckled. “It’s ok, Russ. Go ahead. As long as you don’t win our golf game tomorrow… I would hate to lose a bet.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not very good at it. It’s not like I’m like that Warriors Green dude. Rumor has it the Dray knows how to swing them long on the field. Apparently, he even has a custom made club called “Kiwi.” Never understood that one.”
“Probably because Steven Adams is from New Zealand. They are known as kiwis.”
“Oh… I see. Thanks for teaching me, MJ. Anyway, may you share your secrets? I know I can never come close to you: 6 out of 6, 6 MVP’s, all those moments… changing the NBA inside out, making it the first global sports league… What I’m asking is: how can I sustain this level of excellence?”
MJ looked at me for about six seconds and said: “Look, that’s very hard to accomplish. Are you sure you want to know? And how badly do you want it?”
He gave me the most incisive look I’ve ever seen. Even scarier than when my mother found out I ditched some classes to play ball.
“MJ,” I finally mumbled, “There’s nothing I want more in this world. I truly believed in this OKC project. I felt betrayed by everyone, but mostly by KD. I want to win one Championship on my terms.”
“Hmm… What you’re asking is impossible, with your current roster. You must “Lebronize yourself,” as the NBA Scholar wrote in his “To Do Lists” section. You must take full control of the franchise, understand how trades work, the numbers game, taxes… the whole works. Surpassing the GM, President, everyone.”
“ I bet I’ll be good with those tasks. I have my clothing company, do you know? Rad threads! Have you seen it?”
“Not really. As you know, I’m a very busy man. Anyway, going back to the question: improve every year. Always start the year with a rookie mindset, eager to go out there. Kobe and Duncan were that way. Both of them got 5. Not too shabby.”
“Of course, Sir. I understand. By the way, can we make a Hornets-OKC partnership under the table? No one needs to know. Since we’re two businessmen…”
“I’ll have to run the numbers with my financial staff. What were you thinking, anyway?”
“Maybe leverage salaries, trade some players… do you like Kanter? He has good trade value…”
“Well, he’s not bad but then again, he’s no Kemba… let me digest the stats after lunch. I’ll get back to you. Have to run now, the jet is waiting.”
“Ok. Thank you for walking by.”
With these valuable lessons, I was ready to start the playoffs. Fate put the Warriors on our way. We were the total underdogs, of course. We got trashed in the first three games. Sour times. I couldn’t even watch TV or check social media. Everyone was down. We were losing 3-0.
On the darkest hour, when I was considering calling it a series and find soothing in a long TV marathon of “Game of Thrones,” I got a text from KD:
“Hey, Russ… guess you’ll have more time to manage your clothing brand. Your Summer is coming!”
That was it. I went back to the books. Tried to remember all the advices. At last, I had a clarity moment. Like a true Zen Master, I merged all the lessons. Suddenly…
I called a few people of my inner circle. Mostly gym rats, obsessive-compulsive ballers, NBA2k17 fanatics and computer nerds. I told them what to do.
A few hours later, a la Don J., numerous fake news started populating the most prestigious publications.
In one of them, you could read Durant had problems with gambling;
Another stated Klay had bad instincts and promoted violence: hitting dogs, cats and even a sad rookie who never plays but likes to call him “Second Option Splashman”;
Fake websites showed Dray playing golf with a vast collection of exquisite clubs, all with the 3-1 insignia joke;
Curry saw his behind the back failed pass in the NBA Finals GIF spreading like malaria in South East Africa;
Even an online shop was created in a few hours solely to promote Iguodala’s unique bronze statue. It was custom made, and it only said: BLOCKED: When the King slayed the “King’s slayer.”
I also contributed by retweeting and sharing, sending messages, texts, responding to Media and snap chatting like there was no tomorrow.
The next day, at the game, Dubs looked at me and smiled. “Ridiculous, dude. You will feel the fourth coming tonight, boy. You should have left as well, like we once discussed”, KD said, with a smirk.
“Just wait and see,” I replied.
Game starts. We were playing well but still well behind. I didn’t blink. “Always focused!”, like Jordan said. Utilizing the stare. At breaks, I ate raspberries. I knew it was coming soon.
At a certain point, everyone starts LOLing BIG time. BIGly, almost. We’re talking tens of thousands laughing like their life depended on it! What happened? The Jumbotron started showing small videos and clips with 3-1 jokes…
Dubs went crazy. They tried to stay focused. Eventually, everyone started paying more attention to the hilarious short clips, memes, gifs and a whole lot of crazy extravaganza. It was a surreal spectacle. Management called it a “technical glitch.” It kept running. Referees said the game was only one quarter away from completion. Hence, they would proceed. So we did.
Guess what? We won not only that fourth game but also the Series. Warriors never recovered from that episode. It became known as “The Glitch Catastrophe” or, in some obscure NBA Forums as “The night Warriors lost their marbles off the floor, 3-1 style.”
Before I went to bed, I texted KD: “Just sent you my new t-shirt. It says:
BREAKING NEWS! LEAKED RUSS-KD MESSAGES:
KD: I regret leaving the Thunder.
Russ: That’s cute.”
And that’s how I, “Russ West Book,” became legendary.
It started with a simple criminal offense.
Ned, who had always been one of the most adventurous, jumped the fence and stole the basketball board that was lying down on the floor in our school, ready to be relocated to the dumpster.
“Are you crazy? What are you doing with that?”
“Relax. I know the school’s sports director. He caught me in the act, smiled and said it was ok. They’re useless in the bin, anyway, he said.
The next hours were febrile. In front of an increasing number of mirones and grandparents who were playing with the kids, that real size, official basketball board was lying there, a large object disrupting that square space, usually filled with kids playing soccer, racquetball, and other typical street games.
Ned, who had always been a very practical person, turned and said:
“We have to make a hole in the ground. You, start removing the cobblestones here”, he pointed, acting as a project manager. The other kids quickly followed his guidelines. I helped to make space for that big, heavy board.
Finally, the hole was ready. Time to test it. With great effort, all of us managed to place the basketball board in that perforation, with some extra help from older kids who were quick to understand the value of that object. The most significant action was in the books. That magnificent object was now a reality in that square, where we played countless games.
When we had our first game, however, the board almost fell to the ground with some powerful outside shots. Something had to be made. The board needed a stabilizing element. Everyone turned to Ned but, this time, he was out of ideas. One of our friends, a young man called Pierre, had an epiphany and proclaimed:
“We need steel cables. You, go to the store and buy some.”
The kid returned shortly after with the intriguing steel cables. “What now?”
“Do you see that old tree, behind the board? We will connect the back of the board to it.
So we did.
From that point onwards, nothing was the same in that peculiar square where we used to play. The soccer hegemony as the favorite sport had been compromised. Following the crescent popularity of basketball around the world, due to Magic, Bird, and mostly Michael Jordan amazing feats, kids were drawn to that elusive backboard, that seemed to have grown naturally in the ground.
It became a recurrent question when that basketball playground became famous within the vicinity. “How did you get this board here?” Ned always provided the explanation. Professional players who lived nearby came to play. Some played for the national team. Even some really tall American players, former glories – who were now playing here in local clubs – appeared every now and again. One of them shot threes like they were free throws. Mesmerizing view.
Everyone wanted to play.
There was the outside specialist, whose only quality was shooting. He never actually passed or rebounded. Precision.
There was the cool post player, adept of fakes and outstanding footwork. He never jumped, but he always managed to score. Intelligence.
There was the teacher, always eager to teach the fundamental aspects of the game. “Basketball isn’t just running and shooting,” he said. “You need to learn how to make plays, screens, double team, and so on. Some kids listened. Others found that annoying. They just wanted to play. Inspiration.
Ned, who wasn’t that great, had an unbelievable impulsion. Although he was shorter than me, he could dunk. I always looked at his dunks in complete awe. Our mini Spudd Webb.
The best thing about those distant days of street basketball – usually 3 on 3 – was the crowd. In the summer, when most of us were enjoying the holidays, the afternoons and nights became filled with people wanting to play. Rules had to be made. Three on three teams. Whoever won carried on, losers out. No mercy.
The games ended when a team scored 20 points, that mythical score. I still remember those days fondly, when 15, 20 or even more waited on the sidelines. Evaluating the plays, clapping, making fun of curious misses. Kids having fun. In between, the older crowd – college students, mostly – also made sure the teams were balanced. Making sure the youngsters played the right way.
In the midst of all this hoopla, a strange, new kid appeared. Very pale and awkward. Evidently, he also wanted to play. When he started, he kept saying “Bird is the best NBA player. White players are the best. No one can stop Bird. Celtics rule.” Curious kid. His devotion to his idol was so extreme he used to mimic his celebrations and even the way he shot.
At first, we accepted him as a curiosity, one of those different kids from abroad, from cold places. He had been living in Canada, and baseball was his favorite sport. “I miss my Montreal Expos,” he used to say. Eventually, his rants and comments became too loud. Some kids are ignorant. As the tone rose with blatant racism remarks, he got his first warning.
“Look, we don’t tolerate that around here. Don’t you see that black kid? And that Asian kid? That one who was living in Scandinavia, unable to withstand the extreme heat? We all have names here. It’s Roy, Sandra, Ben… racism isn’t allowed here. You must adapt, or you’ll have a bad time.”
At first, he seemed to understand but soon got back to his ways. One day, all the kids decided they had enough, and although we weren’t rowdy, violent kids, someone grabbed him, and some other kid gave him two precise and incisive punches in the stomach. Not the most poetic of ways to settle an argument. He got the message, though. I guess for some kids it takes a little longer. Later, the one who punched apologized. The racist kid just replied: “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
From that point onwards, we adopted him. He became one of us. The racist rants and twisted comments were a thing of the past. We were happy he was our friend. He taught us the basics of baseball, that curious sport. One kid was particularly good at it, making us leave, running and yelling in a joyful way, while some windows of the circumducting apartments suffered from his precision hitting the ball. Our very own Grand Slams.
I loved those moments on that basketball playground. In the Summer, cousins and family visits came over. New girls! One time I played one on one against an excellent friend. “Whoever wins is the first to go after her.” Teenager codes and heroics. I lost that game. He had the priority. I got the girl, though. She wasn’t into him. Lesson learned: sometimes you don’t actually need to win.
There was a kid, a Don kind of kid, who owned a basketball. He didn’t know how to play, and he never shared the ball. Eventually, he left the game, irate, saying everyone was a fool. We just laughed at that silly kid.
The other day I went to a shop near that square. I avoid looking. It is a parking lot now. It all comes back to me, in a few split seconds. The excitement. Childhood friends. Discovering life. Through sports. In between the school lessons. Teenage years. Before other Summers with different beaches, colleges, countries, houses, friends and girlfriends.
“What are you thinking of?”, She asks. I just flew over there in my mind.
I was remembering Ned’s father, who always embarrassed him, shouting from the second-floor window, while having a cigarette:
“Nice one, Ned!”. His face, in disgust. Funny moments.
There was also a strange old man, obsessed with his new car. He would go out at 11.30 pm and parked it in an available spot closer to his building entrance. He used to clean the car almost every day. Hilarious character.
Eventually, Ned’s father, turned to us and said, usually around midnight:
“What about going back home? People also need to sleep, you know? The basketball board will still be here tomorrow.”
We followed his advice.
That kid, who once went to a famous local basketball club tryout, went home. It was a very special night. When he was in his bedroom, he set the alarm clock. At 3 am he woke up and put the headphones. He loved to hear the live games, through a NATO radio. Bless that radio. Those inflamed voices from across the ocean…
“Michael Jordan finally wins!” That first win versus Magic. Then Barcelona, the Dream Team. That kid was always with his Chicago Bulls backpack. Before the internet. That American satellite TV channel. He enjoyed watching the news; sometimes they showed NBA highlights. On Sundays, that weekly NBA hour ( the highlight of the first and second quarters and almost all of the second half) was his own church.
Tomorrow that kid will sprint to the far away kiosk and buy his favorite magazine, called “Super Basket,” the only magazine available about the NBA. He had his first contact with Spanish language through those pages: “Rebotes?” What a funny word! Tápon?! Later it was Gigantes, then the French Reverse, Mondial Basket, the American Hoop, Official NBA Magazine, Slam, and a ton of words in different languages.
That kid never forgot those words, those games, that incredible basketball board.
As I write some occasional articles about the NBA and meet cool people I had only seen on TV, I always remember that kid. He’s the best part of me, I guess. And although that playground is a distant memory, I still go to a basketball court and shoot some hoops whenever I need to make a difficult decision. It helps me to balance.
“Basketball is a bit like life,” said Pierre, not only our favorite teacher but also a quasi-philosopher. It’s about playing together, knowing your strengths and weaknesses and trust your colleagues. No one wins alone, remember that.”. The kid listened carefully.
That kid was me.
Strength in Numbers
Warriors, the seventy-three wins team
Fans gushing everywhere
Curry and his unbelievable threes
Klay, the outside shooter with sniper precision
Green, the heart and soul of the team
Iguodala, King’s Slayer.
Blur. Speights. Livingstone. Ezeli. Clark. Varejão. Bogut. Rush. Barnes.
Kerr, the Master Tactician.
Strength in numbers.
You, from the Bay area,
producing timeless memories.
Oracle, the mythical arena.
NBA Gods nodding in approval.
Remember who you are.
Play to your potential.
Rediscover your golden touch
and you will win
Eighty-nine in total.
Shining bright, always
Superheroes season is about to begin.
Blockbusters are coming our way, narrating stories of distant worlds with larger than life characters.
This season NBA had some good supernatural stories as well:
A mythical record broken by Warriors Superheroes, led by Curry and his threes from out there;
Canada only basketball team traveling to uncharted territory;
Cavaliers stealing some trees from #StrengthinNumbers forest. Twenty-five, to be more precise. The dream of a memorable night in Cleveland’s Summer, looming;
Durant and Westbrook, playing the villains — too selfish, no chemistry. And there they go, running and flying all over the court, battling their very own ghosts and demons.
You look at that recurring presence.
Flamboyant look, precise words.
Witty and attentive. Humorous, always.
Extracting laughter from Pop frugal comments.
America’s sideline reporter. A life devoted to one competition.
His name, synonymous with NBA nights.
His style, synonymous with irreverence.
Above all, intense passion for the game of basketball.
Shining bright, always.
Those shining jackets, reflecting his love for the game.
And like all the best,
Ignoring the pain, narrating live occurrences.
Interviews. Business as usual. Life unfolding.
Nice words exchanged with Kevin and Marv.
Acute remarks between unexpected sparks.
As this season approaches the end
NBA Scholar looks at this courageous man
Apparently oblivious to the fact
He makes everyone understand
A real superhero is living amongst us.
Curry, LeBron, Durant, Westbrook.
Legends of the game.
Doing their thing in front of Sager,
5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 x 4 = 60 words
If you were lucky to have experienced Michael Jordan’s revolution that changed the NBA and basketball all over the world, you understand it.
His Airness gone. Bird, Magic… these new kids have some skills, but it’s not the same… Oh, another “next Jordan”? Let’s check this new kid… it should be entertaining.
Wait a second… this man can play! Amazing skills, good fundamentals, excellent athleticism…
Hey, I know that move! He’s copying MJ!
Dominance with Shaq. The tender years. Illusion of perpetual bliss. LA: new ring city.
It was just a glimpse. Soon darker times approached. Losing seasons. Epic individual performances. No rings. Channeling the hero-villain identity. “Too selfish,” some kept saying.
81 points, the stuff of legends. Not even Jordan did that. 19 points shy from Wilt Chamberlain record.
Breaking records. Creating epic memories. Black Mamba. That mamba bite was too dangerous.
New allies: Gasol, Odom, Ariza. More trips to the Finals, NBA’s Shangri-La. Two more rings. One shy of MJ’s sacred ground – 6 Championships.
That moment, watching you annihilating Phoenix Suns incredible imaginative team, with 7 seconds or less to make or break it. Innovation. Dawn of a new NBA era: faster, with more shots from the great beyond. Crushed by your demeanor. That image. What time, 5, 6 am? In a distant city, eyes glued to the screen. Two times and Gentry, horrified in the locker room. Black Mamba, yet again. Cruel. It’s just the way he is.
Final chance. Captain Canada, Gasol and Howard. A world of possibilities. Not peace, though. Back to square one. You never cared about the “lighter” aspect of the business. All or nothing. Win or lose. No space for “funny business”. That hypothesis, scratched.
Recurring injuries. The final years. Observing from the bench. Oh, so this is what NBA fun feels like? Intriguing looks. Amazement. You feel it. The end is near. Time to archive the venom.
Final All-Star Game. That first shot. How many times had to go around the rim until it eventually went in? The irony. Your career, unlike any other. Full of twists and turns. Constant attention.
The solitary kid. Poliglote. Introvert. Obsessed. How many names did they tag you with? The urgency of winning. Not many understood you. Jordan, the ultimate compliment: “He’s as cursed as I am”.
Making amends with Shaq. Getting everyone’s admiration words. Validation. At last, you start smiling. Being more relaxed. A new life will soon start. No more basketball.
Farewell tour. The hero. The villain. You should hate me, you say. NBA Scholar “doesn’t do hate” (a waste of time, not productive, not cool). Nevertheless, he understands the concept. Kobe, the enigma. Not everyone can be a media darling. You just wanted to win. Period. All the rest: irrelevant.
Final games. Boston. Chicago. New York. Toronto. San Antonio. Oklahoma City. The accolades, in full display on huge screens. Everywhere, people acknowledging your remarkable production. Top 10 NBA player. Closest to Jordan’s skill level. Collector of records. Destroyer of dreams. Admired. Vilified. Winner. Legend.
You finally remember those words from your idol. You wanted to be as good (if not better!) as him. You came very close. Your poise, unmatched. Your work ethic, unparalleled. Your records, for posterity.
A few miles away, another kid is doing out of this world splashes. At the same time, Kobe (Jordan’s heir) and Curry – the new face of the NBA – will start the final game of the season. Kobe, who broke plenty of records and won 5 rings. Legacy that will stay forever. Like the best of them all. Russel, Jordan, Dr. J, Chamberlain, Magic, Bird. You made it, Mr. Bryant. Your hard work paid off. NBA Gods, waiting for you in NBA Olympus. Your name, carved for eternity amongst basketball fans around the world. Kobe, synonymous with hard work and relentless pursuit of championships.
A new NBA era is about to start. As you exit the scene, one of the “unbreakable records” is about to be broken or matched. Young kids call you their Jordan. Music to your ears. It’s all about being the best. Playing to be the best. More titles. More records. To dominate. Some will get it. Only a few, probably. Such is the nature of genius. You made it, kid. Thank you, Kobe Bryant.
When he was younger, the silence fascinated him. In that large chapel full of boys and girls, he registered everything with his dark, incisive eyes. Then there were the words. The preaching. Most of them stayed quiet and reverent. He took mental notes of that group of people. Writing.
Then there were the lessons. He didn’t appreciate them so much because of his independent ways. He didn’t like to be taught or to be told what to do. He was already shaping his personality. Rebelling.
One day, though, a different lesson was taught. A simple task. “Do good deeds to people. Whenever you make a good action, wrap a little bit of paper and save it on an empty matchbox. At the end of the month, burn the matchbox with all the papers, representative of your good deeds” (representative, he noticed. New word, check it later).
So he did. At first, it was an odd feeling to place those little papers on an empty match box. Still, he managed to finish the project. On the last day of the month, as advised, he chose a dark place and burned it. As the flames made their quiet ascension, he was assaulted by the memories of those actions – helping the old lady cross the street, taking a friend who had an injury to the hospital, helping his mother carrying the groceries. They seemed connected. As if those flames had the power to somehow revive them, while they burned. Those memories would never fade away.
A few days ago he walked through a dangerous neighborhood. A beggar was asking for money on the sidewalk. She looked fatigued. Nevertheless, she smiled when he turned to her. He took his wallet and gave her a generous amount of money. He knew it wouldn’t solve her problems. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Jobs needed to be created. He reflected on this while walking with some groceries back home. For a few seconds, he remembered the mother’s reaction on those old, remote days. Whistling while he took all the heavy bags. Contentment.
When he arrived at the house, he went through the old drawers searching for that rectangular box. Nostalgia.
He moves to the window. As he listens to his past and fantasizes about the future, he mentally burned the new paper on the old matchbox. That mythical item wasn’t there anymore. It was left somewhere in the old school, where all the boys and girls ran free. Loving life.
He smiled. Somehow, that fire had survived. Against all odds those papers, those souls… would now live forever, glimmering for eternity.
It happened some years ago.
It was a regular occurrence. Every weekend some of us would sit down, sometimes more, sometimes less. Regardless of the number of guests, there was always a lot of food, drinks and great atmosphere. It became a bit of a ritual: our usual pre-going out weekend party.
On one of the times, though, we overdid it. As we left that house heading downtown, as euphoric and ecstatic as we could be, I realized she was looking funny. Somehow displaced, she seemed far away from us.
As we arrived on that rainy night
(it was always raining in that place…)
fate provided that we were left alone from the group. We started walking and as she prepared to cross the street, a speeding bus
(buses were always speeding in that place…)
came fast and furious in her direction. She kind of propelled herself and started crossing. It was just some split seconds of our life… decisive seconds. As she went further, I realized the bus would just go through her, probably terminating her life. She went further…
… and further…
… almost out of hand…
In that moment I went to grab her and pushed her back, miraculously. Somehow I managed to save her life. We stood there, heavy rain pouring down, trying to understand what had just happened. Then she came closer, hugged me and started to cry. Crying like a lost child.
‘I miss my friends’, she said.
I looked at her, stunned. I mumbled at her ear: ‘what do you mean? We are your friends…’ She said she enjoyed our company but missed her hometown childhood friends. It was her first time away from home and she felt lonely.
»»I remember realizing, as if all that amount of alcohol had suddenly evaporated, she was only a little girl. Approaching the young adult age, she was probably starting to feel the weight of expectations upon her shoulders. I met her parents once. Rich, formal, asseptic people. Cold.
Over time we had become very good friends. She said she had to follow her parents path, both very successful scientists. I didn’t dare to ask her what was it that she really wanted. She just spaced out to her thoughts. I felt her burden. Sometimes she did some exquisite drawings.««
When she finally stopped crying, I put my hand in her beautiful hair and kissed her softly. As softly as any little girl deserves to be kissed. Rain was coming down violently. It was getting cold.
(it was always cold in that place…)
Years went by. People, as seasons, came and went. Girlfriends, party people, friends, good and bad moments, some other distant lands full of strange and captivating people. Life.
Many times I wonder how rare is it to save a person’s life… That defining moment I pushed that sweet cute girl to me… I saved her life. I go back to that moment, I replay it in my mind. Was she trying to terminate her burdens in that cold, rainy night? It’s a question that will puzzle me forever, I guess. I realize I did something most people only see in movies or read in books. The bus, the rain, her estranged look, her sobbing afterwards… her sweet innocent lips. My life has been so much richer than so many books or movies. I guess I should feel blessed. Still, it drains you in a way. Sometimes it’s just too much.
After that moment, all of it became softer, as if that kind of extreme situation had to be surpassed. Leaves started falling, autumn and winter made their way for even colder nights.
Sometimes I remembered her saying she felt ugly (she was born in one of those countries burdened with the terrible stigma of racism…). I never expressed how beautiful she was. It was my personal selfish moment, savoring her wait for a cumpliment, a timeless moment where a young girl seeks approval from an older man. I might have tried to disguise it through words but my eyes probably failed. Sometimes I even remember her kissing me with her eyes closed, just like any little girl should kiss…
I guess in this life’s golden coast we’re just a big group of individuals trying to swim to love’s beautiful sandy beach… I sing along and remember that sweet lost girl I met once upon a time, in a distant place…
“So where you from, girl?
And will you paint my world?
And if so, come under my wings.
So what’s your story?
And is there glory today?
‘Cause that’s the only way out there. “
Just finished reading Shaq’s story about Uncle Mike: http://www.theplayerstribune.com/shaquille-oneal-tpt-assist-my-brothers-keeper-uncle-mike/
It made me smile and think on how people that surround us, especially at a young age, are important to us, helping defining who we are. As we grow up we always remember these special people from that past life. If you’re lucky, you meet some more along your life journey. One of the truths I found out as the years strolled by, is that the nicest people tend to be the ones who had been through harder times. Not all, of course. Some just adopted that distant cynicism that detaches them to a full and enjoyable existence. But many are just too beautiful or too damaged to consider any other way. As if they are afraid of spreading that ailment. These bunch constitute the heroes of my life.
I especially remember two persons. One of them was a girlfriend of mine at the time. We were standing at the bus stop and suddenly, a huge explosion nearby takes place. People got scared, screamed and were trying to take cover, myself included (as we found later later, it had been a “simple” gas explosion). When I looked around I didn’t see her, those were frightening seconds. Finally my eyes turned to another direction and there she was, oblivious of it all, helping this really old lady, who got so scared she couldn’t move. I still have that image imprinted on my brain. I guess it was the fact she didn’t care about no one (including herself) but that poor scared old lady. I asked her later why did she do it and didn’t just run away, like the rest of us. She answered saying she couldn’t help but to reach out for her. Then I asked: “yeah, but what about you?”, to which she replied that thought didn’t even crossed her mind. “She was helpless and very scared”, plus she reminded me my sweet departed grandmother,” she added. As it turned out, her grandmother had been almost like a mother to her and she was still mourning her loss. “Old people, they are so fragile, isn´t it?”, she asked. I just hold her and there we stood, impervious with it all, as time stood still.
The other person on my personal heroes list is a friend I made some time ago. I sympathised with him immediately because he behaved rather erratically when we first met. After I knew him better, I discovered he was as straight shooter as they come. Nothing or no one got in his way, I could relate to that. Evidently, he got in trouble often. Still, I always admired him for his raw honesty. “She’s no good for you, you’ll see”, he said. Turned out he was right about a girlfriend of the time. As I knew him better he told me a bit more about his path. He showed me pictures of his ex-wife and kids. He was going through a tough time back then, having just ended a long relationship with a girlfriend. As he pulls the picture of one of the kids, his voice starts to fail on him. I could see this a sensitive subject. “This is my granddaugher”, he said. “I’m a grandfather, already, do yo believe it?” He told me the only thing he had was that picture, he was not allowed to see her. That, itself, could make the happiest person cry. Bad divorce. Bad relationship with the kids.
He was in a really dark place in his life. Drank to forget. He just drank too much. The thing that impressed me the most to this day was the fact he would always ask me, even when he was completely trashed: “what about you? Are you happy? Are you haaappyyy?” with his drunken dragged voice. I looked at him, a person who had just one or two friends besides me, no job, quickly becoming an alcoholic, no family ties, nothing much going for him, still… still he turned and worried about me.
I remember this often. Some people are just too good. We are told to be kind and helpful. But one thing is to do it when you have a normal life. The other, quite different, is to do it when your life is shattered in small pieces and you don’t have a clue how to solve your own puzzle. To reconstruct your former, well adjusted existence. Last time I saw him he said it had been an honor to know me, which I found a clear exaggeration. “No, it was an honor and a privilege for me to know you. You’re a really good friend and a excellent person”, I said. We said goodbye and I went my way. On the way to my destination, I thought about all the favours he did and asked nothing in return. One time I decided to ask him: “aren’t you angry with your daughter, not allowing you to see the baby?” He replied, “what’s the point of being angry? Maybe tomorrow it will be better. What about you, are you happy? Are you happy? That’s all that matters”.
Some people are just too good. If you’re lucky, you have them in your life and everything will feel easy and smooth, like walking on the beach with your wife, playing with the kids, enjoying the sunset. If not, you can find yourself on the top of the mountain, cold as ice, alone with everybody. It could feel like being in a stadium full of people partying and sharing with their love ones. You might reach for them but you realize they’re not there. You would like to ask them “What about you? Are you happy? Are you happy? That’s all that matters.”
In the end, it is all more luck than one would like to believe. The right person, the right moment. To help mute that explosion noise. But sometimes there is no help. And so the noise endures.
It happened three weeks ago, on a typical saturday afternoon.
I picked up Kate at her apartment and went to Tom´s house. He´s one of my oldest friends and I was pleased to know she likes him as well. It´s a tricky thing, if your girlfriend doesn´t approve your friends, especially in the early stages.
Anyway, so there we were, alongside Julie, Tom’s girlfriend. They have been together for some time and they are – without knowing – our reference couple: not boring, cool, interesting people with the special bonus of not being affected with that.
Last but not least, Peter joined us. We can see he´s bit nervous, always checking his outfit and posture. He brough his new girfriend, they are still in that stage of “relationship honeymoon”. We were all there to celebrate Tom’s birthday. He was turning 28 years old. The house was packed with a really nice and raucous crowd. Being his closest friends, we stayed with him and Julie until the end. Visibly tipsy, there was a cool atmosphere in that house.
By this time, it was only the six of us and another couple, a recent addition to our group. He was a colleague of Tom who had just relocated and was getting acclimated to the city. Julie adored his girlfriend and they seemed a good addition to our group, easy going people. When everybody left, we picked up some special bottles of wine and sat in the living room. Peter turned on the TV as we were drinking. Between adverts promoting movies and reality shows, there was a brief NBA related ad. I don´t remember exactly who was in it. I just remember Peter saying:
– Oh no, this has got to be the worst power forward of the NBA!
Instinctively, the newest member of this group replied:
– Well, he´s not that bad.
Julie immediately looked at me. I diverted the stare and looked straight at Tom, who was smiling. Julie tried to serve us more wine but, mainly, kill that conversation. You see, there is a unwritten rule amongst us. We are not allowed to express our NBA opinions outside a very restricted group. Why? Well, let’s just say we can be harsh, to put it mildly. We can also be absolutely brutal. It all depends of the levels of sugar in the blood. Immersed in these thoughts, Peter, who had been quiet most of the night, fired away.
– Please elaborate on that…
– Well, as I see it he is as good as it gets in the paint.
A sudden feeling of terror invaded the room. I knew it, my girlfriend knew it. Everybody knew it. I tried to anticipate the fatidic and inevitable first trick question but I was too late.
– So, Mister…
– So, Mister Trent, I can see you’re an avid NBA fan.
– Well, I wouldn´t say avid but I know about the NBA, I´ve been following it for a long time now.
– Hmm, I see. And for a long time you mean how many years, exactly?
– Well, about eight years ago.
– Eight years ago! Interesting…
– What about you? Do you follow it regularly?
– You can say that, Trent, you can say that… – said Peter, pausing for a sip. We knew him all too well. He was morphing to the terrible and legendary Rant Master, a nickname he gained by discussions held all over the city sports bars which, inevitably, led to random acts of chaos and crazyness. At this point I tried to intervene, aiming to diminish the already visible tension in the room.
– Are you enjoying living here in the city? – I asked, hoping to erradicate the NBA themed conversation.
– Yes, it has been great, nice people, cool vibes.
– I see. And do you…
Before I was able to carry on, Peter returned with a sense of urgency.
– Hey, Trent, what is your favorite NBA team?
At this point, the 3 girls tried to save the night:
– Hey, what do you say we go to that nice bar around the corner for a few drinks? That new one which opened a few weeks ago.
– I don´t mind, – Trent replied. – And to answer your question I like the Cavs. Lebron James is the best player in the planet. Mesmerizing, I would say…
– You don´t say, huh? Mesmerizing… – answered Peter, evolving to his trademark Mr. Burns “release the hounds” mode… – Let me ask you this Trent… how would you rank “the king” in the history of the game?
– Claearly a top 5! – he said, exulting confidende.
Oh no… everybody knew it. This night was doomed.
– TOP 5? – Peter asked him loudly? Are you talking seriously? Have you read or seen documentaries about the history of the Association? – he asked, as a palpitating vein started to come alive on his neck. That meant trouble.
– Sure. Why not?
– Why not… WHY NOT?? I´ll tell you why not – he said, almost shouting. – You have Kareem, Wilt, Magic, Russel, Bird, Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem, Kobe, Isiah, Tim Duncan,.. I can go on…
– Shaquille? Please… he could´t shoot a free throw.
This was a major faux pas. Shaquille was one of Peter´s favorite players. He actually had a small personal library, more like a church, where he kept all the collectibles. We´re talking about thousands of dollars. At this stage, the girls – horrified with the upcoming verbal slaughter bound to happen – went outside.
– Look, Mr. Trent, I don´t know what you’ve been smoking but if you say that out loud in some places they could really embarass you. Shaquille could not be stopped. He was the definition of unstoppable in the paint. On the other hand, Lebrick is relentless about his pursue of mediocrity. In all fairness, he already gained a reputation as “the Lord of the Lost Rings” amongst some circles.
– “The Lord of the Lost rings”? I can see you are nothing but a salty hater. – said a surprisingly fearless Peter. Could he be up to the task of challenging him?
– It´s like this. I can see you’re young but unfortunately not so wise for your age. Lebron is a simple scavenger of individual stats. He has a NBA Finals record of 2-4. You work as as accountant, right? You should now that 4 is the double of 2 and four is the number of losses. Hence, he just underperforms when it matters most..
– But he has great stats…
– 2-4 is THE defyining stat. Saying Great + Lbs is a contradiction in terms. He is a consistent loser. Plus, he lacks sportsmanship. Did you see the splash brothers making fun of him at the end, at the press conference?
– Still, I like him. He is fast.
– Well, he sure can run away like a superhero. Were you raised in Cleveland ?
– Yes. – he said.
– Ah ok, you´re excused. Neighbors, kids below 16 and regular NBA2K gamers whose NBA knowledge derives from 5 minutes youtube highlights are automatically excused. You´re lucky. You are in.
– I´m in? What is this? Some kind of twisted verbal NBA Fight Club?
– Ha! – exclamated Peter – Fight Club is child’s play compared to this. You know, we are all very NBA knowledgeable people here. Tom´s father actually played in the ABA. We know ex-players. Making foolish remarks like that is a no go for us. We are giving you the benefit of the doubt. From now on, please do not engage a conversation about NBA with us. Got it?
– Ok, if you say so – he said.
– Good, you are allowed to leave the building. Let´s meet the ladies at the bar. – Hey, can you pass me that magazine over there?
– This one with R. Rondo and Monta Ellis in the cover?
– Yep. Cool pic, huh?
– Yep. In my opinion, Monta Ellis is a much better Point Guard than Rondo nowadays.
We looked at Peter. That was it.
– What did you say? WHAT DID YOU SAY? Monta Ellis is not comparable to Rondo, you don’t even know the difference between a Point Guard and a Shooting Guard? Out you go! Out now!
– What do you mean? Hey, Tom, he´s not serious right? Are you kicking me out, just like that??
– Just like that? – Tom asked. Mixing a PG with a SG is a serious offense. Sorry, you´ll have to go.
– You are all a bunch of *`)=()&/(%$&$%&&// !!!
As he left we notest there was still a bit of wine left. We decided to finish it. Peter added:
– Do you think I was too hard with the kid? He´s still young…
– Well, maybe you could have been a bit more sensitive. – said Tom.
– Then again, he messed a PG with a SG, commited a maximum penalty with the great + lbj reference and didn´t even know about Shaq´s history. That is a trifecta penalty. – I added.
– Indeed. I was probably too soft. I´m losing my touch. – Peter concluded.
We finished our drinks and met the girls at the bar. Kate immediately asked me:
– Why do you always act like these presumptuous “know it all” annoying individuals?
– Because you cannot disrespect the history of the game. You just can´t. Plus it´s funny. You should have seen his face.
– Ok, but you’re staying in touch, right?
– What are you saying? He did a trifecta infraction.
– Say what??
– Yep, he associated great + lbj, didn´t know Shaq´s legacy and, on top of that, he mixed PG with SG.
– The horror… the horror… the horror…
– I know, right?
– I get it now – she said – That is just too much madness for a saturday night. I mean, who says that out loud?
We kissed and got a few more drinks. Just love this hoops savvy girl, she might be a keeper.
The problem of living according to Sartre’s “Hell is other people”
philosophy is that it obliterates all the kindness coming your way.
It’s like thinking the other is a potential enemy,
instead of a potential friend.
I guess that, like most things in life, it is all a matter of perspective.
As he lights the last cigarette
I realize those demons will never truly disappear,
those clouds of sadness will never really dissipate.
I hope to see joy and hear laughter one day
But instead he gazes at the bridge, that elusive place nearby.
Close but at the same time a million miles away.
As I leave, heading towards the bay
I understand some things can’t be explained, only experienced.
“What are you doing here, boy?
Can’t you see there is no food? You have to go.”, he remembers.
Somehow that hunger never went away.
“People are mean”, he says.
Hell is other people, boy, people are mean.
I drive through that road and I feel my heavy heart,
it forces me to stop.
I feel like I carry all the weight of that twisted world.
What a horrible history… why didn’t he ask for help?
That Hell never leaves his mind.
How I wish he could be happy… the beach is always near.
One day, maybe… a happy day.
As I arrive home I kiss her gently. She feels my sadness.
I let go a tear while she hugs me and whispers encouraging words.
Happiness is other people.