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Category archive for: Opinion

Blake Griffin: Leveling Up

In the ongoing discussion focused around Blake Griffin and just how good he may or may not be, I present exhibit “A” (originally a gif, but it was taking too long to load so just click play; you won’t regret it):

Besides LeBron James, what other big guy comes even remotely close to being able to do this? THAT’s a POWER forward!

Seerat Sohi and Zach Lowe recently put up a couple of great pieces at ClipperBlog and Grantland respectively. You should check them out to get an expanded, and well-written breakdown of what makes Blake Griffin a special player.

As for my thoughts on the matter, well, they’re a little biased seeing as how I root for the Clippers. In spite of that, however, what cannot be taken away is the amount of progress that we’re seeing from Blake – improved shooting and free-throw percentage, increased handles, smarter decisions while airborne and a maturity of the desire to win above all else.

I left the following comment on Seerat’s piece, so instead of re-writing it here, I thought I’d just quote myself—that’s right, quote myself. #DontHate

…Blake Griffin, has shown tremendous improvement in key areas that afflicted his effectiveness last season, especially as of late.

In addition to an ever-improving midrange shot and Crawfordesque handles, Blake has begun to focus on defenders’ weaknesses instead of relying merely on his strengths. In exploiting those weakness, whether they emanate from a defender’s lack of speed, strength or IQ, Blake is transcending beyond just a highlight player.

Griffin even implemented the scoop into his game this season. More often than not he’s finishing plays with a finger-roll instead of violently attempting to throw it down while we hold our breaths.

As bummed as I was to see Chris Paul go down, it’s allowed the development of Griffin even more. Big ups to the young man! May he develop that Swiss army knife of skills even more!

#CountIt

It’s like the beast is finally self-aware. Not only will you be immortalized if you get in his way after takeoff, now you run the risk of looking silly and lost if he’s running the point.

How do you feel about Blake Griffin’s improvements? Are you still a hater? Or do you think he could one day occupy the title of “Best Power Forward in the game”?  Sound off!

The Power of A Soccer Ball: The One World Futbol Project

To use the idea of sport to resolve conflicts, teach tolerance and equality, and help kids recover from trauma. — Tim Jahnigen

What if you could help bring joy through donating something as simple as a ball?
What if you could help bring joy through donating something as simple as a ball?

Every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we run into partnerships that speak to us and some of our deepest passions.

This morning I ran into a Mashable article about a seemingly indestructible soccer ball that was making its way to remote areas of the world where it is most needed. Areas where the harsh conditions of terrain or geopolitics have a way of flattening hope as often as they flatten balls.

The idea of creating a durable soccer ball came to Tim Jahnigen after watching, and being moved by, a news clip about children refugees in Darfur. The children, in order to enjoy the simple pleasure of playing soccer, would improvise with trash and twine and innovate a make-shift soccer ball.

Bourne out of the simple passion of sport, the clip motivated Jahnigen to pursue a solution to the problem through creating a new type of ball that wouldn’t flatten.

Although, Jahnigen personally lacked the resources to bring his idea to life, his vocation as a music producer provided him access to someone who would help the concept become reality: Sting.

Together they brought vision to life and created a ball made “of injection-molded, closed-cell foam, similar to the material used to make Crocs shoes.”  The ball is “virtually indestructible, can’t be deflated, doesn’t get waterlogged and is made to survive.”

Check out the story in their own words:

In addition to the many organizations that the project has already collaborated with, the cause found a major brand willing to partner with One World: Chevrolet. The major car company has committed itself to donating 1.5 million One World Futbol Project balls over the span of three years.

Chevrolet even created an entire micro-site and social media presence devoted solely to promoting and tracking their collaboration with this project.

Naturally, a brand partaking in such a cause does have inherent interests that extend beyond “just doing good.” Additionally, the One World Futbol project is classified as a B Corp, and not strictly a non-profit. This means that although there is a genuine cause at the heart of this operation, there is a product being sold (as well as costs associated with that product).

Still, this should not detract from the value that a simple soccer ball brings to kids that are lucky enough to play because of it, nor from the efforts associated with this campaign via Chevrolet FC. In fact, I commend them highly for choosing this specific cause because it speaks to me personally.

As a kid, I grew up in a Latin American country where we used to save up what little money we had as kids (pennies and quarters really), in order to purchase an extremely cheap plastic ball full of air that would get punctured and go flat almost immediately. Our solution to this problem was to cut the ball in half, fill it with dirt, and tape it back up – this extended the life of the ball and enriched our childhood days.

I didn’t live in a conflict area but there was enough poverty among us to relate to the heart-breaking joy I see in some of the photos or videos hosted on the One World Futbol Project website.

For those of you fortunate enough to be able to donate to a cause, the One World Futbol Project donates one soccer ball for every soccer ball purchased through their website; or you can just donate a ball if you don’t need one.  Check this page for details.

A simple soccer ball brings communal good and individual joy that stays with us through the years. Trust me, I’ll never forget how happy we were kicking around a ball made of dirt and plastic.

Why I Tweet About The Lakers and The Clippers

On the eve of the 2013-2014 NBA season, I find myself at a sort of bizarre crossroads that I had long expected and that I wished to avoid, not so much for the nature of the situation, rather because it would force me to write—that dreadful and lovable activity which controls my subconscious for most of the day.

Being a fan of sports is an interesting thing. To put oneself through the emotional investment of fanhood is irrational at times. We look towards sports as entertainment, an outlet where we can forget about our worries and troubles, and yet, if we devote enough of ourselves to it, it takes on a life of its own and we’re left to reconcile another level of reality, principles and problems: sports principles and problems.

A little history…

I fell in love with the NBA in the early 90s when I was first introduced to the NBA. I didn’t grow up in the US. My family did not have long drawn out allegiances to the majestic Lakers, nor were they proud martyrs of following the Clippers. I was left to my own devices with no advice or forewarning as to the life-long implications and repercussions of my team choices.

All I knew back when I could hardly speak any English was that there was once a team that ruled the earth, and they wore purple and gold. They were often referred to as the “Showtime” Lakers and my friends were split between choosing them and Larry Bird’s Celtics when it came to video games.

While I respected my friend’s team choices, no one ever took the time to explain to me what was so great about the Lakers. How could I ever develop an infinite bond with a team I hardly knew? At the same time, NBC and some fella named Ahmad Rashad were constantly talking about some other fella named Michael Jordan.

It was the time of His Airness and I was hooked. Jordan and the Bulls became my team (bandwagon and all), and from that point forward, I knew I could not switch regardless of when the reign would end. You all know how the story goes: MJ wins 3 championships, retires for about a year, comes back and wins 3 more in a storybook ending (I refuse to acknowledge the Washington years—you can’t make me!).

The Bulls then chose to take a break from basketball, just because they were tired, and didn’t resurface until Derrick Rose joined the team (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

In between all of this, we all grew up and learned to think—differently, perhaps more, and in some cases less. I left LA for a few years for college and then came back when it was time to fend for my own.

I started watching the NBA once again, largely devoting what little free time I had to catching Bulls games, but also keeping up with the Clippers and the Lakers.

As #NBATwitter entered my life and access to information became ubiquitous, my eyes and mind opened up to lot more than what I previously enjoyed about basketball. Networks gobbled up live sporting events to compete for air time on features most people wouldn’t DVR.

Sporting events, especially the NBA, began to take on a new life and with personalities like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the cream of today’s generation giving new life to a sport I once loved immensely, I was once again hooked—this time older and (hopefully) wiser.

The shift towards LA

Although my allegiance stayed intact, and as life would have it a work schedule that doesn’t always permit me to watch EST time games, I began following both LA teams a lot more closely than my Bulls. I realized that if I wanted to carve out a tiny pothole in the road of great coverage and writing from all of those I admire in the NBA blogosphere, I would have to focus on “covering” one team.

There are seemingly an infinite number of news items, posts and angles floating around out there for every team. There’s no possible way I could actually hang with that level of rapid fire posting were I to attempt to be team-neutral. Instead, I chose to focus on the forgotten team of LA (forgotten until Blake Griffin came to town).

I couldn’t go with the more famous of the two, as tempting as that may have been from a prestige perspective. It was blatantly obvious that the Lakers had, and still have, a tremendous phalanx of writers, journalists and bloggers covering their every move.

I thought to myself: Why not show some love for the underdog? Besides, a good portion of Lakers Nation didn’t always display the best sportsmanship, often deriding and ridiculing the poor Clippers and their small fan base—something that continues to this day and which has intensified due to the arrival of legitimate talent and minds like Chris Paul & Doc Rivers which seek to transform the legacy of a downtrodden brand.

It was decided. I was happy to devote my ridiculous tweets to covering the Clippers while Lakers fans wailed on “us.” Along the way I picked up some Clippers followers who have been, according to themselves, die-hard followers of the team for quite some time. To their credit, a lot of them tend to be season ticket holders, something that definitely takes gravitas.

Relationships developed and in a parallel fashion, my Twitter game grew (a little; not too much—I’m still a jackass on Twitter). As I became acquainted with more serious writers and bloggers, I quickly rid myself of some of the disdain I had developed from negative experiences forged by bad apples in purple and gold.

Instead, I focused on the story lines, the news, the tweets, everything about LA basketball regardless of team. The colors I loved (red and black), and the colors I chose to cover (red, white and blue), were now joined by the melodrama of the purple and gold. This dual coverage, thus, is what has been causing some interesting reactions on Twitter from people who would prefer that I choose and stick to one team.

I can see how it can be confusing, I totally get it. Fan lines are very strongly drawn on the ground and the tribal mentality of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” is often the norm and the easiest way to gauge who you will and will not follow.

There is social currency to the avatar you rock, which is why when you check out my profile, you will see that I have a picture of Michael Jordan and not a Lakers or Clippers logo. MJ and the Bulls are my roots and the reason for me falling in love with the NBA. As a tribute to that history and my inability to relinquish my fanhood for Chicago without feeling fake, I remain logo-less (at least until I get a logo for this here blog).

So why do I tweet about both teams—neither of which was my childhood team?

I’ll tweet about the Lakers because whether you like it or not, they are a historic pillar of basketball importance, both locally and nationally. So many legendary names have rocked the uniform that even those who don’t do it justice become ingrained into the veins of Los Angeles lore (we’ll never forget you Smoosh!).

I’ll tweet about the Lakers because Kobe Bryant is extremely important and possibly not human. A transcendent superstar with a vice for championships. A relentless individual that refuses to go gently into the good night, and ultimately a walking deity for a generation that witnessed Kobe become what Michael Jordan became to me.

I’ll tweet about the Lakers because I enjoy making fun of Stu Lantz and the homerific tendencies of those that unconditionally protect the brand from any tarnish that may come its way.

Likewise…

I’ll tweet about the Clippers because maybe it’s their time. They’ve suffered long enough under the tenure of Donald Sterling and his mistress, Misfortune.

I’ll tweet about the Clippers because Chris Paul is as focused and devoted to the game as Kobe, but with a more comprehensive understanding of what it is to be human. I’ll tweet about the Clippers because CP3 inspires people and drives them to be at their best, and because when things aren’t clicking, he becomes a magician on the court, single-handedly willing his team to victory.

I’ll tweet about the Clippers because Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan live above the rim. They made basketball fun to watch in spite of falling short in the playoffs. They invite us into their life of fun and sillyness—something that makes them great to follow even when they’re not playing. They remind us that basketball should be fun.

I’ll tweet about the Clippers because I want to tag along for the ride: when they finally get to the top, it’s going to be something special!

I’ll continue to cover the Clippers in my own very basic of ways because I do want to see those acquaintances I’ve made through Twitter rejoice in the ultimate of stages—they deserve it, and it would make me extremely happy to be able to congratulate them firsthand when the clock hits zero and red and white streamers fall from the heaves.

My love for the game, my appreciation for basketball talent, and the silly and dramatic stories that make the game worth watching extend beyond a single jersey.  If you truly love the game of basketball, a single set of colors will not define your level of appreciation for the work other organizations, athletes, writers, bloggers, and fans go through to support an entity that is only ours in our heart.

I hope you all can see that, even if you never make it this far down on this post (I know it’s super long… like Bill-Simmons-talking-about-his-dad kind of long).

If you stick around, know that I’ll cover both teams because this is where I live and I love LA basketball—with all of its championships and all of its lobs.

It’s a wonderful place to live and it’s an incredible time to be part of the scene. I hope you stick around, even if it’s just for the jokes and soliloquies rather than for the imaginary tribal tendencies that often divide us.

Count it! #andthefoul

Kobe Bryant Becomes 4th All-Time Leading Scorer in NBA History

Kobe Bryant, with this shot, surpassed Wilt Chamberlain to become the 4th all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

A special occasion that’s deserving of quality recognition and promotion, especially  via the Lakers‘ owned social properties.

Although I can’t prove this is where the idea originated from, the Lakers social media team appears to have taken a cue from the 2010 TNT NBA Forever promo that ran on opening day after the lockout.  Coupling present day superstars with their counterparts from the past was a genius move that capitalized on nostalgia and the impossibility of having watched the historically great vs. today’s superstars.

With this branded photo, we are treated to a historic accomplishment in visual form—Kobe rising above a much taller and loger Wilt, in a different uniform than the one he was in when he broke his record no less—crafted in a way that focuses not just on the players involved, but ultimately on Lakers brand/history.  It’s not just a Kobe accomplishment, it’s another purple and gold footprint in the NBA records, and this visual does a great job of driving home the message.

Next up for Kobe Bryant: the looming shadow of the one they call the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan. Kobe, whether he admits it or not, has been chasing Michael for as long he’s been in the league.  Although Kobayashi will have been in the league longer, and Michael will have taken less shots to reach the same number, it will no doubt be a historic and important moment for Kobe Byrant & the rest of Lakers Nation.

I, for one, will be looking forward to the art-work that accompanies this feat which is sure to be exponentially shared in the social space.

Photo credit:  @Lakers on Instagram.

Kobe Bryant - 4th all-time leading scorer in the NBA.

NBA Noche Latina & Why I’m OK with Just “Los” & “El”

The last Noche Latina of 2013 saw Los Bulls take down the 27-game winning streak of El Heat in remarkable fashion.

In-between quarters and during time-outs I got the urge to check out the hashtag for the NBA’s multi-cultural marketing efforts on Twitter.  I wasn’t sure what I was looking for—at best I was hoping to find a few others “like me,” who also happen to be the target audience for this campaign, and at worst I figured I would be greeted with a few typical reminders that “this is America” (actually I did get one of those messages directed at me, but I think it was in jest; or at least I hope it was).

What I found was something unexpected, different and very intriguing in its own right: several tweets expressed an overriding bewilderment about the genuineness of a “Noche Latina” that “half-asses” the Latino part of the campaign by not fully translating the team names and instead settling for mere prepositions.  People more or less wanted “Toros” and “Calor” splashed across the jerseys instead of Los Bulls & El Heat.

While the concern of many may be geared solely at critiquing the NBA for critiquing sake, there was some level of serious curiosity that I felt the need to address from a Latino perspective.

First, when I, and probably countless of other Latinos in the U.S., talk about the local NBA teams with our parents whose primary language is Spanish, I never refer to the Lakers as “Los Laguneros,” nor do I even make the least of attempts to Google whatever Clippers translates to in Spanish (barco of some kind, I’m sure).  I refer to the teams as “Los Lakers” or “Los Clippers,” which is precisely what you’re seeing the NBA attach itself to with this campaign.

The team names and brands are so ubiquitous that even those who don’t watch basketball or speak English know what I’m talking about when I utter the word “Lakers.”  In fact, there are probably more Spanish speakers who know who the Lakers are, even if they don’t know what a Laker is—by the way, how many English speakers know what a Laker is?  (Seriously, somebody needs to shed light on this enigma)

As Spanish speakers, we have come to embrace plenty of English words around us, especially those of brands and teams.  The process of acculturation involves the acknowledgement that English will be the primary way of communication in spite of our ability to be multi-lingual.  In that respect, the NBA is not half-assing anything, but instead accurately depicting the sentiment of their target audience: bicultural and bilingual basketball fans.

If there is some level of unhappiness with the words “Los” and “El” being included in the national discussion of a sport that acknowledges and makes strategic efforts to court the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., it is nowhere near the levels of reactionary hate that would come from a full translation of an established brand into Spanish.

Not that we need that anyway.  I, for one, am perfectly content with the nod to our language via “Los” and “El.”

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