A Very Important Ten Day Contract

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The Sacramento Kings will sign Royce White to a ten day contract.

White, was a star at Iowa State and would have been a top draft pick, if not for his anxiety issues which make it difficult for him to be in large crowds, fly on airplanes, handle pressure, and other situations that arise in the life of a professional basketball player. However, Houston’s GM Daryl Morey took a chance on White’s massive upside by drafting him 16th overall (a incredibly moving story that Grantland documented here). Unfortunately, White did not fit well with the team and was traded to the Sixers, who waived him after a short stint. Since then White has seen some D-League action, but is generally regarded as too big of a risk by most executives in the league.

Whereas some may have hated themselves for their anxiety, White has embraced his condition and become a leading mental health advocate, using Twitter as his soapbox. White tweets encouraging messages to his “Anxiety Troopers,” states his motto of “Be Well,” takes his criticism with maturity, and responds with optimism. White may not be a perfect role model, but his commitment to himself and advocacy for mental health are an inspiration.

Sacramento’s new management has been welcoming of potentially risky players this season, buying low on talented players such as Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams, and now White. White will be a good fit in Sacramento because the Kings already have three veteran power forwards in Jason Thompson Carl Landry, and Quincy Acy who could help White acclimate to the NBA with their calming presence. They, along with Williams, will be taking the majority of the minutes, meaning that White will face little pressure to perform at a high level consistently and could quickly become a fan-favorite garbage time player.

Sacramento’s small-market fan base is slow to condemn players and quick to love them, should White play to the level he is capable, he will soon have a loyal and supportive following. Furthermore, with the Kings just beginning to transition out of rebuilding mode, there will be plenty of time to bring White along slowly and hopefully develop him into a very productive player. Optimistically, White would bring talent not seen since Webber to Sacramento’s power forward position and would compliment the Kings’ resident alpha dog Boogie Cousins. 

White has all the talent necessary to be a star in this league, it’s just a matter of whether or not he can harness that talent. The Kings have a reputation for mishandling young players, but that is largely a holdover from the Maloof-Petrie era. An effective development of White would not only change the culture of dysfunction that looms over the franchise, but would also add a key cog to a team that fancies itself to be in playoff contention within the next couple of seasons. 

If ever there was a player who needed the right team, and a team that needed the right player, Royce White and Sacramento are them. 

Welcome to Sacramento Royce, Be Well.

Digesting the Lama

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Today, I saw the Dalai Lama speak.

When he entered, he exuded gentleness and kindness. He bowed, and smiled, and acknowledged. He bestowed white shawls on his guests. He was the most comfortable person among the thousands gathered, never rushing a word, never stuttering, never lost. He told little jokes, and patted children on the head. The audience ate up his every action, savoring the experience of being in company with a holy man.

When it was his turn to speak, the buzzing audience fell silent. He paused, drinking in the sheer size of the audience that had gathered to see him, and smiled. Then he spoke so delicately that when combined with his strong accent, I was only able to understand about half of what he was saying. Then as he got rolling and the audience acclimated to his speaking style, we heard his simple and clear message.

To paraphrase, Human beings are happiest when we are compassionate. Therefore, the only way to increase happiness in the world is through compassionate actions and teaching compassion to others.

When he finished, the audience was underwhelmed. There was no sweeping proclamations, no grand oratory gestures, no mind blowing philosophical assertions. His voice never rose, he displayed few emotions, and had an obvious message.

Later during the Q&A session, he even deferred to the other speaker, A CEO of a Healthcare conglomerate, when asked what conditions are best for workers in Silicon Valley. The realization that the great and wise Dalai Lama did not feel he was qualified to answer a seemingly easy question crushed the audience. When the event was over, the audience was no longer buzzing, they were deflated because this man with a simple message and limited knowledge did not fit their expectations of holiness and wisdom. What they did not understand, is that holiness and wisdom are simple.

Wisdom is not found in the wildly gesticulating preacher who has all the answers. Wisdom is found in the simple man, with a simple message who only speaks when he knows what he’s talking about. Wisdom isn’t knowing everything, it’s understanding what you can. It’s not searching long and far, it’s seeing what’s in front of you. The audience was underwhelmed because the Dalai Lama’s message was something that we already know.

Deep down, we know happiness stems from compassion, but since compassion is difficult, we look for other ways to be happy that allow us to retain our self-centeredness. Instead of acting in compassion towards others, we search for happiness in material possessions, in shallow relationships, and in costly experiences. The Dalai Lama is wise because when he found the solution to achieving happiness, he lived by it.

When the Dalai Lama was speaking, we were searching for more, instead of appreciating what we got. The audience was deflated because they were expecting mind-blowing philosophical discussion. They expected complexity and grandeur. What we got was a reminder of what we already knew. What we got was knowledge so illuminating, that we were blinded. What we got was simplicity.

What we saw was holiness. What we heard was wisdom.

A Decade of ‘Ye

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Today marks the tenth anniversary of my the debut album by my favorite artist/person. The College Dropout was a four year effort by Kanye West to break into the Hip-Hop game with a sound that record executives had shunned for years. At the time, Hip-Hop was a gangsta’s paradise where street cred was as important as musical ability. Kanye had been turned away because he was not seen as authentic enough to be a rapper considering he had a middle-class childhood with both parents at home. Then Roc-A-Fella Records finally decided that Kanye the Producer deserved an opportunity to become Kanye the Rapper and the rest is history. 

In the ten years since the album dropped, Kanye has gone from up-and-coming rapper to the greatest living artist in America right now. 

Read that last sentence again. 

It’s true. 

Kanye is the premier artist of American culture. Quick name me another artist who not only has survived the last decade, but is still producing the most relevant material out right now….. I’ll wait….. Too late. Yeezus was the most important album of the year. It was the biggest advancement in the the most important genre at the moment. Rap is the new Rock and Roll and Kanye is the biggest rockstar on the planet. 

Kanye’s biggest influence on the genre was to combine the elements of gangsta rap and conscious rapping creating a style all his own that works as well during parties as it does while thinking on long car rides. His influence is undeniable in all of the current successful rappers. Drake, Kid Cudi, and Frank Ocean’s style of hip-hop crooning is impossible without 808s and Heartbreak. Kendrick is opening for him, understanding that the way to become to the future greatest rapper is to learn from the current greatest rapper. Jay-Z recognizes Kanye’s greatness and uses him like a benching partner that pushes Jay to actually give a damn lest he wants Ye murder him on the track. If Jay is the Michael Jordan of Rap, then Kanye is undeniably the Lebron of Rhyme. Everybody else in rap (Chance, Odd Future, J-Cole etc.)  treats Kanye with a reverence usually reserved for Egyptian Emperors.

So you can make fun of him for his ego, which he used to overcome everyone telling him he could not be a good rapper. You can make fun of him for dating Kim, who is probably the only woman who makes any sense as his wife. You can make fun of him for his erratic soundbites, but you always listen to Kanye when he’s speaking.

He is omnipresent in American culture. The most vocal critic of the culture of which he is now at the center. America is not just different because of Kanye, it’s better. It forced mainstream American public to recognize the greatness of black man who was willing to call us out on all of our stereotypes and preconceived notions.

When he saw something disturbing with Katrina, he told the whole world how he felt. “George Bush hates black people,” may not be true, but it drew attention to the fact that even decades after the Civil Rights Movement, thousands of black people were essentially abandoned and left to fend for themselves against the worst natural disaster America has ever seen. Kanye is willing to call out the inherent inequalities of the white-dominated American social structure and as a result he is derided as a lunatic for telling us the inconvenient truths that we have already convinced ourselves are not true. 

Nowhere is this more prevalent than on The College Dropout, consider the subject matter of his songs.

We Don’t Care is criticism of the public schooling system that would rather treat students like mentally-deficient potential criminals rather than human beings with the ability to succeed.

All Falls Down is examination of the rampant materialism in our culture.

I’ll Fly Away and Spaceship are bluesy songs speaking about how difficult it is for a black man to succeed in America and even if he does succeed, how that success can disappear overnight.

Jesus Walks asks why it’s acceptable to talk about sex, violence, and greed, but not spirituality and the supernatural.

Never Let Me Down is a triumphant and inspirational song about succeeding despite the obstacles set in your path.

Get ’em High gave two conscious rappers (Common and Talib Kweli) a chance to rap about conquests and their superiority over other rappers, an interesting dynamic revealing a new side of the two rappers.

The New Workout plan satirizes the fact that women are only valued for their attractiveness and that they can not be successful unless they bag a successful man.

Breathe In Breathe Out talks about how he wants to use his fame to do good in the world, but also how he occasionally succumbs to the temptation of material desires. 

School Spirit talks about rejecting the academic system that does not have his best interests in mind and creating his own path to success. He also satirizes career students who don’t make anything of their lives, but just stay in school until they die.

Two Words questions everything corrupt about American culture especially the second class citizenry of Black people that often either kills them or puts them in jail.

Through the Wire is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

Family Business is a tear-jerking ballad about how important Kanye’s family is to him. 

Last Call is the fascinating story of Kanye going from a nobody producer to finally getting his chance to prove to the world what he could do. 

Sure, Kanye has loads of lines where he brags about his wealth, talks about the bitches he’s banged, and references drug usage, but there is an self-consciousness on the album that cannot be denied no matter how many “Fish Sticks” jokes you make. This album is a work of genius without any filler tracks that holds up strong even ten years later. So bump the album today and recognize how fortunate we are that we live in the same generation as this Demi-God.

Long Live The College Dropout. 

 

 

 

 

THE DUNK CONTEST IS BACK

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Paul George, Damian Lillard, John Wall, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross, and Ben McLemore will be the contestants for this years Slam Dunk contest and I’m going to quote the great Kenny Smith when I say THE DUNK CONTEST IS BACK BABY.

Look at those names. These are All-Stars or potential future All-Stars. In recent years, the Dunk Contest has become a welcome to the NBA for high jumping young players who are trying to make a name for themselves. As a result, Dunk Contests have been boring because nobody knows these players and we don’t care if they do well or not. Its the truth with some cheese on it.

Fans don’t want to just see dope dunks, we want to see our favorite players doing dope dunks. If I just wanted to see dunks, I’d watch some streetball dude who barely knows how to dribble, but has a fifty inch vertical and the flexibility of a gymnast. Fans come to All-Star weekend hoping to see players they know and love redefining the laws of physics. We want to see players that dominate all aspects of the game, who take this weekend to tell us, “Oh yeah I can do this too!” when they throw down a dunk that should not be within the capabilities of mortal men. 

There is nothing like seeing a disgusting jam. A jam that makes a grown man curl up his lip like he just smelled some piss. A jam that turns multi-millionaire NBA stars into kids watching through the fence at their local streetball court. A dunk is primal and emphatic declaration of your existence.

Plus, there will be a bit at stake this year. Damian Lillard and John Wall are among the top players at their position and if I were them, I would want people to know that I can dunk better than that other dude when they’re making comparisons. Ditto for Ross and Barnes. For McLemore, this is a fantastic way for him to make a splash on the NBA scene. Ben was a beast in college, but his pro career has stalled a bit at the beginning. A strong showing would put him on the map of the casual NBA fan and give him the boost he needs to shake off his rookie funk.

But the man who has the most to gain from this is Paul George, who is undoubtably the biggest name in the competition. George has established himself as the third best wing in the league behind the Slim Reaper and King James, both of whom have never participated in the contest, but are also far superior players. If he throws down some nastiness, not only will he be able to say that he’s the only Superstar in the league with the balls to enter the contest, but it would bring that number 3 ranking even closer to the 1 and 2 if he comes away with the title. 

I’m calling it, this is going to be the best contest since Dwight turned into Superman and invented the throw it through the rim dunk. I’m so excited my knees are shaking. I predict a McLemore (shameless Kings fan bias) and George finale with Paul George winning the contest and letting out a barbaric yawp that strikes fear into the hearts of lesser men.

Play me out, Paul

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBnWPuSPp40

Behind the Mask

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Hold your hands about two feet in front of your face. Now make the L7 weenie symbol with your hands. Now imagine yourself enclosed in a ten pound horse head smelling of disinfectant and the sweat of every mascot before you and imagine further that you can only see through that little hand rectangle you made earlier.

Now imagine walking around in an outfit made of synthetic fur that blankets you with sufficient warmth for a night out in Siberia, except that you are in a sweaty gym filled with drunk college students, sugar fueled middle schoolers, and overly friendly toddlers. Imagine the sweat that pours down on you, but instead of making you cooler like sweat usually does, it just makes you wet, so wet that the gigantic horse head you’re wearing begins slipping down your forehead and obscuring your already limited view further. 

Finally, imagine that despite these conditions, you have to dance, take pictures with strangers you can barely see, and keep a positive attitude during a game where your team is getting beat by ten, Oh and you can’t talk. If your imagination is sufficient, you now have an idea of what it is like behind the mask.

Two days ago, I wore a mascot costume and despite the hellish conditions that I just laid out, it was not that bad. 

First off, I had no training at all. The time between me finding out I was gonna be in the suit and me being in the suit was about 24 hours. 

Young children were who I interacted with the most. They were either terrified or delighted by my presence. If terrified, they cowered behind the nearest adult until they were certain that I wasn’t going to take them back to my lair. If delighted, they attempted to high-five me into submission. Happy youngsters were definitely my biggest fans.

I nearly kicked several especially puny kids because I couldn’t see them, which would have put a real damper on the evening. 

Middle Schoolers either treated me like I was a celebrity and yelled for my attention like reporters at Tony Stark after he declared he was Iron Man, or they made fun of the muscles that the mascot had, which oddly hurt my feelings.

College girls liked to take pictures they could post to Instagram, which I didn’t get because it was a picture with a sweaty guy in a horse costume.

Many jokes have been made about how sweaty people get inside the suits. They are all true. My hair was dripping wet after fifteen minutes. Every time I took off the head, it was like going from the Vietnam jungles to evergreen forests of Oregon.

Parents were overly grateful for pictures. I’m guessing this was because of the pity they felt for me. 

When I didn’t know what to do, I would just do an over the top reaction to whatever was happening, and it seemed to play well with the crowd. 

The picture doesn’t show the massive shoe covers that I had to wear to make Bucky not look like a delicate 19th Century Chinese woman.

College basketball players are huge and way better at basketball than I had thought. 

Seeing the costume without anyone in it is depressing. It’s a lifeless corpse with an unblinking head staring off into the cold void of eternity.

Once when I looked up, my throat was revealed from underneath the costume and a kid touched it. It was easily the most violated I’ve ever felt. 

I accidentally elbowed some man in the head who was sitting court side. Despite my profuse apologies he stared me down for several seconds with furious anger. I’ve never hated anyone more than I hated him for hating the mascot. What a prick. 

I imagined losing all respect from my future teenage children when they find this. 

People, for the most part, had no idea how to react to me. They basically just repeated anything I did at them.  

I couldn’t talk, so for answering questions I developed three responses. Yes, No, and a shrug of the shoulders which I used to be mysterious to open-ended questions. 

Someone asked me if I could talk, and I didn’t really have an idea as to how to respond. 

Not talking while in the suit is extremely difficult. I had to be excited, dance, and give high fives, but also be silent. It was weird.

One kid showed me a Bucky the Bronco stuffed animal that he bought. He was so excited to show me and when I flipped out in true mascot fashion, he was so happy that it made my night. 

All in all, it was an interesting feeling of freedom, because I was no longer myself, I was the mascot. I could do whatever I wanted and not feel the slightest bit of shame. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to become the mascot guy, but on the occasional evening, I am willing to earn my minimum wage by putting on a furry suit and acting a fool.

Hell, it’s better than making french fries.