March to the Madness #1

March-MadnessLast year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball season had to be one of the toughest to pick all year. Each year it gets tougher and tougher to gauge the season, pick the consistent winning teams, and to see which teams will rise up during March when the chips are down. This year is even more difficult.

There are many direct and indirect reasons for this. One is, so many of the really good players leave now, it is hard to even know who plays for who.  Louisville, last year’s champ, lost some of their players to graduation but they also lost at least one who seized the moment and went pro. The runner-up to the title, Michigan, had two of its stars go NBA.  There are countless teams up and down the board who lost star players.

The coaches, the good ones, learn to reshuffle fast, reconfigure lineups, and of all things: recruit, recruit, recruit. Junior college players. Transfers. Foreign players. They have to find talent.  No matter the coach, what it really comes down to is how many top tier ballers you have on your sideline. This is what determines the winner every single time.

Indirectly, at least this year, the shuffling of conferences has thrown the leagues into complete chaos. Syracuse is in the ACC. Georgetown is in the Big East but this isn’t the Big East everyone feared. There is no Syracuse game (damn!) and UCONN is gone as well (not to the ACC though). Other teams have moved around as well though the West Coast power conferences and teams remained stable.

There are still the normal big players this year who might not be the champ but they are still solid. Duke and North Carolina are again solid teams in the ACC. Florida and Kentucky are threats from the SEC. Michigan State and Ohio State who played a classic last night are very good as well and both can contend and Michigan though they lost Trey Burke, are still loaded with talent. Kansas, as always is very good, and are a threat to win it all. Out west, Arizona is quite good as is UCLA. Gonzaga is part of the West’s strength but I will stop there because there are lots of teams who are good, like…

The Iowa State Cyclones who I saw play last night and who not only have Coach Fred Horberg’s motion three point offense working but these are players who can play above the rim and shoot. Dangerous B-ball cocktail.

Creighton, with big Doug McDermott leading the charge and looking like another Kevin Love type player, is solid as well but being in the new Big East might hurt them.

Oregon Ducks. I saw this team play early in the season when teams are not yet together and their talent level is quite high. They are high octane and should be all year. Out west, they will fly under the radar.

Other teams to watch: Wisconsin. Pittsburgh. Wichita State (made the Final Four last year). Massachusetts (yea, Dr. J’s alma mater is back playing good again), and though I hate to say it – Villanova. They took their medicine of a down year and now are back.

I could go on and on about this season and as you can ascertain from just these notes, the field is wide open. There are probably about 15-20 teams who have a shot to make a run.  One thing for sure, it won’t be Louisville. They have so many missing parts from last year’s championship run. They can be good but not great. And to get to the dance you have got to be great for about a month. Other teams on the outside for sure: Indiana. Maryland.  Yes, it is going to be a great year but tough to pick.

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January notes…

I always remember Januarys when I was growing up in Washington D.C. because they were cold.  December might be cold and even November at times, got cold early but January usually  left no doubt it got cold.  The holidays would be over, it was time to return to school and the early part of the month was depressing. It was cold and all the excitement of the holiday season was gone.

Take down those decorations.  Pack up those Christmas ornaments. We didn’t do Kwanzaa when I was coming up so it was just Christmas and then the cold. It is over. All of it. It kind of hits you like a thud because you have been visiting friends and relatives, drinking egg nog, eating rum balls, and chocolates, and then it is done.   And the weather gets sloppy and cold. Slush storms, snow, wintry mix, all of that. Washington D.C. in January was unapologetic weather.

image_t580Back in 1982 in one day, a plane crashed leaving National Airport in a nasty winter storm.  On that same day, a Metro train jumped the tracks and crashed. All of it, many believe, was related to the January cold in D.C.

We used to keep cold beer out in the snow in January. We knew it would not go bad because it was below freezing most of the time.  Don’t believe me? The average temperature in Washington D.C. in January is between 29-43 F.  It is the city’s coldest month.

As I got older, I began to look at January differently overall. I celebrated Kwanzaa as I got older and that event created a great transition from the madness and corporatism of Christmas.   My transition into the workdays of January were more seamless. I did not dread the new year of work or the cold. I felt rejuvenated at times because I emerged from the long break full of a more varied experience.   When the King holiday was added, I began to look forward to the King holiday. I would write something and try to attend events related to Martin Luther King Jr. I would try to take my children to an event once I had a family.  This would provide a nice segue for the upcoming African-American History Month events that would follow in February.  Last year, in January, we, as a family came to the city for Barack Obama’s second inauguration.  We hung out in the city and attended some events.

It is going to be cold in January in Washington D.C.   Not a typical cold either – much colder.   I am not there. Where I am is much colder.  But still, I do not look at January anymore with trepidation.  It is a cold month but isn’t cruel.

G-town Hoyas 1984 @ 30

0319_largeBallers. Shot callers.

It is officially college basketball season. NCAA. The March to the Madness.  The Madness.  Young ballers between the age of 18-22 bringing the joy. The NFL is still playing out but it is the playoffs now so there will be fewer and fewer games each week.. Soon, there will be one game left and most of us will care about the spectacle not the outcome.

College basketball, on the other hand, is about to revert to two or three games every night. NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship has finished its quasi-preseason and now league play begins.

Granted, college basketball is not what it once was. The one and done rule is toxic to the sports cohesion.  Gone are the days of UCLA and an 88 game win streak. Gone are the days of Magic Johnson v. Larry Bird in prime time.  Gone are the days of a guy named David Thompson jumping so high he could touch the top of the backboard.  And gone are the days of the mighty Georgetown Hoyas and John Thompson.

Last night, cable television replayed the 1984 Georgetown Hoyas – Houston Cougars championship game in 1984.  It was the Hoyas’ finest moment in history and one of the best team’s ever.  That team included the great Patrick Ewing, David Wingate, and Reggie Williams, perennial All Americans who all went onto the NBA. They finished 34-3 that year and beat just about everyone.  They were 14-2 in the mighty Big East.

It has now been 30 years since that spectacular team and this year as the tournament begins, there is bound to be talk about Ewing, Thompson,and the shining moment for Georgetown basketball. Ewing has had a great pro career and retired. John Thompson is retired from Georgetown.

Reefer Madness II

large_Drug_War_Poster_XLWhen Council member David Grosso weighed in on the previous blog post, Reefer Madness, I thought of my friend, Michael Pinard, a Clinical Law Professor at the University of Maryland Law School. Pinard had been doing re-entry work for years on behalf of those previously incarcerated and one of his big projects was getting laws passed that would help them re-enter society after their time in the system was done. One of Pinard’s big initiatives was to end the employment practice where the previously incarcerated had to “check the box.” This is the box that ex-offenders check on job applications that basically tells employers to not hire them.

Councilmen Grosso pointed out in his post that in addition to the proposed laws to legalize marijuana in D.C., he had also introduced a law that would seal the records of those convicted of these laws. This, if passed, and in theory, would allow some to put their transgressions behind them. This was also pointed out by my good friend Kenneth Carroll.

Of course, I applaud these comments, and admit, I was a bit faulty in saying my beef is with Grosso because I think the move to legalize marijuana is mostly about those who want to get high now not those who were caught up in the drug war. It obviously isn’t.  My beef is with what my friend, Michael Pinard has been fighting and does fight each day.  Most of us call it the Drug War.

Of course in my own work and travels, I see how this drama plays out.  Young and older black men who cannot stay with their own families in subsidized housing because of marijuana charges.  Young and older black men who cannot find work or who have fallen so far behind in life, their chance at recovery is nil. I have seen it for years. It is why the drug war should not only end but should have never occurred.

Grosso’s additional law is a good thing. I want that to be clear. And he is correct, my beef isn’t with him. My beef is really back to my original point about how these arrests, and convictions, and plea deals, throw lives off the life track and these individuals never recover.   This has happened across the nation and all across Washington D.C. and the metropolitan area. The law proposed by Grosso could have impact but amongst legal minds, when a person has been wronged, there is a need to be put in the position they would have been but for the event that occurred. We all know this is close to impossible or at best, quite difficult.

In a recent essay I wrote with the poet, Reginald Dwayne Betts, we took the position that the drug war has rendered many black men as colonial citizens within their own country as Aime Cesaire, the poet once described of the working class in Europe.  They are, in effect, non-citizens.  Individuals I know and grew up with picked up petty marijuana charges on the way up in the world; some recovered from it, some didn’t. They became colonial citizens. Thing is, how do we determine who was ruined by these laws? How do we get them back on track? How do we undo what was done to them? Grosso is obviously onto something.  My folly was in hoping that there could be more, was more, and that something could be done to undo decades of wrong.

Reefer Madness

snoop-dogg-smoking_cardinals-359x478I got a bit of beef with David Grosso, the Washington D.C. City Councilman, wanting to legalize small amounts of marijuana.  I am not against legalized weed in the world (I have gone to the moon and other galaxies in other words, so I get it); my beef is, this is the wrong struggle for real change or at least an incomplete struggle.   The real struggle, in need of legislation, activism, and advocacy, in need of a guy like Grosso, is all of the many in prison, or whose lives were derailed, as a result of marijuana laws. I do not know how many that is but I am sure there are many men, young, and older, who are locked up right now, as a result of marijuana charges. Most of them were know are black especially so in the relation to the nation’s capital.

In addition, how many people have had their lives spun off course a bit as a result of our dumb laws on a harmless drug?  There are people I grew up with who have been convicted for possession of small quantities of the drug.   One wonders, how did their lives fall short because of these laws?  There is also the insane and racist black men/white men arrest rate for marijuana which cries out for intervention.

Once a friend of mine left a small amount of the drug in his car as he took in a movie at the theater (left a joint in the ashtray). A police officer spotted the dope in his car as he passing routinely through the parking lot. When my friend returned to his car later, he was pulled over by that officer, and arrested. He pled guilty, received a year’s probation, had to show up at court for urine tests, and other unnecessary court stupidity. It was a pain.   There are others I know with similar stories.  Some of these individuals were jammed on bullshit reefer charges, forced to submit to urine tests, and court supervision and because they had previous charges, were given longer terms of probation.  A few failed a urine test here, and there, had to serve 30 days, more urine tests, more supervision, more reasons to not be able to get a job, or to participate fully in society.

So, I guess by now you get my point.  I am for the legalization of marijuana but don’t think the passage of recreational weed smoking laws does anything to help those already hurt by the regulation of this drug.  Grosso and lawmakers in other states seeking to legalize small quantities of marijuana for recreational use should devote his time and attention to efforts on this issue.  Yet, as the city changes demographically I can’t imagine he cares much about the past and what it has done to the futures of so many people,, most of whom are black men.

Waiting for Gortat

elvin-hayes-bulletsIn Washington D.C., in terms of basketball, we have been waiting for someone.  Moses Malone. Bernard King. Chris Webber.  Juwan Howard.  Gilbert Arenas. And so now, we have Gortat.  Marcin Gortat,  In Washington Bullets land (please don’t say Wizards), getting a new player who is going to deliver us from the darkness of our basketball discontent is always a good thing. Then, that good player gets injured. Or that player shows promise and gets caught with reefer on the Interstate. Or that player has some really good years but then gets injured and brings a gun to the arena. You know the story. It has been a long time since pro basketball meant anything here in Washington D.C.

Once was we were a top franchise.  One of the best. Don’t laugh. This was the 1970’s and my Bullets went to four NBA Championships and were victorious in 1978. But then the league changed. In the 1980’s, the Bird-Magic era began and the Bullets were caught thinking it was still the 1940’s. Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, our two biggest stars of all time, retired and we sank into mediocrity.

We had good big players after the 1970’s – Rick Mahorn.  Ben Wallace. Rasheed Wallace.  Moses Malone; however, they usually didn’t have a supporting cast or Abe Pollin, our humble owner for forever, traded them away in bad, bad trades.  All of those players got rings with other teams (except Moses who already had one) and we, the Bullets continued to be terrible.

The Magic-Bird years were followed by the Bad Boys of Detroit domination, the Jordan years, the Hakeem years, and then the Shaq-Kobe years. That was intermingled with the Spurs dominating, the rise again of the Lakers with Kobe Bryant, the Celtics with the Big Three, and other teams who we could not dream of ever beating. We were bad, are bad, remained bad, had a few good years here and there, but mostly, we were waiting for someone,. So now that person, I guess is Marcin Gortat.

Gortat was solid in Orlando. He was back-up to Dwight Howard. Last year, he averaged nearly a double-double – 11.5 points and 8 rebounds.  He is 6’11 and can shoot from the perimeter.  From 2010-2012, he actually did average a double-double if you average the two season (it is about 14-10).  They got Gortat for a less than impressive Emeka Okafor, who is a solid rebounder-defender, but who lacks an offensive repertoire.  I am good with the trade though I know, in this league, with Big Roy in Indiana, The Big Ticket in Brooklyn, Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Brook Lopez, Paul Gasol, and other solid, big men, forwards mostly, Gortat is going to have to raise his level of play.

Gortat will join a solid nucleus of players: John Wall at point guard. Bradley Beal at shooting guard.  Martel Webster at small forward. Otto Porter, the rookie from Georgetown, will have to get physically ready for the rigors of the league.  There is also Kevin Seraphim, Nene, and other players. This is not a deep playoff team but with some luck and health, and if Wall plays, for 90 percent of the games, they have a shot to make the playoffs.

In Washington, with our recently basketball history, this is good enough for me.   No more trades for big for small, old for young. No more morality moves Just win baby. As Larry Graham and his famous band sang: we  have been waiting for so long.

The Daily Jab

Bert-Williams-cutoutIn the movie, “Liberty Heights” by Barry Levinson, one of the Jewish characters dresses up for Halloween as Hitler. He is garbed in full Nazi regalia. His father, who runs a strip tease theater downtown in Baltimore, and is otherwise not exactly Mr. Morality, makes his son reconsider the choice of costume.  In fact, it becomes clear that this is inappropriate and not a wise choice, if you know what I mean.

This week, on Facebook, as Halloween, one of the dumbest holidays ever invented, approached, photos began to appear of individuals dressed in blackface as Trayvon Martin, the murdered Florida teen.  One such photo, traced to someone in Massachusetts, even had the Martin impersonator accompanied by a George Zimmerman dress-up.  The photo came down fast amidst digital death threats, etc.  It was stupid, sick, racist, and otherwise _______________ (you can add an adjective here). I received it so many times now I am sure on Halloween, something bad is bound to happen.

Yet, the larger point here is that somehow in this society more and more individuals with racist beliefs or individuals simply being insensitive are becoming more open and brazen in their expressions of bad attitude. I am not amazed; I am just making an observation. But one wonders, do such individuals feel safe to make such cruel statements? Is it because there is a black President and as such it has forced racial hatred out of the woods into the light? Or is it an education issue; are these students not being exposed to information and experiences that would assist them in understanding why doing such acts are so bad? And finally, and simply, what kind of home did they grow up in that would produce such hatred?

We all live in America. The United States. White supremacy (racism) is a foundation of this nation. We are swimming in a pond full of it each day. If you are an American, in some way, racism has altered you, and that is the shame of it all.

But you can do something rather than give in to the easy hate. You can work each day to educate yourself and think of your actions and your words as they might express hatred. It is either that or this society will never evolve racially. Perhaps, many don’t want to evolve and would rather self-destruct rather than work for a society where racism has been neutralized.

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why can’t we live together? Can we all just get along? Why Can’t We Be Friends? You’ve heard all of those songs?  No one seems to be listening.