Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Greetings and Ramblings

It’s getting towards the end of the year, and I’m already getting nostalgic for the season. Holidays haven’t always been a good time for me, with a divided family and visiting multiple places during the season just to see everyone just to keep the underlying tension at bay as much as possible. The season is stressful enough to not have additional drama in the interpersonal realm, but when you have a mother and father that couldn’t be in the same room with each other, it adds an element to everything.

Lately, the holidays have been getting better because there have been many positive memories created, courtesy of girl and her extended family, and my amazing collective of friends. Despite the holiday weather down in Vegas last year and the snow around here, I had a great time last year and I was happy that girl and I got a chance to go back to Vegas in August. I’ve also been surrounded by lots of great people that accept me for who I am, and I’m working to address some of my own shortcomings as a person. It’s amazing what you can do when you feel that people are really behind you regardless, and it’s something I forget to acknowledge even if it’s something I’m well aware of.

I wouldn’t be playing defense on a soccer squad, or blogging full time about the Timbers, or preparing for our house to be expanded to include a cat room without the full inspiration of many great people. Unlike past years, I didn’t have time to create a holiday card, something that is part of the tradition of this time of year. I do enjoy getting cards and letters from all over the world to hear how people are doing, especially those that I don’t get a chance to see very often. It’s a peek into the window of their lives, and it shares a little something with those far away, and it’s a nice touch. However, I was working through many projects and couldn’t find the time to put words to paper.

I love being busy most of the time, because lately, it means experiencing things rather than just sitting around watching the world fly by. I was on that track for many years when I lived by myself up in Northwest Portland. Now, here I am just 4 years later, and my life is far more active, far more alive, and far more memorable. It hasn’t been without a lot of work, sacrifice, and sweat, and with many things, it hasn’t always gone as smoothly as you’d like. Nothing worth it is ever as easy as you might want it to be, but then again, it wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.

So as I sit here and think nostalgically about my last year, I’m thankful about many things about my life. I have the most amazing wife, who is the partner in crime that I’ve been looking for. She’s smart, sexy, funny, and inspires me while also driving me absolutely nuts. I’ve also been surrounded by some of the most amazing friends from various circles, who have been wonderful as well. I wouldn’t trade the folks in Row N for anything, and I love being able to spend time with such a good group of people. We’ve been able to stand side by side for many Timbers matches, while putting on a movie festival in June and celebrating another Thanksgiving at Edgefield with the entire crew. The group has grown, and now includes members of my bowling team, the Gutter Punks.

I can’t think of a better group of folks to bowl with each week than this group, and while the group has changed with kclovespdx moving back east, we are still a tight knit fun bunch. We suffer from some of the same pressures while bowling, because when one of us struggles, we seem to all struggle. But we win as a team, and we lose as a side, and I’m already looking forward to more terms of bowling with this bunch. I’m also proud to be part of the Timbers Army Football Club, as I’ve discovered a love of actually playing football instead of just watching. I may not be the best player, but I’m improving and enjoying myself, which is all you can ask at points. Well, that, and ask for more goals!!

I’ve also entered a new chapter in my life with being part of the team that blogs about the Timbers on a regular basis. My old blog site was the starting point of talking about the things I love, and suddenly, I’m now in a platform that is read all over the world. I’ve received many positive comments, and I’ve learned a bit from some of the negative news, but that’s part of being a professional writer. I know that I’m not going to please everybody with my writing, but at the same point, you respect their comments. And more importantly, you write with passion and heart, and show enthusiasm with your words. People love reading things that show some depth behind them, and I think I’ve found my voice in that arena and I stand by the results.

I also am finding myself more in love with Portland each day, as I continually discover wonderful things about this amazing part of the world. We should all feel lucky to coexist in such beautiful parts, with the hidden gems that anchor each neighborhood here. It’s great to go to different parts of town and check out the bars, restaurants, theatres, and shops and experience everything the Rose City has to offer. I can’t think of a better place to live, but living here isn’t without its challenges.

There are those here that want to keep this city weird, to coin a phrase that is often mentioned around here. They want so hard to keep things unique here that they resist any and all changes if it doesn’t seem to make sense, but by the same token, change is the dynamic force that keeps things fresh and makes us appreciate many of the things we get to experience. It’s a matter of keeping perspective on growth and making sure it doesn’t run completely amuck, which I think we do a good job of around here for the most part. I wish the process to get things done around here wasn’t so convoluted at points, but we can’t have everything.

Portland loves to talk about things and when it’s time to make a decision; it’s time to talk more to try and gain a consensus. Not every decision is going to be agreed upon by everyone, which is why sometimes tough decisions have to be made regardless. While I’m not opposed to discussion about topics, I’ve found that this city is beginning to suffer for a problem that we see all over the world.

As a society, we’ve lost the ability to carry on a rational discussion for the purpose of trying to see another person’s perspective. Instead of learning more about other sides and trying to gain understanding about how others might see things, any hot topic issue turns into a war of who can yell the loudest while having the most quotable catch phrases. And perhaps the worst trump card of all is the fact that if someone can’t refute the point, they turn the attack into a credibility war and make it personal. It’s a nasty game, and something that I have a huge distaste for, even if I get that politics now often works like that. I wish that people could respect differences and truly do what’s right for the collective of folks, but sometimes, that appears to be too much to ask.

I’m not sure if that’s because people have become more insular in their living, relying on email and chat to contact people instead of face to face talking. Or maybe it’s the relative anonymity of the Internet, which allows people to say what they want or be who they want to be without much repercussion that affects this. It might even be the society in general where everything is available all the time, from television to conversation, and there’s no longer barriers of time or money to do many of the things people want to do. You want to know about news, it’s right there, you can watch sports anytime, so why wait? While I love the ability to use technology for good, I also think that there are downsides to being this connected all the time.

I was at a party a few weeks ago when we were all talking about friendship, and I made the joke about what real friends are. They’re the people that you can borrow money from, or will answer your phone call at 3 AM because you need to talk with them, or you can ask them to help you move, and they’ll drop what they are doing because they care. With many people that use social networking tools, they develop a list of friends that might make them feel connected, but at least for me, I feel good about the number of people I actually know in person that I can count as friends. I’ve had face to face conversations with them, and feel connected on some level, which is great. And while I don’t get to see them at times as much as I’d like, that still doesn’t change the fact that I feel blessed to have them around. I can even say that on Facebook, I know the majority of my friends personally, and can say I’ve seen them in person.

But none of these issues changes the fact that we’ve live in a wonderful time, and during this time of year, we all think of the things that truly mean something to us as we spend time with the people we care about. It’s the greatest gift to feel part of something truly special, and have your place in life, and after all this time, I’ve found that place. And I wouldn’t give up this wonderful gift for anything. Have a great holiday season, however you might choose to celebrate!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Wonderful World of Diversions

I remember spending a lot of time during my childhood watching sports. I could spend hours reading the entire sports section of the newspaper, devouring any and all news and statistics that I could get my hands on. It was a diversion from the mundane details of going to school, dealing with chores, and the other things that kids normally dealt with. I spent many a day in my backyard dreaming of what it would be like to play professionally, and dreaming of making the big catch or throwing the winning pass. I don't know of anybody that didn't have similar daydreams to this, because it offered us a release from the dreary details to a supposedly wonderful life of money and influence.
Over the years, the diversions that sports offered have been shoved out of the way by the realities of life in general. Because of the money involved, everything takes on a greater importance and situations get blown out of proportion over one great play or missed call. Marketing makes sure that every bit of what we watch is sponsored and crafted in such a way to draw attention to what the ad wizards want you to see. We all know about the salaries that athletes make, the pressures they deal with, the temptations they face, and despite all of that, there aren't many people that wouldn't trade their lives with their favorite athlete for even just one day.
I try to keep as much perspective on things as I can, trying to believe that sports results aren't the end of the world. I do take losses for my favorite teams better than I have, because I realize that the sun comes up the next day and there's always the thought of next year and the next plan. It's part of the wonderful rebirth that happens in sports each year when the season starts anew, and everyone can put out the optimism that it might finally be their team's year. While the economics of the situation may actually prevent that from happening, there's always surprises every year, as one team does better than they should while a beloved team falls apart for some mystery reason. Yet, fans keep that optimism going as much as they can, because that's what fans do. They remain loyal as best they can because the good times are worth waiting for, and the bad times aren't nearly as bad as they might appear.
And that bit of perspective remains hard to keep in mind when the realities continue to rear their ugly head, because life doesn't slow down for anything. The sports pages used to be about statistics and stories about upcoming games, now they cover as much legal news and analysis as many legal publications. The personal problems of athletes get trotted out all the time to be put on display, and fans spend countless hours debating the merits of an ethical dilemma because it's no longer enough to know a player's statistics, but you need to know more about a player's personal life than ever before. And the press will find things out because things have a way of coming out even if you don't want them to.
Tiger Woods had a very carefully crafted image as a wonderful guy and an incredible competitor, and with the news of his marital problems, the entire thing has come crashing down around him. He's apologized for the issue, and simply disappeared, which is amazing for a guy that for many months was everywhere. You couldn't avoid seeing something he was pitching, and now he's another guy dealing with a marital problem. Marriages in general have a 50% success rate, yet because there is a situation involving infidelity, a supposedly happy family situation and the world's best golfer, and suddenly, you can't avoid hearing news about it no matter where you go.
It's part of the cycle of the media to build up heroes on pedestals then chronicle their success or failure to give all of us a ringside seat to watch everything unfold. Although I don't think that is entirely true, because for every guy or gal that has their life fall apart, there's plenty that keep their noses clean and remain out of the public eye as much as athletes can. It's just more compelling to watch someone who seems to have it all going on for themselves suddenly face the same temptations and issues we all deal with. I can't imagine what it's like to hit a golf ball 300 yards in a straight line on demand, but I can relate to the dynamics of marriage. I've had to face a lot of my own personal shortcomings in dealing with things face on, and some of those issues I've dealt with better than most. I used to think that loving someone more than anything was enough to get you through all issues, and I've learned that sometimes that isn't nearly enough. You may love someone, but if you can't communicate what's going on with you or how you feel about something, none of that matters. And while I'm not dealing with anything as remotely intense as what Woods is dealing with, I can say that I've never worked as hard for something as much as I have with this, much less dealing with most of the world watching your every move.
But to say that's the entire media cycle is very short sighted because I think they report on what's most interesting and try to maintain a semblance of balance. That's rather hard to do because some things just end up with more attention for whatever reason. They report on what's compelling, interesting and relevant and nothing draws a good story like a heartwarming story of redemption, rebirth or success or a tale of complete destruction and mayhem. It's like the two ends of a bell curve when it comes to attention, and that's why we spend lots of time talking about Woods and less time about the guys that are doing things right. We talk about franchises running themselves into the ground like the Raiders NFL side or the troubles of the Trail Blazers, yet the wonderful story of the rebirth of the Saints has been relatively ignored by most of the nation. I think this is because of one very simple reason - it's hard to get attention unless you do something completely amazing or devastating. We aren't as interested in the status quo, but give us the thrill of winning and the agony of dreams crashing around us and we just can't stop talking about it.
Nothing proves this more that the death today of Chris Henry, a football player that was supremely talented but troubled. The man made more news in the early part of his career getting into and out of trouble, getting suspended for many transgressions. He was recently resigned by the Bengals and was rehabbing himself from injury when he got invovled in a domestic dispute yesterday and sustained injuries falling out of a moving truck. He died earlier this morning, and we're subjected to numerous stories about his life, his career, and the incident itself. It's incredibly tragic, and nobody should have to lose their life like this, but I'm also asking myself would we be talking about this guy if he was just another 26 year old guy living anywhere in the world. Henry is famous for his ability to catch a football, and suddenly his situation takes on a whole other set of circumstances and attention. It's nice to see that he had been working on fixing the issues from his past, but at the same point, none of us truly know when our time is up and what might happen. The media will continue to report on Henry's death, giving us every angle, every story, every thought when right now, our thoughts should be with his team, his family and friends as they deal with the situation.
But it's part of a fan's desire to pull the curtain down and know these athletes more closely and try to humanize them as much as possible. Trust me, the situations with Henry and Woods have reminded me more than anything that these people are human, just like us. They might be able to run faster, throw harder and do things the rest of us can only imagine, but they also deal with the certainties of life just like the rest of us.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Distress During the Holiday Season

I'm probably treading on some unstable ground here, but the whole subject of Christmas is really starting to annoy me big time. I think it was the whole situation in Ashland that was the true tipping point for me, because the whole thing just struck me as completely unnecessary and made the folks involved look rather stupid. For those of you not aware of what happened, an elementary school in Ashland put up a holiday tree that doubled as a gift tree for those wanting to help others during the holiday. Some parents misunderstood the purpose of the tree, and asked for it to be removed, which then set off a firestorm of backlash. The school district hadn't considered a policy about Christmas decorations before, but ended up putting the tree back up after lots of controversy over the whole thing.

The fact that this created such an issue doesn't surprise me, because Christmas in and of itself is a rather touchy subject for lots of people. For some, it's the holiday of giving gifts, massive consumerism, and the final big holiday for the calendar year, while some view it as a time to be with family and friends in a celebrative way to build bonds. There's the whole story of Santa Claus, holiday movies, and specials about various aspects of the holiday. There's also the redemptive story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who was a selfish old man who learned the true meaning of the holiday by being tormented by spirits all night, and there's dozens of versions of this story in film. Combine all of this with the story of Jesus and his birth, and the religious significance behind that, and all of the stories and songs around this event, and there's plenty of imagery that is associated with this holiday.

And for many years, there was some congruence in those visions, whether it was implied or just not thought of. As a kid going to Catholic school, the thought of these varied images never crossed my mind, as the holiday represented many things to many people. I could wrap my head around what each thing represented, and not worry about the divergent messages. The holiday represented the birth of a significant figure in many ways, but at the same time, you could celebrate friends and family and be a good kid while waiting for a dude in a red suit to bring you toys. As I grew up, the significance of other holiday celebrations, like Boxing Day, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa became more apparent, but I felt that each of them fit within this rather large umbrella of what the holiday represented.

There is also a part of this time of year that applies to everything, the simple holiday spirit of being nice to others and showing the spirit of giving and compassion. We act nicer to others, we show compassion by giving of ourselves to friends and family with gifts, while also thinking of those in need with donations of time, money, or thoughts. For the rest of year, we might not think of people as much as we'd like, but for the holidays, the true spirit of showing what others mean to us by giving them a gift from the heart, whether it's a tangible item or something more abstract. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you think of others and show them what they mean to you, however big or small the effort it.

I thought this concept fit very nicely in both situations. In the story of Jesus, it was the spirit of thinking of others that led to the impromptu celebration of his birth in a stable. There was no rooms available, so they stayed in a stable, yet the wise men and animals welcomed him and made the moment special regardless of the situation with gifts and song. In the story of Santa, well, gifts are the central part of what we celebrate, as people give gifts to those they care about, while Santa has a collective of elves that apparently are skilled in making just about everything in the North Pole.

But what I'm seeing more and more of lately is the happy coexistence of these concepts crumbling in a massive wave of contempt and misunderstanding. People who celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas get upset when symbols of their holiday get cheapened in a mass of low prices and shopping until you drop, yet those that celebrate Santa are upset with overtly adding religious or commercial messages to this whole mess. It's no longer Christmas trees, they are called holiday trees. And we sign songs that don't have any association with Jesus, Frosty, Santa or whatever because we don't want to offend anyone.

What the whole thing strikes me of the controversy that was talked about in two of the most excellent cartoons of all time, the Simpsons and South Park. In a South Park Christmas celebration, a war erupted between the Jewish community, Jesus followers and the Santa fans, and the school play became a Philip Glass celebration of a minimalistic holiday. The trainwreck was averted with the appearance of Mr. Hankey, who if you don't know what he is all about, you're missing out. The Simpsons had an episode where Krusty the Clown hosted his "non- denomininational holiday special", which essentially gave attention to all of the various celebrations that occur this time of year.

The concept behind both of these was to celebrate the season with friends and family, regardless of your beliefs or professions. Instead of thinking of what might work for you, it's time to think more collectively as a group of people and celebrate the things that bring us together. Instead of dividing, it's time to celebrate diversity and bring folks together, and I think that's a good message. I would also go so far to say that we all need to do a better job of giving to others and helping folks in need, because many of us have more than what we need, and it's important to give to those in need.

For me, my most special holidays have involved celebrating the various aspects of this holiday, from gathering with family to eat massive quantities to celebrating with gifts for those I cared about, not caring if I received anything in return. I enjoyed hanging out with my wife's family on Christmas Eve eating Chinese food and catching up on things, then getting up on Christmas morning and opening gifts while our cats go mental at all the boxes and wrapping paper available for play. But my memories also go back to my sister getting us up at 5 AM to open gifts because she couldn't sleep, then her falling asleep at 10 AM because she was exhausted. I also spent many a late night on Xmas eve with my mom at midnight mass, which was one of the few times she attended church. It was time that we could spend together; just the two of us, and that was all that mattered.

I suppose that what all this has reminded me of is that holidays are all about building memories, regardless of how you celebrate, with those that you care about. And during this time of year, it's important to be aware of being nice to others and considerate of their beliefs and celebrations instead of trying to drive a wedge. Should it matter that a holiday tree is up in a school, but shouldn't it be more about celebrating the season with a symbol that everyone can enjoy while it also is set up to help others?

I get this whole situation is bigger than just that, and there's a lot more to this whole argument. And not everyone buys into my line of thinking, because things like this draw out passion like other sensitive subjects, like politics. While I think it's important to use your voice and share your perspective on things you believe it, it's also important that we all remember and respect the things that bring us together but also separate us into the unique individuals we all are. Without differences, we'd all be the same people, thinking the same things, doing the same things, and the world would be a rather boring place. It's important to celebrate the differences, but also respect them enough to allow people to profess what they believe without prejudice or retribution.

I know that's hard to do at times, because even during this time of year, I have issues with it. At bowling last night, I got frustrated with an opponent who didn't practice proper bowling etiquette, as she kept going up to bowl while I was on the boards. Instead of dealing with the issue and saying something, I let the situation stew and internalize, and it affected my score big time. I should have dealt with it by saying something, but instead, I let the situation bug me. I should have trusted that I could have said something without being looked down on, but instead, I just let it ride. Ok, this is rather simplistic in the grand scheme, but at the same time, nothing big is tackled without starting with simple steps. And it starts with simple human respect for yourself and others, and that's really what this time of year should be all about.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Sun Came Up, And It Will Continue

The sun was surprisingly bright this morning, as the clouds had all burnt away and the blueness in the horizon was nearly blinding in its intensity. We don't get many crystal clear days in December around here, so it was a wonderful treat even with the crispness in the air and the winds whipping about. The temperature has been hovering around freezing this past weekend, and the wind just added to the cold's intensity, but with the bright skies, it makes the whole thing enjoyable as long as you are bundled up enough to not freeze.
I haven't lost my mind here or started becoming obsessed with the weather, but my point in mentioning this is that the sun came up and the world kept moving despite the trouble swirling about the Portland Trail Blazers. As much as the news just keeps worse in terms of injured players around the scarlet and black, the world hasn't come to an end, we aren't seeing the apocalypse happening here, and things will be what they should be. I know that's a hard thing to wrap heads about, but right now, I'm getting tired of those bandwagon jumpers who have abandoned this team in the time where they need support the most.
I haven't changed my attitude towards the organization, I still don't trust them as much as I can throw them and I'm still not buying tickets or providing direct support to the business side. But the players themselves need our passion now more than ever, and I'm tired of hearing people whine about the state of things. I realize that it's easy to fall into those trappings, because it seems like every time you turn on the television or read the sports page, there's more injury news, and not just on the player side. Paul Allen? Our owner is dealing with cancer treatment after it has emerged again. Nate McMillian? The coach ruptured his Achilles tendon when practicing with the team because there weren't enough players to run a full 5 on 5 drill.
And the player side isn't pretty either. Paddy Mills and Jeff Pendergraph haven't played a minute after sustaining injuries in the offseason. Pendergraph might play sometime after the first of the year after injuring hip flexor muscle, while Mills' status is unknown after injuring his knee. Just before the season, Nicolas Batum injured his right shoulder and is expected to be out for the season, while Travis Outlaw broke a bone in his foot early in the season and is also out for the season. Outlaw's injury is similar to the same situation that kept Martell Webster out for all of last year but a 5 minute stretch in a random game in December. And unless you were living under a rock this weekend, you've heard that Greg Oden was injured on Saturday in a game versus the Rockets. Oden injured his patella tendon while trying to block a shot, and underwent surgery on Sunday which will keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Because of the way the NBA does rosters now, there is no injured list and teams keep a full roster of 15 players as long as they keep up with the minimum of available players (You must suit up 8 players for all games). As of today, that would put 5 players out for an extended time, leaving 10 available, but now they are dealing with Rudy Fernandez, who has a sciatic nerve that is flaring up while LaMarcus Aldridge has been dealing with knee issues intermittently throughout the campaign. So that leaves you with 8 available players that you know are healthy, one that is on the trip and should be OK to go, while one is dealing with a minor injury. If you've signed a player to a contract, you can't immediately replace the contract without waiving the original deal, so right now, the Trail Blazers having 15 signed contracts means that somebody has to go in order for someone new to be added, and there's some contracts that would be tough to just eat for the simple need to get a warm live body to fill a roster spot.
Going into the season, the Trail Blazers were the sexy pick to provide a few upsets in the playoff picture. The young team qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time in a while, and got bounced out in the first round. With winning 54 games last year without Oden and Webster (Oden was recovering from microfracture surgery) and bringing in Andre Miller, there were a lot of expectations about the team and their success. The goal at the start of the season for the team was to qualify for the playoffs again and win an opening round series, which I have to admit are rather admirable goals and realistic for this bunch. It's hard not to be drawn into putting higher expectations, though, as the team had some rather impressive moments in the pre-season and have tantilized fans with flashes of brilliance.
But as we've talked about a lot, playing without expectations is really easy and the Trail Blazers weren't expected to do that well last year and so they didn't have a target on them. This year, they can't sneak up on people, and other NBA teams are taking notice of this bunch. As a young side, one of the most important lessons to learn is how to play with those added pressure. All the talent in the world won't automatically give you an NBA title, because there are plenty of guys who played long careers in the NBA that never won or played for a title but certainly played well. It's all about playing together and understanding the skills and talents of who is playing, not obsessing about who isn't available.
Brandon Roy wanted to be more of the focus of the offense, and he'll get his wish in the new lineup. The injury situation does clear up some of the chatter about roles and scoring on the team, because during the early season, it appeared that the emergence of Oden was causing some concern for Roy and Aldridge, who had been the focal points of the team last year offensively. Add Miller in the mix, who is a good point guard but needs the ball to be effective, and it's not surprising that there's been some tension as guys try to fill out their roles and understand the setup of things, much less compound the situation with injuries when guys aren't able to play. And injuries happen to everyone, although it seems like the Blazers have been hit harder than just about anyone else right now by the bug.
The thing is, this core of players won 54 games last year and there's still a ton of talent abound, so there is no reason to panic even though that seems to be what a lot of fans are doing right now. There's talk flowing on sports radio about making trades or waiving players because we need depth, but the fact is we still have a core that played well in stretches last year, and I think they are every bit as capable of doing that now. Instead of worrying about what has happened, it's important to focus on what there is and move forward. I know that's tough because there's a ton of talented guys that could help our cause right now, but worrying about what might be or what could be doesn't accomplish anything.
I moved here in 1989 in time to watch the championship run that year, and I knew the history of this team and most of its players. While that run was amazing, it was a bit unexpected, but the team had the right combination of talent, fortitude and luck to get to the final series to just fall short of the goal. They should have represented the Western Conference in 1991, but a bad bounce and a bad game in LA cost them. In 1992, they made it again to the Finals only to run smack into the Bulls during their heyday. Beyond that, this team had a 24 year playoff run of qualifying for the postseason, and outside of a collapse in 2000 versus the Fakers were one game away from the Finals then. There's been a ton of success here, and I know that's hard to remember soon after the dark ages of the early 2000's when this team truly hit rock bottom.
But in order to appreciate the good times, you have to go through the bad times and stick with your team no matter what. It's nice to speculate what might have been if the team drafted MJ or Durant and think about what might have been, but I believe more than ever that Bowie was the man to draft way back when, and Oden was the guy back in 2007 after we got the first overall pick. Oden has been exactly what we wanted in a player: charming, likable, stays out of trouble, doesn't father kids out of wedlock, doesn't do drugs. In other words, he's the antithesis of what we had on this team back in the Jail Blazer days. Oden's not a bust by any stretch, he is simply dealing with having a wonderful fit large body that happens to have two knees that are struggling to handle the weight and quickness needed to play this game.
We were lucky to have another center who had a wonderful skill set, could pass the ball anywhere on the court, could hit the shot from 20 feet out consistently, and made others better around him with his court vision. He also had a body of work that had brilliant moments but suffered injury concerns with back, foot and leg issues and so they couldn't meet the performance standards of their previous work. They were also a beacon of class, and great folks to be around according to many. If you think I'm talking about Bill Walton, well, some of that is true and I recall he said recently that he was upset at how things went down when he left Portland. Actually, I'm talking about Arvydas Sabonis, who was a shell of his former glory when he came here, but he still had enough talent to make the team better with what he could do. Oden might be injury prone, but I feel he could have a career similar to Sabonis, and I don't think that would make him a bust by any stretch.
But people see number one pick, and think there's some crazy standard that needs to be met. That's part of the issue is that fans are always waiting for the next of something instead of enjoying the talent of what currently is. And if players don't do exactly what is expected of them by living up to these expectations, they are a bust. But honestly, what players can really live up to those type of standards? The main guy in Faker land has titles to his credit (4 of them I believe), but is his legacy tainted if he never wins another title at all? Does his body of work become less if the next best thing suddenly wins 5 titles so somehow that makes them better? It's all about the team and the whole components of things, and it's tough to remember that it takes an entire effort of a side to be crowned champion, and because of that, it's a special honor. But a career can still be special even if one of those titles doesn't come your way. True fans remember the happy times, and stay true during the sad times because it makes the winning and success that much better.

Friday, December 4, 2009

You Mean He's Not a Robot?

So Tiger can now be considered a human because of what he did? Well, I can see the logic behind this thought process, because if there's anyone that has had every aspect of his personality controlled within the media, it's this guy. He doesn't say or do anything that would be considered spontaneous, and it's eerie how much he's been on his game until the recent trouble. Granted, he's also one of the most talented golfers on the planet so watching him at work can be dazzling, but I have always thought styrofoam had more personality that this guy. Nike did a few commercials to break down the wall a bit, but otherwise, I felt that Tiger could have been substituted for a robot and maybe nobody would notice the difference. That's what you get when you attempt to control how you are perceived to such a level, because what you portray is what people expect.

So when a situation happens that falls outside of the ability to control, like a simple auto accident that becomes a torrid admission of an affair, there's no amount of damage control that can be done to make this mess immediately go away and have things go back to normal. Because he is who he is, I would expect that he'll come out of this better than most because he's one of the most mentally tough people ever and it's hard to bet against a combination of mentally tough and talent. We are now seeing inside the wall here, and it's amazing to think that one of the best athletes in the world shares the same frailties, the same insecurities, the same temptations, the same issues, and the same choices that many of us face every day. And what we find here is that this wonderfully talented but supremely controller person is more human than we think. He's made a start to cleaning the mess by apologizing and acknowledging what happened, and that's a good start. I know there will be people rooting for him to succeed, and more that want him to fail, but it's hard to argue this isn't compelling.

The Civil War has come and gone, and I ended up watching the entire game even though I wasn't going to. I started watching in the first half, and couldn't take my eyes off of it. It was one of the most classic football games I've seen, and it was sad that somebody had to lose this game. It had amazing plays, incredible emotion, true sportsmanship, and it was a banner night for Oregon and its athletic profile, and nobody disappointed. The game was so close that I felt there were three minor things that turned the tide for the Ducks to win 37 to 33. One, the Ducks were finally getting pressure on Beavers quarterback Sean Canfield in the second half, and the Beavers offense struggled to deal with it. Second, the Oregon State Beavers couldn't tackle when they needed to, as there were some key plays where Oregon State players were tackling air rather than the speedy Ducks. Finally, at key moments of the game, the Ducks made plays and the Beavers didn't. The Beavers went for it on 4th and 15 on their end instead of going for a long field goal, and their pass was not caught, while Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli ran for it on 4th and 2 during the Ducks final drive, and he made the play to keep the chains going.

So the Ducks will be representing the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl, while the Beavers will probably get hosed by the Pac-10's bowl affiliations. With the Beavers and Stanford tied at 6 and 3 and in second, USC, Arizona and California have shots to tie at 6 and 3 if they win. The Holiday Bowl, reserved for second place, is rumored to be wanting USC and will award their bid to whomever wins the USC - Arizona game this weekend because the winner will tie for second. The Emerald Bowl, the third place game, is San Francisco based, and so they are leaning towards taking one of the Bay Area schools, either the Cardinal or Golden Bears. The Sun Bowl, the fourth place bowl, took the Beavers last year and so they have a no-repeat clause, so the Beavers seem destined for Las Vegas and the Maaco Bowl. This doesn't seem all that fair for a team that fell just 4 points short of winning the Civil War, especially after coming so close to the Rose Bowl last year. I think the world of the Pac-10, but their bowl affilations really need to be revisited because this situation doesn't seem fair to its members.

The World Cup draw was today, and the coverage on ESPN was apparently the source of much amusement. The draw was actually at 10 AM local time, so ESPN spent the first hour just talking about possibilities and the components of soccer for non-soccer fans. Because I was at work, I was relying on their web feed to hear the draw, and the chat windows were full of comments about things being boring or just get to the draw. I never thought anything with Charlize Theron could be considered boring, but apparently it was a train wreck.

As far as the draw itself, the 32 team tourney has some amazing brackets and compelling matchups. The United States earned a decent bracket to reside it, although the first draw for their group was England. As I saw that the English and Americans were in the same group, I figured we were looking at the fabled Group of Death, which happens every World Cup. The draw really breaks down to putting all 32 teams into 8 pools, and then drawing them randomly to fill 8 4 team groups, and there's almost always one group that pits 3 soccer powers in the same collective. Sure enough, group G pit the Brazilians, Portuguese, Ivory Coast, and North Korea. So what you have here is two traditional soccer powers, a powerful African team, and the Koreans, who might not score a goal in the opening round.

The Americans have Slovenia and Algeria in their pool with England, and there's a good shot that the US could advance if they get two wins and a good result against England, or a good draw. The thing is, this could have been a lot worse for the red, white and blue. Based on the other brackets, most of the soccer powers have a decent shot to advance to the knockout round, but there's chances for upsets at some points as well. There will be some traditional soccer power that gets knocked out early, while some unsung team will made an unexpected run towads the cup. I don't think the US could win the tourney, even though I have a bet on them in Vegas, but I think they have a shot to make a good run. And with the World Cup going on this summer, soccer fans worldwide will have a lot to be excited about this summer, and I can't wait!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I'm Looking Forward to A Quiet Weekend..

I just don't see one in my future. This weekend, I have a holiday party to attend and a family birthday celebration before the remaining holidays come sneaking up on us and 2009 is done and we move to 2010. And within the first few months of the year, the new feline habitat and gathering area will be built at the Row N complex, and by the time that gets done, it's Timbers season again.
I love being busy, having things to do and people to see, but right now, I look for a break to take my mind away from the pressures of the day. However, nothing in that arena is easy to digest right now, as the Timbers are dealing with the final moving pieces of the MLS effort while watching the USL potentially implode, the Trail Blazers are alternating between an amazing collection of players or guys that couldn't hit the broad side of a bus, and the Civil War is finally today for the Roses and I still don't care who wins. Seriously. It doesn't matter to me who wins, because either way, the state of Oregon gets some wonderful attention and one of the teams goes to the Rose Bowl.
I don't have leanings to either side, and because of the situation, the hype is absolutely epic. However, I'm just tired of everyone talking about it and just want the game to be done. It's almost like at points the build up takes on as much importance as the game for some folks, and as such, those of us that don't have a side to follow just sit on the sidelines. I know people have been saying to pick a side and root, but I just can't, and don't really want to. I already have enough teams that I follow religiously that keep my attention, from my Timbers to West Ham to a renewed love for my flaming horseheads. I love Portland, and want the best for the city and state, so really does it matter who wins? Well, apparently to some, it's the game for the right to live in the state.
But for rivalries, this is the most friendly vicious rivalry about. I've seen Ducks rooting for Beavers at points, and it goes vice versa, and I think that's something you see in this rivalry that you don't in others. For one to two weeks a year, the sides can torment each other like any other good natured battle, but for the rest of the time, both sides revel in the success of the other because it makes everyone look better. Face it, I will never root for the Timbers main rival under any circumstances, and there's no situation where that would change because I support who I support. You wouldn't travel to England and see a Hammers fan suddenly rooting for Arsenal because they wanted them to do well. It doesn't work like that.
But that's one of the things that makes this part of the world great except for Civil War week, as it suddenly becomes just like a lot of other places where the noise and chatter are just like anything else. Where else could you live where the talk of this game is drowning out talk of Tiger and his transgressions? One of the world's most famous athletes has apparently had an affair and it's the buzz of the interwebs except for this part of the world.
And why not? It's a compelling story of a rather strange auto accident that led to him getting injured and his wife saving him that became a possible domestic dispute to now admission of guilt. Woods has followed a near meticulous approach in controlling facts and information with the media to the point that for someone this famous, we really don't know much about him. I can imagine being this big and in demand, you want to be in control of things as much as you can, and there's dozens of stories of famous people who bared a lot out to the press and it blew up in their face. I can see following the reverse approach of controlling everything, even the most minute details, but at some point, simple human nature will rear its head. People make mistakes or things get too big and suddenly things take on a life of their own, and putting the issue back in the box becomes nearly impossible. I can't imagine living up to the scrutiny of the press when doing anything in public, but then compound that with then trying to control what does and doesn't get discussed, and I don't think anyone could live up to that standard for so long.
I get the lucky part of my mistakes not being played and replayed over and over again, and I can apologize for those I've wronged and try to learn from what I do without a chorus of talking heads beating the mistakes into the ground, as most of us do. Athletes and public figures don't get that luxury, and so whatever they do gets put out there for everyone to see. And we talk about it a lot in our desire to learn more about our heroes, a natural curiosity to try and relate, or a selfish ploy to pull people down out of jealosy. We talk about these things to divert us from the things that we deal with in our life, and sometimes it's hard to realize that in doing that, we end up making more out of things that perhaps is there. I don't want to be an apologist for Woods, because he screwed up royally. But then again, we all do, and right now what he needs to repair the damage to his family as best as he can. Tonight, two teams will be battling for a Rose Bowl berth, and one team will go away disappointed because that's how things work. Maybe someone will make a mistake, and suddenly they have to live with the result.
Does that mean the world of sports doesn't have importance? Hardly, but what it does remind me of is the times where we all need a dose of perspective. It's diasappointing when your team loses or they aren't playing as well as they should, but that doesn't change the fact that you support them. You can't enjoy the good times without suffering through the bad times, the losses, the uncertainty, and that's part of the human experience. Challenges make us stronger, even if we don't immediately realize that when things happen. Life doesn't slow down much, and it doesn't give us challenges that we can't handle, and honestly, I've learned more from the crap life has given me than the happy things because adversity makes you realize what you like and what you don't. Granted, I probably desire the quiet time simply to allow me to catch my breath, but at the same point, challenges get your blood flowing a bit and keep us engaged. And last time I checked, there really wasn't such a thing as a quietly fulfilling challenge.
So I'll do what I do by breaking down the pieces and putting them in as simple of terms as I can to process them, and realize that the good things are worth the effort. Granted at points it's hard to see the forest for the trees or remenber what the end result will bring us, but part of being human is to dream, to grow, and to aspire, and those things bring success and failure. And we all need to learn how to deal with those emotions, because I don't see life changing anytime soon.