Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Chief Wahoo has always been cursed!

Maybe Chief Wahoo has always been cursed!

It's interesting in my lifetime that I have changed my feelings and view of Chief Wahoo. The fact that I feel that way signals some sort of progress.

Back in 1995, I was a grad student at NYU, and I was approached to write an op-ed article defending Wahoo. I went with a tongue-in-chief thesis: "Wahoo should stay because Cleveland sports fans have gone through more pain than Native Americans."

Years later, I have readjusted my stance. Wahoo must go! ... But the good news is that the Cleveland Indians franchise also believes that fact, as do many fans, and Wahoo is being fazed out.

Look. The Tribe just blasted the Cubs 6-0 in Game 1 of the 2016 World Series. Game 2 is on tap tomorrow (weather permitting). Today is unchartered territory for me. It is the first time in my lifetime that the Cleveland Indians have led 1-0 in a World Series. (They lost the openers in 1995 and 1997.)
It also is the first time the Tribe has led 1-0 in a World Series since 1920, when the Indians beat the Brooklyn Robins 5-2 to win the World Series. That is no mistake! Back in 1920, the World Series was so silly that the teams played seven games, regardless of the if the series were mathematically done. Man, history is crazy. In that same year, women got the right to vote!

Wahoo, or the lack of Wahoo, may be the factor that will give the Tribe its first World Series since 1948. The reason I say this is that the red-skinned Chief Wahoo did not come into existence until 1951 — after the Indians actually won the World Series. From the beginning of the franchise in 1915 until 1947, no Native American-type of image was connected to the franchise.

When vanguard owner Bill Veeck owned the franchise, he created an Indian image and horrible mistake. From 1947 to 1951, the Tribe had a mascot that was this:
And while this mascot was in true effect, the Tribe won Series in '48, so in a way, all was good back then.

But beware of 1951! That is when the red-skinned Wahoo we all know took charge. During the red-skinned Wahoo's range, the Tribe has won zero World Series, and heartache lasted almost all of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

In 2013, the Tribe organization took a stand and made Chief Wahoo the secondary logo of the team. Excellent move! We're fazing out Wahoo! It would be too drastic simply to cut off the chief. Ohioans might go ape with such a drastic move.

All has been moving in the right direction. But that is why I was absolutely was shocked to see Wahoo on the hats of the Tribe in Game 1 of the 2016 World Series. Really? Wow. But thank god, we won!

Look. All I'm saying is this: The Cleveland Indians have won zero series with red-skinned Chief Wahoo as the primary mascot from 1951-2013. Now, it's looking like a way better chance since that 62-year stretch. Coincidence?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Talent is a myth

What the hell is going on here?

My Tribe — the team that I follow religiously day in and day out — is one game away from the World Series.

Look. This does not necessarily mean the Tribe will win the World Series. But right now, I'm feeling major feelings of validation that have taken 43 years to obtain.

Maybe, just maybe, the Tribe has done it right all along. When it comes to baseball, what are the necessary ingredients to win? ... Now and for a long time, the answer has been a given — talent and payroll. But here we are again, not seeing those ingredients prevail.

When it comes to baseball — and life — I believe that desire, humility, team work and guile trump talent. Basically, I believe this: Talent is a myth.

Look. There is no doubt that LeBron James had immense talent when he was at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He might very have well been the most talented high school basketball player ever.

However, that did not make LeBron into what he is today. Prep stars flame out repeatedly. LeBron didn't. He had the necessary work ethic, grit and desire to become the man that brought Cleveland its first championship in more than five decades.
It's not as if I am making this theory up out of thin air. It's out there, and I recommend the new book "Grit" by Angela Duckworth if you truly want to explore how the idea of talent hinders us as opposed to elevates us.

As I look at my own life, I realize that I went into writing, even though I typically had better test scores in math. It turns out I really loved writing, put 30,000 hours into it and become passable at it. It's not about talent. It's about where we put our time, understanding the big picture and accepting our own foibles.

Now, that's why I love this 2016 Tribe. They are not "supposed" to be here. They have the 22nd highest payroll of 30 teams. Six teams have double the payroll of their 25-man roster. Those are the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cubs and Giants.

I believe money well spent is a better trait than simply spending money, and no doubt about it, I want the Indians to win it all, not only for my own connection to them, but because it would mean more than even the freakin' Cubbies winning it.

Francona matters. The use of the bullpen matters. Going to second on a ball in the dirt matters. That is more important than the Cubbies' freaking $176 million payroll.

When it comes to success, grit trumps talent. I'll tell you what. As hard as it pains me to admit it, the Tribe in the 1990s tried to do it on talent alone. It did not work.

Plus, our 1990s manager Mike Hargrove did things often because "that's how we always do it." Oh god. That was a recipe for pain and disaster.

 Right now, the Tribe is definitely in good hands with Tito Francona who knows how to adapt on a fly — even when his starting pitcher can not make it past the first inning!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

We moved in!

The house wasn't too bad. You could probably move in, if you wanted.

But we knew there were things we'd like to do, and it's always better to do them before moving in because, who knows, you might never do them.

To make a looooooong story short, we revamped the house we moved into in Cypress, Calif., and made it a show-stopping masterpiece. We redid all the floors, painted every room, put in a new kitchen, a new bathroom, modified two bathrooms, got the electric up-to-date, painted the front door and backyard trellis and got new hardware here and there to make this place a show house.

Did we overdo it? Probably. Was it worth it? I hope so.

We have finally moved in!

It is an odd situation to buy a house in one's 40s. You've lived and learned. You're wiser. But egads, I hadn't learned yet that you always go double! It takes double the time and double the budget to do what you set out to do. We doubled down, and we're feeling good — but, oh yeah, we forgot about something called furniture.

We'll get to that. But in the meantime, it is nice to have a five bedroom, three bath home. I love the space. It's wild to actually have space in a California home. It took major hard work to 1) simply buy a house like this, and 2) renovate it as we did.

It was perversely fun to talk to three or four contractors a day, stay on top of all of them and be constantly ordering items necessary for the remodel.

We assembled a ragtag Ocean's Eleven type of crew for this project, and in my power rankings of how good of a job they did, this is them:

1) Sergio the Floor Guy, 2) Captain Nemo the Tile Man, 3) Pedro the Painter, 4) Elias the Detail Specialist, 5) Bob/Rory the Plumbers (but, man, they're too overbooked!), 6) Scott the Electrician, 7) Josh the Tile Point Man, 8) Andre the Kitchen Planner, 9) Sam the Cabinet Guy and 10) Ed the Shower Man. ... We actually had a handful of other people involved, too, but the list is getting ridiculously long, and few guys we didn't feel that great about their work and/or price.

For a lot of this ride, I felt like the Ray Liotta in the sky-is-falling scene from "Goodfellas."

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Nirvana: The 'Greatest' American Rock Band

Ask anyone what the "greatest" rock band ever is, and the person will probably answer The Beatles.

That's a fair and correct answer. But if you ask anyone the greatest American rock band, and they'll most likely say an array of bands they didn't realize were British.

Then, a discussion and debate ensue. If you haven't realized it, England has a stranglehold on the "greatest" rock bands of all-time discussion.

To me, the top five "greatest" bands of all-time are: 1) The Beatles, 2) Rolling Stones, 3) Led Zeppelin, 4) The Who, 5) Pink Floyd. ... All British!

A lot of other key bands, including the Kinks and Queen, also are British. So when it comes to the United States, this is a tough list to figure.

Add to that the rugged individualism and solo acts in the United States, that it becomes even harder. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Prince and Elvis are, thus, eliminated because they belong more on a solo artist list. ... Of course, all of this is highly subjective.

So where does that leave us? Well, Nirvana is No. 1 — kind of by default. To get such a title, influence also is a factor, and Nirvana had that.

And why make a list anyway? I can't explain this, just as I cannot explain why I would make mixed tapes of songs for girls I liked.

A list phenomenon exists, and this is pointed out in the recent book "But What If We're Wrong?" by Chuck Klosterman when he talks of "The Book of Lists" (1977).  He writes, "The library in my sixth-grade classroom contained many books that one ever touched. It, however, include one book that my entire class touched compulsively: The Book of Lists."

The "greatest" American rock bands of all-time:

1. Nirvana. Kurt Cobain passed away in 1994. There is a chance that his death ended rock 'n' roll — in the sense that it is exceptionally unlikely any "greatest" band can make the list after 1994.

Jack White and the White Stripes and/or Raconteurs is the only post-Cobain musician with a chance for that. In Klosterman's book, Eddie Van Halen says, "For generations, rock music was always there. For whatever reason, it doesn't feel like it's coming back this time."

Hip hop and pop music today has made rock an outsider for current music trends. I just don't see another band coming along that develops the significance of the bands on this list, but despite what the Internet message boards say, I am not a soothsayer.

2. Guns N' Roses. GNR holds up and in some ways is better than Nirvana. Hardly any band has an album that compares to "Appetite for Destruction," although Axl appears to be a fa-tass-e now.
3. The Grateful Dead. I was never really a Deadhead, but I got to respect the longevity, avid fans and music. I wish they rocked harder, though.

4. Aerosmith. A solid, likable band. But this crew does not belong in the same conversation as the Beatles, Stones or Zeppelin.

5. The Doors. Mojo risin'!

6. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Beyond "Free Bird," "Sweet Home Alabama" and maybe a couple other hits, does anyone really listen to Skynyrd?

7. Metallica. Holy crap, we're old! Did you know that Metallica is in its 35th year of existence. Yes, 35th, not 25th. Yowsers!

8. The Eagles. I'm sure there are some who might argue the Eagles could be No. 1 on this list. But I just despite the Eagles. In ways I can't explain, I just really never want to hear an Eagles song.

9. Pearl Jam. Way to speak up in class, Jeremy.
10. Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's tricky here, but CCR edges Van Halen, the Beach Boys (I don't consider that stuff rock), R.E.M. and everybody else I can think. "There's a bathroom on the right."

Monday, August 1, 2016

All One People

During the first night of my stay in Cleveland this summer, my mom wore a T-shirt that said "All One People."

This was not an ordinary shirt. This shirt was revered by my dad, the XMan. He wore it. I wore it at some point. My mom was wearing it, and she was surrounded by grandchildren, surrounded by life.

I believe the XMan loved the shirt because it was a three-word blast of his philosophy of how he saw the world. "All One People."

He meant that we are all equal, regardless of manmade, societal concerns or wealth. I like that thought and wholeheartedly agree.

But, wait, there's more. "All One People" is not actually a philosophy or ideology. It is more literal and scientific. There is a picture of the earth on the shirt.

Dude, we're all humans. In essence, we are all ... the same. We're "All One People" spinning on a rock that rotates a fiery star called the sun.

Perspective. In the heat of a presidential race, I find that the presidential race often confirms people's ideology — whatever that may be. People don't change their beliefs, unless they have that possibility embedded into their philosophy (I do, by the way.).

Although major issues must be tackled by the human race and these presidential oldsters, perhaps the biggest question we still must ponder is this: What does it mean to be human?

Often times, I believe ideology gets in the way. Some of my best childhood friends have opposite political beliefs, but we connect on something deeper — humanity.
Eh, my daughter and niece just pulled me away from this blog by teaching me how to meditate. Where do they get these New Age-y ideas?

The meditation class taught by the 9 and 8-year-old was excellent. I breathed deep, let out the negativity and brought in the positivity. I feel refreshed, and I owe it to the youngsters. Thank you, Chloe and Ellie.

All One People.

Monday, July 18, 2016

These candidates are too freaking old!

Religion and politics.

I've heard those are two topics to avoid at dinner parties. Sadly, in my world of Southern California, where adults frequently wear ball caps and Jams, I find that dinner parties are not that common any more. Are these still topics to avoid?

As the Republican National Convention commences in Cleveland today, I actually am not here to talk politics. Rather, I am going to point out a bipartisan issue that I believe all can agree on:

These candidates are too freaking old!

Seriously. Donald Trump is 70 and has eight grandchildren. Hillary Clinton is 68, has two grandkids and entered the White House as the First Lady 23 long years ago.

These candidates are too freaking old!

Perhaps the funniest thing about this election is that the most viable third candidate was Bernie Sanders. He is 74!

The oldest president ever elected was Ronald Reagan, who was 16 days shy of turning 70. That means if Trump somehow is elected, he will be the oldest president ever elected. Hillary will be second only to Reagan.

These candidates are too freaking old!

Sanders would be 75 on election day — by far blowing away Reagan's age. I find it cute how Sanders somehow was often considered "the voice of youth." I also find it cute that he was somehow considered an"establishment outsider," after being a Congressman from 1991-2007 and Senator from 2007 to the present.

What is going on here? And what do all of these old candidates say about 'Merica?

I'm worried that these old candidates show a systemic problem with leadership throughout the U.S. Where are the inspirational leaders under 60 nowadays? Or better yet, how about under 40?

I am not a fan of these old coots, whatsoever. When Obama entered the office, he was 47. That is reasonable. He had kids, Malia and Sasha, grow up in the White House, as did the Clintons with Chelsea.

Bill Clinton was 46, and JFK was 43. Teddy Roosevelt has the record as youngest president at 42.

Only two children were born to presidents in the White House. JFK Jr. (pictured above with JFK) was born when Kennedy was the president elect, and we'll count that. And trivia question Esther Cleveland was the only child ever born to a sitting president as Frances Cleveland gave birth while Grover was in office.
I bet that a younger president is good for the morale of young people. Why in the world am I forced to vote for a person who cannot possibly be good at sex?

Yuk. I don't want think about Trump, Hillary or Sanders in that way. But, egads, is the only way to avoid any type of silly-ass sex scandal to get an old, asexual politico into the White House?

Plus, style is majorly compromised with Trump and Hillary. Trump's hair and his odd orange glow are not things we should show other countries. Hillary's pants suits aren't anything special. What would the French think of these two?

These candidates are too freaking old!

By comparison, Obama and even George W. Bush actually look slick. They would not be out of place in GQ. Trump and Hillary aren't going in any fashion magazines. Are these all superficial points I'm making? Of course they are.

Actually, how in the world has good-looking Obama avoided any type of sex scandal with critics like Fox News treating him like a cross between Flavor Flav, the anti-Christ and Corky from "Life Goes On"?

We all assume JFK and Marilyn Monroe had an affair going on. Bill Clinton took a horrific step backward from Marilyn when he had a fling with Monica Lewinsky. But is 'Merica so prude that we are forced to vote for presidents who are in absolutely no risk of having affairs?

These candidates are too freaking old!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Polack's view of SoCal real estate

Goodbye, Long Beach.

For the past 18 years, I have lived in Long Beach, Calif. — a gritty, eclectic city in Los Angeles County. But those days have ended.

My home at 3390 Lees Ave. has been sold, and for the time being, I am homeless — temporarily living in a long-term hotel I like so far.

Luckily, I am in the midst of escrow to get another home, three miles from the previous one. But this one is in a different city — Cypress, Calif., in Orange County.

The move is an upgrade in many ways. The home itself is much larger. The street is much quieter. The community may have more cache. But, man, it has been an extremely difficult process to execute this move.

Without the boredom of all of the details of why this move has been so difficult, let's just leave it at this: Southern California real estate. Gotta love it (yeah, right).

Cypress — I imagine not a lot of people outside of Southern California know anything about it. Perhaps its claim to fame is that it's where Tiger Woods grew up. I'm hoping his selfish personality never rubbed off on the Cypress community. By the way, here's the house Tiger grew up in:
Regardless of this move, my identity remains entrenched with Cleveland. However, my 18 years in Long Beach rivals my Cleveland time. Once I made it to college, I never again was a full-time resident of Cleveland. But with so many formidable experiences, and important friends and family, there, I know that home will always be CLE.

Long Beach has evolved, as have I, in my 18 years there. But I must stop my lamenting, reminiscing, etc., about L.B. In fact, this whole premise of "leaving Long Beach" is a bit silly because my daughters will still be going to school there, and I will be about a mile and half from its border.

This move made me realize three main things that I would recommend to everyone for better living. I guess they're my Polish real estate tips. But, really, these tips can help any Polack improve his life ASAP:

1) Throw away stuff — as much stuff as possible — immediately, and avoid bringing crap into the house. I had been in my home for just under eight years. To me, that isn't especially long, but it was significant. I thought I tried to keep junk out of the house, but with perpetual trips to Target, I brought in way more stuff than was necessary. I felt liberated to throw stuff away. If it does not bring you joy, do not keep it.

2) Do home improvements ASAP, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. I was pretty good with this one, although my L.B. home was in excellent condition when I got it eight years ago. But I had to upkeep this place, and I added a few minor upgrades.

The couple who moved in had a legitimate "turnkey." I moved out on a Thursday. They moved in on Friday, the next day. Too often I see people do upgrades to their home just to sell it. Why not do that early so you can enjoy those upgrades?

3) Location, location, location. Yeah, that adage in real estate is totally correct. I found something fascinating in Cypress. Nearly the entire city had similar home prices, yet after seeing a boatload of homes, I could pinpoint the best homes to two tracts. Once we sold our Long Beach home, it became a waiting game to hope something came on the market in those tracts.

It's still a bit of a waiting game, as we must complete escrow before we can remodel a bit and then move in. But at least the most hectic part is over — moving all my worldly possessions, but throwing out a ton that I realized had zero street value.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cleveland shares values — and a CHAMPIONSHIP!

The RTA bus would pick me up on Turney Road, then go down Broadway though urban decline and eventually reach Public Square. I would get off, wait a bit and take another bus over the Detroit-Superior Bridge and be dropped off walking distance from St. Ignatius High School.

I didn't think much about it at the time, but going through downtown Cleveland to the near West Side for high school shaped a lot of who I am. I learned some street smarts, how to talk with people asking for spare change and how various types of workers go about their days.

Floods of memories and emotions continue to come my way as I bask in the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA Championship.

I am not sure people outside of Cleveland understand our feelings. They may be baffled. A big reason for this is the unparalleled civic pride we have for our city. We Clevelanders have always been connected through our punishing winters, negative press from the outside world and a sense of community that continues to get stronger.

In all fairness, I have seen a lot of civic pride from New Yorkers and Chicagoans. It is legitimate, but it's not as close-knit as ours in Cleveland. Two major-league baseball teams in one city? Those cities are just huge.

Cleveland is smaller, but still a metropolis. We're all big fish there. If you're still in Cleveland, you've looked around the world and have realized that you'll take the lack of traffic, accessibility, low home prices and lifelong friendships over what you might find in other cities.

We have been brought up with Cleveland, and it is in our blood. We all have stories like this, and here's mine in a nutshell:

My grandparents were brought up in Slavic Village. My mom's parents lived there during their whole lives. My dad's parents soon moved to a bordering suburb — Garfield Heights.

My dad avoided the Vietnam draft by going to law school and supported himself and his young family by working at Kroger's. When he become an attorney, his law office was on Public Square for more than 30 years.
Two of my uncles were in advertising in Cleveland. My Uncle Bob climbed the ranks through another Cleveland landmark — Higbee's, which is now the Cleveland Jack Casino. As a youngster, I found myself downtown all of the time in the natural center of Northeast Ohio.

The city's economy bloomed when it was a steel and iron town, and because of that, the city always has had a blue-collar mentality and sensibility. Or as LeBron correctly put it when he returned to Cleveland, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have."

LeBron matured and grew and showed that Cleveland is worth returning to. He gets it.

Of course, the lead of what happened is that our championship-starved city stopped a ridiculously long drought without a title. So, of course, we are going bonkers because of that.
But we're also going bonkers because of our civic pride and how united we are as a city. I sense that outsiders look at Cleveland in one of three ways:

1) Bewilderment. They just don't get our excitement and never will.
2) Apathy. They don't care. They have lives where they don't truly have the passion and caring for anything, let alone their sports teams. These people will continue to sleepwalk through their lives.
3) Unspoken Envy. Yep. Outsiders probably won't admit it, but this championship strangely — and probably unjustly — validates our community. It validates Cleveland on a national scale. It validates our values. This is not a place that we leave and forget. This is us, and we are happy for that. Who would not want this?

I have lived outside of Cleveland for 21 years now — three years in New York City, and 18 in Los Angeles. A long time ago, I realized that Cleveland will always be my home.

With the exception of my daughters, fiancee and a couple stragglers here and there, I have not developed the depth of relationships that I did during my formative years in Cleveland. A team attitude, a common understanding, inherent trust —values that I used to take for granted aren't as readily available as they are in my hometown.

Our championship is bigger than basketball. It's also about our shared values. We get that. We are united. We are Cleveland.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Cleveland's sports mythology: A shaky Jenga tower

Father's Day.

Our championship may come on Father's Day.

I could think of no more appropriate day for Cleveland to end its 52-year drought of a championship in any major sport.

I think of all of the time spent with my dad — glued to the TV, at the games and discussing our teams. I think of my Grandpa Stevens and his love of sports — perhaps only surpassed by my Grandma Stevens' love of the Tribe. We have put lifetimes into this.

As I ponder the many possibilities that may unfold tomorrow, I conclude this: It's a win-win situation.

If the Cavs win their third straight game against the mighty Golden State Warriors, they will have an NBA championship! If they lose, then another huge piece of Cleveland sports pain will be added to our sports mythology Jenga. At this point, some championships will have been so ridiculously close that there is value in that.

But at this point, the mythology of Cleveland sports pain is a tall, shaky Jenga tower that is bound to fall. Time can topple the tower. Our fans' devotion to these teams should help topple the tower. Heck, LeBron James may do it tomorrow!

Of course, we must put all of this in perspective. This is professional sports we're talking about. Does it matter in the big scheme of life?

My answer: Heck, yeah, it matters!

This does not solve world hunger, reverse global warming, end terrorism or give an education to Donald Trump on foreign policy. But pro sports does bring people together, create conversations and, in the case of the NBA, put on display the world's best athletes.

Cleveland's last championship came in 1964, before the Super Bowl existed, when my mom attended the game at age 15 with my Uncle Steve. She still has the ticket stub:
Part of me wants to be there like my mom was. But I will not be flying to Golden State to be there when it might happen tomorrow. That idea crossed my mind. I will not be flying back to Cleveland. That crossed my mind, too.

I will be celebrating Father's Day with my daughters, fiancee and Game 7 of the NBA Finals. My father will be with me in spirit. My grandparents will be with me in spirit. My extended family will be with me via text, phone and FaceTime. Whatever happens, happens.

The Jenga tower of Cleveland sports pain is bound to topple.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cleveland and life ... Pain, hope, love, grief (repeat)

A peculiar thing happens whenever somebody asks Dina and me where we're from. Dina says she's from Los Angeles. I say one of two things: 1) I'm from Cleveland, or 2) I'm from Cleveland, but I've been in L.A. for 18 years.

Once you're from Cleveland, you're always from Cleveland.

We all know the Cavs' playoff run will soon end in heartache. Of course, that is extremely pessimistic. But as Cleveland sports fans, we're conditioned to that type of thinking.

Could this be the time we crack through and have our first championship in my lifetime? Oh, Jesus, I hope so. But is it realistic to think it will happen? Not based on my sports experiences, but so what? I will be loving every minute of these NBA Finals.

Earlier this month, ESPN ran a documentary called "Believeland," which chronicled the sports pain of my beloved city. It was spot-on about the heartbreak that has created the painful sports culture and mythology of Cleveland.

Being an actual optimist in life, I must say that "Believeland" also brought back positive memories of Cleveland sports. It's just too darn bad that none of the incredible teams we've assembled have sealed the deal and won a championship.

See, many people not from Cleveland cannot fathom the love — love, love, love — we have for these teams. These teams are like an extra friend always there for us at family gatherings, after work, in the car on the radio, everywhere. The city of Cleveland is evolving and thriving in many ways, but for some stretches of time, all we had were our sports teams, a depressed economy and miserable weather.

I don't think any team, perhaps in any sport, can get closer to a championship than the 1997 Cleveland Indians. They lost in 11 innings in Game 7 of the World Series after leading with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

When manager Mike Hargrove was asked how long it took him to recover from that crushing defeat, he said, "I'll let you know when it happens."

A quote came out during "Believeland" about this and similar losses: "What did you expect? We are who we are. Star-crossed. Cursed. Ill-fated. We always end the year in tears."

Personally and literally, the Tribe's loss in 1997 in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series was the only Cleveland sporting event that ended in tears for me. I was living in Brooklyn. I was 24. The loss was cruel.
Of course, we can look at Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Art Modell's immoral and ridiculous move of the Browns or LeBron's move to South Beach as other sources of pain.

Or we can look at the lengthy inadequacy of the Indians in the 1970s and '80s as pain, or the continued incompetence of the Browns for the past 20 years, but come on, how didn't one of our behemoth Tribe teams of the '90s not win it all?

Plus, to lose it to the freakin' Florida Marlins? In their fifth year of just being a team? Well, life sure ain't fair, and Cleveland sports is about as fair as Cleveland weather (It snowed on May 15 this year!).

But now, we turn our sights to the Cavs/Warriors rematch. This time, these current Cavs have one year of experience with this grand stage. It would be nice to finally exorcise the demons of 52 years and give the Cleveland the championship it deserves — yes, deserves!
However, here we go again. The Warriors set the record for most wins in the regular season, and they got a guy who's most likely proven to be the best shooter to ever walk the planet. Add to that the fact that the Warriors recovered from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. And, egads, it's obvious that the Cavs are not playing the freaking Marlins.

First, the awesome Cavs teams of the '80s run into Michael Jordan. Now, this?

I am opting to believe again. I'm joining my Northeast Ohio brethren believing this could be it. This could be the one. The script could finally change.

Believeland. All In.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My own 1984 with Prince at Silverman's


That's where it happened in 1984.

As a 10-year-old lad, my mom gave me the go ahead to get something at the discount store on Turney Road in Garfield Heights, Ohio. I searched the store and came up with two cassette tapes — Prince's "Purple Rain and Van Halen's "1984."

I couldn't make a decision on which one to get, and I brought them to my mom. I'm pretty sure she didn't look at the covers of the albums and suggested, "Why don't you get them both?"


The first two albums I ever bought as a human being were Purple Rain and 1984 at Silverman's across the street from my home. I'd say those albums have held up over the test of time, although I am a much bigger Prince fan than Van Halen, and I must say I don't mind my taste as a 10-year-old.

Obviously, Prince has recently passed away, and, of course, I have been listening to THE PURPLE ONE. But strangely enough, Prince's death has made me think a lot about where I got "Purple Rain." It's made me think about Silverman's and the loss of regional stores and when corporations were not the size of countries.

Dig if you will this picture: The scenario of walking into Silverman's and buying two cassette tapes is completely gone. Silverman's: Gone. Cassette Tapes: Gone. Prince: Gone.

It is shocking to realize that the human being outlasts stores and technology, but it does. We do.

Cassette tapes — there will never be a movement to make 'em cool. They do not have better sound quality than an LP, a CD, an iPhone, anything really. But they were precious to me back in the day.
I didn't realize it, but Silverman's was only in the Cleveland area. The last remaining Silverman's closed in January 2015 in East Cleveland, a poor part of town.

A Walgreens is in the space Silverman's used to be at 5090 Turney Road. Another regional store in Ohio — Marc's — remains popular with 60 stores in the state. It's more of a grocery store, but has odds and ends, too, and strange payment methods. Only the Discover Card, checks or cash are accepted at Marc's. I tried to pay with my regular credit card once and got a glaring stare from a cashier that said, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

In essence, the time of Prince and "Purple Rain" was my "Wonder Years." At the time, I didn't think much about being able to walk across the street to school, or walk to Silverman's, or walk to Tasty's Pizza for a pizza sub or Peter's Market to pick up kielbasa for my mom or the valhalla of all pizza — Italian World.

The year 1984 was a world away — 32 years ago. By the way, George Orwell's "1984" came out in 1949 — 35 years before its title's year. Maybe it's time for another dystopian novel. This one could be called "2050."

In 2016, we're much more connected with our iPhones, iPads, Facebook, etc. There's really no need to develop relationships with anyone in places within walking distance. Heck, there's really no point in being walking distance to anywhere.

See, our lives are vastly improved now.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

O.J. trial looks different 20 years later

I am saddened that one of my favorite TV shows in recent years — "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" — will have its final episode on Tuesday.

"The People v. O.J." is a 10-show series that reenacts O.J. Simpson's double-murder trial, AKA the "Trial of the Century," that took place from January to October 1995. Because this happened more than 20 years ago, I find it an excellent time to reevaluate what happened with O.J. and see if we still have the same feelings and ideas we did 20 years ago.

I personally look at the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial much different through the lens of 20 years later and the perspective of "The People v. O.J." Twenty years ago, my view — the white view — was that there was overwhelming scientific, practical, circumstantial and common sense evidence that proved O.J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Today, I remain certain that O.J. murdered Nicole and Ron Goldman, but the trial indeed was much more than a creative defense of the former Heisman Trophy winner. The Trial of the Century, and the racial message from the defense, was ahead its time.

Now, I see the O.J. Simpson trial as a loud message to white people to see the different America that blacks live in. It is a loud message that some whites should have realized in the past 20 years or before then, but many remain blind to.

Twenty years ago, I thought "playing the race card" was inappropriate for the horrific crimes that O.J. committed. I saw that as a smoke-and-mirrors defense, a Chewbacca defense, that was beside the point of the murders that happened on June 12, 1994.

But now, after taking a 20-year break from this trial, I believe that the racial messages from O.J.'s defense team were relevant then and relevant now. With sincere respect to the families of Nicole and Ron, those messages may actually be bigger than their murders. The trial itself was bigger than the murders.
Back when the verdict was read on Oct. 3, 1995 and O.J. was acquitted, my response was immediate cynicism for the justice system. I heard and even said things like, "Money will let you get away with murder, and that's the bottom line."

I even blamed the jury for being clouded by emotion and race. The jury that acquitted O.J. was comprised of nine blacks, two whites and one Latino. In their eyes, and those of magistrate maestro Johnnie Cochrane, they preferred the narrative of how blacks have been persecuted throughout U.S. history and O.J. was a part of that.

Of course, O.J. did not stay closely connected to the black community. The defense team switched out his pictures and decor when the jury visited his home to make it "more black." And he severely beat Nicole previously to the point where, according to police records, she told police, "He is going to kill me. He is going to kill me. You never do anything to him. You talk to him and then leave."

Today, O.J. is serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada for multiple felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping. He will be eligible for parole next year.

To say that the United States is a violent culture is an understatement. The United States is averaging more than one mass shooting per day (four or more shot at a single location), and the U.S. military budget is $581 trillion compared to second place China's $155 trillion.

Perhaps it makes perfect sense that three single events in the past 53 years that are likely the most memorable to the U.S. population are JFK's assassination, 9/11 and O.J.'s murder trial.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Craft beer is dead

Craft beer is dead.

It's gone the way of grunge rock, and, man, that's a bummer because "corporate rock still sucks."

Of course, anyone enamored by the craft beer craze will say, "You've got to be kidding me, man. Craft beer is taking over the world!"

Sure. Maybe, economically. But we all know that once the frat boys like it, it's dead — especially with anything remotely artistic. And even the lamest of frat boys is liking craft beer nowadays.

Craft beer is to 2016 as grunge rock is to 1992. Grapefruit Sculpin is sold at Target now, and Ballast Point —Sculpin's Brewery —just sold for an insane amount of bones to the corporation that owns Robert Mondavi wines, Corona, Pacifico and more.

And do you want to hear the price tag for this "craft brewery"? It's $1 billion. Yes, that's a "B." Ballast Point got bought for ten times $100 million.

I'm astounded by the market value of Ballast Point. I love Ballast Point's beers, but that price tag gave me this pop culture epiphany:

The mighty tasty Grapefruit Sculpin is equivalent to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" is the song that took 1990s alternative rock into the mainstream, and that's what's happening with Ballast Point taking India Pale Ales into the mainstream. In the present, we may not see this, but we will be seeing Sculpin more and more. We'll look back to this sale as the apex of the craft beer explosion.

Sure, there were plenty of popular grunge songs before "Smells Like Teen Spirit." There also were plenty of popular craft beers and IPAs before the Grapefruit Sculpin. But nothing has had the impact of Nirvana and the $1 billion price tag Ballast Point recently got.

A craft beer aficionado might point out that Chicago's Goose Island might have brought IPAs into the mainstream when it sold to Anheuser-Busch for $38.8 million in 2011. Well, that price tag just doesn't hack it compared to Ballast Point's. But Goose Island is going to be successful and mainstream, and I liken the company to Pearl Jam.

St. Patrick's Day is less than a week away, and Guinness has its own "Nitro IPA" on the shelves. That company knows what's up with the marketplace. Right? No need to dish out $38 million to another brewery to do that. We're seeing more and more craft beers in grocery stores, but that doesn't mean they're on indie labels.

Hey, I'm going to love great rock 'n' roll and tasty beers forever, regardless of who makes them. But I have a feeling we're all going to look back on 2016 as a time when craft beer went from being cool to being overexposed.

In 20 years, we'll still have Ballast Point and Goose Island because of the corporations behind them. But those corporations are going to wipe out a lot of killer craft breweries.

I'm hoping Stone, Great Lakes and Ninkasi continue kicking butt and stay independent. It's hard to picture now, but who knows? In 20 years, we might be looking at them like the Screaming Trees, Mudhoney and the Melvins.

Gone and forgotten, but, damn, at the time, we loved them!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This helicopter parent is trying to fly away

At the birthday party where my oldest daughter turned 6, I sat a miniature kids table with her and two of her friends. The three girls were trying to have a refined tea party, and I was showing them the proper way to do that.

In my best British accent, which involuntarily sounded like John Cleese, I bellowed, “First, lassies, you take your biscuit. You dip the biscuit in the tea. You hold out your pinkie to be classy as such, and then you take the tiniest wee bit of sips.”

The girls followed suit, held out their pinkies, and several moms laughed and applauded our sophisticated circle. My daughter is 10 now, and I only recently realized how I ruined her tea party, often over-parented and unnecessarily meddled in her life.

My name is Joe, and I am a helicopter parent. While I have not found an official organization to help me or my kind, I am in self-imposed recovery. I am doing my best to get out of the way to empower my daughter to be more independent, self-confident and free. But in a world in which helicopter parents rule, I have found this much harder than expected.

Most helicopter parents are in denial. They’ll say things like, “Helicopter? No. We’re just playing together.”

Or: “It’s a competitive world nowadays, and I’m just helping my child have an edge.”

Or maybe: “I don’t have time to be a helicopter parent. I’m too busy taking my kid to piano, soccer, dance and drawing.”

“Helicopter parenting” is so prevalent nowadays, that I say it’s synonymous with “parenting.” We hover, help with homework, put away socks and shoes, schedule playdates, supervise playdates, enable dependence and foster a lack of exploration. Did our parents do all of this?

This past summer, the much-needed book “How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims came out, and I’m not sure I’ve ran across a more important parenting message. Not only as a parent herself, but as the former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University, Lythcott-Haims has witnessed constant over-parenting and fills her pages with anecdotes, advice and honesty.
Other books with similar messages are out there, including “The Gift of Failure,” “The Overparenting Epidemic,” “You Are Not Special” and “All Joy and No Fun.” I am hoping the needle starts moving from over-parenting to simply parenting — not only for the kids’ sakes, but for the parents, too.

In my case, it hit me that my daughters (I also have 8-year-old Chloe) live a much different existence than mine at their age. I remember riding my bike to my friend’s house down the street as early as first grade. Back then, the typical advice from parents was: “Be home before the street lights come on.”

Of course, this type of plan will not happen today. Why? Well, we love our children, and we think we are being smart by keeping our kids away from potential danger.

We don’t like to put things in these salacious terms, but we assume the molester. Parents justify their overprotectiveness (AKA sheltering) because of their knowledge that there are criminals who will prey on their children. Mathematically, that simply will not happen. Fear is guiding the way.

By being so protective, we are implicitly telling our children that the world is a place of fear. Is that really the message we want to impart? If we never give them steps toward independence, when will they ever be independent?

So of late, I have refused to let fear rule my parenting. I have shifted my parenting to be more of a mere consultant with my daughters, to free them of my “checking up on them” and never — yes, never — look at their homework.

But do you know what the biggest obstacle I face with my shift in parenting has been? It’s been my children themselves.

They do not know what to do with this newfound freedom because they’re not used to it and it’s not what they see with their friends. My fifth grader has absolutely no desire to ride her bike to a friend’s house. The culture of helicopter parenting is so omnipotent, that it is no easy task to all of a sudden start anew.

At my daughters’ elementary school, many parents walk with their children from their cars to the classrooms. This year, I said that it was time for me to stop that. My fifth grader looked at me with shock and said, “What do you mean? We have to cross the street.”

On the first day without me, my daughters crossed the street, did not get hit by a car and survived. I saw that they joined a fifth-grade friend, who was with her mother. The mother was carrying the student’s backpack, and the child carried nothing.
Oh God, is there hope?

Well, I’ve found some signs in pop culture that might show others are on my wavelength. If you google helicopter parents or over-parenting, there are plenty of helpful websites out there. There are even quizzes that parents can take to see if they are over-parenting.

But here’s the funny thing: Would our parents even discuss parenting?

Heck no. I think we simply have to blend our parents’ overly hands-off approach with our over-the-top hands-on approach.

Fast forward to my daughter’s birthday party at age 10. I was reforming my ways as a helicopter parent and did my best to not mettle with my daughter and her friends. Age 10 is much different than 6. I noticed that the girls talked about crushes, middle school options and boys not at the party.

They looked so far removed from having a tea party that I kind of missed the days when they were younger and their conversations were simpler and more innocent. At the party of 10-year-olds, I never jumped into their conversations or insisted on being with them. For the most part, I had myself situated across the room — nonchalantly eavesdropping on them.

Yeah, I was still there, watching and listening.

Monday, February 1, 2016

You'll never feel whole again

Well, looky, looky here, it's February!

I've already heard several people say, "Wow. This year is going so quickly." In fact, I venture to say I hear that more and more each year I live on this planet named Earth.

As we get older, we all feel like time goes faster. There is an explanation for this. Each year we live is a smaller percentage of our life.

Remember when a year really used to mean something big. I remember when second grade was a lengthy event. Third grade, the same. But as time progressed, each year slowly felt quicker and quicker.

Does this mean we all become pessimists, fed up with life?

No. What it actually means is that our perspective constantly is changed based on our age. If we are 8 years old, a year is 1/8 of our existence. That is kind of a big chunk, if you think about it. Plus, we have no memory of the very early years.
If you are 42 years old, that is 1/42. Mathematically, it is not that big of a deal.

So, here is the idea: Whenever someone says his age, see it as a fraction. The college student will no longer be 19. He'll be 1/19. Your mother could be 1/68.

In these pictures of my daughters, they look great this year at 1/8 and 1/10, and they were also cute at 1/1 (or 1) and 1/3.

Looking at age as a fraction, the person's perspective on the ever-moving construct known as time will make more sense. I would love us to stop using age as a number and officially change it to a fraction, but I know too much tradition has gone into age for that to happen.

Age and time are manmade ideas. I do understand that the Earth goes around the sun exactly once in a year, and there is science to it that makes sense.

However, we tend to hold dearly arbitrary beliefs ingrained in us that aren't always correct. Perhaps this age as a fraction has come to you already, but I'm not sure. I did a bit of googling, and I did not find this idea on the "Inter-webs."

Maybe the fraction idea will be used to you. At least, once I figured this out, I quit obsessing over age and realized that we are destined to have each year go faster and faster.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ignorance is a choice

I heard an idea on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" the other day that affected me. The idea is this: Ignorance is a choice.

The rapper/activist Killer Mike was on the show, and he was asked if the events this year in Ferguson, Baltimore and North Charleston raised awareness among white people about systemic racism in America.

"If white people are just now discovering that it's bad for black or working class people in America, they're a lot more blind than I thought," Killer Mike said. "They're a lot more choosing to be ignorant than I thought."

In Killer Mike's interview with Colbert, he mentioned the Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes Experiment conducted by Jane Elliott as something that white people can watch to try to understand racism better. Feel free to google that, or click on the video below to watch it.

Jane Elliott echoes the idea that ignorance is a choice. "White people's number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white," Elliott said. "We don't have to learn about those who are not white. And our No. 2 freedom is the freedom to deny that we are ignorant."

As we are in the midst of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I am sick and tired of having this holiday as what the British call a mere "bank holiday" — just a day off. Or, if anything happens on MLK Day, it likely will be a celebration of Dr. King's accomplishments. While I have absolute respect for Dr. King and his accomplishments, I believe he would much rather have his holiday be a day of education.

In that vain, I believe Black History Month needs to change to be, indeed, Black History Month. As it stands now, Black History Month is actually Black Celebration Month. Of course, MLK Day as it stands and our current Black Celebration Month are better than nothing, but in 2016, white America must be educated on how systemic racism continues today. I'm not just talking about ignorant, hateful individual racism. I'm talking about systemic racism.

The worst thing I have seen with MLK Day and Black History Month is the attitude that all is OK now. "Way to go America! See, we overcame racism. See what can happen if we all just work together! MLK was great. The president is even black. We did it!" ... Please, don't make me puke.
Here are simply three things I'd like to impart today that everyone — especially white people — needs to know.

1) Jim Crow laws were in effect in the United States until 1965. In other words, blacks officially were second-class citizens by law until 50 years ago.  Officially. The Jim Crow mantra of "separate but equal" means "not equal."

Before the members of the Snooze Button Generation were born, there was official systemic racism in the U.S. Now, that has been transformed into unofficial systemic racism.

2) The new Jim Crow is the prison system, and this needs to be reformed ASAP. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Our present society is the most incarcerated society in the history of any civilization. The numbers are so staggering against minorities that it is fair to call this "official systemic racism."

People of color account for 60 percent of our prison system, while they comprise just 30 percent of the U.S. population. One in every 15 African-American men are incarcerated as opposed to one in every 106 white men.

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, one in three black males can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Let's repeat that: One in three black males will go to prison in his lifetime. 

And y'know what often happens: You go into prison on a nonviolent drug crime, then you come out as a career criminal. Beware. Once you go to prison, you may stay in prison.

Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" came out in 2010, and no true progress in the prison system has happened since then. Most white people have not heard of the book.
3) White people must revisit their stock answers. Jane Elliott points out how harmful it is when white people say: 1) I'm not racist. Some of my best friends are black, and 2) When I see you, I don't see a black person. I don't see color.

I see white people cringe if I ever bring up a racial issue with them — and I'm white myself. White people most likely will disregard this blog and continue to choose ignorance. But for anyone who does not accept this, what can they do?

Go ahead, and check out the video below. Perhaps act like your children — it's practically certain that they're less racist than you.

But more important, remember that MLK Day is not just a "bank holiday." This is an opportunity to reflect. Is America on the path we want it? Do I ever think actually consider others? Do I ever think about the prison system?

In 2016, please ask yourself: Is this the America I want?

Considering where America is today, I think of Fyodor Dostoevsky, who said, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I'll be home for Christmas

Happy birthday, XMan.

My father would have turned 68 today, had he not passed away in Hilton Head, S.C., in 2011. Phew, man, it's been a long haul to get here, and practically anybody who has lost someone close realizes that an outpouring of memories surfaces around the holidays.

So on my father's birthday, I am writing about a few things I've discovered during my years without him. With the holiday season in full swing, I will be listening to holiday music in the background while sipping on a holiday-spiced coffee. The song that happens to be playing now figures. It's the Bing Crosby classic I'll Be Home for Christmas performed by Lady Antebellum.

I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me

One of the biggest things I've learned with my father gone is that, by and large, people don't care. I dutifully press the "like" button on Facebook when friends remember their loved ones. Sometimes, I even comment. But do I really care?

It's really hard to care if you never met the person. If you happen to read this, chances are you either met the XMan and loved the guy, or you are substituting your own loved one with the XMan and applying it to your own experience. Right?

Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Another important thing I've seen is that tragedies are all around us. I used to try to quantify tragedies. "Wow, my dad's unexpected death shocked us all and hurt us, but your husband's death at 42 was..."

The numerical ranking of tragedies is simply stupid. People learn to get through their grief and learn how to live the life they want to lead, even though they face enormously difficult and painful situations. This is called life.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams

I loved my dad immensely, and I wouldn't have traded our relationship for anything. But I do understand that I can't live in the past. We can only live in the moment.

This year, I'm especially happy because I'm engaged to the woman I love. We had Thanksgiving together and will be with my 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, and 8-year-old daughter, Chloe, on Christmas. This will be the first Christmas since my divorce in which I will have a Christmas morning scenario in my own home with the woman I love.

I'll be home for Christmas

Aw, man, the holidays bring up so many feelings and memories that I can't help but think back to some of the great times I had with the XMan. He gave out gag gifts to extended family every year. He once carved the holiday ham topless — but with an apron. He and my mom even got my brother and me Atari in 1981!

He was da man. I miss him. Yes, I have a fantasy to have him drop in this Christmas. But with all due respect, Sir Isaac Asimov, that type of thought is science fiction.

Ah, the holidays get emotions stirring, as does this freaking remake of Bing Crosby's I'll Be Home for Christmas. Perhaps you've noticed something about Bing's classic. But if not, I must point out that the last line changes the whole song.

I used to think I'll Be Home for Christmas was a straightforward holiday tune without nuance, kind of like Jingle Bells. Someone is coming home. Yeah! Get the egg nog going. Holiday time. Yes! But, oh no, the last line changes everything.

I'll Be Home for Christmas is really a homage to Christmases past. It's a nostalgic tune with a hint of fantasy and sadness. This dude ain't coming home. At least, that's how I understand this song and its beautiful five-word final line:

If only in my dreams

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Flip's on list of all-time kindest NBA guys

When I heard about the death of Flip Saunders this week, a chill passed through my body.

Aww, man, Flip was da man, a real class act, one of the kindest men I ran across during my seven years writing about the NBA from 2001 to 2008.

Flip and I weren't especially close. But I would talk with him whenever his Timberwolves were in L.A. In 2003, when the Wolves played the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, my assignment was to write about the Wolves, and I enjoyed dealing with Flip.

It is sad, and a shock, that Flip passed away at 60 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma just four months earlier. Life is fleeting, my friend. Don't forget about that. Right?

The thing I liked about Flip is that he did not treat me according to my role — "NBA reporter." Instead, he treated me like a mere human being, and I appreciated that.

Perhaps I simply relate to Flip's values, and maybe I just got along with him because of our mutual hometown of Cleveland. Whatever the reason, he was definitely among the kindest men I dealt with on the NBA beat.

That previous statement got me thinking. Am I glorifying Flip, just because of his death? Was he really one of the best guys I ran across?

The answer is "yes." In fact, I will create a list of my favorite NBA personnel that treated me well. Yes, it may be odd to rank human beings, but I'm doing it anyway.

To make things fair, I did not allow anyone connected to the Clippers to be on this list because I developed many relationships there during my seven years on the Clipper beat. Because I was on the Clipper beat and based in L.A., the list is top heavy with people connected to Western Conference teams, but, so be it, this is based on my experience.

The top 10 kindest gentlemen I ran across covering the NBA from 2001 to 2008:

10. George Karl. A kind, interesting guy. He edged out a slew of guys for this final spot, including Hubie Brown. The one thing I like about both Hubie and George Karl is their eloquence with explaining the details of basketball. Both have superb NBA minds, and both put their knowledge into effective and exciting words.

9. Yao Ming. Injuries did in the big man, but he was one heck of a storyline for a while. During part of my stint with the NBA, a lot of media followed him. He was always accommodating, and I had a mutual friend with his translator. Maybe that helped me like him, too.

8. Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq definitely could be moody with the Lakers, but I'll never forget the time I asked him about what Thanksgiving meant to him. He gave me a sincere, thoughtful response, and it was obvious he has a genuine heart.
7. Flip Saunders. 

6. LeBron James. Yes. Seriously. During his rookie season, I sat down with him for about a half hour, and I learned how he somehow preferred the Cowboys, Yankees and Bulls to my beloved Cleveland teams. He was very accommodating and open. I imagine lone time with him like that has been impossible since that rookie season.

5. Chris Webber. The Lakers had many duels with the Kings, and so I frequently ran across him. He was thoughtful all the time, as was his teammate Vlade Divac. The two set the tone for the Kings having one of the tightest, friendliest locker rooms I've ever seen.

4. Mark Cuban. He's considered either a "media darling" or "media whore," depending on who's talking. But the reasons why are these: He has interesting things to say. He says those in an interesting way. He is legit. Insightful. Entertaining. Good dude. Worth all of the hype.

3. Eric Musselman. We both spent formative years in Brecksville, a suburb of Cleveland, and that helped break the ice on a memorable interview I had with him. I found him to be extremely creative and thoughtful, and he actually hand wrote a thank you note for a story I did on him. He could easily be No. 1 on the list, but I moved him down because hist time was short-lived in the NBA as a head coach for the Warriors and Kings.
I notice that a lot is connected on this list because Eric Musselman's dad, Bill Musselman, coached Flip in college at the University of Minnesota. Another connection to Bill Musselman is that my mom used to play bridge with his wife.

But if you want even more connections to me, the Musselman family and my Stevens family. Eric is now coaching Nevada, Reno, where my cousin, Len Stevens, coached from 1987-1993.

2. Steve Kerr. When Kerr was ending his career with the San Antonio Spurs and hardly played, I was first shocked that reporters huddled around him when he wasn't in the team's rotation. Why? I quickly realized how insightful and well-spoken he was about basketball. I'm impressed that he has parlayed his verbal skills into being one of the top coaches in the league with the Warriors.

1. Gregg Popovich. On a random Saturday in the fall, no media was around Staples Center, and I interviewed "Pop" for 30 minutes. I asked him anything, and everything, I could think of. He obliged with sincere answers with depth. I'll never forget that.

Pop was accommodating and kind. He gave me a glimpse into leadership and understanding at an elite level. He was inspiring. Could I ever play basketball like Tim Duncan? ... No. Could I ever understand human beings as much as Pop. .... Maybe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I am Destro

I am Destro.

I would have never realized this, except Wolf Pack member Dave just asked, "Will this make you Destro?"

The answer is "uh, well, yes."

I proposed marriage to the woman I love, Dina, who I've described as, "Y'know, she looks like the Baroness from G.I. Joe."

This information means the following: I have proposed marriage to the Baroness. I am now Destro.

I did not know the complete Destro story, but based on intense Internet research, I have learned: "Destro's key characteristics are his sense of honor, a calm demeanor and love for Cobra's second-in-command, the Baroness."

One major difference between me and Destro, though, is that he is forced to wear a steel mask for crimes, while I have a more conventional head made by 100 percent Polack DNA.

This will be the second marriage for both me and the Baroness. I might argue that fact makes the marriage even more impressive. No myths. No fantasies. Just pure love, understanding and the ability to feel good daily and feel happy to see each other each day.

I could say the details of the romantic proposal. I did it on my 42nd birthday! I did it at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That Frank Gehry — he deconstructs architectural standards with massive projects of impact. I might say that I got her father's blessing in advance and got down on a knee.

But, nah, let's have those details disappear. I just feel cool, knowing that I'm giddy over my girl, the Baroness, and she loves her Destro, AKA the Polack.
Shoot, I must admit I don't "know" anything. This marriage proposal is guttural. I didn't consciously choose this, but I would if I could. I don't choose to love Dina, but I would if I could choose it. This love thing has chosen me, and I love it. I love her.

Yeah, Hawkeye will be hitting on her at the bar. Clutch will be making some advances after he fixes her car. I'll, too, get my fair share of winks from Scarlett. That's life when you're a couple in love: Destro and the Baroness.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Attempted retraction turns into diatribe No. 2

Meathooks has called for a retraction.

I lost a 25 cent bet to Cousin Paulie.

Cleveland is happy, and its residents will be making sweet, sweet love tonight because the Browns actually won a game.

But I still can't stand Johnny "Freakin" Football.

What is my problem?

I just don't like him as a human being, a person. I try not to judge people, but when the weight of my Cleveland Browns falls on his 5-foot-6 shoulders, I believe I'm allowed to ponder this guy.

First of all, thank God the Browns beat the Tennessee Titans to improve to 1-1 and hold on for a 28-14 win. Manziel threw two touchdown bombs to Travis Benjamin, and those were the obvious offensive highlights. The first TD bomb on the second play of the game set the tone, and Johnny Football deserves major credit for that.

I've upgraded my thoughts on Manziel from "he's an absolute bust" to "let's wait and see — but he's probably a bust."

I am conflicted on whether I want him to be a bust. With a Browns first philosophy, I want him to work out and be a superstar. However, he is the most unlikable sports figure to don a Cleveland uniform — according to me.

I'm not even sure who's in the running. Albert Belle from the Indians was much-maligned. Ricky Davis from the Cavs could be redonkulous. I'm sure there have been plenty of criminals, but Manziel remains the biggest douche.

This could be a Snooze Button Generation (TM) gap. This punk is only 22, and I'm 41. Maybe there is a generation gap with this kid because I repeatedly look at him and think, "You got to be kidding me."
My gut tells me that Manziel still has the maturity of a flea. My gut says that he is all flash — and no substance. Even in football, he had two spectacular TD flings. But other than that, he was not good.

Johnny Football's success on the field may very well have to do with his mentality. I believe he has a highlight-reel mentality, but I'm not convinced he knows how to do little things to get a team to win.

I also surmise his personal life is like that. I bet he'd be a great guy to date because of the flash, but when it comes to hanging out at home and feeling chill, he'd be fumbling all night long.

Would I want my daughters to date him? Oh, God no. Would you want that for your daughters?

I don't trust Johnny Manziel, and I don't like that feeling. When the weight of the Cleveland Cavs is on LeBron James' shoulders, yes, I'll take that. If the weight of the franchise is on Manziel's shoulders, I am still thinking, "What has happened to us?"

But, hey, let's put this all in perspective. The Browns won. They're 1-1, and they've been to the playoffs once in the past 20 years. Even if today ends up as the highlight of Manziel's career, we'll take it!