Hoop dreams

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The other night while I was watching the Warriors game at this sports bar, this guy sidled over to my table.

“We should get back out there on the court, bro,” he said with a smile. It was Kenyati, a guy I used to hoop with at Ohlone Park back in the day.

“I’m a little too old for that now,” I said.

“How old were you when you stopped hooping?” said Kenyati.

“Man, I musta’ been around 35, 36,” I said.

“I remember the last time you were out there,” he said. “I was there that day.”

“And you were a teenager back then,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. Kenyati was in his 40s now.

“It goes by so fast,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

We gave each other wistful looks. And then went back to watching the Warriors game.

Those days running full court with the brothers were some of the best days of my life. And probably Kenyati’s, too.

 

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Phil Spector: Coolest Man Alive

Phil Spector, Phil Specter

I have this weird fascination with Phil Spector.  I’m not sure why.  I’ll regularly Google “Phil Spector” to see how he’s holding up amidst prison life, see if he’s gotten any more teeth knocked out lately and etc.  I guess everybody likes a rags-to-riches-to-rags story.  And if anyone ever went from the penthouse to the outhouse its old Phil.  He went from living in a gated castle with the world at his fingertips, to a 5-foot-by-9 foot cell that he’s confined to 23 hours of the day.

Part of the fascination I guess is that a lot of this life is about winning and losing.  Thats why sports are so popular for we see these symbolic dramas acted out for our vicarious amusement.  Certainly everybody experiences their ups-and-downs in this yin/yang universe of ours.  Most of us experience combinations of winning and losing.  But face it, some people are just flat out winners or losers.  Phil Spector was a loser who spent his life masquerading as a winner.  Always strutting around like the cock of the roost, making a big show of leaving hundred dollar tips, flashing expensive jewelry and flaunting trophy girlfriends.  Probably as a way to try and convince HIMSELF that he was a winner for he probably always suspected deep down he was a total loser.

 

On the other hand, my old friend Vincent Johnson was a winner masquerading as a loser.  Half black and half white, he never knew his father and his mother treated him like shit all his life.  He was raised in a ghetto in southern California during the early ’60s, remembers walking to grade school with tear gas in the air from the Watts riots.  The blacks all hated him because they considered him white and the whites all hated him because they considered him black.  Frail and epilectic with a bad stutter and somewhat homely by conventional standards, Vincent was one of those guys who seemed to have everything stacked against him.  A bad statistic waiting to happen.

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And yet Vince had a quiet dignity about him.  One of the most peaceful and tranquil people I’ve ever known.  Always walked with his head held high, a prince among men.  Just a very soulful dude.  He moved to Berkeley in the ’70s to become a hippy.  Spent much of his life homeless, living in a battered ’56 Chevy that rarely ran, painted in bright psychedelic colors with the Grateful Dead “STEAL YOUR FACE” logo on the front hood.  Who can explain the twists and turns of our lives, and why some of us are winners and others losers.

For some reason this reminds me of a guy I used to play basketball with at Ohlone Park.  Lets call him Charlie — as in Charlie Brown — because the poor guy was just a born loser.  For some reason, no matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, he always ended up losing.  Like his life was preordained like a Wiley E. Coyote cartoon.  I’ll give you an example.  One night we were playing 21.  Many of you are probably familiar with that game.  Two points for field goals, one point for foulshots, first one to 21 wins but if you miss the foulshot at 20 you have to go back to 12.  Anyways, this one night Charlie was playing an uncharacteristically great game, scoring fantastic shots left and right.  But the rub was, every time he got to 20 he missed the crucial last foulshot and had to go back to 12.  He had lapped the rest of us at least 4 or 5 times but he just couldn’t make that crucial last shot.  So Charlie decided to play it smart.  The next time he got to 19 he decided to purposely miss the foulshot so he could win the game later with a harmless field goal.  So he takes the basketball and just blindly flings it at the basket with all his might.  Of course it went right in the basket.  “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” he screamed in stunned disbelief.  So now Charlie was back at 20 and of course he missed the foulshot when he was TRYING to hit it and went back to 12 yet again.  “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!” he screamed.  While the rest of us were rolling around on our backs laughing until we cried.  In truth it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed.

For some reason it reminded me of the comedian Pat Paulsen, another total loser.  He decided to get a cool tattoo, but the tattooist mis-spelled it and it came out “Born too loose.”  The poor guy couldn’t even lose right.

Phil Spector