Friday, May 29, 2009

King James

Cleveland Cavalier Forward LeBron James put forth another outstanding performance to keep his team alive in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. He had a triple double (37 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists). Remarkably, with the game on the line in the final 12 minutes LeBron had a hand in 29 of Cleveland’s 34 points either by scoring or dishing assists.

It amazes me that the Cavs have come this far. Yes, the team had an NBA best 66 wins during the regular season, but LeBron’s supporting cast is absolutely dreadful. Only Mo Williams is a decent player. If we ranked the top 8 players per the 4 teams in the conference finals (teams in the playoffs usually go with an 8-man rotation) for a ranking of 1 to 32, the top 4 would be LeBron, Kobe Bryant (Lakers), Dwight Howard (Magic), and Carmelo Anthony (Nuggets). With the remaining 24 players, the Cavs’ players would take up the bottom 7 slots. If you took the second best player off any of the 3 other conference finals teams and put him on the Cavs, this best-of-7 series would, at least, be in the Cavs’ favor if not already over.

Just to be down 3 games to 2, LeBron has to play out of his mind and be near exhaustion every 4th quarter because of the lack of help. The Cavs’ front office has committed professional malpractice in trying to support LeBron with talent. This team is no different than 2 years ago when it went to the NBA Finals and the supporting cast was dreadful back then. The Cavs’ big moves in the interim in bringing in Wally Szczerbiak and Ben Wallace have failed miserably as both can barely get minutes in the postseason. The only move that has worked has been bringing in Williams this season.

This reminds me of the late 1980s to mid 1990s for the New York Knicks and Patrick Ewing. No, Patrick was not the caliber of player LeBron is, but he was still a hall of famer in the making and, in his prime, a top 5 player in the NBA. Like the Cavs’ front office, the Knicks did a pathetic job in surrounding Patrick with talent. Delusional Knick fans would argue that John Starks and Charles Oakley were good, but let’s get serious here. Oakley was a Chicago Bulls castaway and a thug and Starks was a glorified CBA player (the pseudo minor leagues of the NBA at the time). Whenever the Knicks faced the Bulls, Rockets, or Pacers, Patrick was no worse than the 2nd best player on the floor (only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon being better), while the next best Knick was always worse than the rest of the opponents’ top players.

NBA fans know that LeBron will be a free agent going into the 2010 season. Cavs’ fans fear he would leave to a team like the Knicks, which happens to be one of the worst teams in the NBA at the moment. Fans talk about the rumor that he has a special clause in his endorsement contracts whereby he would get more money if he played in New York. The Knicks should be well under the salary cap to afford LeBron. If he does leave for the Knicks, I don’t think it would have anything to do with endorsement deals as it is the Knicks would have the cap space to bring in another good player. That is something the Cavs have failed to do since LeBron has been there.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

Thirty-eight years ago this weekend, the United States celebrated its first Memorial Day as an official federal holiday. Hard to believe that it took so long for such a holiday commemorating the U.S. men and women who died while in military service to become official, but it did. The holiday original began in the 1860s to honor the Union soldiers of the American Civil War and was then known as Decoration Day. Many states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day. The alternative name of Memorial Day was first used in 1882 and did not become more common until after World War II. It became the official name by Federal law in 1967 and by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday. The act took effect in 1971.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Honor of Malcolm X's Birthday

In honor of Malcolm X's birthday, I'm reposting my first blog entry from this past February:

I’m a lay minister in an African-American Roman Catholic parish in St. Albans, Queens. My wife and I have been members of the congregation since we’ve moved here from the Bronx in February, 2006. With the choir, liturgical dancers, and overall camaraderie of the parishioners, it’s the most enjoyable church experience I’ve had as a life-long Catholic. It reminds me of the Spanish masses I used to go to as a child. As part of Black History month each Sunday, the ushers pass out a questionnaire containing 5 or so questions on Black history. The questionnaires are collected at the end of mass, and those with the most correct answers get a prize. The following Sunday the answers are announced. It’s an excellent method of testing your knowledge.

The questionnaires made me think of the most personally influential book I’ve ever read (besides the Bible): The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read it back in 1991 when I joined the U.S. Army. It had a profound impact on me, and Malcolm X remains one of my idols. I collected documentaries on him, and videos and audio tapes of his speeches. I even had a poster up of him in my barracks room (which confused many of my platoon mates—White, Black, and fellow Latinos alike). He’s a misunderstood figure to many, regardless of race or ethnicity. For instance, he is known for the saying: “By any means necessary.” It’s viewed positively and negatively depending on your POV. It’s ironic that his famous—or infamous—saying is taken out of context. He said it to mean that Blacks should defend themselves by any means necessary.

Many of his views were harsh, but he was willing to reassess them as he gained more knowledge. As he wrote, “My whole life had been a chronology of—changes .… Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”

There’s a subtle, but important event in the book. A white female college student had been so moved by Malcolm’s speech at her New England school early in his ministry that she flew down to New York to see him. She found him at the Nation of Islam’s restaurant in Harlem and asked him what she could do to help the plight of African Americans in this country. Malcolm bluntly said, “Nothing.” She burst out crying and ran out the restaurant. Later on in the book after Malcolm had embraced the idea of the kinship of all peoples and the races working together to end racism, Malcolm reflects that he regretted telling her that, thought about her often whenever the topic arose, and wished he knew her name to write or telephone her. It troubled me that in Spike Lee’s movie he put the rejection scene in without the context of Malcolm’s later regret in how he dealt with the situation.

A month before his murder in February 1965, Malcolm said during an interview on Canadian television: “I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being—neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as a family there’s no question of integration or intermarriage. It’s just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being.”

This was at a time when intermarriage was not only taboo in the U.S., but still illegal in some states. It was actually counter to his previous views on interracial marriage during his early times with the Nation of Islam. This was a man who evolved in his ministry and world view and recognized this evolution. It is this evolved Malcolm—El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz—who is one of the forefathers of how we view race today, and can celebrate Black History Month—America’s History Month—with an African-American in the White House.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It Boldly Went …

It’s been a week since JJ Abrams’ early summer blockbuster Star Trek hit theaters. USA Today calls it “[a]n energetic, sci-fi extravaganza,” the New York Times, “[a] bright, shiny blast,” and Rolling Stone, “[p]ure filmmaking exhilaration.” The movie made over $76 million in its first weekend. The papers noted that it was the best opening weekend for a Star Trek feature film, which isn’t saying much because there hasn’t been a good Star Trek film since The Undiscovered Country came out 18 years ago.

As a self professed Trekker, I had my misgivings about this movie. I didn’t like the notion of “this isn’t your father’s Star Trek.” The decline of Star Trek wasn’t because the franchise pulled a John McCain and ran to its base; it was because Rick Berman (who ran the show) kept producing shoddy products. The franchise jumped the shark with Voyager in 1995 and Enterprise was dreadful. Only 1 of the 4 Next Generation movies was decent and that was First Contact in 1996. In fact, the series finale of TNG, “All Good Things” was quantumly better than any of the films. No wonder Nemesis bombed; it stunk.

The franchise didn’t need a reboot, it needed good story telling and good filmmaking and it got both with the new movie. I was pleasantly surprised. The movie had a great story and was well acted. I, like everyone else, was drawn to the new cast. The special effects were also good with the space scenes influenced by the new Battlestar Galactica. A bit ironic considering the original Battlestar Galactica was influenced by Star Trek. The new BSG just shows what good story telling and filmmaking can do.

My only qualm would be with some aspects of the production design. The uniforms looked silly. I know they wanted to follow the Original Series design, but TOS uniforms looked better. Heck, they fit better on the actors. The fish scale tops weren’t working. It’s a problem when the other uniforms shown in the movie look and fit better than the primary uniforms. The bloated Starship Enterprise was also a problem. The ship is supposed to look sleek, but this version was too bulky, especially with the obese warp nacelles. But those are just minor issues. All-in-all, JJ Abrams and his crew did a fine job.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, wife, sister, aunts, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and all the other mothers I know as well as all the mothers I don't. Have a joyous day.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Silver Phoenix

A week ago this past Tuesday I bought the book, Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia, by Cindy Pon. I was thrilled to buy it because I know Cindy Pon from the "No News is No News Purgatory Thread" on the Absolute Write message board I mentioned in previous posts. I and others were able to follow her through the process from pursuing an agent to publication. It was a fascinating journey and one I was fortunate to watch.

I started reading the book this past week and (I know I’m biased), but it's a captivating read with an intriguing story, lively characters, and wonderfully descriptive writing. The book has been well received by critics. I look forward to finishing it and to further books by Cindy.