i wrote this the day after the untimely passing of KOBE BRYANT and his daughter to be published at some undecided point in the future:
i have written before here on this blog about my formative experiences playing basketball at a young age and the undue pressures i saw being placed on my peers. i even had the opportunity in 6th grade to relate such to KURT RAMBIS at a league event (link to that entry HERE).
one of the aspects of BRYANT's post-playing career i admired was his advocacy against the growing tracking of young athletes. more and more for promising young athletes they are put in high pressure situations with coaches and leagues designed to garner attention of prominent college coaches and thereafter a route to the NBA. it was BRYANT's belief that such a system was destructive to the players and the game as a whole as it deprived the ability to experience being a kid and growing up in a non-professional environment.
as a THIRD CULTURE KID growing up in ITALY, BRYANT was lucky enough to experience basketball from his father, a journeyman professional basketball player, as well as take in the native soccer/football. these experiences informed his preparation and view of possible moves (especially footwork) down the line and in turn, his legacy crosses over into the realm of EUROPEAN FOOTBALL as well. its quite incredible.
i guess the point is that being a child means being given the opportunity to develop and be nurtured and given the opportunity to try different things. that seemed from what i read, to be the point of his academy. it wasn't so much a basketball camp as it was a leadership academy, where participants could develop the discipline and curiosity needed to excel at anything, basketball included.
the fact that he was using his name and legacy to help combat and transform children's athletics in southern CALIFORNIA is something i respect immensely. it very much reminds me of how my own parents navigated my early forays into competitive sports, they taught me that lessons learned in games were transferrable to real life. and i know for a fact that message was lost on my peers and their parents growing up.
safe travels KOBE. rest in peace.
and DENNIS RODMAN has been my favorite basketball player since childhood.
i know now in this "anything goes" TRUMP-era people, rightly so, criticize him for his naive efforts at international diplomacy and "friendship" with north korean dictator KIM JONG UN, but my reasons are wholly based on his performance on the court. at least mostly.
i'd be lying if i didn't say that one of the sports highlights of my childhood was watching him curse out MORMONS in an interview on live tv during the 1998 NBA FINALS. and he did it in the arena in SALT LAKE CITY. that was classic. and don't get it twisted, thats not me condoning hate speech. MORMONS have a complicated history with their racist beliefs regarding AFRICANS and NATIVE AMERICANS and their "missionary" efforts in AFRICA. so sue me.
what impresses me most about RODMAN was his work ethic and ability to make a career out of doing the unglamorous things that win games: rebounding and playing defense. raised in DALLAS by a single-mother, growing up he was anything but an athletic standout and often battled depression. he did not know his father (they wouldn't meet until his 30s) and he was even homeless at one point during his late teens, so battled sever issues regarding identity and attachment during a key developmental stage. in a league that was and still is star-driven, RODMAN was picked in the second round by the DETROIT PISTONS after attending a backwater, no-name NCAA DIVISION II school SOUTHEASTERN OKLAHOMA STATE. the fact that he willed himself to be a dominant player in the league is a testament to his drive and work ethic. in my mind his play, garnering him accolades (5x champion, 7x rebounding champion, 7x all-defensive first team, 2x defensive player of the year, 13.12 rebounds game/career average, hall of fame induction, no. 10 retired by DETROIT PISTONS) , spoke louder than his wedding dresses, dyed hair, tattoos and publicity stunts which in mind were his misguided way of seeking the love and affection he so desperately sought as a child.
he is a flawed, but so are the rest of us. and again, i respect that hell of out the guy. a HALL OF FAME career doing the unglamorous hard work on the floor that others don't want to do.
can't help but admire that.
full disclosure: i'm a diehard LOS ANGELES LAKERS fan.
my youth in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA was spent in the strange im-between doldrum years that marked the post-MAGIC JOHNSON era and the pre-KOBE BRYANT era. i grew up idolizing players like NICK VAN EXEL and TERRY TEAGLE, although i always disliked ELDEN CAMPBELL. that last bit is probably due to the fact that as a 3rd grader at a charity auction i asked him for an autograph and he asked me for $50. wasn't worth it then and its still not worth it. BYRON SCOTT, CHICK HEARN (R.I.P.) and all the previously mentioned players were cool and signed willingly which totally made my year.
so that's just some context. back in the mid 90s i played in a league called NJB that was geographically covered (i believe) HAWAI'I, CALIFORNIA (southern and the central valley), NORTHERN ARIZONA and parts of NEVADA. needless to say i was pretty good and was an all-star center and prospect going into middle school. now spoiler alert: i ended up moving to NIGERIA for middle school and never returned, basically abandoning any chance of playing southern california basketball, a decision i am still very comfortable with.
i was at an NJB conference with my dad when i ran into KURT RAMBIS and spoke with him for a few minutes. first off, totally nice guy and i knew who he was immediately by his thick horned-rim glasses, plus he played with my man MAGIC a few years earlier. basically i talked to him about the fact that i loved basketball but that i wasn't digging all the parents living through their kids, that basically that outside pressure (not from my family) was making it not fun anymore. essentially i was describing LAVAR BALL before he was a thing. for me i had a hard time with the idea that my identity was wrapped around my being an athlete and that teammates had parents that would make them cry after games we lost. the whole thing had an air of desperation and was pathetic looking back on it.
RAMBIS said he totally understood. funny thing was that he was there to address a roomful of THOSE PARENTS shortly thereafter. being a former teacher i still cringe at the way parents take over their kid's games. this AAU circuit that has taken over competitive youth sports is next-level exploitation and make me depressed to consider how much they are crushing kids love of the game. it all just strikes me of ego, hubris and misplaced love of self. coaches and parents need to get over themselves.
then again i don't have kids so what do i know.