Why It’s Worth It

Thank the Lord for casual Friday.

If not, I couldn’t have rolled into work in jeans, a ponytail and a bad attitude—or should I say “Natitude.” Because once again last night, my Washington Nationals lost their post-season bid, and with the crowds and traffic (for which I applaud DC fans immensely), my head did not hit the pillow til after 3am.


Werth it.

Now as I slog my way through my fifth cup of coffee, I find myself wondering why we put ourselves through this—any fans, any sport—again and again, year after year? And I’ve only had the Nationals for 11 years—some franchises have waited lifetimes longer for titles.

Yet we keep coming back.

Why do I care so deeply for the performance of young men half my age, who will never even know my name, who make millions just getting out of bed, that a loss makes me want to stay in mine?

I guess because sports really are about more than wins and losses. It’s about the experience—the earthy scent of fresh cut grass, that juicy first bite of a hot dog, the whizzz of fireworks, high-fiving your fellow fans.

It’s watching a football team brute their way through hurricane force winds, or a marathoner stopping to help a fallen comrade.

It’s these sensations, far more than a trophy, that make enduring disappointment worth it all.

So now I will buy next year’s season tickets.

Right after a nap.

His Name Is Prince. And He Was Funky.


What’s that Kanye? I can’t hear you over my Oscar.

Dig if you will, the picture: In 1984, I was a white, suburban sixth-grader who collected unicorn stickers and attended 4-H Club and church summer camp.

Yet I had become utterly possessed by an elfin, spandexed, sex-crazed crooner whose lopsided curls looked like they had been styled with Crisco and a pair of eggbeaters.

I had followed pop music since cable TV had arrived in my Tennessee town somewhere around fourth grade. MTV was already in full swing by then–Martha, Alan, Nina and the gang inviting me in each weekend for the Top 20 Video Countdown. I wanted to shock Peter Gabriel’s monkey and stand heartache to heartache with Pat Benatar. I liked Def Leppard, Madonna, and Culture Club (as long as my father wasn’t in the room).

Gen-Xers will recall that we didn’t have a lot of readily available sources for music back then. I liked artists and songs because my friends told me to. Or Rick Dees. Or my uber-cool older sister.

But when Prince appeared on the screen, slithering steamy from a tub toward me on his stomach as white doves took flight, it was as if some cosmic bedsheet cracked, and every note of every song I’d heard heretofore snapped away into the ether, blank and clean, and all that was left was purple, purple, purple.

Prince left “Xanadu” in the dust.

Prince in my knock-off Walkman became the highlight of my morning schoolbus commute. The joy of junior high dances. My comfort when no one asked me to couples-skate.

Prince was my royal raison d’etre.

I liked him because…I don’t know. I just liked him. I didn’t find him especially attractive; he was effeminate, he was short, his outfits looked like he’d raided a laundromat while Louis XVI and Jimi Hendrix went out for a smoke. Some of his lyrics were so dirty they escaped my comprehension; they hinted at acts I wanted no part of then or ever.

But there was something about him and his unapologetic bad-assness that resonated with me, hit some musical sweet spot I didn’t realize was wanting. Something set him apart from other artists. I’d always had a penchant for traditionally “black” music – Commodores, Parliament Funkadelic, Ohio Players. These were the albums I liberated from my sister’s collection and played on my Fisher-Price record player, got down to on “Soul Train.”

Maybe it was the bass. Or their fantastic bellbottoms, the altitude of their afros. I wanted the funk. Lots of it.

Or maybe the music presented for me a glimpse into a world in which I otherwise did not belong. I had black kids I counted as friends; but where I lived, I could also count them on one hand.

Then came Prince, or more specifically, “Purple Rain,” which melded for me the best of both worlds: funk I could find on pop radio. Common ground for kids of all colors—he even had white girls—GIRLS!—in his band. In satin nighties, but still. And they weren’t just rattling tambourines, they could really play.

Simply put, Prince made me go crazy.

Thirty years, five concerts and countless records/cassettes/CDs/downloads later, nothing has changed. I am a fan with blind faith. Through assless chaps, through band and label and religion and hairstyle and name changes, through no name at all, it doesn’t matter, Prince has found the righteous one in me. Anywhere, any time Prince appears, I cease all activity to watch, to listen, to try and understand the hold this tiny, funky man has over me.


Prince’s presence is burning my eyeballs but I don’t caaaare! PRIIIIINCE!!!!!

Like during Sunday’s Grammy’s with my friend Quinn—it seemed somehow unholy to speak, move, or bust on the artists (except Kanye) while Prince was onstage. Rumors had circulated for weeks that he would be there–few if any artists build that kind of excitement, that far ahead of time. We sat still as stones. He brought the house DOWN, and he was only presenting an award.

He received even greater appreciation during the Golden Globes, when a ballroom full of Hollywood’s absolute elite went—for lack of a better word—completely APESHIT as Prince, adorned in a long jacket and silver cane, took the stage like the Willy Wonka of Wait, What the F*%$, PRINCE IS HERE OMG PRINNNNNCE!!!!!

I’m glad to finally know I am not alone—there are purple people everywhere. I think Prince appeals to pretty much anyone between 30 and 60 because his career has been that long and that universal.

I realize not everyone cares for his music like I do (“Graffiti Bridge,” anyone? Me either.), but trust and believe, if he walked into your home or office right now, you would leap up and scream like…well, Prince.

Because, I have realized, Prince is hope. He is the living embodiment of resilience, reinvention, rejuvenation. He has had ridiculous success, and some almost laughable failures, but he Just. Doesn’t. Give. A. Shit. He just keeps on doing what he wants to do, and people respect that.

I’m just a puny black kid from Minnesota? I will grow up to become rock royalty anyway. Write the soundtrack for Batman? Why not!? I can’t control my own musical creations? Peace, I’ll start my own label. I can’t use my own name? OK, I’ll make up a new one—in fact, I’ll use a symbol. Appear on “The New Girl” just because I’m a Zooey Deschanel fan? Yup, and we’ll set the show’s viewership record with that episode too.

Oh, and along the way, I will also master more than 20 instruments, quietly write hit songs for fellow superstars and help launch others altogether. I will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while I am 45 and still at the height of my career. I will win an Oscar, seven Grammy’s and countless other honors. I will work tirelessly for the rights of artists and accessibility of our craft to everyone.

And I never, ever grow older.

(Seriously, what does the man do, drink unicorn blood?)

So Kanye, until you can make the same claims, you’d best sit down, shut up, and learn from the master. Because baby, he’s a star. Then and now and always. And we are all the more blessed for it.

Do Animal Instincts Make the Best Brackets?

In one of my favorite Cheers episodes, dorky Diane wins the bar’s pro football pool by selecting the victors according to which cities have the best symphony conductors.

I am pretty much in the same boat when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. I have no one to root for—my hometown Memphis Tigers didn’t make the cut, and my Division III alma mater, Centre College, is hardly a Sports Center staple.


Bet against Carolina? That’s nuts!

Luckily this weekend I volunteered at a wildlife rehab center, where, while cleaning up squirrel scat, I learned those little guys are #1-seed North Carolina’s state mammal. Which gave me a slightly nerdy idea for my bracket. What if I based it on official state animals?

After all, the animals are selected for their strength, smarts, and contributions to state culture. Many of the options seem like obvious winners. Kansas (Kansas, Wichita State) has its bison, and Miami and Florida Gulf Coast are represented by Florida’s state reptile, the alligator.

Others are a little more surprising, but kinda make sense when you think about it. Second-seeded Oklahoma’s state amphibian is the bullfrog, which is America’s largest frog–aggressive and even believed to be resistant to snake venom. That’s one potent game plan.

Washington has perennial competitor Gonzaga back in the running this year, along with the Pacific tree frog. This clever state amphibian is wiggles its toes to attract its meals. (May also explain all the Tevas in Washington.)

Ohio, with Xavier, Dayton, and Cincinnati in the tourney, boasts the spotted salamander as its state amphibian. No need to worry about injuries here–when attacked, it can grow back missing limbs and even parts of its brain. Its BRAIN!

Tennessee is fielding four squads this year—Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee, and Austin Peay. Though seeded merely 11, 12, 15, and 16, maybe the teams can look to Tennessee’s state commercial fish, the channel catfish, for inspiration. They have highly evolved sensory systems and can size up rivals from sex to social status just by smell alone.


Eat me. (No, really, I dare you.)

Thirteenth-seed Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, actually has two spines! One braces the other when the fish shelters in small spaces, and predators can’t get it out. What coach wouldn’t want that kind of defense?

Kentucky’s state insect is the viceroy, a butterfly that mimics in its color patterns the more delicious monarch, but instead—like Kentucky’s shooting—gives predators heartburn with its high concentrations of salicylic acid.

Finally, though nowhere near an ocean, Utah’s state bird is the seagull. As the story goes, when Mormons settled the state, locusts attacked their crops until, like a miracle, gulls appeared and ate them. As a 3-seed, Utah probably won’t need any miracles, unlike 15-seed Weber State of Ogden. But with the praying mantis as Connecticut’s state insect, maybe 12-seed Yale will get a miracle of its own.

As for me, I’ll be praying for mercy when I call in sick to watch hoops.


Life Lessons from Latrell Sprewell?

david robinsonLike most of us, I hate most commercials–the fake food, the corny jokes, the just-downright-baffling (that Super Bowl “puppy,-monkey- baby” still waddles through my nightmares at least once a week).

So when I see a great commercial, I will give it props. Like the latest, though slightly painful, Priceline.com ad, “When life lessons are on the line…”, which has pretty much everything I am looking for: a little girl who plays sports and the dad who supports her, a basketball legend, William Shatner, and an NBA player who nearly choked his coach to death and has pretty much blown his wad in every possible way since.

In the commercial, dad and daughter first happen upon David Robinson, who advises the young basketball player that the keys to success are “hard work and a great attitude.”

To note every cool aspect of Robinson’s unique and outstanding career would warrant a whole other post. The Morse Code version: “The Admiral,” the first and only U.S. Naval Academy player ever to reach the NBA, not only served his country, but followed by playing center for the San Antonio Spurs for his entire career. Among other honors, he was Rookie of the Year, a 10-time All-Star, the 1995 NBA MVP, and a two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner as part of the famed “Dream Team.”

And all this after deferring his pro playing time for two years to serve in the Navy–not an easy process. At 6-8 upon entering the Academy, he almost withdrew, concerned his height would prevent the experience necessary for him to become an officer (and he ultimately grew to 7-1). A special dispensation was made for him to serve in the Naval Reserves and he became a civil engineering officer.

He has since earned his Master of Arts in Administration, founded a school for inner city children, and has become a noted philanthropist and venture capitalist.

(What this has to do with hotels and airfare, I don’t know, but I’m starting with wish Robinson would run for President.)

sprewellMeanwhile, the commercial ends with the dad and daughter meeting Latrell Sprewell, who became a multi-millionaire playing for the Golden State Warriors, the New York Knicks, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. He too was named an NBA All-Star four times and helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals and the Timberwolves the Western Conference finals.

Sprewell tells the young lady that “Success is failure that just hasn’t happened yet.”

And he would know. Despite his accomplishments, he is most remembered  for a 1997 incident in which he attacked and choked then-coach P. J. Carlesimo during a practice. It earned him a 68-game suspension.

But of course he was allowed to continue playing. In 2005, Sprewell’s career came to an sudden end when he turned down a $21-million three-year contract offer from the Timberwolves, implying the deal “would not be enough to feed his children.”

Following his departure, he has also wrecked his million-dollar yacht, lost two homes to foreclosure, and had his parental rights taken away.

All that said, it’s nice to see him have a laugh at his own expense. We can only hope he’s finally learned some life lessons of his own.


You Go, Girl! (Like, You’re LITERALLY a Girl.)

In what has become as reliable as Donald Trump saying something boneheaded, last night Stephen Curry once again played a lights-out game, scoring 51 points, including an insane half-court bank shot, in a 130-114 Warriors win AT Orlando. Arguably the best player in the game, the 2015 MVP is on track to break his own records and take home the title once again.

jaden-newman-basketball-david-whitley-0227a-20150226Which makes it all the more stupefying that he was once beaten by an 10-year-old in a three-point-shooting contest.

I am only just now hearing about Jaden Newman, now 11 (bad sports blogger, BAD!), who has been racking up her own records and fans nationwide since third grade when she made the varsity girls hoops team at Downey Christian High School in Orlando.

But beating Curry–himself once considered too small–last year was what put her on the map as a serious player and not just a fluke. In a Youtube contest Curry used to prepare for the NBA All-Star Game 3-Point Shooting Contest, he invited civilians to take him on. Jaden beat him 16-15.

True, she shot from the high school three-point line. But she was ten. She even got Curry to sign her permission slip so she could miss school that day.

Since their showdown, she has gone on to score 57 and 59 points and average 30.5 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Her 13-year-old brother Julian is also a superstar–he was the youngest player ever to score 1,000 at his high school. Together the two are affectionately called the “Dribblin’ Siblins'”.

Check out some of Jaden’s moves here. She plans to be the first-ever female player in the NBA. Maybe she’ll be joined by winning Little League World Series pitcher Mo’ne Davis, who also expects basketball to be her go-to sport.

Either way, look out Stephen Curry! Girls rule, and they’re making a fast break into a brighter future.

You Might Be a Redneck Hockey Player If…


An ice hockey game? Can she still wear Daisy Dukes?

I have a confession to make. I cannot make head or tails of hockey. And considering DC has the best team in the league, that is a major bummer. I respect the sport immensely but whenever I try to follow the puck, I feel like a tabby teased with a laser pointer.

I think it has something to do with being from the South. With today’s technology, ice rinks are as common as Starbucks. But skating on the lone ice rink in 1985 Memphis was as novel as walking on Mars. Keep in mind, when I was growing up, there were no Nashville Predators or Carolina Hurricanes. On a hockey freelance assignment once, I had a 10-minute conversation with Gordie Howe and had no idea who he was.

So when I look at hockey, I can’t help but bring a Southern mentality to it. Take hockey player names. Many of them properly convey the devastating power, grit and grace these athletes possess: Alex Ovechkin. Jaromir Jagr. There’s even a Michal Jordan.

Then there is the handful of unfortunates who sound like they should be throwing rocks at Forrest Gump.

Still, they are my peeps. Or at least sound like them.

Siberian cat - kitten watching light spot

Me at every hockey game, ever.

Take Dallas center Vernon Fiddler. Or Detroit’s Tomas Tatar. (I know the Slovakian player’s name is probably pronounced more like the fancy raw steak, but in my head I hear my grandma cooking “tay-ters” for dinner.)

I would give anything for Beau Bennett and Bo Horvat to team up with Luke Glendening and Luke Schenn.

Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck isn’t alone–there are actually numerous Cal’s across the NHL, but it’s the “Clutterbuck” that makes me mentally cast him alongside Dallas’ Cody Eakin and Colton Sceviour in a Bonanza episode. Throw in Jimmy Howard, J.T. Brown, and Calvin Pickard and you could pull off Oklahoma.

Finally, there’s Columbus center Boone Jenner, which sounds more “Bull Durham” than “Slapshot” to me. It manages to be both sexy and redneck at the same time—exactly the kind of guy I like, if I weren’t twice his age. So I’ll leave it there, y’all.

Why “Snow” Is a Sport

20160122_150720_resized_1Well, hello insomnia. Again. I suppose it’s from trudging around my neighborhood in 3 feet of snow the last 2 days after a work trip to Vegas, so I barely know my own name.

And while snow may not be a sport exactly, it was heartening to see (or experience)…

  • People shoveling each other out
  • A flash mob snowball fight
  • People walking…
  • …And even running
  • My 6-inch-tall wiener dog trying to find a place to do, well, you know…(then cuddle up with his hedgehog)
  • My favorite bar open, regardless
  • AMAZING football and tennis with nowhere to go or be

In other words, I think the snow made us not only kinder and calmer but, ironically, more active. Let’s try to keep it that way? Especially since we will now need to build our arks.