Month: August 2015

Straight Outta Compton

In the Summer of 1988, I “worked” as a camp counselor for the Danbury Parks and Recreation Department. It was a glorius gig, and damn near criminal. I got paid to hang out with my friends nursing hangovers, playing hoop and listening to hip hop while ostensibly supervising kids. That summer, NWA released “Straight Outta Compton”. From Ice Cube’s opening bars, nothing would ever be the same again. His voice, direct and powerful, like Chuck D, but where Chuck’s lyrics resonated with righteous indignation and were burdened by the weight of progressive, aspirational change, Cube’s were vivid and free of fucks given. I hung on every word, devouring them while questioning if he really said what he just said?

There is a scene early in the movie where Dre has a DJ gig at a club where the owner wants a vintage BET Midnight Love vibe, but during a break, Dre brings Cube on stage. The beat drops and heads bounce. Cube comes in painting pictures with his words and hands raise. He’s got them, just like he had me in the Summer of 1988. For that scene alone the movie is a success to me because it transported me back to that moment in my life when NWA was new and something I couldn’t get my head around fast enough.

I took my daughter Holland and her boyfriend Tre, to see “Straight Outta Compton,” and I couldn’t help but wonder how the movie resonated with them. NWA broke up long before either of them was a spermshot in the womb, and lyrics of comparable violence if usually less art have been pumping through speakers for the entirety of their lives. We could not possibly experience this movie in the same way. Unfortunately, teenagers are not known for the candor of their emotional reflections, and I received little more that “great movie” and having gained “an appreciation” for NWA in response to my queries. I choose to believe there is something in their “appreciation”, and it’s the same thing that is valuable in all efforts to delve into history. The acquisition of context. How did we get to where we are? And have we really traveled all that far?

Relations with law enforcement have been strained to say the least in the past year, and “Fuck the Police” seems more than topical. The movie depicts a number of incidents of racial profiling, cultural ignorance and general insensitivity that occurred to the members of NWA and to Rodney King, which of course resulted in rioting in Los Angeles. Sadly, the incidents are eerily similar to the recent events in Baltimore, with Sandra Bland and so many others. The voice of protest does not have a duty to be kind and polite as it would go unheard. The voice of protest must be true and illuminating to the injustice it protests against. It is in this sense and manner that NWA achieves historical significance.

They are, however, human, and were torn apart by the eternal tormenter of money. Ice Cube did not receive his perceived value and went solo after the first tour. Dre grew to feel undervalued and cheated later leaving as well. Easy E would watch his career wane without the creative juice of Cube and Dre, and would watch his life end with AIDS after only 31 promiscuous years. Ren and Yella representing the mean for their ride on this most tumultuous of glory trains.

Cube and Dre have persevered in the most extraordinary of ways. Cube succeeded as a solo artist and has transitioned into legitimate box office success. Dre has done even better as a music mogal he introduced iconic performers, Snoop and Eminien, and BeatsbyDre has yielded astonishing wealth. Not too shappy for two musically inclined kids from a blighted community called Compton.

One Possession From Pro Am Immortality

14.4 seconds left in overtime of a tie game, and we had to defend to extend the game. The foul a moment earlier determined that our opponent could take the last shot if they wanted it without giving us a chance to respond. We pushed their best player across the lane and forced him into a contested shot without giving the officials a chance to bail him out which was about as much as we could do.

The shot fell anyway. Undefeated. 17-0. The championship. Gone.

We had won in enough different ways, with enough different players that a strain of invincibility grew in the back of the mind, and for that reason, my first thought was disbelief. There was time left. We would get a shot off to tie or win. The player’s faces seemed to register the same thought, but not our leader, Juan Bernal. He knew it was over, and for the third time in seven years, we had been denied a championship in the final game. He was visibly devastated. Pedro’s Posse was now the “Lebron James of the Pro Am.” This one hurt…bad.

We enjoyed great chemistry and camaraderie all season, but the playoffs were tough. Three minutes into the semi-final on Saturday, we lost Rocky Trice, our most versatile and explosive player,. to a back strain. We were already down 14-8 at the time, and things got worse. By the middle of the second quarter, we trailed 39-25 and it felt desperate. We cut the deficit to 11 at the half, but didn’t take the lead until midway through the fourth quarter. Our espirit de corps was best summed up by Jason Williams, who when asked if he was ready to return to the game, responded, “I came out of the pussy ready.” Throughout the comeback, Luke Loucks kept telling me we would win by 10. It seemed incredibly optimistic, but somewhat creepy during a late time out when we had the lead, and Jason Williams noted he had a wager on the game and the spread was 9.5. We won 110-99. Spread covered. Alex Castillo had a career high 44, Bryan Richardson added 31, but who takes action on a Pro Am semifinal game?

With Rocky down for the count…again (he missed last year’s final with a family commitment), we left the gym scrambling to locate a player that could replace his athleticism unaware that a greater crisis would emerge.

During a dinner at Fleming’s, the idea of bringing in Boston Celtic, Brandon Bass, was discussed. Calls were made. A commitment secured. Then things fell apart. Bass was not on the playoff roster submitted two weeks ago. The league would not relent to global Pro Am custom whereby any current NBA player wishing to play basketball is automatically allowed to play in a Pro Am league at his pleasure. Offense was taken. Protest was made. The Posse had to play the final without Brandon Bass, Jason Williams or Rocky Trice. Joey Rodriguez, Mitch Woods and Luis Brito were called to duty and suited up for the final in their place. In an unrelated note, Mark Cruz did not have his number activated.

Despite the roster upheaval, we enjoyed a great start to the final. Bryan Richardson hit a three on our first possession, and we led by double figures for most of the half. Fatigue set in and our offense stagnated late in the second so badly that we trailed 50-49 at the half. We discussed containing their best player, eliminating three point shooting and rebounding as a team. The situation was manageable. Our opponents got a better start in the third quarter and led going into the fourth. We remained resolute and with a burst of offense from Mitch Woods took the lead and grew it to ten points with only three minutes left. We got sloppy, took some bad shots including a flat corner three by Andrew Bachanov that many on the bench found tough to stomach and looked indecisive on offense which led to easy points on the other end. After a particularly bad turnover, ill-tempered Alex Castillo blistered the bench with a profane tirade. It was rapidly going to hell.

We hung on to force overtime where neither team could create much separation. In the final minute, we trailed by 3, but Bryan Richardson hit an incredible contested three in front of the opposing bench. 32 seconds remained which meant we would get the ball back no matter what they did on offense, but we fouled with 14.4 seconds left. The shot clock was reset to 14, and we would not touch the ball again.

We were so flush with confidence going into the playoffs that Richardson had already booked a party room at The Porch in Winter Park for our championship celebration. It became an excessively lavish runner up social. One by one the players, coaching staff and Ryan Currie of Home Team Hoops arrived to eat and enjoy closure on a terrific season. We broke bread and empty bottles, but Juan Bernal remained MIA. Text messages went unanswered. A cheesy anti-suicide video was sent with nary a response. Speculation had Juan back at the downtown rec lost in misery, in a dark, windowless room at his winter park residence, reviewing film of the game on a tablet. Everyone agreed they felt worse for Juan about the loss than they did for themselves. I was given the task of addressing the team, but as we gathered for my words, a lone figure clad in black with dark shades covering his eyes meandered through the door….it was Juan, who insisted, “this almost didn’t happen”. It happened. The 17 wins, the one agonizing loss, the six weeks together and this party.

Pedro’s Posse Forever!