May 21, 2010

Life Lessons From Lost

I recently explored my newfound respect for and understanding of the television series Lost.  For those of you who chose not to read that sterling piece of blogger awesomeness, I brought out the point that we just now are understanding what the Lost castaways are TRULY on the island for.  The central conflict has finally been revealed.  All of the battles to this point were merely to get the castaways to this final point.  They had to wade through layers of difficulties before they could fully understand their role.  They had to develop the skills, grow as people, remove distractions.  And now, with the finale upon us, they are at the place where they can do what they need to do - at least the ones left can.

Something hit me right after I wrote that post.  That is a lot like life - especially our walk as a Christian.  We get caught up in all nature of imbroglios, but they are not really what we should be expending all of our energy on.  It isn't really the point.  In fact, all too often, we get so focused on the minor skirmishes that we forget all about the main battle.

For example, I have been working very hard to change up my approach to food and health since January.  To date, I've lost 67 pounds, 12 inches off my waist, several shirt sizes.  I have jettisoned the foods that had me in an unhealthy grip.  I am basically a different person.  All of that is great.  BUT, I realized the other day that I have made THAT my main focus for the last four months.  It has been all about the weight loss and food efforts.  As a result, I have found myself losing control over my emotions, my temper, my thoughts.  I have been reading less.  I have been praying less.  I have been less attentive to my relationships with my kids and my wife.  The house is more tense and more stressful.  Why, exactly, would that be when things are finally going so well in an area of my life that I have always been defeated?  You would think that I would be getting better as a person now that I was free of those shackles.  That is what happened when I had to break previous addictions and habits.

The difference this time is that the food battle takes constant vigilance.  When I was working to get past my out-of-control interest in movies, all I really had to do was NOT go to the movies.  But with food, there is a constant stream of checkpoints.  "Can I have this food?  What can I have instead?  I'm hungry, what can I eat?  There is nothing here, what can I cobble together?  We are eating out - where can we go?"  Those thought begin to dominate.  And while I have been very successful in this phase of my life, I have started to hear my family say things like "you are mad all the time."

So, now I am making more of an effort to work on my relationship with Heather.  We are starting a study on communication within marriage - something that seems to be a major tripping up point for me.  Summer is about to start (cringe).  So I have to come up with things for me and the kids to do - so we don't replicate last summer's house imprisonment and subsequent depression.  There are all of these different little skirmishes that I am trying to get a handle on.  I don't want to keep dropping the ball in some areas while doing well in other.

However, like the castaways, I am still missing the point - even when doing all of that.  On the show, they were off fighting The Others, trying to undo time shifting changes, warring with the mercenaries on the freighter.  And they kept trying to get back home.  Those were all necessary battles and worthy investments of time.  But none of those were there true purpose for being on the Island.  That's me.  I am battling a bunch of things: my weight, my food choices, financial status, my thought life, my attitude, my temper, the way I speak to my wife and kids.  Those are all necessary and worthy efforts.  But they still aren't the main thing I should be addressing.

The fact of the matter is that the center of everything should be my relationship with Christ.  I should be focused the most on that.  Actually, it will help how I handle everything else.  But, being completely honest, my relationship with Christ is at one of the worst points it has been in a looooong time.  We finally got plugged into a church - which is helping.  But I am not teaching any more - in school or in church - which means I am not needing to prepare anything for that.  I'm not reading the Bible on my own very much.  I'm not reading other Christian books right now - even though I have some on my shelf.  It seems so hard to deal with all of that too, in addition to the other things.  But, if I don't, I'll keep struggling with the other things.

I had hoped that this time in Tallahassee would help me to grow spiritually - kind of a two year retreat.  And there are some great things that have happened in my personal growth.  I have never had the kind of victory I have now with food, diet, and health.  I have gotten closer to my kids.  I have had to learn discipline and patience.  But I also have felt myself lowering my goals for my life.  So much of my life is getting through the day - keeping the kids under control, making meals, doing chores - and then getting a chance to chill out at night.  I used to want to become the man that my wife respected the most in the world.  (Copyright, Jeff Williams, FBC TT, 1999)  Now I rarely think about that.  I wanted to be a great example for my kids of how a man should live.  Now I just don't want them to hate me when they grow up.  It is like Sawyer on Lost desperately wanting to leave for so long, and then switching his goal to having a nice dinner with Juliet.

It is not easy.  It drive me nuts when I read all these Twitter posts and Facebook status updates of people with these trite and simplistic platitudes about the Christian life.  You read them and it looks like you just pop up out of bed and whisper some secret mantra to yourself and then go on your merry way, never to mess up again.  I have never found that to be true.  I have been saved for 32 years, and it never has been as easy as tossing out a fortune cookie message.  It has been a constant war.  I don't know if that is just me.  Maybe it is.  Maybe I'm just too in love with the world and my desires.  From what I have noticed, I doubt that is the case, though.  It is a constant battle.  Just like a house constantly needs cleans and organized, a life needs constant upkeep.

I have already starting asking the kids what they want to do this summer.  I want to give them a project - something to aim towards.  At the end of the summer, I want them to be able to hold up the completed project and realize they actually did something worthwhile over the last ten weeks.  For Josiah, he and I are going to work on developing his own original superhero and comic book.  (He's very excited.)  I'm still coming up with one for Natalie - but it will either be to have her make dinner for all us one night, or to create a summer scrapbook. (She loves to take pictures and to do arts and crafts.)  Gabe gets to learn to sleep in his own bed.  (He doesn't know this yet.)  I think that my project is going to be to get my life onto the right track.  That is going to include walking, doing exercises, losing weight, doing a study with Heather, reading the Bible more.  But all of that is just part of the main goal to get back on track with God.  That's what I'm on the Island for.

May 19, 2010

Finally Not Lost

[I don't want to irritate anyone by spilling the beans, so there are spoilers in these here woods.  If you haven't watched last night's episode, or if you plan on watching all six seasons prior to Sunday night, don't read this.]

The final season of Lost is almost done.  On Sunday, we will be treated to a glut of Lost that rivals the Super Bowl: a two hour retrospective, a two and a half hour finale, and then a one hour Jimmy Kimmel about Lost.  If you have no interest in the show - just avoid ABC on Sunday.  (And avoid the Food Network tonight.  I am very excited about the Dinner Impossible tonight from the set of Lost.  I love seeing the cast when they aren't in character, like on the Ace of Cakes from over there last year.)

I have been a fan of Lost since the first season, sixth episode ("House of the Rising Sun").  That was when I stopped listening to my friend Toney telling me all the awesome stuff that was happening and started to watch it myself.  I never missed another one - and we have all the seasons on DVD.  I bought season one and went back and watched the whole thing to make sure I had seen all the episodes.  I have read Doc Jensen's excellent and challenging work in recapping the shows over at since the very beginning.  Yes, I have had my falling outs with them.  When Michael inexplicably shot Ana Lucia and Libby in Season Two, I just about quit watching the show.  It had become too violent for me.  But, somehow, it lured me back by the next week.  Like most Lost fans, I hated the Paolo and Nikki storyline and was happy they got whacked.  And, while I didn't have as many issues with the time travelling lines as some people, I started to get frustrated late last season.  And that carried over into season six.

I have gone on record on this blog, in my Facebook posts, in conversations with people that I now am watching Lost out of obligation instead of excitement.  I've invested too much into the show to not see how it ends.  Heather still enjoyed the show, but I was more excited about Glee and Castle and the USA stable (Psych, White Collar, Royal Pains).  I grew weary of the convoluted plots, the introduction of new mysteries and characters so late in the game.  And I just got worn out from always trying to read into everything.

But something changed last week during the episode "Across the Sea."  Many people got very mad at the episode, feeling it just brought more mystery than answers.  But, to me, it clicked everything into place.  That continued this past week with "Why They Died."  I feel that I finally get it - finally know what the show is all about.  I also finally completely grasp the genius that went into the show.  And I can't wait to Sunday.

To understand Lost, you need to play video games.  Think about when you are playing one of the Mario games.  You land into this place and go off:  fighting all these enemies, figuring out puzzles, putting your life at risk.  You battle koopa troopas and goombas and guys riding on clouds.  And then at the end of the level, you battle what you think is the bad guy.  Only that turns out to be one of the lieutenants.  And all you really did was gain access to another set of battles - followed by another lieutenant.  Eventually, after busting through all these pretenders, you are finally left with a battle with the main bad guy.  This is the person behind it all.  He's the one who built all the intricate and overly difficult traps.  He's the one who kidnapped the princess or stole the magic beans or whatever.  When you beat him, you finally have won - unless it is one of those really mean games and they surprise you with yet another person who was actually the one behind it all.

Lost is something like this.  What's the point?  We finally have found out that the island contains this special light - the source of goodness and all that awesomeness.  And that light needs protected.  The true battle is good vs. evil - defense of this light vs. its destruction.  It is more than Others vs Castaways.  It is more than Castaways vs. Smokey.  It is even more than Jacob vs. Man in Black.  It is protecting the light.  All of those other things were like layers (or levels) that had been wrapped around that defense.  The closest level is the one of Jacob against the Man in Black.  This has been going on for apparently centuries.  But they are just the latest in a long line of protectors and destroyers (kind of like the long line of button pushers in the hatch).  The drama of Jacob vs Smokey drew our castaways into the fray.  Jacob was looking for a replacement, knowing that he couldn't stay alive forever.  So he recruited and interjected himself into their lives.

Once they arrived, they faced the dangers - but it wasn't immediately being drawn into the true battle for the light source.  Sure, that battle was there.  Smokey (Man in Black) made an appearance in the very first episode and his influence was felt throughout the whole series - Jack's father, for one example.  These castaways were not ready for the true battle.  They were selfish and broken and weak.  The gauntlet they would have to face would change them.  At first, it was largely due to the rough terrain.  Then it was Rousseau shooting at them - and her warning about the "sickness."  There were The Others.  The Hatch.  The Dharma Initiative.  All of that looked like it was the main reason for everything.  We spent hours trying to figure out the etchings in the Hatch, trying to glean info on what was going on.  We watching the Orientation Film dozens of times, reading into every word.  It looked like the mysterious Dharma Initiative was the main thing.

Then the focus switched to Ben Linus and the Others.  We had the super-annoying Tailies diversion.  It seemed like a whole season was spent learning about a group of people who all got whacked in short order.  (I am thoroughly convinced that Season Two was merely because the show runners had to come up with stuff to keep the show going until they were able to get into the final battle.  ABC's decision to let them have an end date saved the series.  Otherwise, we all would have had to put up with seasons and seasons of those kind of diversions.)  And all along the way, there were these crazy and mysterious things happening.  We wanted answers.  What's the deal with the polar bears?  What is up with the numbers, the whispers, the skeletons?  Soon, the Dharma Initiative was tossed aside and many fans went with it - angry that so much time was spent on some goofy group of hippy scientists.  Every time they popped back up (like in Season Five's trip to the 1970 era Dharma world), we would hope this would bring answers.  But, like Will Smith found out in I, Robot, it was about asking the right questions.

The castaways were working their way through all of the battles to get to the final true battle.  All of those other conflicts - the Others, Dharma, Widmore, Freighter Folks, Flash Forward, Flash Sideways - they were actually caused by people trying to get to that Source.  The Dharma group was there trying to tap into the amazing properties of the Island that was generated by the Source.  So there was a whole series of mysteries involved in each group that came into the battle.  And each one of those would divert us from the main battle.  Once the castaways broke through a set of conflicts, the show just jettisoned them - and left tons of questions unanswered in the process.

This is what drove people, myself included, nutso.  "How dare they suck me in to how Hurley and Libby were at the same institution and then just kill her?"  But, we were getting distracted by the side issues.  Frankly, it was like getting really far into a video game and then wondering what the Goombas' motivation for doing something was.  When you are about to fight Bowser in the final showdown, should you still be getting thrown off by why some Koopas can fly and only some can throw hammers?

If you think back on the series, it was all constructed for this moment.  Everything was about getting to this point.  But there was a maze to get to this point.  We can look back and see Jacob's hands all over the place.  His emissary Richard popped up all over.  Jacob had led the castaways there.  And his desire to protect the Source had led to many of the conflicts.  The Man in Black was present throughout.  He was trying to kill the candidates.  He was wrecking havoc.  He was trying to find a way to kill Jacob.  And then he was trying to find a way off the Island.  The creators of the show had this battle raging behind the scenes from the very beginning.

It was a classic Hero's Journey from literature.  Just like Odysseus had to traverse multiple battles on his way home, the castaways also had to fight their way to the one true answer.  Their questions many times when unanswered.  "What do the numbers mean?  Where is Cindy the Stewardess?  Why do The Others kidnap kids?"  They would get distracted or get involved in another skirmish.  They would suffer the effects of another group's attempts to gain control of the Island.  Bad guys and good guys would flip like Othello pieces when they realized what was really at stake.  More questions.  "What is the importance of Miles and Hurley being able to talk to the dead?  Did Sayid turn Ben bad?  What's the deal with Dogan?  Why did Kate get her name crossed of?"  And then finally, around the fire in last night's episode, Kate asked the right question.  She asked Jacob what all the people had died for.  And Jacob exhaled with a look of relief and satisfaction on his face.  He didn't come up with a snarky response.  It wasn't another red herring.  It was as if he was relieved he finally had the opportunity to enlighten them.  "If you sit down around the fire, I'll tell you why."

And then he laid it all out right there.  There is a Source.  If it isn't protected, things will get bad.  If Man in Black doesn't get killed, things will get bad.  There is a war.  YOU have to finish it.  And then Jack took the job of protector (was there a doubt?).  They finally had the answers.  They didn't then respond with, "OH YEAH?!?  Well, then tell me how that black horse showed up in season one!"  They came to grips with the reality of the situation and readied themselves for what promises to be a thrilling final battle.  Smokey did his part, removing some of the extra baggage (Zoe, Widmore).  [For the record, I don't think Richard is dead.  I know that was a big throw, but wasn't he immortal?  And if Smokey could have killed him, he already would have.]  What we have left is the final combatants.  Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley on one side.  FakeLocke on the other.  Ben on his own side.  Desmond as a weapon to be manipulated.  And, unfortunately for him I fear, Miles is there as another piece of cannon fodder.

I'm not sure of the way the Sideways World plays into all of this.  I am sure it plays a part into how to get rid of Locke.  But it is just another piece in the overall battle of protecting the Source.  (I also think it was created through yet another attempt to manipulate that Source.)  I kind of feel like the Castaways.  As a viewer, I have been through a lot.  I have had my heart broken, my trust shaken, my pulse quickened.  And now, I am finally understanding and ready for the final showdown.  I cannot wait for Sunday's show.  All of my questions may not end up being answered.  But I have a feeling that at the end, I won't care if they aren't.  It really has been a brilliant show.

Of course, if the show ends with it all being a dream of some guy in Vermont or the castaways end up in a jail cell or if it just ends with a black screen, I reserve the right to reject everything I just said.

May 14, 2010

LeBron's Last Stand?

27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, 9 turnovers

Does that look like the stat line of a failure?  Is that a game to be ashamed of?  Most players would be thrilled with putting up a triple double in a playoff game, especially one so close to 30 points and 20 rebounds.  But, to hear the sports world today, LeBron James threw up his second stinker game in a row.  And now, his Cleveland Cavaliers have gone home early . . . again.  The best record in the NBA, the favorite for the title, the MVP winner - they all get to watch someone else hoist the trophy.  The Kobe vs LeBron matchup gets put on hold . . . again.  And everyone is left scratching their heads.  Except for the city of Cleveland.  They aren't scratching their head - they are puling their hair out.  They have watched ANOTHER title go down the drain.  The Celtics were so dead three games ago that die hard fans like Bill Simmons of ESPN were selling their tickets rather than watch Bron Bron steamroll them.  Then, between Rajon Rondo's crazy good Game Four and LeBron's crazy horrible Game Five, Boston came back and beat the Cavs.  And now the questions begin about James - will he stay in Cleveland?  Go to New York or Chicago or LA or Miami?  Is basketball dead in Ohio?

I have no love for the Cavaliers or for LeBron James.  I think he is a great player.  But I am a Magic fan.  So let's face it, the Cavs' morphing into the NBA's version of the Atlanta Braves (great regular season, lousy playoffs) is fine by me.  Orlando already got one trip to the Finals courtesy of Cleveland's ineptitude. And they have a great chance to go back this year.  So, thanks to Cleveland for that.  However, as a sports fan, I am a bit puzzled by LeBron James.  He is, without a doubt, the best player out there.  When he is on a roll, he is an absolute menace.  He is a freak of nature - built like a tank, can do everything on the court.  But there is just something a bit off.  I think that is what everyone is overreacting to do today in the sports universe.  What's wrong with him?  And can it be fixed?  And where will it be fixed?

When I look at the situation, there are several things that stand out to me.  First of all, James has an absolutely horrible supporting cast.  He is carrying that team.  That is why a stat line like what you see up there doesn't translate to a victory.  He has no margin of error.  He has to play out of his mind every night because he isn't getting any help.  Who exactly is supposed to step up on the Cavs?  The lead singer of Counting Crows?  The reanimated zombie corpse of Shaq?  Boobie Gibson?  A team with just one great player doesn't work!  Quick, name the last time that a team with just one big star won the NBA title.  (And no, Shaq is NOT a big star.  He WAS a big star.  But now he is a dying star.  When he runs up the court, it looks like those scenes in Happy Gilmore where Jaws from James Bond had to run after someone.  Only he can't run, so they always filmed them in slow motion to make it look like he was still imposing.  That's Shaq.)  Did you find the answer yet?  The 1994 Houston Rockets.  Hakeem Olajuwon was the only real player they had.  But, he was against the beat up New York Knicks - and their solo star Patrick Ewing.

Teams with one star don't work.  It doesn't matter how good you are, at the level of play we see in the playoffs, there just is no way for one player to win.  Greatest proof of this?  Michael Jordan.  He had Scottie Pippen and won six titles.  No Pippen?  Nothing.  Kobe had Shaq and then Gasol.  Shaq had Kobe and Dwayne Wade.  Duncan had Robinson and then Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.  Then you had teams like the Pistons (tons of very good players) and Celtics/Lakers of the 1980s (tons of great players).  But there needs to be at least one other player.  You can surround those two with all the role players and Robert Horrys and Mo Williams you want.  Then those role players are expected to just do a couple things a game - and they usually do.  But when you have only one big star, the one-step-from-the-CBA players filling out the roster have to do too much.

That is where you have to blame the Cavaliers organization far more than James.  And if LBJ takes off this summer, they have no one to blame but themselves.  He wanted them to help him.  He basically begged them.  If they had done that, I think James never would have thought of going to the Knicks or Bulls.  He would have settled in and won ten titles and retired as a Cavalier.  But Danny Ferry and his moron squad did nothing.  The resigned Varejo (the only other player who played well these playoffs, it seemed to me).  They traded for Shaq - hoping his broken down aircraft carrier of a body would hold out long enough to fight Dwight Howard in the playoffs.  They traded for Antawn Jamison.  Huh?  I remember everyone saying the Cavs had secured the title with that move.  What?  It's Jamison!  Hasn't this guy played for half the teams in the league?  What exactly has he done?

Take a look at the Orlando Magic.  (Please, someone look at them.  They are 8-0 in the playoffs, you know!)  They have a mega-star in Dwight Howard.  But, let's face it, he is NOT going to carry that team to a title alone.  He is what he is - a dominant defender and powerful presence. But he still is in early-Shaq phase.  He gets too many fouls, wants to rely on dunks too much, can't shoot free throws.  They go out and get Rahard Lewis - someone who can shoot and score.  (I remember everyone trashing this signing.  "All he can do is score!!"  That's all he NEEDS to do.)  And they turn Jameer Nelson into an All-Star.  And they sign Hedo Turkoglu for scoring and leadership.  So, the Magic get to the Finals last year and just can't finish it off.  They see where the team is weak.  They opt to NOT re-sign Hedo (and get KILLED for it al over the sports world).  They pick up Vince Carter and Matt Barnes and Brandon Bass and re-sign the Polish Hammer.  Now, they are freaking loaded.  They have Howard or Gortat clogging the middle.  And then they have artillery stationed all around the three point range just raining shots down.  Now, their management and coaches look like geniuses.  The key?  They DID something.  They surrounded Howard with other players to carry the load.  And, amazingly, they have gone on this 14 win tear with Howard riding the bench more than normal.

James was trying to do it all himself.  He had no help.  This can translate into a great regular season.  It's little wonder that he won the MVP.  He was the only one doing anything!!!  And it is a testament to just how stellar he is that the Cavs were the favorite with just him and the extras from He Got Game.  But there was no room for error.  And James got hurt.  He hurt his elbow during the fifth game of the Chicago series.  If you remember, he was absolutely shredding the Bulls that series.  But he got a chink in his armor.  And so, when it came time to play the Celtics - a team with tons of stars who certainly know how to win - James no longer had the strength to do it himself.  He got through the first three games, but I think it began to wear on him.  If he just had one other player to carry some of the weight.  But there was no one there.

I think LeBron is in a tough spot.  I have to believe, based on what has been presented about him, James is a good guy.  He is loyal to his friends and community.  He's from Akron.  There is incredible chemistry on the Cavs - they really enjoy each other and play well together.  Those things mean something to him.  And he has an understanding and appreciation for history.  He respects those who came before him and the example they set.  (Remember his "I'm not going to wear 23 any more" thing from earlier this year?)  So he knows that beloved and transcendent players in the modern NBA rarely switch teams mid-career.  Jordan, Bird, Magic, Isiah Thomas, Duncan, Kobe.  There is a lot of precedent for players of that stature doing whatever they can to stay put and build a legacy there.  [I know Jordan played for the Wizards, but I am trying to forget that.  And it wasn't mid-career.]  In the last 20 years, Shaq is the only huge NBA star that I remember switching teams of his own volition.  And, that just proved he was a selfish mercenary.  Which is why one of the ten greatest players ever has played for five teams.  LeBron wants to be seen the same as Jordan.  An icon.  Icon's don't switch teams.

But, what does he have to look forward to if he stays?  Another year of carrying Cleveland on his back alone?  They have enough money to re-sign him, since you can go over the salary cap to sign your own players.  But they don't have a ton of money to bring in some other big name.  So he would be signing on, hoping that at some point the Cavs will be able to bring him some help.  He has some options.  Chicago will probably have enough money to sign him, and then keep their little collection of mini-stars (Deng, Noah, Rose, Hinrich).  That would be a MUCH improved collection of supporting players.  They are good enough to get into the playoffs without a big star - something I severely doubt about the Cavs without LeBron.  The Knicks may have enough money to land two big names - LeBron and someone else like Chris Bosh.  The Heat may be able to re-sign Dwayne Wade and get LeBron there.  Then there are teams like the Nets and Clippers with lots of cap space, young players, marketing opportunities - and upcoming high draft picks.

I don't envy James' decision.   I know, rough, having to decide where to make $16 million a year.  But, from his point of view, he's kind of in a lose/lose/lose/lose situation.  Lose #1.  He can stay in Cleveland, secure his status of hometown hero.  Keep the chemistry alive.  But he will do so knowing that he will never win a title - let alone multiple titles - until the Cavs can get some help.  And he'll be doing it with a new coach and GM, since there is no way that Smith and Ferry can stay there after the debacle of the playoffs.  Lose #2.  He decides to leave and go to the Knicks or Heat.  He gets to be in a bigger, more prominent city with more marketing options.  He's have another big shot with him.  He may even win some titles there.  But he will forever be seen as a money-grubbing turncoat who single-handedly murdered basketball in his hometown.  Lose #3.  He goes to the Bulls.  Nice collection of stars around him for a few years, until they need paid and bolt to other teams.  He probably can win a title there.  But he would be signing with the team that is his hometown team's biggest rival - even worse than going to the Knicks.  And he will be living in Jordan's shadow.  That switch of numbers would be out of necessity.  Does he want to daily be forced to live up to Jordan's epic shadow?  Lose #4.  He goes to the Clippers or Nets.  Again, painted as a turncoat.  But this time, he is setting himself up for the long term - with little payoff in the short term.  Neither of those teams become competitive as soon as he arrives.  So, he goes back to early playoff exits - or, worse, missing the playoffs.  And with the Clippers he has to compete with the mammoth hold that Kobe has on LA.

I don't know what LeBron would decide.  I don't know what I would decide if I were in his shoes.  Those of us out of the sports world like to criticize players for doing things for money.  But, if we had to decide those things in our own jobs, what would we do?  I have worked places where I felt like I was having to carry things by myself.  It sucks.  You have no help, too many responsibilities, not much hope for improvement.  I know that in those cases, if someone came along and offered me a job that paid the same with more help, I would have considered it.  I also know how important chemistry is to a job.  We've all worked places that appeared great and where everyone hated each other.  That doesn't make you want to punch in, does it?  And we've been in places where the pay may not have been as good, but it was a great place to work.  (Apple at the Florida Mall and ICS for me.)  You loved going to work, even though it didn't provide as much.  And, I know the thought of leaving a place suffering because you left - is a strong pull to stay.  I wouldn't want to have to make that call for LeBron.  Sure, I would love the money and fame and endorsements and freak of nature body and world class skills.  But, that decision would be horrible.  I wonder if the media is going to cover that process at all.

May 3, 2010

Drinking Haterade

The other day a brilliant and insightful person posted a statement on Twitter.  "You aren't a real sports fan until you hate someone."  While Bill Simmons has addressed this before, he was not the one who wrote that.  Yeah, okay, I wrote it.  But it was pretty good, right?  Think about it, can you really root for a team without also rooting AGAINST other teams.  And it helps to have a villain as a foil for your hero.  Joker makes Batman a better character.

Sports is one arena where this is so clearly demonstrated.  Players and teams are measured against other players and teams.  Greatness is assigned when one entity is demonstrably better than another.  When there are two teams/players so much better than every other, their greatness is even more amplified.  Larry Bird is considered one of the all-time greats because he excelled against other epic players - Magic, Dr. J, Dominique.  For him to still be so good with such powerful opponents showed how good he really was.  I think that is one reason a player like Allen Iverson is so undervalued - he didn't have any dominent competition.

Also, in sports, there are divisions and conferences that lend themselves to this villains/heroes mindset.  Teams play teams in their division multiple times a year.  They have to beat each other to get to the playoffs.  In baseball, division teams play each other like 21 times each year.  In the NFL, you play your division rival twice - and may only play out of conference teams every few years.  So you learn to hate the other teams in your grouping.  It's one of the few cases where hatred is acceptable - actually encouraged.

I have heard people try to tell me that they like multiple teams within a conference or something like that.  How?!?  I have a friend from college who says she likes the Detroit Red Wings AND Nashville Predators. They are in the same division!  The Red Wings are the reason the Preds had to play the Blackhawks in the playoffs.  How can you like both?  It's not possible. (Sorry Carol)  It is like being a fan of the Eagles AND Giants.  Or the Red Sox AND Yankees.  That is NOT possible.  It's like Jesus said, "Fresh water and salt water cannot come out of the same spring."  [What?!?  He said that.  I'm sure in modern times it would have been, "You can not wear orange and blue AND garnet and gold."]

I bring all of this up because I have documented my recent transition to hockey fan.  I feel that I have done an admirable job adopting the sport.  I actually watch the games several times a week on Versus Channel.  (A channel I had never once watched before.)  I watched part of five of the six Nashville playoff games.  I was severely bummed out over the Preds choking away TWO games in that series - and subsequently the series itself.  They only converted on one power play the whole series, for Molsen's sake!  I feel like I'm doing well.  But this weekend I found myself jumping to a different level of fandom - something that truly gave me credibility.  I turned on Game One of the Chicago/Vancouver series TO ROOT AGAINST THE BLACKHAWKS.  Yes, I have crossed the line from casual observer - who would have found on something different to watch - to fan.  I intentionally watched a game to throw mental barbs at a team I hated.  And I laughed when they got whipped.  I also took great pleasure in watching Detroit lose both games to San Jose.

Don't get me wrong - I have no affection for either Vancouver or San Jose.  I am purely ambivalent to those teams.  But when they drop the puck against Chicago or Detroit - well then I might as well have the Canucks or Sharks as my Twitter wallpaper.  That's the way sports go.  My enemy's enemy is my friend.  It is pretty sad, I guess, but I was actually proud of myself that I have so quickly grown to detest those teams.  It shows true loyalty, as well as some pain from losing.

As a parent, I am still trying to get my kids into watching sports with me.  They are kind of resistent to it.  They would prefer reading books and using their imagination and other bologna.  How are they supposed to become a couch potato if they won't watch sports?  My best hope is Gabe, I think.  But he like soccer - which will be useful this summer with the World Cup.  I keep trying to get them to understand that we are a UCF family.  They kind of have that down.  And they know we all cheer for the Jaguars.  But, it is just as important to teach who they should DISlike.  Like they say, hatred is learned.   If you don't teach your kids which teams and players to root against, they may get distracted by stuff like stats and looks and logos and helmet design.  Next thing you know, they will be cheering for the Colts because "that Manning guy is funny."  If no one teaches them, how will they know?

There are some very natural and well-known love/hate team pairings.  They are the ones I mentioned earlier.  But it is hard to find a team to loathe when you are a fan of one of those mid-level teams like I am.  How do you come up with a villain when your team is the equivalent of superheroes like Namor or
Booster Gold?  I mean, you cheer for Michigan, your body just automatically turns against Ohio State like it was a virus.  But when you root for the Kansas City Royals, it isn't so easy to decide who to hate.  You know, besides the universe, for making you a Royals fan.

To help with this process, allow me to spell out some of my personal affiliations and defiliations (I made that up).  I have mentioned some of this in previous posts, but for the sake of condensing the hatred, here we go.  I think that all sports fans have four emotions when dealing with sports teams.  There is LOVE - that is for their favorite team (or teams, if you believe in sports bigamy).  Next is SYMPATHY.  These are teams you may have flirted with over the years.  Or it could have a good story, players worth rooting for, geographical advantages.  But SYMPATHY teams are never cheered for over LOVE teams.  Then there is AMBIVALENCE.  This the biggest category, comprised of most of a league.  You don't really care what they do - as long as they do two things.  They need to lose to your LOVE/SYMPATHY teams and beat the HATRED teams.  And then there is the HATRED teams.  You never cheer for these teams.  They are loathed.  Fans of these teams have some sort of mental illness, obviously.  If two teams in this category play each other, you root for the team that will cause the most widespread damage to the other HATRED teams by winning.  Or you root for a chasm to open up under the stadium and devour the teams.  The final rule is that you root for all games not involving your LOVE team so that the outcome helps your LOVE team.  If you have a SYMPATHY team playing a HATRED team, but a victory by the HATRED team will put your LOVE into the playoffs and a loss will send them home?  You cheer for that HATRED team with everything you have - and then go cleanse yourself.  That all being said, here's my lineups.

LOVE:  Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South)
SYMPATHY: Tampa Bay Bucs, New Orleans Saints
AMBIVALENCE:  Bills, Browns, Bengals, Steelers, Texans, Titans, Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Vikings, Packers, Falcons, Panthers, Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals.  And the Colts, Jets, and Patriots are awfully close to dropping down a level.
HATRED: Miami Dolphins, SF 49ers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, NY Giants, Baltimore Ravens

LOVE: Orlando Magic (Southeast Division)
SYMPATHY: Atlanta Hawks (precarious)
AMBIVALENCE: Raptors, Sixers, Nets, Bucks, Bulls, Pacers, Bobcats, Wizards, Nuggets, Jazz, Blazers, Thunder, T'Wolves, Suns, Clippers, Warriors, Kings, Mavs, Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies, Hornets.  With the Cavs sliding down in the bottom soon, probably.
HATRED:  Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat

LOVE: UCF Knights (Conference USA)
SYMPATHY: Georgia Bulldogs, FSU Seminoles (begrudgingly due to Heather), USF Bulls (drifting down fast). underdogs and cinderellas
AMBIVALENCE: Everyone else
HATRED: Florida Gators, Miami Hurricanes, Notre Dame Irish (The unholy trinity).  Then USC Trojans, Ohio State Buckeyes, Texas Longhorns, Duke Blue Devils

LOVE: Nashville Predators (Central Division)
SYMPATHY: Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadians
AMBIVALENCE: Flyers, Senators, Bruins, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Thrashers, Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers, Blues, Blue Jackets, Canucks, Avalanche, Flames, Wild, Oilers, Sharks, Coyotes, Kings, Ducks, Stars.  With the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils on the edge of hatred - just due to their location)
HATRED: Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks

LOVE: No one
SYMPATHY: Tampa Bay Rays, NY Yankees, St Louis Cardinals (due to Pujols)
AMBIVALENCE: Blue Jays, Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Indians, Rangers, A's, Mariners, Phillies, Nationals, Pirates, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Astros, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres
HATRED: Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, LA Dodgers, LA Angels, NY Mets, Florida Marlins

So, there is a handy guide based on my opinions.  I hope it helps you to develop the hatred and loathing that is so necessary to become a true sports fan.  Finding someone to hate will make your sports viewing such a richer experience.  You need your Darth Vader, your Joker, your Red Sox.  Spread the hate.