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Friday, January 30, 2009

Show Me Your TRUE Colors

A "fan" is defined as "an ardent and enthusiastic supporter of some person or activity" but then again if you don't know what a "fan" is, then you probably don't know what "ardent" means. This past weekend during the Superbowl I witnessed how many "fans" of American Football there are in Germany. I didn't really have a preference as to who I wanted to win but the 18 people in Roethlisberger Jerzees at the bar did, and he's not even German, he's Swiss. A lot of my basketball teammates favor the "west coast offense" because it's more fun to watch and decided they were pulling for Arizona. The Jets are my team so I was really just rooting for a good game. I thought I should root for a fellow AFC team since the Jets self-destructed but I thought back to all the NYJ/Pittsburgh games and I was hesitant. But then again, I couldn't really pull for Kurt Warner after what he and the rest of " best show on turf" St. Louis Rams did to the Titans in the Superbowl ten years ago. I didn't really have any ties to Tennessee except for the fact that the Steve McNair/Eddie George combination was unstoppable in Madden 2003. I guess I could have sided with Warner since he single-handily saved my Fantasy Football Team this season. But if I was basing it on fantasy, I would have to take into account that Santonio Holmes and Steve Breaston were my squad's receivers…which led me to yet another crossroad.

I decided to do what most people do in this situation and just place a bet with one of my teammates because that always seems to make things interesting. People always say "defense wins championships" so in this offensive vs. defensive battle I was confident that the Steelers would prevail. I was so confident in fact, that I decided to give my teammate the Las Vegas point spread of 6 ½. Since I lose enough money everyday after practice to my teammates during our half-court shooting contest, I decided that a better bet was getting to choose the other person's facebook profile picture for the next seven days. For those of you who are my facebook friend, that awful Superman picture I currently have up makes me think I would have rather just lost 50€.

But back to these fans, I came to the realization that the impact of sports has endless limits. Growing up in New York, and staying in-state for highschool & college I have never even thought about rooting for any other cities professional sports teams. Doing so would cause constant ridicule by my friends and classmates, and I didn't have enough going for me to lose friends based on professional sports teams. Us New Yorkers though, we have this bad reputation for turning on our teams during their rough times. Yankee fans do it, Jets fans are guilty of it and Knicks fans are probably the worst but this past weekend I got my first taste of what it's like being on the other side of the "turn."

Dan Dickau, former NBA point guard, got signed to a team in our league and had his "breakout" game against us. The team he joined was in 9th place and has a big enough budget to splurge on a high-profile name guy to get them back into playoff contention. Unfortunately for us, being in first place, and losing to the ninth place team caused a bit of a frustration in our basketball community. But what about eight-game winning streak they just broke or the fact we are still tied for second place? "Fans" would respond, "What have you done for me lately?" Although the bulk of it was in German, I was able to decipher that on "fan" forums and even in the newspaper, some people thought we needed to spend money on a big time player as well because we may not have enough skill to matchup with teams anymore. We also don't seem to play with enough "fire" to make it worthwhile for "fans" to travel long distances to watch us play.

Sure we can use that as motivation to come out harder for our next game but I can also chalk that up to the major difference between a "fan" and members of the team is that half the time, "fans" don't have any idea what really goes on. No "fans" talked about our opponents scouting us out perfectly, repeatedly hitting tough baskets at the end of the shot clock, or going on a timely run at the end of the game. I'm not trying to make excuses and this isn't a knock on any of our "fans" but rather, just a new found understanding that there are some people (coaches, teammates, dad, brother, and even management) that I can take criticism from, and some people that I cannot. We can't be bothered by what someone, whose opinion I don't necessarily respect, negatively says about us. I don't think I've ever really been a part of this kind of criticism (public media and online forums) but now that I got a little taste of it, I think I can emphasize a bit more with Eddy Curry and the Knicks than I could have in the past. But I guess you have to take the good with the bad.

What's Playing in Jason's iPod: Blu & Exile- My World Is… (Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics)

Besides sampling the beat from a classic Dells song, and making a "Superman" reference toward the end, this song is quite appropriate because in it, the rapper talks about not letting critics get him down as he attempts to make it in his rap career. Pretty cliché but distinct and unique at the same time. His style and rhyme scheme is one that stands out to me, and as I try to listen to less "mainstream" things, I can relate a little bit more to people "on their grind."

YouTube Video of the Week: Top 10 Shawn Kemp Dunks (NBA TV) – Best Individual Top 10 Ever http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKz8ACUAApQ

The other day my girlfriend asked me what inspires me? And after giving her the "correct" answer of "you do baby" I really sat and thought about it. Sometimes it's music, sometimes it's movies, sometimes it's other things…but in terms of what motivates me…it's this video. Shawn Kemp is my favorite (and arguably the best) "dunker" of all time. If I had to make a list of my favorite dunks of all time, three of them would be from this video. My favorite one is the non-travelling call on dunk#7. How the hell could he get from the half court line to the rim on one dribble?

German Phrase of the Week: Verstehts du mich? Ja oder Nein? – Do you understand me? Yes or No?

This phrase here is very important when you are in my position of trying to incorporate a lot of German language in your life, but knowing that you make mistakes constantly. Sometimes after I attempt to say something in German, I need to follow up with that question to make sure that the grammatically incorrect sentence I just tried to say is at least somewhat decipherable. I probably hear the Yes response more than the No response and therefore I am doing something right.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Highlights vs. Trier

Stop Sleeping On Us

Since childhood I've owned a regular Nintendo, a Nintendo Gameboy, a Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation 1 & Sony Playstation 2. My favorite system out of those would have to be my Genesis…it got me through the rough stretch of my adolescence, you know the overweight, glasses, braces, pimples part of youth. If I didn't join the Boy Scouts and make some friends I'd probably actually be a fat videogame designer. But for those of you that had Genesis, do you remember NBA Jam? Quite possibly the best video game of all time. I mean where else but NBA Jam could you play a game with no fouls and no out-of-bounds? Until my parents let me buy Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, that was where I got my violence fix. But for those of you that really remember NBA Jam, I only have one for you… "Boomshakalaka."

Besides making me feel old, when I actually think of how long ago that was, it baffles my mind how far the NBA has come. This videogame was popular when Jordan was a White Sox'er, when Harold Miner had a promising NBA career, and most importantly, when the Knicks were worth watching.

That elaborate introduction was mainly just to show you when the NBA became a spectator sport for me. I remember when the Bullets were Washington's team, the Hornets were in Charlotte and when there was no Vancouver or Toronto or Memphis or Oklahoma City (actually that was last year). But truthfully, all of these "expansion teams" are really starting to drive me crazy. We got all the major cities taken care of (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Boston) and even a few of the minor ones too (East Rutherford, New Jersey) but the expansion teams (aka NCAA All Star teams from the previous year) just aren't competitive until years later…or so I thought.

My team out here is what you'd call a "newcomer to the BBL" or an "expansion team" of some sorts.The way it works out is a little bit different though, if you finish atop Germany's second league(Pro A), you get a chance to enter the first league(BBL).The same goes for winning the third league(Pro B), you get the chance to play in second league (Pro A). And so on and so forth, get it? To keep the numbers consistent, whichever team finishes in last place is then demoted to the league beneath. Pretty simple huh? I thought so, except for the fact that new team is usually the worse team the next season and is stuck in this vicious cycle of being the best in one league one year, then the worse in a better league the next year, then back to being the best in the worse league the next year and so on and so forth.

So the goal of any team who gets the chance to move up becomes to just stay in their new league. Usually, anything but going back down to the league they just came from is a fine season. So Gottingen, my current team, won the second league in 2007 meaning last year was their first season in the first league. I got my tryout in February, we ended up finishing 13th overall (out of 18), and everyone was happy for our debut season. Now, in 2009, some fans and media were talking about the possibility of playoffs (top 8 out of 18 make it), but seeing the big name players that some other teams, with larger budgets, were able to sign, we kept our goals modest. If we could protect our home court, continue improving, and never stop competing, we should be able to win the games we were supposed to, and some of the game we weren't supposed to.

Although that sounds like a formula for success, any athlete knows that it is easier said than done, but you get enough people going in the same direction toward the same goal and sometimes crazy things happen. If you would have told me, or anyone else in the German basketball community, that going into February, we'd be the first place team, they would have looked at you crazy. The truth of the matter though, is that we are in first place in Germany's top division, 52nd in all of Europe, and damn near heroes in our little Lower Saxony German town. Now we could go around all flashy flaunting ourselves around like some damn fools, but that's not what got us here and that's not what's going to keep us here. No one sums up our motto better than Barry Sanders and his simple TD celebration. Every time he scored he simply just handed the ball to the ref and was quoted as saying "it shows more if you just act like you've been there before."

So although the food portions are bigger, the car washes are free and the VIP line in the club is exclusive, practice remains just as hard, the criticism remains just as harsh, and the will to prove we belong is as great as it's ever been.

What's Playing in Jason's iPod: Jamie Foxx ft. Lil Wayne- Number One

I mean, first place duh? But I was actually having this discussion with a teammate of mine and I'd be willing to argue my point with anyone. Watching the Obama Inauguration, Jamie Foxx had the best speech, it was clever, funny, and all around entertaining. And when it comes to "entertainers" I don't think there is a better one than Jamie Foxx, he's what we'd call the total package. In terms of singer, comedian and actor, name someone better than him? I didn't think so

YouTube Video of the Week: Stuedabakerbrown-ESPN Monday Night Football Montage http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4QzcqwCMIM

You know those Ultimate Highlights ESPN used to show every week. Well I always wanted to learn how to edit those and put my own music to them and just watch them over and over again. Half the time I felt like they didn't put the right beat to the highlight or the right highlight in the right spot of the song. Plus some of those songs are not really good, but my boys from Stuedabakerbrown have been on their grind and actually got some TV time for one of their latest songs to a MNF Montage on ESPN. Keep doing what you do.

German Phrase of the Week: Viel Glück!-Good Luck

It took me longer to figure out how to type that Ü (for MS Word on laptops ctrl+colon key+letter) than to decide what the phrase was this week. This is the statement that anyone who sees you says to you in the three days leading up to the game. There aren't too many people that look like me out here, not because I'm 6'6" and African American, but because I have tremendously good looks and a body like a Greek God. Whether you believe that or not, I do stick out here like a sore thumb and because of that people recognize me on the streets. So if I start hearing Viel GlÜck shouted in my general direction, that can only mean Gameday is approaching….I just spent the past four minutes trying to make that "umlaut" lowecase…I give up...ehh whatever.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Donkeys & Elephants

Liberal & Conservative--Left-Wing & Right-Wing--Blue & Red--Democrats & Republicans blah blah blah. I've written enough about Politics during my four year stint at NYU and the one promise I made myself when I started this blog was that it was "to NEVER feel like homework." Therefore, this blog is not about politics but more about how Obama's Inauguration has given me a new found sense of pride and appreciation for all I have going on in my life.

I'm learning that if you can wake up without setting an alarm five days a week, be motivated to keep your body in tip-top shape, and occasionally hear 5,000 fans passionately scream your name, you are doing something right. Throw in the fact that you get a paid to do it, a free apartment, car, and meals and you'd say you'd have to be crazy to stop right? I mean I miss my family and friends sometimes, but we get free meals…FREE MEALS. If you've ever seen my dinner bill you'd learn that I don't miss my family or friends all that much. As good as all of that sounds, you have to remember I'm 5,000 miles from home and living in a completely different culture. I know a lot of people that wouldn't survive out here for those reasons alone. Not to mention the basketball aspect, the way the game is played, the way the game is called, the ten month season etc.

For a while, I thought I was one of those people who couldn't tolerate a season abroad, but every so often I get a "sign" that this is where I belong right now. During CNN's coverage of "Election 2008" I found myself attempting to emulate a lot of character traits demonstrated by Barack Obama. Yeah sure, his people skills, oratory talents, and charismatic personality are all well and good, but I'm playing basketball, not politic'n. The traits that carry over from Politics to Basketball were things like dedication, persistence, and hard work. Cliché, I know, but after reading both of his books I grew much more fond of the Man Barack Obama than I did of the Politician Barack Obama.

Since Obama was sworn in, I have tried to look at things a little differently. The most recent change I'd noted has been seeing some of the people at "Rainer Junge." That's the name of the facility where our team works out and is split up between a rehab (rehabilitating injuries) center and a pre-hab (preventing injuries) center. Being one who hates staying in hospitals, despises visiting nursing homes, and loathes even going into the doctor's office, I've never really been one to spend a lot of time in that rehab area. I try to avoid it altogether because I dislike seeing what sickness, accidents or old age can do to a human body. The only time I ever cried was when I saw The Lion King, Forrest Gump and Remember the Titans but real life is sometimes a lot more emotional. Admit it though, you cried in the Lion King and Remember the Titans, and if you didn't then there's something wrong with you.

But that's just my point, people never know what they got until it's gone. Boyfriends and girlfriends don't learn their lesson until they break up, you don't appreciate high school dances until you are standing there taking pictures of your little brother at Prom. College keggers and tailgates don't mean as much until you watch Old School and actually think about starting your own fraternity. And you don't always appreciate all life has to offer until someone close to you passes away. But I've been given this opportunity, in the land of no English movies or TV stations, to do a lot of THINKING, and what I've figured out, is that until the day you die, you have a chance to do what you didn't do the day before, and that's something you shouldn't take for granted.

What's Playing in Jason's iPod: Ludacris ft. Common & Spike Lee- Do The Right Thing

Besides being a good movie back in the day, this song promotes making smart decisions…and I'm one for making smart decisions. These are probably two of my favorite rappers in terms of creativity and style and the way this song plays out makes it my favorite on his latest album Theater of the Mind.

YouTube Video of the Week: President Barack Obama 2009 Inauguration and Address http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjnygQ02aW4&feature=related

Like I said, I don't like to get too political especially in these blogs, but I do think what we all just witnessed is something we'll be telling our children and children's children about one day. And because of that, it doesn't hurt to go back and listen to the botched swearing in, and the motivating speech.

German Phrase of the Week: (1)Danke (2)Bitte

The first one is simple, pronounced "Don-ka" like the yellow toy Tonka trucks with a D instead of T. It means Thank You, and is probably the first word every American on my team learned. The second one is a little more confusing. It's pronounced "Bit-ta" like the slang way to describe the taste of a lemon and it means a few things. They use it to say "your welcome" they use it to say "please" and they use it when a server wants to take your order. It's also used if you didn't exactly hear what someone said and you want them to repeat themselves…making it the most used word in the German vocabulary of any American living here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Run The Break

I was talking to a reporter from Five Magazine (a German basketball publication) the other day and the premise behind the interview was to describe my jump from Germany's fourth league to Germany's first league. The reporter was curious as to how I was adjusting this season and how I dealt with the sudden transition at the end last years season. Speaking of transition, the biggest adjustment, like jayvee to varsity or highschool to college, was the speed of the game. My current team is one of the smallest, but fastest teams in the league, although those who have played with me may find that hard to believe. But when I say we get out and run…I mean we get out and RUN. So the play on words from this blog title doesn't deal as much with transition basketball as it does with catching a break in life, taking it and running with it. I thought of that all by myself.

Now some of you reading this blog may know the story but for those of you that don't I'll give you the short version. After graduating from NYU with a decent GPA and zero job offers, I decided my best option was to pursue my lifelong goal of becoming a professional basketball. The only problem was that my dream originally included David Stern at an MSG podium saying "with the first pick in the 2007 draft the New York Knicks select"… followed by me putting on a Knick's cap, eventually getting a shoe deal and not to mention the biggest rookie contract in the history of the league. The reality of it was there was no shoe deal (I'd have to wear the same Nike's I wore in college), there was no million dollar contract (I'd settle for a furnished apartment, a couple of hundred Euros a month, laundry service, a train pass, and a bicycle) and the closest I was getting to David Stern was sitting next to a kid named Dave in one of my NYU Stern school of business electives. One part of my original dream did come true however, and what part you ask? I got my Knick's cap, but it was only because my assistant college coach (and Knicks Legend) Cal Ramsey got me a counselor job at their basketball camp a few weeks before I left.

Saying all of this to say, my dream didn't exactly pan out the way I thought it was. No agent, no connections, and if it weren't for an email I received from Moritz Korff (a writer for the German national page of www.eurobasket.com), I'd probably be somewhere in corporate America right now. The e-mail stated that after seeing some former d3 standouts do well abroad as well as seeing some of my awards and honors during my collegiate career, if continuing to play basketball is what I wanted to do, he would help. Now growing up where I grew up (the Bronx, not Sugar Loaf) people don't usually do something for nothing. Although a bit skeptical I figured I didn't really have anything to lose and we ended up staying in contact. He got my profile and tapes out to a bunch of lower level pro teams and told me I could move up in a few years if I prove myself. My first stop was a small East German ball club right outside of Berlin called Lok Bernau (or the Bernau Locomotives).

Now for all of you that slept through 10th grade World History, East Germany was where Hitler ruled, you remember him right? Nazis, World War II, Concentration camps, the Berlin Wall etc. Well although times have changed, a CULTURE SHOCK is putting, what I went through, exceptionally mild. I struggled both socially and financially. I could have made more friends bartending at a lounge on Christopher Street and definitely could have made more money. If it weren't for skyping with my girlfriend and my roommate/teammate constantly wanting to go on "adventures" I don't think I would have made it. But although social life and salary weren't up to par, I did get a chance to work on my all around basketball game, learn a bunch of German and do a lot of sightseeing. I gained a new appreciation for the German culture and time started to go by a lot faster. Around mid-February I got a call from a former college all star teammate, who was also in Germany, informing me that his team (in the top German league) was interested in having me tryout for a newly vacant spot. After some soul-searching and talking it over with the Bernau coach, management, teammates, and my family, I decided it was the best thing I could do, for me. I've come to realization that that's how you have to look at a lot of things in this business. A good tryout led to an offer and today I find myself with that same team and in an even better situation.

What's Playing in Jason's iPod: Stuedabakerbrown-Pulling Punches

This is not the last time you will be seeing Stuedabakerbrown in this section of my blog…besides putting on the best live show in New York City since "The Desserters" rocked out Josie Woods Pub, this band is made up of some of the coolest guys I've ever met. Two of the members I know closely and the band's success in the music industry is similar to my success on the basketball court. Anytime I think back of how long this road has actually been, or just need a reminder of where I came from…I know I can always play a little Stuedabakerbrown…plus have you ever had more fun saying a bands name? I didn't think so.

YouTube Video of the Week: Hitler sings the Jefferson's theme song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-udKKkEYNoo&feature=related

Videos like this one are the reasons why I haven't decided whether I enjoy or despise using YouTube. All this talk about moving on up had The Jefferson's theme song stuck in my head but when I searched for it this Hitler video was the third result. I know this was meant to be funny, and I actually do find it pretty comical, but I just don't want to be searching for an Obama speech one day and find the chipmunk version…Geez it's too late http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfKtKV-cRGs

German Phrase of the Week: (1)Hallo (2)Wie gehts? (3)Gut (4)Tschüß (5)Auf Wiedersehen!

This isn't actually a phrase but five useful sayings that you'd hear a lot of if you were here in Germany. The first one means "Hello" I bet you could have guessed that one…but the rest are a little more difficult. The second one means "how is it going?" The usual answer to that question is a simple "gut" or "good." The fourth one is how we say "goodbye." Phonetically, the rules will make your head hurt, it sort of sounds like you are saying "cheers" but you have to hauk a loogie in the back of your throat and bite the front of your tongue to pronounce it right. Try it! That last letter is not a capital B but actually a double S…I know, I know. Finally, the last one is a more formal way of saying "goodbye" kind of like a "farewell" or something, it isn't used as much but is a good one to know.