Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Warrior's Final Stand

In The Warriors Code There's No Surrender,
Though His Body Cries Stop, His Spirit Cries, NEVER!

Last night a legacy and a warriors journey ended in a crumpled heap in Atlanta, Georgia. Alonzo Mourning's long journey could have ended two seasons ago when he was a major cog in the Miami Heat's first championship. The Warrior in him said no.... I need to try and defend what we earned. He was the catalyst for the title. The fire needed in all great teams. He was the firestarter. He was the last line of defense. He was many things in his career. From Charlotte to Miami to New Jersey to Toronto and back to Miami, Zo earned his stripes. Every night. Every Possession. There's not much more that could be said. In today's game, to find a player who plays all out every game may be reserved for only one other player, and he's from the same college alma matta. Zo was a beast. Hated. Beloved. Challenged. Beaten. Destroyer. Enforcer. Champion. All these words can describe him. None do him justice. The critics of his game hated his demonstrativeness, flexing, screaming, pointing to the sky like Hulk Hogan after a title match. This was his make-up. This was Zo. Love him or hate him, you had to respect him. He was the modern Bill Russell on the defensive end. He was the one person you didn't want to meet at the basket if you felt you had a shot to get a dunk on him. He was caught a bunch, but he caught WAY more than he took. Warrior. Who care's if you take a punch, you've got to take one to give two. Warriors don't fear pain, they relish it. They welcome the pain as just another way to push themselves. And he did that 10 fold in his career.

Every basketball fan knows Zo kidney battle. Would have ended lesser men's career's. The Warrior took it as the ultimate battle and......won. Somehow, he beat the odds. That's what all the great warriors of myth do. They overcome. They find a way. Through all obstacles. They come through in the worst situations. It was hurtful to the community of Miami at the time it occurred. They were losing their champion, the face of their franchise and the hero for their environment. If you never visited the Miami Arena in the early years of the Heat in Overtown, you were probably the better for it. A more rundown, decrepit area of the state of Florida was difficult to find. Zo knew this upon his arrival in Miami. And made it his crusade to try and fortify and revolutionize the area. Over his career in Miami, things began to change partly because of his charitable efforts, but more because of his indomitable will and refusal to surrender to suits and bureaucrats that made his goal to revitalize seem like an impossible task. Warrior. Warrior's want the impossible task. It's their life's calling. Tell me no, motherfu*ker, and I will show differently. This was Zo's way and Overtown began to change. By the time Zo returned for his second Heat stint, Overtown was now in full revitalization mode, and don't think for a minute that Zo's imprint wasn't all over the blueprints of the new highrises, rebuilt buildings and surrounding shops and clubs that made the area a place to be seen instead of being a place you wouldn't want to be caught dead in. The Warrior laid the ground work. He kept the fire burning and made an impact that will be felt for generations to come.

As a fan of his from his Hoya's days, and then in Charlotte where he made his bones to his Heat history, I can only say thank you. Thanks for your fearlessness. Thanks for the years of fire. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for being you. There's not enough of your kind left in the basketball world anymore. And it will be missed. The rest of this Heat season, regardless of record and even if they somehow can turn the ship around and right things, won't be the same. Those lowly Wednesday night games against teams like the Grizzlies just won't be the same without you patrolling, waiting and extinguishing. Maybe the boys will rally around your legacy and play hard for the rest of the season, every night, like's it's their last. It's doubtful that that type of intensity can be duplicated, though. But even if they do, it won't be the same without the granite block, the king of blocks, the Warrior. His last act as a basketball player? Going for a blocked shot. Then refusing to be carried off on a stretcher, walking away from the game he loved and the battlefield he navigated, through pain and regret. No tears, head up, fire still burning, hate for the injury that ended his run. RIP Warrior Mourning. Welcome home, Alonzo.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke

I was looking around Youtube, searching for Sam shit to post and when I came across this tribute, I had to post it. To all who suffered, still suffer and fight for the goodness of man, Sam's words and his voice are speaking for you. The smoothest motherfucker of all-time, with one of the most poignant song's ever written. Long live his thoughts and words in this song.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Marvin Gaye - Distant Lover Live

Just because I was feeling.....smooth today. Cheers to the master. Still missing you today....just like Diana said. One of the greatest voices of all-time.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Opening Night, And The Livin's Easy

First Heat game of the year. Eboy is in the house. Traffic sucks....blah,blah,blah. Free t-shirt at the door commerating 20 years of Heat basketball, will be made into a basketball cut-off sooner than later. Expensive ticket, just behind the announcers table, will not pay that much money for a ticket again this season. Reporting to the SLAM fam my game experience, priceless.

Alright, got into the arena about 7:20p, 40 minutes before tip. Got down to the lower bowl and was escorted to my aisle. Pregame activities held more entertainment than the actual game. Wish I would have known that before I shelled out the dollars. During warmups, only Heat players that consistently hit jumpers were Tricky Ricky and my Heat namesake. Seemed to carry over to the actual game. Surprise, surprise. I have come to the conclusion that Mark Blount is similar to EVERY horrible big man I've ever played against who scores a couple baskets a game due to his height but plays at the level of a really weak two guard. Straight garbage. And this is before the game has started. Shaq is basically doing nothing except.......shooting three's. Interesting choice, fatbody, since you look like Abraham Lincoln at the moment and wind up playing more like Abe Vigoda. Eboy nod's his head over and over to the horrible rap music choices played in the arena like he's Eminem, sitting at Dr. Dre's mixboard, preparing a new track, pretty much making everything he throw's up. D-Wade walks out briefly and solidify's my Abe Lincoln assesment by calling out to Shaq "Mr. Lincoln, you look good". Hysteric's all around, I'm not amused seeing D-Wade look like a chipmunk with several stored nuts in each cheek in a $5,000 suit. Get on the court, WheelchairBoy, and then be funny.

The Pistons side is equally as amusing as Rasheed steals the show with his interpertation of the Soldier Boy dance and then sings along to some Gloria Estefan song played afterwards. Dude had to be high as fuck. Plus I think he always plays better in a haze, so I think he's going to have a good game. C-Webb used to use that same M.O. and he was that guy, too. Chauncey is a horse-faced phony, who has a nice game, but is one fake bitch. Smiles at everyone, looks like Trigger....whatever. He's one of the American players that takes the European "fall down with no contact and act like you've been murdered" game to another level. Fuck his non-jumping ass. Affallo looks excited for the start (first and last for a long time, kid) and Maxiell looks similar to a gorilla in a warmup suit. Big, black, scowling. I like a modern day Anthony Mason, except he can't pass.

On to the game. And I'll keep it brief. Because it sucked as a Heat fan, and was boring from a basketball fan's point of view. Pistons coasted, knowing the Heat weren't going to do shit without Wade. Tayshaun looked like a 1st team NBA player but being covered by Dorrell Wright and Ricky Davis has it's advantages. They are both horrible defenders. The Prince got 5 weak side pick cut baskets on the same side, same set-up throughout the game. That's not bad coaching, that's a lack of game knowledge from the defender. And that defender was.......Dorrell. Garbage. Sheed played a nice game, and provided an interesting tidbit of info after making one of his patented turn around fading jumpers. After the make he screamed indiscriminently "“I’ll bust Webb’s ass if he come’s down here". C-Webb and Miami are both desperate at the moment, so that might not be a bad move for either of them. Anything has to be better than Mark Blount. Ricky looked o.k., Eboy looked good, Haslem was good, Zo was all-out, Penny was there?? Hard to remember, since he was as invisible as the old men seated next to me. Picture 4 Jerry Buss's with women in their 40's who looked like they would be 'bout it if any man not rocking Social Security monies would proposition them while going for a hot dog. (Good imagery, Eboy) My only other highlight of the night was when one of the Golden Girls looked at me during halftime while the Cocoon crew walked for beers, and asked "are you by yourself?" with really Desperate Housewives-like tone. I felt scared to answer since she kind of looked like SLAM poster, Bryan Shia Labouef, in a wig. When I said half-heartedley that I was, she said "that's a shame" with a huge smile and batted her eyes at me like she was sprayed with mace. Lord, it's hard to be under 50 and married in this state of old men who can't satisfy a woman.

So to recap, Heat sucked, showed a little glint of hope with Davis, Eboy and Zo. So I won't judge too harshly yet. As long as D-Wade's back before Thanksgiving, I'll feel ok. On to Indiana.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A One Year Bandage

Alright, so the Heat finally made a move. Do I like it? For the moment, I do. Ricky Davis and Mark Blount are a marked improvement over the outgoing male that are currently on their way to Miami International Airport. Ricky only is here for the season, but it is a contract year, so he may ball out of his mind to put himself in the position to get another set of fat checks for the next 3 or 4 years. Play your cards right and you may have a home here for a little longer than 2008.

What do the Heat lose? Two character guys and a character all his own. Wayne Simean just couldn't catch a break from injuries and ailments, but seems to have a nice interior game that may be able to flourish elsewhere. Michael Doleac is a serviceable backup and a genuine nice guy but his value, especially on the current Heat team, is non-existent. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle who will be flashing a boarding pass is Antoine Walker. Do I hate him? No, not really. Do I think he's WAY overrated? Hell yeah. Did he contribute to the Heat's title run? Mildly. But he held the promise of so much more and never met Pat Riley's demanding standards. I guess the idea of shooting for 4's instead of 3's never really materialized. And his continued conditioning issues made him the poster child for the return of the Ginomorus Burger at Burger King. Poor Antoine. Although, he is extra blubbery, just in time for a cold winter in Minnesota.

So how will it help the Heat? Ricky can score. In bunches if need be. But for the better part of this season, he will need to be a role player, in a system designed to showcase two of the games greats. Can he sacrifice his game to the point of fitting in? I think it can happen. Hey, they can at least compete in the East now and if Riley can somehow get one more glue guy on the roster, I think they have the ability to take the East. Things start and end with Shaq and D-Wade, but the right pieces will make this years ride that much smoother. Blount can at least provide another big body if need be and with the potential additions of a couple of Heat newcomers from training camp, the Heat's front court shouldn't be an issue. One more good three ball shooter/strong defender puts the team in the catbird seat in the East, so I'll hold out hope that Riley can get that type of deal done before the trade deadline. Shit, he bamboozled Kevin McHale into taking Toine. That is a masterstroke in itself. Ricky, keep the self rebounds to a minimum and you'll be alright. Things look a whole lot brighter today than they did in Heatland yesterday, so at least the start of the season doesn't seem so bleak anymore. Now if the rest of the season can just pan out a little better than last......

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Finding My Way Home

Just a quick update. I will be out of town and out of communication for about 2 weeks. To my SLAMOnline partners in crime, I just didn't want you guys to think I forgot about you. Or got locked up or had Sam and Lang cut my connection to the SLAM site permanently. I'll be around every now and then to see who's running their mouths about me while I'm away, but to the people who have love for me and I have right back, I know you'll put those fire's out for me. Well, at least I hope you will. I'll be in the New York City/New Jersey area visiting family, friends and good food for the first time since the birth of my son. I'll be all over the place up there. I'll miss my daily conversations with everyone around the country and the globe (hi Izzo, Tariq, Hisham, etc.)but I'll be up and running with you guys in full-court press mode on 10/22. Look for your boy to return with NY/NJ swagger in full-tilt mode for a long Heat season. Be safe and talk with you soon. Eboy.

BTW, that's my Simpson's image that the SLAM guys turned us on to. I take credence in the fact that I make Ryan Jones look like dogshit, BTW!!!!! It's all love, Jones.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Eboy's 07 NBA Preview

Alright, there will be a much more detailed Heat preview coming (just keep looking....) but this is my abbreviated take on the upcoming season.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic (The Growing Pains Divison)


Boston 56 26
Toronto 52 30
New York 48 34
New Jersey 43 39
Philadelphia 29 53

Boston rides rocky early in the year and Toronto and the Knicks provide some entertainment until the Boston massacre takes hold late. Sorry, Jersey, mediocrity is not working for you this year.

Central (The Centralized Monopoly Divison)


Chicago 57 25
Detroit 53 29
Cleveland 50 32
Milwaukee 40 42
Indiana 35 47

Chicago steps up big. The Pistons lose a little horsepower. Cleveland realizes that repeating as conference champs is rough. The Bucks and the Pacers are looking up.

Southeast (Southland Tales)


Miami 53 29
Washington 46 36
Orlando 44 38
Charlotte 40 42
Atlanta 37 45

The Heat come back hard for one last Shaq/Wade run. Agent Zero gets the Wiz to move up and into the playoffs again. Orlando, Charlotte & Atlanta all improve but will watch from home (maybe for the last time).

Western Conference

Northwest (Northern Exposed)


Utah 55 27
Denver 52 30
Portland 34 48
Seattle 32 50
Minnesota 25 57

Utah uses their playoff run and holds off a Melo/AI duo that finally gets it together. Portland's big Oden blow kills their shot at a playoff run, while the Rookie of the Year reigns in Washington. Minny is just that.

Pacific (California Dreaming)


Phoenix 57 25
Golden State 47 35
Lakers 45 37
Sacramento 37 45
Clippers 28 54

The Suns rise again. Although not quite as high as last season. The Warriors put together a nice season, just a little better than those Laker boys. The Kings will be slightly better that the Clippers due to Brand's injury.

Southwest (Lone Stars)


San Antonio 60 22
Dallas 58 24
Houston 54 28
New Orleans 42 40
Memphis 35 47

The class of the West, the Spurs and the Mavs will battle for the division title until the last week of the season. The Rockets will be stronger and ready for the playoffs, finally. New Orleans, maybe next year.



1st Round

Chicago Too much D, too much depth. Gil better have a pair of shoes with blood droplets and bull horns on them.

Boston/New York
Boston No upset against the "Big Three". Unless Gorilla-Face suits up for the Knicks and claims harrasment against KG.

Miami Sorry Lebron, unless your boys play out of their minds for 4 games, you're leaving in six.

Detroit Nice series. Maybe seven games. Experience and frontcourt depth wear down Bosh's boys.

2nd round

Miami (sorry) Revenge is sweet. It will be the Heat's "championship".

Boston The Big Three come through big and use their experience and desire to pull this series out.

East Finals

Boston The Diesel will finally wear down, the Heat's lack of perimiter D speed will catch up to them and Boston will complete their big return to the Finals.


1st Round

San Antonio/Lakers
San Antonio Another first round exit for Kobe and the boys. San Antonio cruises in five.

Phoenix/Golden State
Phoenix Most entertaining series, maybe in the entire playoffs. Phoenix wins out on Nash's brilliance.

Denver Contrast of styles. AI/Melo beat the Williams/Boozer combo. Great series.

Dallas 7 games. Rough, physical series. Dallas eek's it out.

2nd Round

San Antonio/Dallas
San Antonio Another 7 game series for the Mavs. Prove's to be too much.

Denver I know I'll get eaten alive for this, but I think that much like the Heat will upset Chicago, Denver has the ability to do the same.

West Finals

San Antonio/Denver
San Antonio Denver's mountain high success reaches it apex and burn's out. The Spurs keep marching forward.

NBA Finals

Spurs in 6

I believe this is the Spurs last hurrah as champs and I think they get it done and repeat for the first time. Boston's big moves pay off for the city of Boston and they have the nucleus for another strong run in '08-09.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Video Of The Week David Coverdale/Adrian Vandenberg Soldier Of Fortune

Whitesnake was always more known for their Jaguars and Tawny Kitean, but at their heart, blues rock kept them grounded as one of the most respected bands with their peers. Here's an example as to why.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hudson County

When I first started this blog, I wanted to write this piece as a way for other's to see what "mob life" is like from a close to the source, "just-outside" point of view. After some legal consult, I've decided to write this piece under the guise of "partial fiction". Some names and places will be altered for preservation's sake. Other events that were made public at the time they occurred, will be written in full detail as I saw them personally. So let's begin. Grab a plate of squingili marina, a good bottle of vino and enjoy. Fake Jersey accents not included.

My first experience with the "underground" lifestyle of La Cosa Nostra came in the early 70's as a kid when my dad worked for a "family" run towing company out of Jersey City, NJ. If you watch the Sopranos, and know the intro song and opening, the metal bridge Tony drives over early on, is the Pulaski Skyway and the towing company sit's right underneath that, still to this day, on the Jersey City/Newark border. My dad worked nights usually, and would always stumble on stuff that "fell" off a truck. Whether it was 1000's of Matchbox Cars by the box, women's purses, cases and cases of Pop Tarts and General Mills Cereals, frozen steaks and shrimp & early day VCR's, our apartment was always filled with some sort of new items that us and our family and friends enjoyed with no attachments.

The *Dentene Brothers*, two big, bulky Italians (5' 10" 290lb approx.), ran their operation with a small group of drivers and much secrecy about their whereabouts throughout the workday. I would go with my dad in the summers when school was out and I always noticed two things when we where in the yard, the brothers were not to be fucked with and they always seemed to be in a "meeting". My dad got along with them and was always the driver they would call when they needed something "special" to be moved. On a few occasions, we were invited to their kid's birthday birthday parties and they had the most expensive toys, ponies, full bands, etc. They did it big. I'm sure my dad knew more than he ever let on, and as a 7 or 8 year old, he probably didn't want to cloud my young mind with info that would overwhelm me. This was a situation he found himself in for years to come.

After the *Dentene's* had to take a "trip" for a few years, my father located a position as a "maintenance specialist" out of Hoboken, NJ. Ponte Brothers had a huge garbage collection business that controlled most of North Jersey and part of the Lower East Side of NY. After working there about a year, my dad decided that he didn't want to stick around the "garbage" that much longer and decided to use his video camera (the size of a typewriter and probably weighed 20 lbs) to open his own video production company. It took a while for him to get it off the ground and although it never took off, he did some nice jobs, including one of the Ponte's daughters in a lavish Italian wedding. I attended the wedding with my dad to help him move lights, keep cords out of the way, etc. I was about 12 at the time and I couldn't believe the spread that was laid out for the guests. It all took place at Ponte's Restaurant in the NYC, and the food was unreal. Prime Rib, bowls and bowls of boiled shrimp, trays of dozens and dozens of baked-stuffed lobster tails. It was crazy. My dad wanted to give them a good deal since they were his employer and I think he was going to charge them $250.00. They wound up giving him $2000.00! All they asked is that they got all the taped materials and that he never told anyone anything about the ceremony, the guests, whatever. Crazy shit. Needless to say, my dad kept quiet.

He stuck around the Ponte yards for a little longer, but then walked into a job with the Maislin Corporation, a huge trucking company, that fell under the jurisdiction of Teamsters Local 560, which used to be the stomping grounds of one James Hoffa and was at that time run by notorious mafiosa, Anthony "Tony Pro" Provensana. "Tony Pro" was probably in his late 60's/early 70's at this point, so he may not have been as imposing physically as he once was but he carried a "legendary" history of criminal activity. The best story I could tell from this time was my dad telling me of a Teamsters meeting that took place in Newark, NJ at a convention hall and "Tony Pro" was speaking about the rise in union dues and the cutting of health benefits. My dad said in a room of about 600 other Teamsters workers, he was the only one who stood and raised his voice in protest when Tony asked if anyone had questions. My dad said it was something along the lines of "what the fuck are we supposed to do without benefits and were still giving YOU more?" The room stayed silent, "Tony Pro" just kind of looked at home and shrugged his shoulders and he ended the meeting moments later. As my dad was getting up to leave, one of Tony's "guys" came up to my father and said "Mr. Provenzano would like a word with you". My dad kind of had no choice and he was walked over to the side of the stage where Tony was and my dad said all Tony said to him was "you got alot of balls. I like you. Give me your union number" My dad did. A couple of weeks later, my dad got something like a 33% raise in his salary, never to be questioned or brought up again. Scary crazy.

The other connection I had was through my grandfather, on my mom's side, who lived in Hoboken, NJ. Hoboken's biggest claim to fame is that it was the town where Frank Sinatra was born and grew up in. On an eerie coincidence, my mom lived in Frank's first home some years later at the time of her birth. That house was revered like it was the residence of Jesus Christ. Even to this day, there is a star built into the sidewalk commemorating "old blue eyes" time spent there. My grandfather was full-blooded Italian, straight from the other side, from the Mt. Saint Gacomo region of Naples. He has lived in Hoboken for almost 80 years. My mom told me stories of "numbers running" and various "transactions" that used to go down back in the late 50's and early 60's when she was a girl. The worst story involved my grandfather's brother, who "stepped out" on a bad debt and was burned alive in his apartment after being tied to a mattress and lit on fire. This was the final straw in the numbers game for my grandfather, but like the mob movies say, once you're in, it's hard to get out. About 10 years later in the early 70's, my grandfather started "running" again and now it was done under the guise of him as a bartender at some of the "family" restaurants in Hoboken.

A story that stands out in my mind occurred on a Sunday afternoon in June of 1989. I was at my grandfathers workplace, Cassella's, for our weekly visit having dinner with my family. The Pistons/Lakers Finals series was in full swing and I was a little pissed off that I was missing the game. My grandfather knew I was a huge basketball fan so he told me that I could go back in the kitchen and the "guys" back there had the game on. I got up, made my way into the kitchen and and was fascinated by what I saw. There were about 15 guys hunched around a little 13 inch tv, passing money back and forth every few minutes. These were all "guineas" to the hilt. Bobby Bacalla and Sylvio Dante had nothing on these guys. All green-horns and Saint Michael medals. Greased back hair and shitty tracksuits. I knew most of their faces from being around the restaurant but seeing them all in the same place was like being in a cut scene from The Godfather. I watched in amazement as thousands of dollars moved from hand to hand on different possessions, at the end of the quarter, etc. There was an older guy, probably mid 50's who looked lost watching the game. He had a handful of hundreds, and he was cursing under his breath "cocksucker, mother fucker, pieces of shit". It was funny and scary at the same time. I knew what these guys did so there was no telling what might happen if one of them got too heated. Anyway, knowing basketball and seeing his frustration, I said to him "don't think the Pistons can't win this game. If Isiah or Johnson get hot they'll take the game". It was in LA and the Lakers had that home-court thing. He looked at me like I told him his car was on fire and said "not now kid, alright?" I backed off. Sure enough, Isiah got hot and the Pistons took the game. The old man changed his tune apparently and collected BIG when the game ended. As I was making my way back out to my family's table the old man called to me, "eh, come here!" I turned around, half in the doorway and he motioned to come over to him. I walked over tentatively and he grabbed me by the shoulder and said "you're pretty smart. Take this." He handed me a wad of bills and when I said "no, that's alright" he said "get the fuck out of here". I took it, put it in my pocket and didn't look at it until later, when I hit the bathroom. There was about $400 bucks in twenty's and ten's. All I could think to myself was, "that's four pairs of Jordans". Nice work if you can get it.

There's so many other stories I could get into but I'll keep those to myself. For now. Let's just say that your boy was approached for a "sit down" due to my age(18) and my family's involvement. I made a choice and here I am in Florida almost 20 years later. Life is good. Especially when oxygen is involved. As an aside, two months after I moved to Florida, the same restaurant that my grandfather was working for, was raided. They had arrested 8 different guys for racketeering, drug charges and most importantly plotting a hit to off JOHN GOTTI! Yeah, man, those guys were crucial. When I saw the report on CNN, I recognized one of the chef's, a bathroom attendant, a waiter, the owner of Cassella's, a couple of other guys and guess who else? One hint. I bought 4 pairs of Jordans because of him. Luckily my grandfather had left about 2 weeks earlier to work at his cousins new place a few blocks away and was out of the mix. Apparently, they fed's bugged the women's restrooms to get the plot details and had been monitoring the place for the better part of 2 years. Un-fucking-believable. I'm no Henry Hill, but I feel a Scorsese soundtrack could back this story in the right hands. Now all I need is the piano piece to "Layla" playing in the background. And maybe I should kick over a phone booth too.

Monday, September 10, 2007


9/11. Two shittier numbers put together may have never been imagined. Since tommorow is the 6th anniversary of that horrible day, I wanted to put my own two cents in about the day, what the towers meant to me and how it has affected me personally.

Growing up in Jersey, I lived in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from New York City. What seemed like a brave new world on the other side of that grimy body of water was really just a huge stone's throw away for the residents of my town. During the day, facing the east, you could see the Twin Towers ominously in the distance, standing far and above all the other huge buildings surrounding it. At night..... well at night, the towers took on an otherwordly feel. Most of the building's would be dark with stray floors here and there lit up for cleaning crews and maintenance workers. The antenna on the top of Building 1 was lit in three red segments that stood so high in the night sky that sometimes at first glance it would give of the impression that is was an unidentified aircraft of some sort. I can remember countless trips from my grandfathers in Hoboken as a kid, laying in the back seat of my dad's car and seeing the towers out of the passenger side window, lights flickering in the distance, signalling another night ending in the big city. And another ride back to my crappy place in the world.

It's funny, after seeing the towers every day for almost 20 years and then leaving them, seeing them brought down was unbelievably heart-breaking. Never mind the horrors and the tragedy that befell the victims, rescue workers, poilce and fireman on that day and the months that followed, those heroes can never be forgotten. They were so incredibly brave and deserve any goodness that can come their way for their rest of their lives. Seeing those imposing structures come down in a destructive barrage of cement, glass, plaster, dust, dirt and debris was symbolic to how our country took more than black eye that day. We were dealt a concussion blow. Some would say we are still recovering.

Watching that day unfold at home, on a planned day off, seemed almost like I was fated to watch the entire day play out, hour by hour and minute by minute. I was in bed when the first plane struck. I was watching Sportscenter but during a commercial I flicked through the channels and hit CNN. They had that first burning tower image up on the screen and like everyone else, couldn't understand how a pilot could have lost control so bad that he hit the WTC. It had never happened before so what made today so different? The weather looked gorgeous on tv. No rain, no clouds. Nothing. No sooner than I had that thought than the image of another plane taking aim, LIVE, showed on my tv. I was......paralyzed. I knew something was incredibly wrong. I ran out the door and jumped in my car to see my dad about 5 miles from me. He was disabled and at home and I had promised him that I was going to mow his lawn and take him to lunch. My mom was at work. My wife was at work. When I got to my dad's, the buildings were raging with flames and the news people couldn't grasp the situation much like us. Within minutes, the first tower fell. I think my dad and I said in succession, "what the fuck is going on?" We started panicking. Is this the end of the world? Are we at war? In our own country? Symbolically, I ran out of my parent's front door and standing in the corner of their front yard was a United States flag that I had just taken down a week or so earlier which had gotten twisted in a rash of heavy storms that moved through our area. It just seemed like it HAD to be back up, waving proudly in the warm September Florida air. By the end of the day, we had touched base with most of our families in Jersey and New York and we started to have the events of the day sink in beyond the shock and disgust of the initial acts themselves. We knew the day was going to be forever remembered. And it was horrible to think of the reason that it would.

I made my way back to "Ground Zero" in June of 2002 and seeing the memorials, the barren buildings footprints and the sense of despair that still surrounded that area left me with a feeling of sadness that could never be taken away. I donated money, my wife created handmade pins that she sold for a minimal cost and we donated the take from the sales to the victims. We wanted to do something, and we did, but it just didn't seem like it made a difference. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that there were thousands of others doing the same and that it WOULD make a difference to someone. A lot of our country has put this date and it's actions in a far corner of their minds because it didn't affect them directly. That is so wrong on so many levels, but our country and it's people have a way of downplaying even the worst acts because it's just too much of a bother to try and relieve or rehash something that can't be wrapped up in a nice, neat half an hour package. It's shameful. But it's the truth.

So to commerate the day, on it's sixth anniversary, I wanted to express my deepest thanks to the brave men and women fighting the war in Iraq for whatever reason they are there for. Every person that lent a hand, a dollar or a minute of their time during that bleak hour in our history, they deserve our recognition. I had an image of the Trade Centers tattoed on my back in October '01. It will never allow me to forget that day, even for a minute. My aunt, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower 2, lost her job and her way of life and luckily on that day was able to keep her life because her daughter was sick and she needed to stay home with her. A twist of fate never forgotten. I have a small statue of the towers on my desk at work and a beautiful, one of a kind painting in my family room of the towers at night at home. I didn't lose anyone in particular like so many other's did that day. But I attached myself to the towers and it's a way to always see them in all their glory. I will never forget. The horrors of the day, the victims in all three locations, the resurgence of our people, the bonding of our communities and the love and compassion shown to all those involved in the rescue effort. And most of all, I'll never forget those two metal masterpieces. Steel and mortar can always be rebuilt. But memories are hard to erase. And mine are still there all the time.

Always remember, 9/11/01.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fish Out Of Water

I have a confession. The Miami Dolphins are my favorite football team. Have been, since I was old enough to remember. I grew up in a "Giants" household, but somehow, the aqua and orange permiated my soul. It has been a LONGGGGGGGGGGGG time since I had anything to be excited about with these guys. But I still hold out hope that someday, before I'm old and grey, or a grandfather, that a Dolphins team will hold a Super Bowl trophy once again. But I'm not willing to hold my breath. With the new season upon us, I thought it would be a proper time to put my Dolphin history on the table.

I've seen two Super Bowls with the Dolphins as participants. The 1982 season and the 1984 season. Before that, for about 7 years of my childhood, the Dolphins were kind of o.k. I was too young to remember the glory days of the early 70's (72-74)but I knew they were recognized as one of the greatest teams ever because of that time. I was 12 when they made it to Super Bowl XVII. They had the game, blew it and I was heartbroken. The next season saw the arrival of the savior(well he made the franchise exciting for many years).

Dan Marino. One of the greatest quaterbacks of all-time. Maybe the greatest arm in football hisotry. I loved Marino like every other Dolphin fan. He gave the franchse life. He was surrounded by great receivers too, in Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. In Marino's 2nd year, he led them to the Super Bowl. And once there, Marino was overwhelmed by a well-prepared and hungry 49ers team. Poor Dan, never stood a chance and never got another one.

My favorite player was always 3rd down receiver extrodinaire, Nat Moore.
Nat was a speedster in the beginnings of his career. As the years built, he lost his starting job to other younger, quicker receivers. But Nat always was the rock. Great hands, fantastic blocker, constant pro. For a long time, he held every Dolphin receiving record. He was small in stature, huge on talent. Between him, Marino and another great member of the late 70's early 80's offense, Tony Nathan, the Dolphin's offense was a well-oiled machine.

The other legendary figure that patrolled the sidelines and gave the Dolphins credibility for 25 years was Don Shula. Still regarded as possibly the greatest NFL head coach, Shula was class, passion and winning personified. The Dolphins classiness seemed to leave with Shula and Marino's partings. A sad time for Dolphin fans, new and old.

Jimmy Johnson took over the coaching reigns, the team fumbled through a few productive seasons in the 90's and since that time the team has been in constant upheavel. In plain English, they have been fucking sorry. But now their is a new coach and a new philosophy in the fold and the team just may the makings of a "class" organization again. The pillars of the team for the last 10 years have been Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor. All Dolphin fans can hold out hope that these two warriors will have one shot before their careers end at the big, shiny trophy.

This coming season holds little promise. A 37 year old quaterback, new system, new coaching staffs, huge roster turnover. But maybe the next couple of years will start to see the promise of a new day. Their grooming a new quaterback to take the reigns, the coach seems to actually be excited to be the head man (thanks Saban)and there are some new prospects that seem to have genuine talent. I hold out hope. And my son is a fan already. So I now have someone to watch the "Fish" with and someday soon, tell him what it was like to have enjoyed them in their heyday. Hopefully he will enjoy the spoils of a Dolphins title one of these days. C'mon God, give us a break, huh?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

If There's Music, There Should Be A Voice Too.....

A companion piece, if you will, to the guitarist list I posted. These are the 10 people I want to hear when I'm sad & blue, happy, excited, mellow, angered, horny, on my deathbed, whatever. The songs I picked are a soundtrack to parts of my life too. So, in alphabetical order, here we go....but before I move forward, apologies to Al Greene, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Freddie Mercury, David Coverdale, Prince, Robert Plant, Smokey Robinson, Sting, James Brown, Levi Stubbs, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Costello & Solomon Burke. You all could have a spot here, but I just didn't want to keep writing. I'd be here to 2009.

Tony Bennett
Favorite Vocal: I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Anthony Benedetto. A true legend. An Italian-American hero. The first song played in one of my all-time favorite movies, Goodfellas, is by Tony. "You know I go from rags to riches". So appropriate for the beginnings of that story. My dad's favorite singer, which roped me in. Whenever I hear this song, I always think of my dad. He would sing it to me as a toddler when I would try to fall asleep. Later, he would tell me that it was my grandmother's favorite song and she would sing it to him as a child. Many, many years later, I've started doing the same with my own son. I love you Dad, and I miss you everyday. One of the greatest pop/jazz/standard singers of the last 100 years. Still relevant today.

Sam Cooke
Favorite Vocal: A Change Is Gonna Come

The King of Cool. So smooth. So right. Hearing Sam sing has always been what I would think Heaven would sound like, if Heaven had a soundtrack. From his initial gospel performances like "Touch The Hem Of The Garment" to the classic pop of "Cupid", Sam evolved into a "pop prince". No one before him used the "Whoa,whoa, whoa's" before Sam. You send me, indeed. When he created "Change", the country took notice. Raw, powerful, truthful. It spoke volumes for the plight of the African-American in a time when voices for them were either squelched or looked upon as rebel rousers. One of my favorite all-time movie scenes used the song to set the mood of an incredibly sad moment. Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" showed Malcolm's last moments alive, with the strings and The Voice stirring in the background, showing the end of a misunderstood heroes time on the planet. Only Sam could make such tragedy seem hopeful in it's entirety. He was taken away too soon.

Marvin Gaye
Favorite Vocal: Distant Lover (Live Version)

Sexuality. Power. Defined greatness. Marvin was all those things. Whether singing solo, playing drums on "Please Mr. Postman", dueting with Tammi, or as a voice of the people in the late 60's, Marvin could do it all musically. His voice could rage like a smoldering inferno or be as sweet as sugar in his honeysuckle falsetto. I'm sure if a scientific poll was taken, "Let's Get it On" would be the song most children of the last 30 years would have been created to. But on to "Distant Lover". To hear this version, found on a greatest hits retrospective, is to hear a love-lorn man pleading for his lover to come back home. From the females in the crowd reactions, to Marvin's burning desire and hurt felt in each pained lyric, Marvin put the every man's feelings on notice. You want to win a woman back, play this for her. Marvin knew the feeling. It was there for us to hear. Marvin's emotional stance vocally is what set him apart from the rest of his contemporaries. Another incredible voice lost way too soon.

Gladys Knight
Favorite Vocal: Neither One Of Us

Not that Gladys is the only female voice I love and appreciate (Aretha, Etta, Diana, Ronnie, Tina, I'm here, no fears)but Gladys's voice always stayed in my mind the clearest. It was the raspiness, the on-spot vibrato and the big notes that encompassed her lyrics. The Pips were always "there", but Gladys was the show. "Neither One Of Us" showed anguish, fear and sadness of not being able to move on. Real feelings, coming from her soul, in a beautiful vocal. All earmarks of what has made Gladys a legend to every other contemporary female singer. She is my choice for the Queen of Soul. Or at least the next in line. If Aretha is the Queen, then Gladys is the Empress.

John Lennon
Favorite Vocal: Jealous Guy

John was a disciple of American blues. Many times he claimed Little Richard, Ronald Isley and Sam Cooke as his largest vocal influence in the early Beatle days. With the Beatles he played the role of the one with an attitude. His voice was rough. Paul's was always smooth. His songs were always more on the "far-out" side in their latter years. He wore many hats with the Beatles. And they all fit well. Once he went solo, his true voice began to show. Buy the time he put out "Jealous Guy", he had settled in to more of a balladeer role than the anguished writer he was in the early 70's. "Jealous Guy" showed him at the top of his game vocally. A haunting melody, pained lyrics and perfect vocals, all Lennon hallmarks from his very beginnings. Gone too soon. (what a shitty trend with my picks)

Sam Moore
Favorite Vocal:I've Been Loving You Too Long (live performance from Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert)

If you were lucky enough to have seen this performance, his ranking on this list and any other compiled by legitimate music critics, would no doubt be verified. He out Otis'ed Otis. He stole the show from a group of legendary performers who were not use to being shown up. His voice is on-par with any other blues/soul singer ever. From the Sam & Dave days to the present Sam has cut a nitch out for himself that no other singer past or present has ever been able to fill. At 72, his vocal power is unrivaled even by singers half his age. Yeah,we all know "Soul Man" or "Knock On Wood". "If Something Is Wrong With My Baby" may have been S&D's most soulful performance. Maybe all of Stax's music most soulful performances. True love in song. But if you are ever lucky enough to see the Atlantic Records performance, you may just find yourself saying "how is this possible?" It's that good. He's that good. He wears a diamond-encrusted Superman logo for a reason. He is a vocal god.

Van Morrison
Favorite Vocal: Beside You

The Belfast Cowboy. A legend in America and his homeland. A blues disciple that turned to mysticism and became a Jehovah's Witness and returned to the blues. The voice that can shake paint off a wall. Van is all those things. One of the most well-respected, introverted, mysterious figures in popular music history. Van has been there, done that at every turn of his illustrious book of life. As Tony Bennet was my father's favorite voice, Van was the same to my mom. Throughout my childhood in the 70's , I think I may have heard Van's voice more than my dad's as he worked all the time. If my mom was to have an affair with anyone back in the day it would have been with the voice coming from the turntable and the speakers in our living room. I knew Van as a child, learned more about him as a teen, in my 20's I knew his music inside out and now in my mid-thirties, I am a Van historian. 30+ years of love. "Beside You" was on his legendary Astral Weeks album, which stands in the pantheons of rock/jazz fusion as one of the most creative, influential albums of it's kind. The song showed Van's voice in all it's incredible facets. Tender, pensive, angered, passionate. All things that have made Van the phenom his was and still is today.

Steve Perry
Favorite Vocal: Winds Of March

If there's one singer that might take my top, top, top spot, it might be Steve. Most of the general population think of him and his former band Journey as comical due to their corporate ties and radio overplaying and terrible 80's videos. But for those of us who listened deeper to just the radio anthems, we knew that Steve was the closet thing to the "modern" Sam Cooke. Long touted as his primary vocal influence, Sam's phrasing and tone came through every time Steve sung a line. Steve's first radio foray came with the song "Lights" in '77. In it, Steve sang of his life in San Francisco, and Sam's "whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa's" came through throughout the song. As time and albums passed, Steve evolved. He became less of a high-pitched, over the top, flamethrowing vocalist and to the later incarnation, which showed a more toned-down, bluesier sounding voice in songs like "When You Love A Woman" and "I'll Be Alright Without You". "Winds Of March" came from the early Journey years and had Steve's full range on full display. Huge notes, off-the-charts range for a male singer and impeccable phrasing. He learned well from the master, Mr. Cooke. Although he has been off the radar for years, every now and again he will venture out and add his voice to backing tracks of various obscure artists but The Voice remains. In wedding songs, remembrances of prom songs of years past and songs used to win a girl or two by red-blooded American males across the nation.

Paul Rodgers
Favorite Vocal: Satisfaction Guaranteed

The king of blues rock vocalists. As influential a singer in the rock arena as any other vocalist. Led some of the biggest bands in rock history. Free, Bad Company, The Firm, Queen. Huge bands, huge sounds, huge talent. Paul made some of the most recognizable songs in the 70's in America, England and across the globe. "All Right Now" is a bar band/radio staple. In the 70's Bad Company was the 2nd highest money earning act behind Led Zeppelin. That's a staggering figure considering the bands that shared stages at that time included Pink Floyd, Van Halen & Aerosmith. Paul's voice came from the Muddy Waters/BB King school of hard blues. He influenced my own vocal style more so than any other vocalist, rock wise. Rough, ready and raw. Paul has been long hailed "the king of soulful rock". Free was raw and powerful. "All Right Now" is an all-time classic. Bad Company changed the way bands played the heavy rock blues with songs like "Feel Like Makin' Love" and "Can't Get Enough". The Firm teamed Paul with the other giant of 70's blues rock, Jimmy Page, and although their teaming only produced two albums, they possessed incredible songs in the vein of "Radioactive" and my personal favorite "Satisfaction Guaranteed". A Rodgers vocal tour-de-force, it could be an introduction to all aspiring young rock singers to the greatness of The Man. To show his greatness, Paul was tapped to be the "new" voice of Queen in the 21st Century. That speaks volumes to his prowess to have the ability to take over the reigns from the legendary firebrand, Freddie Mercury.

David Ruffin
Favorite Vocal: Ain't To Proud To Beg

It's fitting David is last on this list. He was the most tragic figure in Motown history. His voice, one of it's most definable. You've heard "My Girl"? You know his greatness. Ever had a day when "I Wish It Would Rain" was your exact feeling? That was David. The two opposite sides of the emotional spectrum. Happiness and complete loneliness, that was David. With a voice trained in the churches of Mississippi. He gave the Temptations the "rawness" they had been missing. Drugs played a role in his slow descent into failure & a huge ego (which was warranted to a degree)didn't adhere him to his group mates. But when he left the Temptations, they lost their soul. Sure, they scored hits with "Get Ready" and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" without him, but his signature classic, "My Girl" remained the bands and possibly all of Motown's greatest single song. He had mild success as a soloist, but his days as the long, lean, sex machine (not my feelings, btw)of the Temps remained in many peoples eyes as the quintessial Motown act. If you hear "Ain't To Proud To Beg" and don't want to move your ass, you must be dead or a Mormon. And if David couldn't lock you up with that vocal,then you had to be deaf. The other inspiration that molded my vocal game, he gave me soulfire more than anyone else. Another voice who left too soon.

Enjoy the classics, appreciate the greatness.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Patch Reef Chronicles (& a study in FLA ball)

This is a story of ball in South Florida. From my first experiences with it to today, where I have stumbled into some of the most competitive and diverse talent any area of the country has seen.

I began my basketball life playing in New Jersey on the streets, in summer leagues, for my high-school team and anywhere else I could get a game in my ball life infancy. While I bypassed college ball opportunities to lend my support to my sick father (see last post for that story) in a different state, coming to Florida showed another type of basketball culture, much different from the NY/NJ area I was from. It has evolved since the 90's and now Florida is also known as a "basketball" state as opposed to just the "football" state it was known as for so long. Thanks to the Heat and the Gators, Florida now has a championship pedigree that can't be overlooked and the state's ball players on the high-school level are finally moving into national notoriety.

Street basketball in Florida is SO different than NY/NJ ball. When I came here and began trying to find decent runs, I was amazed at how few good players there were in my area. I would travel the entire county (Palm Beach County is pretty large , for the out of towner's) looking for decent games and really found nowhere that held promise of good, intense competition. It took me a while but I finally came to realize that most of the good players didn't play outdoors here. The 90+ degree days just seemed to much for these guys, which I found amusing. All we did back in my old neighborhoods in NJ was run games from after school to 11:00p on school nights and weather was never an issue. Rain, snow, whatever. We balled. Here, cats would run at the first sign of rain. And if you did get an outdoor game, these dudes looked like they would be dead on another fast break take off.

So, after about 5 years of searching and running into some decent games now and again, my best friend, Rich, told me that he had found a court in Boca Raton that ran games Saturday and Sunday mornings every week and there were a group of guys that played there each week. Rich has been my basketball prodigy/project. He's a few years younger than me. He's left-handed like me. But unlike me, he always lacked self-confidence and the fire to be a "killer". It's taken about 15 years, but he's finally just about there. But the old dog doesn't give him all his tricks. He still bows down to the man when I have to set him straight if he get's a little too happy.

So anyway, I was curious. But initially, I wasn't too thrilled with two of the things that he said. One was, it was an "older" crowd and they only ran half-court games. Just what I didn't need. A bunch of old guys who didn't want to run. This couldn't be good. Or so I thought.

So the following weekend (in 1994) Rich and I made our way to this park in Boca Raton one Saturday morning. Boca is a rich man's paradise, for anyone who doesn't know it's "rich" history. It has it's own culture, and you are an outcast if you are not a part of it. Strange people, weird thought processes but a nicer kept area of the Palm Beach County you will not find. Just have money or be a professional of some kind to feel comfortable there. So we got to the park, 7:30a, and to my complete surprise there were about 20 guys, in all age ranges and sizes, playing 4 on 4 half-court ball on 3 different courts. My eyes were barely open at this point, and these dudes were in heated competition at the crack of dawn. I was shocked. And being 24, and knowing I had a strong game, I was eager to show these dudes what I could do. Once Rich and I got on one of the courts and picked up two other guys to run with us, I was surprised at how "different" these dudes played. It wasn't like the normal street ball game. There was cutting, pick and rolls, backdoor plays, box-outs and all the things I had learned in my growing-up basketball life, that is rarely seen in streetball. It was like an epiphany. How did this out of the way park, surrounded by huge trees and beautiful grounds, stay hidden away for all this time? Over time I learned that the guys that played here, created the "hidden" culture almost 15 years before and that some of these "breakfast club" ballers had been playing together since their late teens. The average street ball player didn't want to be awake and ballin' at sunrise, so keeping the games in-between this "brotherhood" was more out of "love" than as a chore.

So time passed, the weekend games became a ritual and with the exception of the stray "rain" day, Saturday and Sunday mornings became reserved for ball. I still played weeknights up in my area of the county and ran league games too, but the weekend morning games became more and more entertaining to me. Getting to know the guys, playing against better competition and the promise of early morning work-outs were all good to me. For the first year or so, we were looked upon as the "new guys". We weren't the youngest guys there, but we were easily the two best players under 30. We started to bring some of our playing partners from our area with us now and again, and eventually some of them became "regulars". At one point (probably 2000 or 2001)the older guys had lost their hold on the courts they once dominated and the "new guys" were now the lions that ran the pride.

There are 4 groups of players at this park. "The Originals" who today, consist of guys in their early to late 40's and a stray 50 something here and there and play a very ground-based, high-execution, physical type of game. There are a lot of "nice" players in that group, regardless of the ages. There is another group, " the Boca Boys", who consist of the young players at the park (18-25) who probably are the best athletes but are not quite there yet on the experience and mental tip. They also have the most "pretty" games where any type of contact is either a foul or a cause for argument. They're also the easiest group of guys to put an ass-whipping on. Young and dumb. I like those guys the most. Then there is the "ancient" group. The guys are in their 50's & 60's and there is even a 70+ year old man who is there every week. It's funny to watch them, but the old guys know the game and you can gleam a ton of knowledge from them. Sweet old guys, some with potent set-shots and some who get REALLY intense in their games. Finally, there is the group of guys I play in. There's no nickname for the group. We just play. The pro's that come through. They run with us. Jason Taylor rides up on a Sunday morning in April, he's coming to us. Tim Hardaway shows up with 2 cats from his Pit Bull ABA team, they ran against us. There are some rough players in this group. Do not be gunshy or unsure of your game. You will get embarrassed. Between those 4 groups there is probably 50 to 60 players that come through EVERY week.

One of the things I realized about the guys that played there pretty quickly was that their playing backgrounds were as diversified as the styles of game present. Among the lawyers, doctors, pilots, former athletes, real estate moguls and everyday schmoes stood a collection of basketball greatness that wasn't put out to a newcomer until they accepted you into the fold. There were European league players, 2 former members of the French National Team, a former Kentucky Wildcat pf, 3 former Miami Dolphin players, Wally Sexybacks father (I know, but dude has a game), 2 Florida Panthers players. And these guys were the "regulars". Several players that came during the off-season from current NFL, NBA and NCAA ball teams that have contact with the various "professionals" come through, aren't bothered, play some games and left with little fanfare. The guys respect them for their profession's and that's why they return each year.

Among the NBA guys that have passed through each off-season, retired and active, Jamal Mashburn, Udonis Haslem, Jason Williams (Eboy), Anthony Carter, Caron & Rasual Butler (on the same weekend), Anthony Mason, Jon Sundvold, Glen Rice, Wally Sexyback (shot lights out for a month straight with his father doing the same) Paul Pierce and probably 10 to 15 other guys I can't remember or wasn't at the courts on those other days. Some of the NBA guys just showed up as a "favor" to their lawyer or their doctor or real estate agent and barely tried, while others showed up to meet a former running buddy and actually played at a high-level. I've never known what to expect. I've played against these guys, met some of them off-the court socially and have been privileged enough to call some of these guys acquaintances. I've been blessed from a basketball fans point of view. And even more so from a players point of view as well.

My game evolved over these last 12 years. I went from a driving/slashing two guard, to now, where most of my time is either spent in the post playing more of a power forward role (2 guard footwork helps tremendously when playing guys 4 or 5 inches bigger than me) or stepping out on the perimeter with a deadly mid-range game. Playing against the NBA cats's is a continued master class each off-season and the continued addition of "new blood" to the morning crew has kept my game, even at 37, at an extremely high level. I've brought friends, co-workers, family from out of town, all of whom thought they could play and once we left the park, the response is usually the same. "Damn, that shit is rough". At the end of the day, the guys are like a big family. We know each other's wive's and kids, help each other in the business world, if someone gets an ailment guys are quick to offer a hand if need be. It's a beautiful connection of race, religion, etc. White players, black players, Spanish players, Europeans, whatever, for those 4 hours each weekend day, outside lives are put aside, ball takes center stage and fun and the spirit of competition takes over. I can still go back to that first day, pulling up to the courts and not knowing what to expect, and then moving to the present and seeing how, as time has passed the players have aged some, the knee braces become more prevalent and the group has expanded but the game, in it's purest form, stays the same.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rock Guitar At It's Best

Beside my love of basketball, the other great love of my life is music. Been playing guitar since I'm about 15 and been singing even longer. In bands, on stages, real crowds, money, the whole nine. And while I love so many genres of music, hard rock/rock music is always front and center. Vocally, I go blues based in the vein of Paul Rodgers & David Ruffin, but on the six string, the influences are as varied as Rodman's haircolors with the Bulls. These 10 players listed are who formed my style of playing and still provide so much inspiration. Let's begin......

John Lennon/George Harrison-The Beatles

Favorite Guitar Moment: Happiness Is A Warm Gun

What can you say about these two visionaries that hasn't been said before. Besides being the twin guitar originators in a mainstream band and one half of arguably the greatest group in music history, they were always revered as incredible songwriters and cutting-edge stylists as well. My choice of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" as my favorite guitar moment revolves around two things. The way the song goes from the classic otherworldly Lennon sound of a single "clean" guitar picking chords and then the rough chord changes and "nasty" tone through the verses that segue into George's light wah-wah solo. And then the song ends with a "brightness" in sound and words when John makes you believe that "true" happiness could come from a warm gun. Classic. Genius. Unparalleled. And when they both made their solo music, their singular visions stood out and created some of the most endearing songs put to tape. From pop icons to psychedelic pioneers to their legendary status in today's culture, the Beatles were and still are the standard that all pop/rock bands wind up compared to at some point. And for good reason. Listen to their progression, from pop song cheeriness, to more adventurous alt-rock sounds to the psychedelic deep lyric end to the masterworks they created, The Beatles stand alone as the band that could do everything.

Eric Clapton

Favorite guitar moment: Keep On Growing

To hear Eric Clapton play guitar is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. Always on point, no holes in the game, consistently great and loved and respected by peers and fans alike. Whether it was Cream as one piece of the incredible triangle of sound, or as a member of the Yardbird where he cut his teeth on the blues, or as a member of Blind Faith were his legend exploded like a supernova, Eric did things in ways never before heard by a white blues player and his moniker of "God" was well-earned. Before Eric became a megastar as a solo artist, he formed a group with various studio musicians to put his lustful feelings for the wife of Beatle George Harrison down in words and music. Widely regarded as Eric's best work, the studio sessions took on a huge boost to the power of the music with the recruitment of Duane Allman. The album blazes from front to back and the guitar work is exquisite. My favorite example is "Keep On Growing" but "Layla" IS the masterwork that it is portrayed as. "Growing" just has a looseness to it and a straight-ahead driving force that showed the passion that was flowing through those classic sessions. The ending solo to the song is a masterwork in lead playing. The phrasing and tone are incredible and in this instance, Eric plays alone without Allman's slide work and it is a tour de force. The song has long been a a favorite of mine and plays over and over on trips to the Florida Keys. On a bright summer's day, with the windows open and the Gulf breezes blowing, the long trek to the southern most point of the USA is just that more enjoyable with this song playing in the background. It will make you think of palm trees, beaches and sunshine.

Jimi Hendrix

Favorite Guitar Moment: Bold As Love

How do you describe the indescribable? How do you wrap your mind around sounds never before heard? How do you compare an interplanetary entity to the modern musicians who STILL can't figure out a 1/10th of what the Voodoo Chile did with the instrument? Are those questions varied enough? Then you have an idea of what Jimi was all about. Jimi holds a special place in my heart because A)I'm a left-handed player like Jimi was and b) my father smoked a joint with him in '68 after a concert at the Filmore in NYC and said Jimi was so cool to him and his buddies (my dad was 19 so that was just before my creation in 1970) and my dad was a Hendrix disciple from then on. Never mind that his music and creativity are still unmatched. Jimi's voice, although not a classically "great" voice, had a sound all it's own, like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, legendary songwriters who's voices sometimes took a beating from the press and fans alike. His songwriting could be viewed in two categories, straight ahead rock songs like "Purple Haze" or "Foxey Lady" or the polar opposite in eclectic, bizarre sounds, never before heard chord progressions and out of tune playing at times that just seemed right in the essence of "Are You Experienced" or "If 6 Was 9". To hear "Bold As Love" is to her the genius at the height of his game. The spacey lyrics (no doubt fueled by the acid that would soon take his life), the jazzy-fusion chord structures throughout and one of his best vocal performances put this song over the top for me. And if you listen to the song with a fine-tuned ear you can hear the solo being played back in reverse, a trademark that Jimi made his own in recording sessions and was later used by other virtuosos like Jimmy Page and Steve Vai. "If I don't meet you no more in this world, I'll meet you in the next one, and don't be late." Read that sentence. And think of how out-there yet comforting that statement is. And bizarre. And freaky. That was Jimi. Unreal.

Brian May

Favorite Guitar Moment: Love Of My Life

Freddie's Foil. Pomp and circumstance in the rock forum. A true original. Brian is an orchestra in one instrument. Queen's music was operatic. Freddie Mercury's voice was just that, an opera singer with a sly sense of humor singing in a hard rock format. When Brian would play his leads or the chord progressions of their unforgettable songs, they took on a huge, over-the-top life of their own. Think of a sports arena. And then think of songs that play in those arenas. Inevitably, you will hear three Queen songs. "We Will Rock You", "We Are The Champions" & "Another One Bites The Dust". Big. The sound, the power, the voice, the majesty of Queen. Almost everything they did was just that. I think that's why "Love Of My Life" stood out for me. Almost entirely acoustic with an electric flourish for the solo, Brian put together a song with almost a Renaissance feel to it that, fit for a King or Queen. A song of angst and pain with a calling to love lost and hope for the return of that happiness, held together by Freddie's pained vocals and Brian's perfectly picked fretwork. A truly beautiful piece. By a truly beautiful band.

Jimmy Page

Favorite Guitar Moment: The Rain Song

Led Zeppelin. Probably the greatest hard rock band ever. They played the blues, straight ahead rock, mystic acoustic ballads & exotic sitar flavored middle-eastern sounds, sometimes all in one song. The band that could do it all. And those sounds all emanated directly from the Dark Lord, Mr. Page. Jimmy was always a mysterious figure. Whether it was his ties to the infamous Aleister Crowley to the shaggy dark mane that always covered his face to the exotic tunings he used in their albums, Jimmy made a niche that almost EVERY other hard rock guitarist since has tried to "borrow" from him. Whereas Jimmy borrowed heavily early on from the classic bluesman of the Delta like Robert Johnson and Sonny Walker, Jimmy's contemporaries did the same once Zeppelin was established as the foremost authority of the hard-rock sound that ruled 70's radio. While their radio staples dominated for so many years, "The Rain Song" was an example of the alternate tunings and exotic chord structures that differentiated them from the rest of the bands from that time in music history. The song could almost make you feel like you were in a grassy field, light rain falling on you and then as the song gradually grows to a crescendo you can almost feel that same rain turning into a huge downpour, lightning crashing all around. And then at the end of the song, the rain tails off and the sky's clear as the music shifts from hard chord strikes to lite picking. All of those things happen in the context of that song. And as a musician, to make someone feel the lyrics and the sound as if it could actually happen to them is a gift only a very select few have.

Keith Richards

Favorite Guitar Moment: Gimme Shelter

The man who created the most recognizable riffs of all time. One of the top 3 bands of all time. The Rolling Stones made their bones the same time the Beatles did. While the Beatles initially were recognized for their "poppy" tunes and matching outfits, the Stones were raw. Harder edged. They played the blues. Rough and tumble covers of the blues. And while the Beatles went a more psychedelic route, the Stones went a more "American" sounding route. Throughout the early 70's they had country songs, hard blues and toward the end of the decade a more dance flavored sound. These all came from Mick Jagger's love of the United States and it's music and while all of this was going on it was Keith's guitar work that kept the Stones the Stones. Whether it was the fire of "Sympathy of the Devil", the tender acoustic work in "Wild Horses" or the smooth blues in "Tumblin' Dice", Keith kept the SS Stones on point and relevant. "Gimme Shelter" has that haunting quality in the beginning of the song that Martin Scorcese has used in films to set the mood of a scene but in reality it was Keith who CREATED that mood and allowed Marty to build a fantastic scene around IT. Keith's lead work is pristine and between him and Ron Wood's rythm work the song is just filled to the brim with great playing throughout. Just a great piece from beginning to end. It would be hard to argue their title of "The Greatest Rock Band In The World". Long live the Stones.

Carlos Santana

Favorite Guitar Moment: Europa

The King of Latin Fusion. Not quite rock, not quite jazz, not's hard to pinpont exactly what Carlos does. It's just damn good. Good hard rockin, spicy sounds that can make people move on their feet and be moved to the core by the intensity and passion that Carlos plays with. Want to know how good Santana is? They have long been touted as the band that stole the show at Woodstock. Woodstock!! Maybe the single biggest music event of all-time with some of the largest names in music on the same bill and a group in it's INFANCY stole the show.? That's power. While Santana made a huge comeback in the late 1990's and still proved that they had that magic formula it was their early work that catapulted them into the foreground of the San Fransisco/California rock sound in the early 70's and carved a niche' that no other band has ever been able to fill since. "Jingo", "Evil Ways" "Black Magic Woman" & "Oye Como Va" are classic songs. Songs to light a joint to, or sit back and drink a beer to. Like Bob Marley rocked out reggae, Carlos did the same for Chicano music. And when he slowed it down like he did with "Europa" the love and passion for the instrument shone through like very few others could do. The beauty of this song was made out of Carlos' love for the planet and I experienced it being used to express love in another way when one of my cousin's used it as their wedding song. Now every time I hear it, it makes me think of a 1980's wedding and horrible hairstyles. The song is still gorgeous, though.

Steve Vai

Favorite Guitar Moment: For The Love Of God

If Jimi was otherwordly, than Steve Vai is a true alien. The surname is strange. His look is odd. His sound is singular. His style produced a new 7 string version of the instrument that no one before him had the vision to create. He is the 21st century's version of Hendrix. Except his work is done without vocals and without the constraints of 4 minute radio songs. He is s technical marvel without peer. His sound is created through processors and tone enhancements that give his sound a "voice" that others haven't even begun to think about. If you ever saw the movie "Crossroads" with Ralph Macchio about the quest for the perfect sound and nirvana through music, it was Steve who played Satan's guitar ward who would "cut heads" with the latest poor soul who was dumb enough to put his own soul on the line. Playing with another genius in the 70's, Frank Zappa, and then moving on to mainstream popularity with David Lee Roth's solo project and the arena-filling Whitesnake, Vai was initially viewed as another Van Halen "wannabe". But once people saw and heard his performances they quickly realized he was something more entirely. It was on his instrumental monster "Passion & Warfare" that his full repertoire was finally put in a forum that was heard all at once. On that album, "For The Love Of God" stood out as the highlight in an album of career achievements. It would be like picking which of Michael Jordan's big-shots was the most exciting. Although there were many, inevitably most would choose the final shot against the Jazz to seal the Bulls 6th title. This song was that in musical form. While those last few moments of that Jazz game has every high imaginable from the steal to the setup to the shot to the finish, "FTLOG" carries that same vibe from the first notes to the final whammy bar pull. It should be noted that in recording this song, Steve saved it for last, and stopped playing the guitar for 2 months to get the feel of expression through reconnection that he was trying to convey. Hands bled, guitars broke and souls stirred. He is the fire that keeps "guitar heroes" everywhere sitting in their homes, practicing to be heard.

Eddie Van Halen

Favorite Guitar Moment: Little Guitars

In the history of rock guitar, there has never been one player who's style and sound has been so copied and examined as Edward Van Halen's. Coming out of California in 1978, Van Halen took the place of Led Zeppelin as the most well-respected and beloved band in the US. If half of their popularity was due to the flamboyant frontman, David Lee Roth, then the rest of the bands power and creativity came from the genius of Eddie. Known as one of the tightest live acts and being difficult to work with in the recording studio due to his meticulous preparation and follow-through on the songs he fought to create, Eddie is legendary for his fire, passion and temper. While Van Halen the band has undergone personnel changes over the years, Eddie and his brother Alex have continued to drive the Van Halen machine, right or wrong. Eddie's playing takes the best of Clapton, the best of Jimmy Page, a bit of Jimi Hendrix and even some of Tony Iommi's Black Sabbath power. His "brown" sound,as it is called, is instantly recognizable to any guitar player and his style is on full display in "Little Guitars". A flamenco-flavored acoustic opening, to a classic VH riff to start the song and played throughout and the breakdown in the middle that plays off the flamenco theme and the images of a small Mexican town and it's beautiful senoritas. All and all, a fabulous song, and although not as well-known as "Jump" or Running With The Devil", a classic to all Van Halen aficionado's.

Angus Young-AC/DC

Favorite Guitar Moment: Touch Too Much

Raw. Power. High. Voltage. These words provide the mental backdrop to what is arguably the hardest rocking heavy blues band to grace our shores. Coming from Australia in '75, The brothers Young and singer Bon Scott, provided blues rock in it's heaviest, rawest form. Their songs are radio staples for 30+ years. If you go to a bar ANYWHERE in this country, you will hear an AC/DC song on a jukebox blaring and giving the patrons the desire to drink. They are beloved by fans, panned by critics and heralded by their peers. Angus is a human flamethrower and out of his compact frame has come some of the most recognizable riffs. "Back In Black", Highway to Hell", "You Shook Me" & "Hells Bells" are some of the instantly recognizable riffs he created but "Touch Too Much" is a more refined version of the bombastic sound. A tale of a blazing hot woman, built around a pulsating beat and simple yet effective playing, it's the epitome of the AC/DC sound. Simple,brutal, raw, on the razor's edge.

And even though there are names missing here that probably could be interchangeable (Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, Andy Summers, Neal Schon, Tony Iommi, Joe Perry and Randy Rhoades, Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani among many others) these 10 are the guitarists I'd want to hear once my time is done here on Earth and I'm loungin' in heaven killin' eternal time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Life In The Fast Lane (Personally)1986-1990

I've always wanted to put into words this period of time in my life. It was where I found out first hand what it was to become a man under family duress and getting a glimpse into the lives of professional athletes and seeing the pressure's put upon them to keep their public persona's squeaky clean and almost succeeded in every one of the people I discuss in this piece. This is also dedicated to my father, the strongest person I've ever known.

1986 was one of those years when life step's up to you, grabs you by the throat and shakes you like a rag doll leaving you brow-beaten, confused and even fascinated. All those things happened to me in 1986. And they continued until 1990, the year I left my home of 20 years in New Jersey to start a new life in Florida. What a crazy stretch of time.

I was a junior in high school when the 1986 school year started. It was a good summer, played a lot of ball with my high-school teammates, went to a few concerts, a few Yankee and Mets games and just plain fucked around the rest of the time. I worked a shitty part-time job at a pizza place to make a few bucks but that was the extent of my productivity that summer. Life in East Rutherford, NJ at the time was similar to every other north Jersey town. IROC's, Bon Jovi everywhere, girls dressed like they were trying out to be in the next Whitesnake video and "guido's" gold-chained down and slicked up willy, cruised the streets looking for girls to pick up or to be in a fight. I had friends in all those categories so I was open to all the stuff going on around me. I played ball for my high school, Becton Regional, which a few years before was known as East Rutherford High, where for years the loud-mouthed legend, Dick Vitale, honed his coaching wares. That being said, the basketball program was held in high regard and we had put together a pretty tight squad from the time I transferred in my sophmore year. Our team was led by a 6' 9", 240 lb monster, Dan Hillman, who had scouts salivating over him. Unfortunately for him, his grades kept him from moving on to one of the big academic U's and it was a shame because he could have been rough in the college game. He wound up taking a scholarship to a Division 3 program, never to be heard from again. My own high school to college shot is a story for another time.

Well, school started, classes were attended, life was going on as normal as could be. In early September, my father went to his general practitioner for a routine check-up and was startled to learn that he had a growth in his neck that needed to be checked out at his doctor's request immediately for fear of a serious medical condition working on my father without his knowledge. After having a biopsy, and waiting a week for the results, I attended my dad's follow-up appointment with him and my mother (myself being an only child, our family unit was tight) to hear what the ailment, if any, might be. After a few tense moments of waiting for the doctor to enter, we were blindsided by the news that my father had stage 4A Hodgkin's Disease (one step before terminal) and if not acted upon with extreme urgency, could be a life-ending scenario for my dad within weeks. Now, to know my dad was to know a no-nonsense, no-bullshit individual who was one of ten children who was raised in the Duncan Projects in Jersey City, NJ in the 50's and 60's where he lived with the only white family in a predominantly black housing unit. He was loved by the people in his building because my dad never saw color, just the goodness in people and at that time in our history, those type of feelings between the races were rare. And that's being generous. Most of my aunt's and uncle's who lived there with him weren't as open-minded as my dad so they never get along with the neighbors. One of my favorite stories from my father, was a time he was on a date with my mom before they were married, were out picking up a pizza to take back to my grandmother's house (where my mom was living) and while walking home and passing a pool hall, were verbally assaulted and physical accosted by about 8 drunk Italians who knew my mom from the neighborhood and wanted to know why she was with "that nigger lover". Well, my dad fought hard but was out manned and once the pool hall manager separated everyone, my mother and father made their way to my grandmother's to regroup. My father borrowed my grandmother's car, returned to his apartment in the projects and proceeded to return to the pool hall with about 25 of his buddies from the projects and totally destroyed the pool hall and whoever was unlucky to be there. There was some jail time for my dad's people, but out of respect to my father, those guys took the rap and claimed my father had nothing to do with it. My dad said he was forever grateful to those guys for what they had done for him and would always let anyone know who would listen how great they were for it.

My dad was a full-time truck driver, working 16 hour days, and was a fiercely intense worker and family man. Although my dad stood about 5' 5", he had the heart and stature of someone twice that size. My dad was built like Baron Davis, squat, thick and powerful. To hear that my dad could be lost to cancer while he showed no signs of weakness or illness was mind-boggling. My family was shell-shocked. For days, it seemed like our home was more like a funeral home than a families home. It was a bad time. The new school basketball season was to begin in a few weeks. My dad began his chemotherapy treatments, twice a week, and by no fault of his own had to take a leave of absence from his driving job until his therapy was over and was well enough to get back in a rig. My dad seemed to be losing his mind at that point. Being home was a necessity at that point, but being stagnant was not in his make-up. He needed something to do. And little did he know, he would find it in one of his favorite things to do, watching the New York Giants.

Saying my father was a Giant fan was an understatement. He had loved them from when he was a boy and now that we had lived in the same town that the Giants played in, made his love for them surreal. (I myself, made the choice to be a Dolphin fan as a kid, and I was always an outcast to my friends who loved the Giants and the Jets. I did love the Giants too, because my dad did. The whole father/son hero thing.) Our home was just over 2 miles from the stadium and from most of the windows in my high school, the Meadowlands complex was clearly visible. It was about week 3 or 4 into the 1986 NFL season, and the Giants had gotten off to a nice start. Sunday's were one of the things that kept my dad going through his chemo treatments and the games took on new meaning as we were not sure how many more of them my father would get to see. My dad decided that as a way to keep his mind off his treatments he was going to prepare a hand-drawn picture each week and try to get it to one of the security guards at Giants Stadium to see if they could post it on a bulletin board in the locker room. Normally, I would have goofed on my dad for such a thought, but hey, if it made him feel better, so be it.

Week 5 was the first time my dad had a picture drawn and ready to go (he wasn't to bad of an artist, btw) and he was planning to go down to the stadium on Thursday to try and get the picture to the team. He struck up a friendship with one of the security guys who sympathized with my dad's health story and he promised that he would get the picture into someones hands before gameday.

My dad prepared a picture for week 6 and did the same thing he done the previous week. He went down to the stadium, by the players entrance, and was going to hand off the picture to the security guy again. It was that day when things changed dramatically. As he stood talking to the security guard, my dad said he heard a voice from behind him asking "hey, is that the guy with the picture?" My dad turned around and was shocked (I think his exact words were, "I couldn't fuckin' believe it") to see Lawrence Taylor standing right behind him, asking him the question directly. LT was my dad's favorite player and like a little kid, he said he was pretty much speechless. The security guard said to LT that this was the guy and he handed him the week 6 picture. LT was late for the team meeting that day and ran off with the picture and turned to my dad and said "I'll be waiting on next week's". It was like a Mean Joe Greene/Coke commercial moment for my dad. He came home that afternoon and was giddy like a little boy who just got the toy he wanted most at Christmas. This was exactly what he needed. A purpose. Something to do. And to do it for his favorite football and at the request of his favorite player, well, he was on Cloud Nine. It was the first time I saw my dad smile since his diagnosis.

The next couple of weeks had more and more of the Giants becoming friendly to my dad. They all knew him as the "picture guy" and like lots of athletes, they started to become superstitious of making sure the new picture was showing up in their locker room. It probably helped that they started to gel as a team and looked like a true favorite in the NFC. The only game the Giants lost the rest of the season was a late October game against Seattle and coincidentally, it was the only week of the season my dad didn't do a picture because he caught a bought of double pneumonia that had him hospitalized for 10 days.

There was one positive that came out of my dad's pneumonia situation. Giants DE George Martin visited my father in the hospital, prayed with him and gave my dad another bit of hope in his recovery. George was one of the classiest people I had ever met and he remained close to my dad by phone for years after his retirement from the league. George made us feel comforted and said that we had a "family" with his if we so desired. Pure class. The other player who became attached to my dad was Mark Bavaro. Mark was a sweetheart. So soft spoken, so genuine and down to earth like no other player I met from that team. Mark would give my dad a hug each time he would see him at the stadium and would always ask about my mom and I. He also made my dad's ultimate dream come true. In the break before the Super Bowl week, my dad was now down at the stadium almost every day. Bavaro came out from a late-afternoon practice with his gym bag in one hand and an envelope in the other. He had a Super Bowl ticket for my dad and cash for a plane ticket. My dad cried like a baby and thanked Mark repeatedly. Mark said he wanted him to be there and he made my dad promise him he would not do anything strenuous until the day of the game so he'd have energy to cheer them on. What a good, good guy. A great paison. And a fantastic player. My dad sat among the Bavaro family at the Rose Bowl that day and he said they too, made him feel like family for those several hours they shared together.

Eventually, I would sneak out of class to get down to the stadium with my dad on Thursdays or Fridays to see the guys and wish them luck in their next games and by the end of the season, seeing these guys weekly was like being around a group of giant (pardon the pun) older brother's. Whether it was getting in one of their cars to show them where the local 7-11 was or taking one of their cars to Burger King to pick up food for 7 or 8 guys (hey, I had a driving permit), or throwing a ball around for a few minutes before they took off for the evening, they made me feel like I was at their level. I think part of it came from the fact that most of the guys knew me as the kid who's father was sick, but I think the other reason they took a liking to my dad and I was because we didn't act like starfuckers. Never asked for an autograph (although we got plenty of stuff from them without asking), never asked for a photo even though they were willing (and eventually on the last week of the regular season we got pics with all the guys.) It was just a nice introduction into the world of the sport elite. Very cool. And with the exception of 3 or 4 guys (who won't be named here) every other player was classy, fun-loving and easy to get along with. 20 years has sure changed the modern athlete. The only player on that team who was similar to the modern-day player, was also it's highest-profile and greatest talent. Lawrence Taylor was just different. And not in a bad way.

After LT's initial contact with my dad and his picture, we came to find out that LT was always the funniest guy to deal with. Whether it was him being at practices late and having to scale a 20 foot perimeter fence to join the team (Bill Parcells mandated that the fence couldn't be opened for ANYONE that was late to practice). LT always said that he felt "Coach" put that rule in just for him. Another time LT was running in to try and get into practice before the gate closed, duffel bag wide open and his Rolex tumbled to the ground. My dad quickly grabbed it, called out to LT, and when LT looked back and saw the watch, he ran back to where my dad was like he was chasing down a back and said to my dad, "hey little buddy, I'm glad it was you and not someone else out here". He always called my dad "little buddy" and I always thought it was funny because to see them stand next to one another, it was like seeing Shaq standing next to J-Will. Funny. Other times LT would have papers fly out of his car and paystubs, bills and various other things could be seen floating aroung the Meadowlands parking lots on those fall and winter days.

Once the playoffs rolled around, the excitement for the team was at a fever pitch in the NY/NJ area and we were at ground zero. It was surreal. Giants stuff was everywhere. Every store, gas station, street sign and most of the houses in the area had flags, homemade signs, etc hanging from them. It was unbelievable. Right before Christmas, LT asked my dad if our family wanted to come to his home for a New Years Eve party. He said it would be crazy and said we needed to be there. It was another stepping stone in my dad's recovery. What a night it turned out to be. It was freezing cold, snowing and travelling to LT's mansion in Upper Saddle River,NJ was treacherous. Once we got there, we parked about 1000 feet from his house and froze our asses of as we made our way to the door. There was probably 100 cars on his little cul-de-sac and all of them were high-dollar vehicles. We knocked on the huge oak door and much to our surprise, LT answered the door. Wearing slacks and a dress shirt with no shoes, he greeted us like we were family. Before I could get my jacket off, Lawrence said "hey CJ, can you do something for me.?" I of course said sure. He said, "can you shovel my walkway for me, I'd do it myself but I got all my people in here." He then put a $100 bill in my jacket pocket and said "please". I tried to give him his money back, but he wouldn't hear it. He then pulled my dad aside and said "do you know any womens?(not a misspelling on my part) I got all kinds of single men in there and no womens. The cold is keepin' them at home."

Music was blasting, there was a magician, a chef preparing food, white-gloved servers, athletes everywhere. I had sensory overload. In the middle of his living room was a makeshift dance floor. Name a NY sports guy from that period and he might have been there. That night, I met NY Jet Freeman McNeal, Darryl Strawberry, a very young Patrick Ewing, Mookie Wilson and so many other guys that night I can't remember. By the time midnight rolled around there was probably 300 people in his house. It was wild. It was the greatest New Years for me for two reasons, the fact that as a sixteen year old I was in this unbelievable environment and a sports fan's fantasy and two, that my dad had made it to a new year. The transition from fear and worry to belief and happiness seemed to stem from that night.

My dad went through another 5 months of chemo and by the end of the following summer, my dad had been issued a clean bill of health and his cancer was in remission. My dad had fought with all his worth and he made it through. Lawrence had us out to his house a few times during the spring months for barbecues and was the one player who stayed in contact with my dad religiously, usually once a month by phone. By the time the next season rolled around, my dad, with his new outlook on life from his recovery, wanted to do the same thing for the guys that season too. He wanted to do pictures again and because he was only back to work with limited hours, he still wanted to make his weekly visits to see the guys. It was the strike shortened season and although the first four games were played by the "scab" players, our faith in the team never wavered. The season didn't hold the promise that the last one did and although the team still had huge confidence it wasn't translating to the field. Another New Year came, another LT party was set, we were invited again and although the party was still top-class, the group of people was smaller, the star sightings fewer, I guess the fickle state of fans carried over to house guests too.

The next year held Lt's 30 day suspension for cocaine use and that year and the following year were frustrating to the fans and to LT. My dad was invited to attend a dinner with him in 1989 that LT was the host of for cancer survivors. My dad told me that during the limo ride to the event, LT was visibly upset at how he was being portrayed in the media and felt he was losing his stance as the "best" player in the league. I would have loved to have been in the car for that conversation. LT also had a strange way about him when it came to interaction, too. He would call my dad on a Saturday morning to ask him if he wanted to shoot a round of golf, or hit Atlantic City for a weekend for gambling. My dad went a couple of times, but never wanted to overdo it because of a) my mom wasn't feeling him leaving for a weekend with a notorious ladies man and b) didn't want LT to think he was a user. My dad had stories from a couple of the trips he went on, but out of respect to all parties, it won't be repeated here. I don't think Dennis Rodman had anything on LT in the partying department.

In the spring of 1990, my parents took a trip to sunny FLA and decided that they wanted to by a townhouse in the West Palm Beach area and make the move there to get my dad out of the cold winters in NJ. They planned the move for July and in a flash, my family and I were gone. Gone from our family spread throughout Jersey, gone from our past and gone from the guys who we became attached to who wore Giant blue. The following season showed the team back on track and from afar, we were still cheering our hearts out. LT kept in contact with my dad. It always made a huge impact on my dad hearing from LT every couple of months and although my dad had LT's number, he never wanted to impose on LT by calling him just to say hi. That 1990 season saw the Giants wind up back in the big-game against the hated Buffalo Bills. (Well hated by me as a Fins fan).

When the Giants beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, we were thrilled. We celebrated like every other blue-blooded Giant fan, but we kind of felt like we were on the outside looking in on this title compared to the last as we weren't there to experience the joy of it first-hand. The Giants haven't relieved that glory in quite some time. Betweeen the Dolphins and the Giants, it's been a long time since there's been much to cheer about for me as a football fan.

As an aside to this story, years passed, LT still contacted my dad every now and again, usually around Christmas, and although my dad passed 2 years ago (after another bout of Hodgkin's and irreparable damage to his heart, due to complications from the high-powered drugs that were used in his treatments) those years and memories were great times and a fascinating look into the live's of athletes, sometimes looked upon with fervor, other times scrutinized unfairly and even at other times, looked upon as role models when they don't want the assignment. From one person's point of view, the class and compassion that was shown to my family and I by these "heroic" figures will always be looked back upon with tremendous respect and stood to be spoken about in these times when the "classless" athlete seems to be the the only ones who receive coverage in the current sports climate. As my dad always said "Go Big Blue". We miss you. And there's still a skinny 16 year old who will never forget the strength you gave a kid's father who got hope from you when all hope seemed lost. Thank you.