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Things That Do No Harm

[3-minute read]

It’s a day for making lists. It’s June, after all.

Mind you, I could be writing about another especially brutal bomb in Kabul, or the abdication of ecological (or just plain logical) leadership by influential nations, or the special kind of impotent cowardice coupled with childish indignation that moves a hateful little human to scrawl hateful toilet-stall names on a rich black man’s apparently uppity home. But not today.

It’s a green day in June. I spent some time thinking – she made me do it, one of those gentle coaching shoves – about harmlessness, which apparently isn’t so far from cleanliness, or learning, or trees, or spirit. I’ve made a list of harmless things, which might even be worth less faint praise than that. Like:

+ Looking for new beginnings in all the untimely neighbourhoods. Such as, oh, June.

+ Walking among trees and alongside water.

+ Railway bridges, even where the trains are extinct.

+ Saying “good mornin’” to random bikers, walkers and drunks.

+ Wearing an old synthetic baseball jersey – still brightly white! – with a big ol’ 22 on the back, going way back to the last time I was a reasonable facsimile of an athlete.

+ Being one layer short on a morning-walk-that-shouldn’t-have-been-that-cool-‘cause-it’s-JUNE-fer-cryin’-out-sideways! I guess it’s chill to be chill, though.

+ Writing and saying things like “for crying out sideways” and “keep your eyes peeled for my phone” that confirm my status as a genuine relic of a bygone age. I’m a fossil.

+ Naps.

+ Roses as they fade. Untidiness. Dust on the mantle.

+ Believing in people.

+ Breezes in the treeses.

+ Twenty percent of my excess lard. (The remainder does harm my feelings.)

+ Forgetting, occasionally, that everything I might want to know is only a click away.

+ Saving money. Underrated: the frugality of small economies, even if scorned by belligerent teenaged opinionators who nevertheless would like a higher allowance.

+ Keeping my mouth shut, in cases of doubt.

+ Believing in God without piling on my neighbour, or random bikers, walkers and drunks.

+ Filling my gas tank before it’s down to the last drop.

+ Dandelions.

+ Deciding to procrastinate on visiting the candy aisle.

+ Reading with something approaching a plan, say, three or four weeks per year.

+ Caring about the lives of people I don’t know personally.

+ Refusing to allow that such a thing is inefficient or foolish.

+ A little extra time for meditation, or even just thinking about nothing. (Or humming old pop songs, but don’t overdo it.)

+ Boring stories of glory days¹. (Speaking of moderation.)

+ Opening up a notebook and writing by feel and by hand.

+ Flossing.

+ Preferences for glass jars, paper bags, iron pots and wooden-handled hoes.

+ Composting in the back yard.

+ Weeding before it’s strictly necessary.

+ Walking when no particular body that I know (i.e. mine) is willing or able to run.

+ Believing in the usefulness of belief.

+ Watching another NBA Finals game 1 instead of writing about racism, climate change or the miseries of Kabul.

+ Another blog entry.

Not such a bad list, after all.

¹ Give yourself a one-bite brownie if you recognized Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”.

 

Really, Kevin? Can’t Beat ‘Em?

(twelve-minute read)
One of the good guys, from what I can tell. Wearing the dark hat (and a bullseye) now: Kevin Durant.

One of the good guys, from what I can tell. Wearing the dark hat (and a bullseye) now: Kevin Durant.

Young sir, may I call you Kevin?

I’m sure They have been calling him lots worse, though I’m not looking under bridges to check. I’m guessing “traitor” and “chickenshit” and “turncoat” and “ungrateful bastard” are making the more printable lists. “Benedict Arnold” might be favoured by those who know a little American history.

So: Basketball Star Kevin Durant Signs Free-Agent Contract With Golden State Warriors. There’s your lede, not going to bury it. This being July 5th, it’s no longer news in the antic spin-dry cycle of what-have-you-hot-taken-from-me-lately entertainment/journalism. But to me it’s still novel, a bit shuddery and uncomfortable, sort of bewildering yet all-too-familiar, a cause of naive dismay and even a spur to misplaced and minor outrage. Hey, wanna come along? 

This is literally unmediated. I haven’t had the chance to filter my jangled thoughts through what must have been a torrential downpour in the Twitterverse sports teacup, a tempest in the chatrooms and sports blogs of the world. (At least in North America, this must have outdone Iceland over England by far, and may have even outstripped Trump and cute animals for an Internet spell.) I spent the very best part of yesterday hanging around in my corner of Ottawa with some of the finest young people you’d ever want to know, and many of them barely know who Kevin Durant is. The day was about selfless service. Voluntarism. Youth leadership by the young. (Hence, I wasn’t much more than a bystander, but an inspired and committed one.) Moral purpose. Community. Educational vision. Societal transformation. All that grassroots jazz. (And walking. Lots of walking.) There was no time for Twitter.

But some of the youngsters do know KD, and their phones are smarter than mine is. As we hunted for idealists in Overbrook on the fourth of July,

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But you know, I’m gonna miss this place. Huge.

And I will miss our Chinese friends even more. Jet-lag smacks me pretty hard, but it’s already starting to ease a little. (I can face my keyboard with only minimal dread.) The general disorientation of farewells, uprooting and re-entry into a previous context will soon fade; the cleaning and painting and purging of our house will be over in a few weeks.  I believe and hope that I haven’t left China forever, and that I’ll see some of our friends again, but I know that for too many I’ve said my last goodbye. That’s how it happens, though I’m not much good at accepting it.

I’ll write more about it. I imagine a four-part goodbye: to the teaching work at two Dalian universities, to the new legs that China gave to my long-dormant basketball playing, to the wonders and remarkabilities of that tremendous country that is so suddenly front and centre to the world’s future, and to our sharing of the Baha’i vision with new and lasting friends. (I want you to hold me to this promise.) For now, for recently, I’ve only posted a couple of things.

In “At First Glance”, just below in this main section, you’ll find a piece I could have titled “Fear and Loathing on Huangpu Lu”. I probably was more than a few centimetres from death, but I stared at that speeding car from way too close and from the seat of my slightly soiled pants.

In the “It’s All About Sports” section, there’s this retrospective on the stunningly high level of basketball played by the San Antonio Spurs in winning the NBA championship. We still don’t get it, and with LeBron having dominated the North American sports headlines even after losing, even during the World Cup, my essay isn’t going to change anything. I tried, anyway.

“On Second Thought”, the place where I put ideas I’ve pondered and worried over longer, was just the spot for an older piece, one that didn’t find publication back in 2007 but still tells a story of faith and commitment that you might find touching. (It still touches me, but pain isn’t everything.)

And, it being World Cup season, with Germany and Argentina itching for a fight — but without violent or military intentions — a few days ago I quoted a fine American writer, Brian Phillips, who mused about what the Cup does that no other human activity can match. That’s in the “He Said/She Said” section.

Please note also that the so free and easy to SUBSCRIBE it’s almost sinful button is still just over there, top right.

JH [dot] com is on Twitter @JamesHowdenIII. It keeps followers up-to-date with what’s happening here, plus the usual Twitter smorgasboard of observations, pass-alongs and faves, and of course you’re welcome. 

Thanks for looking in. If you’re new here, read on to find out more about “Sport, Culture and Other Obsessions” that I’ve been writing about

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Spurs Win Again. We Don’t Get It.

I expected to be watching Game Seven of the NBA Finals Friday morning — I’m in China, lest ye forget — and instead I wrote this.

SPURS IN FIVE?! WHO CALLED THAT?

Nobody. Cuz we believe “the team with the best player wins”, cuz the NBA has marketed the hell out of individualism. And MJ did, and Shaq probably was, and so was Tim Duncan, once upon a time, but even back then it was always a team deal with the Spurs.

I forecast San Antonio in seven, so I’m still not adjusted. I’m programmed for an epic climax, as games 6 and 7 in 2013 were the best pair of basketball struggles I’ve seen, what, ever? At least since the Magic Lakers and the Celtic Birds in the ’80s. With the Spurs’ early air-conditioning this year, I’m revising history: they actually won last year, too, even though LeBron James held up the trophies and preened and narcissized “I’m not supposed to be here!” (Sorry, kid king. Noticing the clay feet more than is charitable.)

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NBA Playoffs: I’ll Ask You One More Time

Well, I’ve been busy, that’s why there haven’t been more NBA cud-chewing. I had an earlier series of NBA questions about the fire-breathing, where’s-the-basketball gossip-fest that the NBA Finals have made of themselves. Anyway, been runnin’: two weeks left of school, and three weeks in this amazing country. (If you’d like a sense of what it’s like following the NBA from China, there’s this blow-by-commercial-blow account from another Miami-in-the-Finals episode of Sports TV in the Middle Kingdom.) Anyway, Game 5 starts in an hour. Here we go.

Slingshot Lewis. It goes *in*, though, and has for a long time.

Slingshot Lewis. It goes *in*, though, and has for a long time.

Can you imagine how brilliant a shooter Rashard Lewis could’ve been had someone taught him how at a younger age? What would that behind-the-head slingshot, what little kids trying to hoist a rock towards an unreachably high rim, look like if he’d been drafted by the Spurs and coached by shot-meister Chip Engelland? (Surely, not like this.)

Is it necessary to point to subterranean racism when LeBron’s cramping in game one draws the howls of Internet Toldja Boys reminding us that he’s not only human but morally inferior? (Answers, like a jerk, his own rhetorical question: Yes.)

How do the Game One officials miss that four-steps-after-the –bounce journey by LeBron – even James Harden only takes three in his chronic travels – with the change in direction after the first two? (The Jerk, again: it was the Superstar call, plus he did it so smoothly. They froze. That would’ve been an oh-s—t moment in the whistle-blower film review.) Or does the fact that I’m still harping about the best players on the planet getting away with sloppy face-ups and 2 or 3 extra steps on drives — passes that my mediocre high school players never got — a sign of rampant resentment and unresolved OCD issues? (Don’t answer that.)

Was that meaningless last-minute corner three by Kawhi Leonard actually brilliant teamsmanship by Ginobili to get him feeling good heading for game 2, or am I just too Spursy? (No need to reply to that one, either.)

When it rains in San Antonio, does it always pour? (Meteorological Heat-check – get it? tee-hee – Metaphor Alert! An MHMA!)

What in the world were we seeing in Games 3 and 4?

How did the Spurs just keep getting better when the jock punditocracy wrote them off starting, when, 2009? And especially after the Thunder threw a wrench in that dominant playoff run San Antonio was on in 2012? (Back then, it looked like the Spurs had been solved. Remember?)

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NBA Playoffs: Just Asking

Both the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs have won two games in their respective Conference Finals of the NBA playoffs. WARNING (to my mother-in-law and other unwary wanderers into this Sweaty Sporting Space: this post really is about the National Basketball Association, though it inevitably tries to wring Significance and a few drops of Societal Relevance from the perspiration-soaked towels waving as the NBA season begins to climax. (Eww!)

Names are dropped, but this isn’t TMZ. I’m just asking. So, here’s what I was wondering during the pair of off-days leading up to this weekend’s Games Three. They’re on Chinese sports television at 8:30 a.m. The Heat outpaced Indiana this morning (our Sunday), and the Spurs try to rope the Thunder into three-zip submission first thing Monday morning. I’ll be on the edge of my couch, thanks.

Dad, Blake, Mom.

Dad, Blake, Mom.

My Everything’s Coming Up Sterling Question: Race being such a, well, such a black and white thing in North America, I ask you – since we all have opinions on people we’ve never met – would Blake Griffin of the Clippers be on Donald Sterling’s no-fly list? Would Jason Kidd? Stephen Curry? All are quite confidently and curiously labelled “black”. (Or even  Steven Adams, that New Zealander with

So much younger looking as Nets coach than as Knicks player. But that wasn't the question.

So much younger looking as Nets coach than as Knicks player. But that wasn’t the question.

the massive brow ridges from the Thunder who looks like he might have some Maori blood?) Do you remember the old idea of people of colour who could “pass”, not for easy points in the paint but for being white?
(Does this still happen?)

 

My Hail to the First-Round Vanquished Questions:

Is it too soon to say that the Houston Rockets’ Grand Gamble won’t work?

How does Damien Lillard get that open for a three when Houston’s up 2 in the final moments of Game 6? (Old coach insists on answering his own rhetorical question: It’s about unselfish talking on the court, and defending during the regular season as if it matters to develop good habits. I was a big Kevin McHale fan when he played, but as a coach? Yeah, but could I get those guys to defend? Pretty darned doubtful.)

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Not Supposed To Be Here: NBA Finals, America & LeBron

According to the mighty Grantland – no, not the iconic Golden Age of Sports-writer Rice but the Wise Guys Guide to Sports and Other Stuff We Watch on Flatscreens – we are 26 days from the opening of another NBA season. (Grantland.com started counting down over 100 days out for this NFL season, such is the pigskin sickness in the Excited States of America.™ 1 ) In recent days, the countdown has included the following essential bits of news. Chandler Parsons digs fashion and wears trendy glasses and fashionably nerdy

Chandler Parsons, fashion plate. (Can’t be in the weight room *all* the time.) Photo from Grantland.com.

hair. Kevin Durant is learning to be angry, while Pau Gasol is an unrepentant nice guy (actually, a surprisingly insightful short piece). The Philadelphia 76ers are the early favourites in the tanking derby to try to select Canada’s Andrew Wiggins in next June’s draft (he’s a Kansas freshman), something Grantland terms “Riggin’ for Wiggins”. Drake hearts the Raptors. The Blake-Griffin-as-Doctor-Dunkenstein days are over, according to Blake Griffin. In other news, JaVale McGee remains JaVale McGee. Some of these I actually read. Any port in a storm.

Mostly, though, I’m still looking backward to the 2013 Finals. I was pulling for the Spurs. I replay, as Tim Duncan will for the rest of his apparently fairly contented days, the easy putback he missed late in Game 7. I still can’t quite believe Ray Allen got both feet outside the three-point line for that game-tying miracle at the end of Game 6.

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