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Archive for the month “June, 2019”

The Rapture of the Raptors

If you are a sports bug as I am not, games whether soccer, tennis, baseball or basketball take not even second place to arts- related endeavours ; however, I must join the chorus applauding the Raptors’ success as NBA champions. And in truth, because public school gym classes introduced me to playing baseball and baseball, I at least have some understanding of scoring and the flow of the game. In deed participated briefly as part of an all girl basketball group, hardly a team, who called themselves The Spazes, one tiny highlight of high school life wherein I felt myself part of a team that was certainly accurately described by its name.

Because the men in my family are crazy sports people in spite of my best attempts, especially my son who was dragged around Europe several times to every church and art gallery, he has inculcated a driving passion for all things- sports in his own boys even though his oldest would rather roll around in the dirt and observe bugs when the runner goes to third. However, just as I once enjoyed the camaraderie of a few like poorly coordinated teammates, so too do my grandsons enjoy being part of a sports club, all similarly clad in logo marked shirts, and of course postgame snacks.

So reluctantly I too engaged in following the Raptors’ progress in the championship. Yes, perhaps unwisely we had given up our seats recently because of the crazy price of attending games, but I do now freely admit enjoyment of the initial Raptor beginnings that eventually grew into the impressive team that triumphed Thursday night. And yes, as an introspective person, I liked the controlled demeanour, the reserve and focus of Kawhi Leonard, his quiet way of being not flamboyant and causing a fuss: that interested me. In contrast to the mouthy spectaculars who seek to draw attention, Kawhi was the eye of a storm broodingly capable of vanquishing all that stood in his way.

The series went beyond sports; there was humanity in it , as all the best productions demonstrate. Not an instantaneous and clear, clean victory, there was drama, defeat, challenges as the Raptors had to battle their equals, particularly in the shape of Steph Curry and Klayman Thompson, seasoned competitors and at a one point loss early in the game last week put us on the nail biting, aggravating hold your breath edge. And in that game when Kevin Durant fell, succumbing to a calf injury, it was our Raptor boys who not only helped him off the court, but also shushed the crowd. Previously Fred VanVleet took an elbow to the head, losing a tooth and receiving 7 stitches beneath his eye too. So as in all riveting stories, there was blood and battle too.

Thursday night they came out hard, Kyle Lowry dropping ball after ball in the net. But not a game of discrete heroes, this basketball game was a thing of beauty achieved by team cooperation. Gasol, Ibaka, Danny Green, Iguodala, Siakom reassembled the ticking movement of a finely crafted clock, each humming together in harmony.

Even I did not go to the kitchen for tv watching snacks.

And as always Kawhi’s deep, controlled focus, watching, waiting, moving with the team kept drawing my eye to his positions on the court. Sure he missed four of his shots in the fourth quarter: and that drew my ire and worry that with in such a close game, the tide might turn and again, one or even two or three points could catapult our players into a sixth game so there was that extreme sensation, that cliff hanging, that tottering nervousness that drew us into the last seconds of a possible loss instead of a victory.

But wow. They won with two more free throws for Kawhi, his reward MVP, his second, placingin the same winner’s circle with LeBron and Karim. Double Wow.

And even the denouement of the game was great.Here Kawhi even waving his arms in the air, openly and finally giving into sweet smiles. The Raptors hugged each other, but also their opponents, the Golden State Warriors as if they had been rumbling a bit in the schoolyard after school, a get together with friends. Not those fast, hope you die, hand touches we see at the conclusion of baseball, but real meaty hugs, the ones that we only see men give one another in athletic endeavours, unafraid to display real, messy and true emotions. That they clung to one another unduly long, clapping backs, bussing cheeks, allowing the true feelings of success to spill over was a further endorsement of the game.

And Kyle Lowry who in-spite of taking Warrior fan abuse when he stumbled in the crowd second last round in Oakland but maintaining his cool also worked to demonstrate to kids who watched that one stupid move does not deserves another. Rather, he took the high road walked away, reported the action and the guy, a provocateur, Golden State Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens was fined $500,000 and banned him from games and all other team events for the next season. Shoving and name calling is not cool.

And last night Lowry brought his own boys on to the podium to stand with his Raptor teammates, to be part of something important. When Doris Burke interviewed him, reminding us that us that he was a North Philly boy, criticized for his limitations in height and ability, Lowry underlined that he was a kid who tried and tried and triumphed, shouting out one of life’s lessons: not to listen to people who would discourage you, but to respond to your inner voice and take your shot. And if you have been to North Philly as I have –and stopped in the ghetto by cops who ask you, white people, if you are lost, you would understand the struggles a kid in that neighbourhood needs to overcome : a hero just to emerge from that scene.

The girl in the wheelchair at the Tony Awards on Sunday, the Winner of best featured actress, Ali Stroker in Oklahoma! In her acceptance speech said much the same, encouraging by her success other talented actors to -cliched as it sounds-follow your dreams.

So, The Raptors games gave us an amazing show, the excitement, the back and forth of grabbing, taking, missing the ball- true collaborative teamwork, men like Kawhi and Kyle as role models to kids demonstrating control, energy, focus and body grace, and a narrative whose crowning achievements exemplified that every person no matter their size, their background, could play a game that resulted in the body’s victory.

So too kids can learn that getting up off the couch, practicing moves, relinquishing the IPad and computer games can be wonderful diversions. The muscles honed, the arms extended, the legs jumping must have lead the ancient Greeks into the creation of the first Olympics in Greece, from 776 BC through 393 AD. That fascination with the body, what the body can achieve must have driven them towards that pursuit of excellence.

So along with fascination of body potential ( I draw weekly from nude bodies ) , there is for watchers the exhilaration of team work that anticipates one another’s needs, and culminates in the expression of emotions of joy. Mind, body, spirit , brains required to gain the next level, figure out the riddles and move the players along towards a treasure pot and self- actualization.

As audiences, we cheered, we empathized, we applauded our champions, role models and exemplary proponents of not only how to play a game but how to lead a life.

That is why sports ( and arts) are essential to education and our governments must sustain not just the momentary celebrations but the daily ongoing programs that engender values and body worth in our kids and communities. Not cut them, enhance and support them.One day, one might grow up to be a Kawhi or Kyle.


The rise of the little guy

James Holzhauer, a 35 year old Las Vegas gambler with 32 correct responses whose average win was $76,944 was beaten by Emma by Boettcher on April 4.

We used to laugh because our parents would gather on the couch, to watch Jeopardy after supper. But, we too succumbed to the show recently because of the astounding brain of James Holzhauer. We taped his appearances or made sure not to miss a single show. We were transfixed, the half hour viewing obscuring the rest of annoying life from our purview.

While a quiz game allows you to pit your knowledge against the quick witted, fast responding expert, the audience ( me) even knowing the answer, fumbles in her head, grasping at an idea once there but now eluding her. But the expert is quick on the recall, knowledge much more readily available,reflexes more able to respond and ring in. We do it all the time, playing these mind games, trying to remember the name of so and so, recalling a street, a fragment of a conversation, something that seems to have passed through our heads like clouds or a summer breeze, so we hold a shape of an idea that remains unretrievable even though we are sure we know it and can actually feel its presence, even recalling when or where or why that piece of information is important. We can even pinpoint the place or the scenario that frames it. And unable to come up with the intel, we goggle it.

Ah yes. Of course.

But for James Holzhauer, it appears all of that that information was all there, literally at his finger tips, floating or sufficiently prescient to respond to the huge diversity of Alex Trebek’s questions: from sports to novels to rhyming slogans to history and geography. It was all there.

Until a librarian beat him.

I love the fact that James, an Everyman, unassuming, awkwardly acknowledging his growing stash of earnings in the opening intros each day shyly almost embarrassed by his wins seemed just an ordinary guy. Not with flaming coloured hair or bombastic aplomb, he was just a guy, an ordinary guy. Maybe someone you were standing in line with in Starbucks. Maybe he had a newspaper in his hand and when someone pushed in front of him, he just looked askance, shrugged his shoulders and didn’t create a fuss, his smile ironic even.

That a librarian, a guardian, protector, lover of all things word, research and books also triumphed gives me great pleasure. Yet all ready there seemed a quality of odd about her. Those of us who are a bit different identify that something immediately. Even the choice of her thesis on the context of trivia, if I’ve understood it, seems particularly strange. Her master’s thesis explored whether certain characteristics of a “Jeopardy!” clue could predict its difficulty level. Boettcher said she wanted to determine whether or not a computer could predict if a clue was easy or difficult based on the words used or the length of the clue. She concluded, among other things, that the number of component phrases in a clue could help a computer predict its difficulty. As well, She shared with Trebek that she had run a series of text-mining experiments to see if a computer could determine difficulty,” based on factors including its length, syntax and audio or visual elements.” All righty, then.

Why spend perhaps seven years of research in a doctoral study( OK, I did mine in way less than four) into such a strange phenomenon? A Masters is only two focused years, however…Was her life’s goal to appear on Jeopardy? Ok, graduate students do pursue nebula,chasing the tiniest facts whether in science or the arts. But truly, talk about impermanence, fluff. But obviously she has other interests as she stated her desire to visit cities with the letter “O”, revealing both London and Toronto were tops on her list. Well, that mindset placed her in the winner’s circle.

In preparation, she commandeered toilet paper rolls and tested out different shoes to find the most comfortable pair.In any case, Boettcher lost in just three shows, her knowledge base obviously circumscribed in a way James Holzhauer’s was not.

I was sorry to see him lose, now returning to Veep,Fosse/Verdun and Y&R for my nightly high-lows of excitement.

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