Friday, October 26, 2007

These Are The Real Heroes

As all of you have seen over the past several days, Southern California has been torched by raging wildfires fueled by the infamous Santa Ana winds. The devastation is nothing short of heart-wrenching.

For those of you concerned (or at least wondering), my house is completely safe. I live really close to the beach. Half of LA would have to burn down in order for my house to be threatened.

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However, as safe as I felt, it was still an eerie feeling walking outside to see the midday sky as orange as a sunset, to smell the fresh scent of burning wood when you knew it was not your neighbor’s fireplace but possibly a family’s home, or to feel ash falling from the sky as if they were snowflakes realizing full well that those tiny little pieces could be the remnants of someone’s lifelong dream. How could you not feel guilty about your good fortune when so many others were wondering, “Why me?”

But this tragic and devastating week has reminded me of something we all should remember: Heroes aren’t the sports figures we emulate, the politicians we elect, or the movie stars we idolize.

A real hero is a person who comes to the aid of his fellow man--often a complete stranger-- when they need it the most. As much as these colossal fires have claimed, firefighters and other emergency personnel have saved 100 times more.

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Even as I write these words, I know the men and women who have sacrificed their time, energy and even their lives the past several days will never receive the adulation, appreciation or compensation they deserve. Once the fires have been doused, we will go back to our daily routines of imitating Tiger, stumping for Barack, and reading People. Meanwhile, these real-life heroes will continue to be underappreciated and underpaid.

But heroes have never been worried about such slights. They have much more pressing concerns-- such as rescuing someone else’s future.

I Am In Love With Jill Scott

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Jill Scott concert at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. And to put it mildly, I think I’m in love.

Now don’t get it twisted. I’m not talking about love in the general sense. I’m not ready to propose or anything. We’ve never met.

Nor am I talking about “stalk-her-across-the-country” type love either. My love for Jill is a love built on both appreciation and awe-- for both her ability and her persona.

Her voice talent is as gifted as anyone who’s whispered or wailed into a microphone in the past 15 years. Not to sound as if I’m a singer myself or even a voice coach for that matter, but her vocal range seems as wide and far-reaching as a galaxy. It knows no bounds. For example, towards the end of her recent set at the House of Blues, Ms. Thang broke out some opera on the crowd. That’s right. I said OPERA! What mainstream singer do you know today who could break out some opera? A cappella? And do it so well, that Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti both would have stood and applauded? Go 'head, I'll wait!

But what I really appreciate about Jill Scott’s music are the stories behind and within the music. She sings with such passion that you know the lyrics aren’t just real, but they are real to her. She seems to put her entire soul into to each and every note, thus claiming them as her own. She’s not just singing. She’s sharing her life with you.

As Jill says, she’s a storyteller. The music is just a vehicle. And she can take me for a ride anytime!
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Monday, October 1, 2007

Lakers & Clippers Media Day

I checked out both the Lakers and the Clippers annual Media Day festivities today. For those of you not familiar with media day events, it's the first time a team is fully assembled in one place for the media to grill the coaches and players on the upcoming season.

Various teams and sports handle their respective media days differently, but the most common sights are countless interviews and promo shoots for the team's broadcast partners. So be sure to be on the lookout for the latest Lakers and Clippers promotional spots on FSN West and Prime Ticket very soon.

Here are some of my observations from both sessions.

  • Thirty minutes into the Lakers proceedings, there was still no sign of Kobe Bryant. Despite reassurances from the team's PR mastermind, Jon Black, some were beginning to think Kobe would not show. And then suddenly, #24 emerged from the training room in full uniform only to be surrounded by a swarm of reporters, cameras and microphones. Better late than never.

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(Courtesy: LA Times)

  • After making the rounds of promotional shoots, Kobe finally answered questions from the assembled media. Despite a tumultous summer where he demanded a trade and called out the front office and some of his teammates, Kobe put on the good face and toed the company line saying, "I'm a soldier, man. It's not a soldier's job to question whether or not he should fight the war. You've got to go over there and fight. It's not my place."

  • On Lakers owner, Jerry Buss, Kobe said, "What I understand about Jerry is that he has kind of been out of the loop for the last two years. My understanding is that he's kind of going to be back in the mix now."

  • As for his future with the organization, Kobe said, "I think the important thing for everybody to understand is that I want to bring a title back to L.A. That's priority No. 1 for me, is to bring a title back here. I just have to trust that we're all on the same page in terms of getting that done."

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(Courtesy: LA Times)

  • I ran into Andrew Bynum and almost didn't recognize him. That might be an understatement since he is 7 feet tall and wearing a uniform with his name on the back of it. But his body has changed so much over the summer that he did not appear to be the same Andrew Bynum I last saw in April. He hired a personal trainer to work with him in the off-season and completely changed his diet. And the results are obvious. If he gets enough minutes on the court, this could be a coming out season for the Lakers future cornerstone.

  • There was a moment when Kobe, Phil Jackson and newly re-acquired Derek Fisher posed for a photo. The trio comprising the last link to the Lakers last championship in 2002. Five years never seemed so long ago.

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(Courtesy: LA Times)

  • Speaking of Phil Jackson, he was using a cane to get around to all of his required stops. Remember, he's still recovering from his second hip-replacement surgery within the past year. He also seemed to be in a much better mood than previous media days. Maybe he was putting on the good face for the franchise and Kobe tried to do. Or perhaps, he's still in the afterglow of his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame this past summer. Say what you will about his "learn-on-your-own" tactics or his Zen-like way of life, but you have to give it up to the man. He is one of the best coaches to ever man a sideline. Congrats again, Phil!

  • The Clippers version of Media Day was not nearly as heavily attended as their Staples Center roommates, and the reasons are obvious. 1) Kobe and the Lakers made way more noise in the off-season.. and 2) the injury to Elton Brand has already placed a dark cloud over the Clippers season, although that might be a bit premature.

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(Courtesy: LA Times)

  • Speaking of injuries, both Brand and Shaun Livingston were getting around pretty well considering how much time has passed since their respective injuries. Livingston told me that he feels great and plans to beat his prescribed goal of being back on the court in February or March. He wants to start playing again in January, which would be less than a year since suffering one of the most devastating in-game sports injuries ever witnessed live or on television.

  • Back to Brand for a moment. I actually visited Elton at his house a week before Media Day. We shot a long interview which will be used for an upcoming edition of "In My Own Words." In addition to updating me on the rehab of his ruptured achilles tendon (it's an all-day affair starting at 6 am which includes stationary bike work), he also told me why the fans should not jump off the bandwagon just yet (read: newly acquired free agents Brevin Knight and Ruben Patterson) and when he plans to be back on the court (not long after Livingston). I'll post some excerpts from that interview soon.

Grillz Candy.. What The.. ?!?!

In the words of Rakim, "It's been a long time. I shouldn't have left you without a strong post to read to!" Well, that's not exactly what he said, but you get the point. I'm sorry for not having posted anything in a while. However, sometimes work calls, and lately it's been calling quite often.

Now that I have that apology out of the way, I want to share a disturbing moment with you from a recent trip to Blockbuster. If you've ever been to the video rental superstore, you know that one of the ways they entice you to spend more money before exiting is to surround the line to the counter with candy, popcorn, ice cream and other goodies. Makes sense I guess. If you are going to do the movie thing, you might as well go all out.

I usually look right past all the goodies because I've never been a big candy person. Even as a kid, I didn't really like Halloween. I was the first of my friends to stop dressing up because I didn't think it was worth the trouble if I wasn't going to eat the candy, anyway. So tempting me with candy won't get you anywhere, but cookies are something entirely different!

Anyway, back to the story. So as I am approaching the counter, a flickering of light caught my eye. Was I really seeing what I thought I was seeing? Is that.. it can't be.. but is it really? Oh my God, it's BLING!! Yes, you heard me, BLING!

(Now before you try to take away some of my cool points, I know "bling" is a bit of a played out term right now. I mean once Bill O'Reilly or your grandmother starts using hip terms, it's time for you to stop! However, I just can't think of another word that truly sums up what I saw because it was so trifling!)

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Right there on the counter, in see-through plastic wrapping was "Grillz Candy." Yes, you heard me right again. There's no way I could make that up. It's called, "Grillz Candy!"

Basically, it's a piece of hard candy attached to an apparatus that, when inserted in your mouth correctly, makes it appear as if you have a mouth full of fake diamonds set in platinum. Get it? Grillz Candy!

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Just the concept of this candy disturbed me in ways you could not understand. What has this world come to that companies will manufacture a treat for kids that will make them look like self-absorbed rappers or common street thugs? I mean, what in the name of spinning rims is going on these days?

Hey, don't get me wrong. I can find a good laugh in just about anything. And if you had been in line that night in Blockbuster, you would have heard me do just that. But some people just take some stuff too damn far. I mean, seriously.. Grillz Candy? Really?

By the way, I forgot to share one other important piece of information. The flavor I picked up? Watermelon!