Archive for the ‘@ New Jersey’ Category

Bookin’ It

Montage © 2008 Stan Syckes

I’m going through a biography kick but the vast majority of these have been rock bios (in fact, I read Slash’s autobiography just a few months ago). I took a step back to evaluate my life and realized I like the sport of basketball a little bit but hadn’t ever delved (or “dwelved” as my old coworker used to annoyingly pronounce it) into the sport’s literature. This needed to be changed so I did some research and found two of the highest regarded tomes: the biographies of “Pistol” Pete Maravich and Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberalin.

There are some similarities between these two giants of the game besides just basketball. Both were seen as utterly dominant before turning pro and were hailed as soon-to-be NBA kings. While Maravich and Chamberlain certainly didn’t disappoint stats-wise, they always seemed to come up short on the championships in the pros. Both were named on the NBA’s 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players list … and both were the first ones to be dead after this list (Maravich was actually already gone by the time the list was made).

They also both lived relatively sad lives. Maravich was a god at LSU but graduated to a racially-tense NBA. Hailed as a great white hope he was drafted to and overshadowed a strong Atlanta Hawks team that got to the Conference Finals the previous year. His contract was the highest in the sport and he was a flashy ballhog: two characteristics that irked his teammates. Maravich also discovered he really didn’t have much of a soul having been brought up since birth to play basketball and nothing else. He died playing the game he loved of a heart attack (turned out this ballhandling wizard had been performing his magic his whole life on only half a heart!).

Wilt did win a couple of championships in the NBA but not nearly as many as was predicted. He did shatter almost every single offensive and defensive record, however, and is perhaps the only person who could have a chance at beating Michael Jordan in a “the best individual baller ever” argument. Despite all of his accomplishments he was always branded a loser, an outcast, and a freak. It was heartwarming to discover the real man behind all of the “Goliath” and “20,000 women conquered” tales that surround his legend. Though he lived in relative isolation for much of his life, Wilt actually was one of the nicest and caring and certainly the most entertaining men to ever play the game.

To be honest I thought these books were going to be snores as sports biographies just didn’t seem like ones that would have a lot of relevancy decades later. I was happily surprised to find that my prejudice was incorrect – both books are extremely well researched but written in entertaining, modern prose. Chamberlain and Maravich were revolutionaries of the sport and pointed at the future of the league but they were also men of their time; luckily their surroundings and settings are expertly described with a realness that I find lacks in a lot of other biographies I’ve read. As an added bonus this basketball historian loved the personal accounts and inner-team politics between famous teammates of the NBA past.

I would only hesitate to suggest both books to other readers since no one I know is obsessed with the sport as I am. I’m not saying I was biased during these reads, I’m just saying this material might be over your head in basketball knowledge!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Friday, August 8th, 2008 at 16:56 | #1

    I read Slash’s book – and it was ok. As soon as he leaves Guns N Roses you should just set down the book.) But everything up til that was usually good, although he has a tendancy to not talk alot about the music and it’s pretty much the same thing over and over (ex: “So i was back on heroin…”) I also read Lance Bass’s book which is such a fluff (pun intended) piece of crap. It was really interesting when he talked about the behind-the-scenes stuff in NSYNC and discussed how he hid his homosexuality …but condense all that and you got about 10 pages of good stuff.

Lost Connection

Photo © 2008 Amy Ford

Tony was a kid in my classes during the one year I attended Robinson Secondary School. He was in all of my non-elective classes like English, math, science and history (or was it social-sciences … I can’t remember the name). He seemed to have everything going for him as he was intelligent (scoring 1600 on his SATs), talented (he could sing and play the guitar), athletic (played on the school lacrosse team), good-looking and popular (he was president of our class and every girl I knew and didn’t know loved the guy). I’ve known many funny people in my life and he might have even cracked that vaunted top ten list at times. Best of all he was the nicest guy I ever met – friendly to everyone from every social circle including this overwhelmed new-kid who had just moved from Texas.

I was in a completely different world – still getting accustomed to my new setting and making friends – and I never considered us close at all, but I sat second chair trumpet to his first through the entire year of band and, for one class a day, we were good friends. I can only remember a few specific snatches of our conversations, but I always had a great time joking around (I do recall focusing on trying to impress him and the other guys a lot of the time). Being funny and smart and fun and cool all came so naturally to him that it never felt like he had to water-down any of those attributes in order to converse with me, making me feel completely comfortable in my new surroundings. He was just the same person he was with everyone else and I admired him for that and many of his other qualities.

Well, I left rather suddenly the next year to attend Jefferson – a magnet high school in a town several cities away from Robinson. I didn’t keep in touch at all except for running into him here and there at district band competitions and even then I stopped going junior year of high school. I went to JMU and he went to Duke. Then he graduated and went to medical school to become a doctor. He had everything going for him and I considered him to be one of those people in my life (however brief the occurrence) who would go on to really do something meaningful.

… He died four days ago of brain cancer, a young man of 27 stuck down in the prime of his life. I was only notified when Steve randomly came across his memorial on Facebook (how surreal). The amount of members to the memorial group hasn’t stopped increasing at about 5 every half hour (273 at this moment) because he obviously touched so many lives in his short stint here. The guy was super special and even though I knew him for only a year I am deeply saddened by his death and will miss him. Even if the feeling is fleeting, life has become so much more … real and palpable since I found out, knowing it’s a day spent that he will never experience.

I think the proper ending to someone’s life is to remember the moments where you were able to glimpse into what was really going on inside them and connect … or when they were able to do so with you. I’m sure hundreds of people have more descriptive, accurate and numerous occasions of these moments with Tony as I was just an 8th-grade kid who looked up to him. But I still have one of those moments and here it is:

One winter break during college I was back home at my mother’s townhouse in Burke. It was after midnight and the only thing open was a 7-11 so I trekked through the harsh winds and snow to hit it up for some much needed, sugary sustenance. As I walked in and paid for my usual (slurpee, mamba) I turned and saw another person had had a similar craving at the same hour and place in this cold, barren environment. I knew instantly who it was. Now, Tony having gone to four years of high school and marching band with my identical twin brother turned to me and started to say “Hey, Stev-” but caught himself. There was a flicker of something immediate in his eyes and then he corrected himself and said, laughing:

“Hey, Stan. I haven’t seen you in forever. How have you been, man?”

Being a twin, the defining mission in my life has been to form my own identity as scores of people – including my own mother – have constantly confused my brother and I. Tony, who I hadn’t seen in six years, in a second, knew exactly who I was.

Tony was a special guy and made an impact on so many people’s lives. I knew him for just a year and I’m amazed now to feel how big an impression he made during that time. I’ve never forgotten about him since and I hope I never shall.

Goodbye, Tony Milin.

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  • Lisa
    Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 at 15:06 | #1

    Hi Stan,
    I remember you and Steve from Robinson, so although you might not remember me, I just wanted to thank you for writing this. I wasn’t close to Tony but, like you, we were in many classes together, and because of his outgoing and easy personality, his life touched many of ours back in Fairfax. Just… thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s helpful at times like these.

Superhero Caloric Intake!

© 2008 Buena Vista

Balance is a characteristic I’d love to possess sometime. Until then, however, I will just have to tolerate my natural see-sawing inclination. Right now I’m experiencing several parallel swings at the same time (all seemingly shifting me into more “wholesome” situations).

The first has me back on a healthy kick as I’m counting calories and starting to exercise on a regular basis. Trying to adhere to 2000 calories is a lot harder than I imagined. I figured most people have themselves fooled as to how poorly they eat but I never thought I’d be one of them (nor how badly I had myself fooled). I’m in week three of adhering to my “diet” and am already noticing differences in my appearance (goodbye gut!) and how I feel. But there’s a long way to go and the real test is sticking to the plan for several months.

At this same time I’m also finding myself suddenly super-interested with a lot of things I was into as a kid. In fact, I’ve watched 2 hours in as many days of episodes from the 1967 Spider-Man animated series. I remember watching the show sometime during the time I lived in Long Beach, California (ages 5-8). The DVD came via my mistress (Netflix) and I even received instant, vague memories of sitting in my parents’ room watching the tv when an episode called “Spider-Man Meets Dr. Noah Body” started (I dunno, I could be wrong but the name just sounded so familiar like an old joke from my past).

And finally, with the inspiration of goal-making (and goal-taking!!!!) from my calorie counting experiment, I’m slowly acclimating myself back into songwriting every day. For so long I’ve just been beating myself up for not having any energy or desire to sit and do a little recording/writing every day (as I did back in my 2000 or 2003 heyday). But then I realized I was too focused on trying to go from 0 to 60 in too quick a time and have chopped up my goals to something way more bite-sized. This week I’m just making it an absolute priority to sit down with a guitar and work on a song for 15 minutes a day. It’s such an easy goal that I know I can accomplish it, get it under my belt, and slowly build upon it. I’ll keep all of you readers (are there any left?) updated!

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A Fire Under My Ass!

I was recently reading Cassie’s old LiveJournal (and no, I probably shouldn’t just hand out that link) and loved how there were so many bite-sized posts. When she had something deep to talk about the blog would be big, but most were just quick snapshots of what she was up to or what she was thinking about. They’re so honest and funny and have no meaning whatsoever but it has given me new purpose in my own blog.

For a while now this thing has become way too bloated and corporate. My posts are super-long, edited, and punched up to be more entertaining than originally written. I still would love to have all my great stories written in their best formats here, but I’m going to also try moving into smaller, spontaneous postings as well!

For example, I noticed a few months into this year that I had written 6 blogs each month and decided I’d try to go a whole year doing so. Well, now I shall throw this accursed net from off my shoulders and shall blog to my own heart’s desire until the crowds shout for mercy! And I will respond with a resounding “no!” and continue to blog even more. There will be no stopping me! Hopefully.

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  • Monday, August 4th, 2008 at 17:36 | #1

    …This might have just won my “Worst Dohblog of 2008” award

The Dark Butt

© 2008 Warner Bros.

SPOILER ALERT! In case you somehow have outlasted me I spill the proverbial bat-beans on The Dark Knight in this blog. I went to go see it with Cassie at the Mayfair Triplex so I must now give the obligatory review! Per my usual, crazy ways (re: not watching any trailers, ignoring people’s conversations about the movie, even heorically pulling myself away from the latest SteverOnline) I went into the theater not knowing much – if anything – about the film. And, once again, I feel all the work this method requires and ridicule I must endure because of it is validated as I can guarantee a hype-free experience to the pleasure zones in my brain! And then I can give all you readers a review that is 100% THE TRUTH!

The Dark Knight was heavily marketed as a superb superhero blockbuster a la Iron Man. But whereas Iron Man was perhaps the best summer throwaway movie I’ve ever seen, The Dark Knight attempted to be more: an intelligent, complex thriller – and it worked! For the most part.

Heath Ledger’s performance has been unanimously celebrated and rightfully so. He owns this movie just like Nicholson’s acting in the 1989 original movie did, as well. Maybe the role is just so juicy no actor can get it wrong (hell, Cesar Romero’s Joker was pretty awesome too come to think of it). Regardless, I think this is the best portrayal of the Joker in any medium – including the comics. He’s equal parts psycho and smart; a completely devious criminal whose qualities are neither too cartoony (1966) nor too CEO-like (1989). Batman can take out all the muggers and thugs he wants but it figures that Gotham City would start to become a city plagued by terror when someone constantly slips through his fingers. More on that later.

Bale, on the other hand, sleepwalks through his Batman role again … the “Batman” voice is just absurd, people. Take a second to try to imitate the voice he does and I bet you it will come out closer to dead-on rather than parody. In most scenes involving the Dark Knight I found myself watching the villain or the gadgets rather than the main character. I did enjoy seeing how Batman was already accepted as a de facto last line of defense in the police squad – that makes sense. Sure, they don’t always understand him, but they trust him when the going gets tough (all of their tactics fail trying to keep Dent’s transfer safe and then he swoops right in as part of the plan). It’s weird, though … Batman is an obsessed, single-minded crime fighter so I could understand why he would stare all the time, but Bale stares through people. It pierces the veil of escapism. Suddenly, I’m cognizant that he’s acting. It’s annoying.

To round out the review of the superheroes (and to stick with the pervasive theme of the character) here are two words that sum up my feelings about Two-Face: tacked on.

All the secondary characters are actually strong (including pre-Face Dent) except for Rachel. Not because of her acting or character, but just because … no non-superhero women belong in Batman’s world. He’s dedicated his life to fighting crime since the age of 12, he doesn’t have time for romance! He probably has already severed off his penis to be less susceptible to groin attacks! But I digress.

If camp was the theme of the Adam West version, gritty the theme for the Michael Keaton, and confused the “theme” for the Clooney version, “terror” presided all over The Dark Knight. And I for one thought it was a great choice. The whole movie involved complex psychoanalytical looks into how people show their true faces under pressure and it never really let up until the very end. I felt exhausted when the credits finally rolled (the length of the movie didn’t help that feeling).

Since it’s getting late over here I’ll sum up. Excellent supporting characters, well-done (and well-paced!) action sequences, excellent dialogue, average Batman, terrible second villain. The Dark Knight had an interesting take on the Batman world and executed it pretty well, overall. Only a few bumps mar this film: 4 out of 5 Dirk Nowitzkis carrying the German national flag.

UPDATE: I just saw The Dark Knight again and liked it even better, though not enough to change my original score. Just think of it as a stronger, healthier 4 out of 5 Dirk Nowitzki.

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  • Tuesday, July 29th, 2008 at 11:40 | #1

    Have you seen The Dark Knight yet?

  • Tuesday, July 29th, 2008 at 14:15 | #2

    Why does your link to “4 out of 5 Dirk Nowitzkis carrying the German national flag” NOT link to a photo of Dirk Nowitzki carrying the German national flag?

  • Tuesday, July 29th, 2008 at 14:46 | #3

    Because, contrary to any Twilight Zone episodes you’ve seen, there is no such thing as a camera that can see into the future.

Beijing Bound

Congratulations to Dirk “My Hero” Nowtizki and the rest of the German national basketball team. With their 96-82 win over the Puerto Rico team, they have officially advanced to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. This marks the first time the German team has reached the Olympics with Dirk on their team – a lifelong dream of Herr Balla. In fact, he reportedly couldn’t address the press in the post-game interview because he was in the locker room crying tears of joy. Ha!

Unfortunately, he will have to face Team USA, helmed by new-lover, Jason “Noodle Soup” Kidd. All I can say is thank god there’s summer basketball to watch!!

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  • Zepmoon
    Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 at 14:49 | #1

    “…..a lifelong dream of Herr Balla.”

    How do you know what Dirk dreams?

    Does he talk in his sleep?

Yet Another Weekend Spent in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Photo © 2008 Stan Syckes

I’m starting to fall behind in my super-important blog postings and I know it. I really need to switch priorities and start blogging about stuff I do instead of actually doing them … but I won’t! I can only continue to break this and all other rules because of my rebellious ways!

A Wedding So Grand Wikipedia Must Be Updated Because Of It!
It’s a good sign that the SteverOnline is starting to scoop me again when we attend shared events. For a while I was worried I was the lone blogger left in my community … but I digress! I took the 11th off to (once again) drive down to Virginia. I rented a small car and checked out my cousin Zack’s wedding to long-time girlfriend, Alexandra. And, yes, in case you didn’t notice the gentleman in question has a Wikipedia page. Very cool. The whole affair was very traditional and classy with a Penn State flavor – the mascot even jumped out of nowhere during the reception to start the dancing. Congratulations you two, though the number of single relatives is whittling down quickly … scary.

Reclaiming One’s History And Sorting It From All The Other Crap I’ve Saved
Since I was in the area for the wedding I decided to drive down to my mom’s house in Woodbridge, Virginia to finally tackle a long neglected project: go through the 25-30 boxes of my shit in her basement closet. Steve – along with his sidekick Tom Tom GPS doodad – joined me for the ride (though I still managed to take a wrong turn right off the bat). We dumped out all the boxes and I picked out the items I absolutely needed to have for my New York apartment. The fun of coming across so many items and memories I had totally forgotten about far outweighed the work (I estimate we put in 5 hours or so). Then, all “jazzed up,” we dialed-a-Toine and played some basketball (in an eerie mirror image of an earlier match, I won both of our games). The sad part of that last sentence was how I wasn’t able to link Toine to the DohBlog as it is looking more and more likely the site is down for good. 🙁

Getting Lost In Philadelphia
… is not that cool. Don’t know how I did it but I found myself on the wrong road on the trip back to New Jersey. Ah, well. Even though my phone’s battery and blackberry were both dead I managed to locate directions back (hint: it involved my laptop and a Dunkin Donuts establishment). Perhaps the thought of the Jones’ moving to Philadelphia was in the back of my mind and I subconsciously made my way there in hot anticipation. That, or I just took the wrong exit on 95.

Great Toine-blogs! there is just so much excitement in my life, eh? I will continue to post as there are a lot of occurrences this past week that need to be shared. Next up: Cassie and I almost get killed at a busy intersection!

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Fireworks in my Pants at Yankee Stadium

The 4th of July is “supposed” to be spent doing things of a patriotic sort: grilling out in backyards, hanging flags outside of your house, eating apple pie, etc. Well, Cassie and I decided to up the stakes and be uber-Americans by doing what is perhaps the most patriotic thing to do of them all. We went to see a YankeesRed Sox game in Yankee Stadium!

We secured a couple of super nosebleed tickets from Stubhub and arrived at the 161 St station in The Bronx which empties out right outside of the stadium. There were several people on our train wearing Yankees merch but I really wasn’t prepared for wait awaited us upon exiting the subway. Along the entire stretch of the stadium were mini-shops and bars – all packed to beyond capacity with Yankee and Red Sox fans spilling out into the street. We decided to stop in one of the stores and I bought a Lou Gehrig (local son of Yorkville – my soon-to-be home!) shirt. When we got out Cassie noticed the store nextdoor was called “Stan’s” and I kicked myself for not purchasing it there. Then we suddenly realized that every single restaurant and store on the block was named Stan’s. It was a weird experience and I’m still not sure what the deal is behind this … but I’ll find out someday. Or I won’t. I could go either way on this, actually.

Though the exterior of the stadium was iconic to see up close I didn’t truly feel like I was experiencing history until we were herded through gate 4 into the inner halls. These cramped, damp, winding tunnels screamed 1920’s as they made little sense, didn’t maximize space for stores well, and generally felt built to hold way less people than were present. Luckily, Cassie and I easily found our way to Tier 15 where we would be witnessing the game from a little behind (and way above) 1st base.

There’s not much to say about the game itself. At least, I have trouble putting the whole thing into words that seem worthy. I’ve been to many a baseball game but all of them seemed infantized when compared to the Yankees game. There weren’t any mascots, the old jumbo screen used graphics from the 1970’s, and the walking vendors threw your food at you from at least 10 rows away. This wasn’t the kiddie spectacle/adult picnic I was used to. This was baseball: the sport! The vicious, historical rivalry I was expecting was so over-hyped though – I only witnessed 1 real case of heckling and it was tongue-in-cheek and lasted a minute, maybe. Meanwhile they ratio of Boston fans to Yankee fans was about 1-3 and it was mainly dueling choruses of “Let’s go Red Sox” verses “Let’s Go Yankees!”

Right at the middle of the seventh inning an unwelcome guest arrived: rain! The teams continued to play through the bottom of the inning but gave up when the water wasn’t stopping so once again I got to see a giant tarp pulled out. Cassie and I braved the elements (ok, actually our seats were luckily under a giant overhang) but eventually ducked out after an hour of waiting.

Avoiding the rain as best we could we managed to “find ourselves” inside Planet Sushi – our favorite sushi place (and, yes, I still can’t believe I’d ever be saying that phrase). There we ordered baseball themed dishes (I got a Boston roll and she got a Bronx roll) and watched the disappointing conclusion to our game on tv.

Then walked to the East River to witness the Macy’s fireworks display!!!!!! All of those exclamation points are sarcastic except the first one which should be a frowning face 🙁 because … I just don’t get what the fascination with fireworks is. It’s just colors exploding in the sky. Well, I am definitely in the minority as there were thousands of people set up along the river to “experience” the “show.” Even a helicopter – holding some unknown rich celebrity – hovered overhead to take in the view. There were some cool fireworks – one blew up into a smiley face while another blew up into a cube – but that really was about it for my excitement.

Ah, well … happy cuatro de julio! And here are the photos to prove I wasn’t fibbing!

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  • Zepmoon
    Thursday, July 17th, 2008 at 15:04 | #1

    Way cool, I remember going to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh as a kid to see the Pirates play. The stadium was built in 1909 and was very scary in its lack of OSHA approved construction. You know little things like railing on the top floor boxes that where low enough to topple over! Make the wrong move and you’d be five floors down.

    Glad you had the Yankee Stadium experience – it’ll be a parking lot this time next year.

Chinflap Jones and the Temple of Doh

Photo © 2008 Brandon Jones

Last weekend Cassie and I drove down to Arlington, Virginia to make a surprise birthday visit to Brandon Jones who was now a year older and a chin flappier. It was actually a busy couple of days for many of my friends as Toine was moving into his new townhouse and Stever was moving his girlfriend temporary into his quarters (I hope that is public information!). However, by the time we arrived to Brandon’s apartment (in the same complex as the Ol’ Pink Sock) it seemed as though the jig was up.

First of all, Brandon’s best man, Brendan, showed up the night before and the two lovers went to go see a baseball game between the Nationals and the Orioles. Katie, Brandon’s betrothed, told him that this would be Weekend Game 1 of 2 and that the second would involve six people total. So, Brandon’s brain worked feverishly to decode who else would be joining the festivities.

No one knows for sure which came first: Brandon’s steel-trap mind computing that I would be one of the surprise guests or Toine spilling the beans! What is known is that my knock on the door to the “Marital Sock” was greeted with a sarcastic “who could that be?!” The last to arrive for the affair was Brandon’s business partner, Kevin, and then we all headed out/back to National’s Park for Nats vs. O’s: Round Deux!

The new Nationals Park is beautiful – from almost anywhere you can see the game and the atmosphere is equal parts state-of-the-art technology and baseball nostalgia. The Nationals actually have the best mascots (that I’m aware of): they have the four Presidents from Mount Rushmore as giant-headed, costumed people who are usually involved in races around the bases and shirt-tossing. The best was Teddy Roosevelt who – with a race win total of 0 – finally popped his cherry by defeating the Orioles bird! Super hilarious, though it’s hard to describe.

There was a massive thunderstorm in the middle of the game and we had to withstand an hour-long rain delay, huddled under some stairs with a bunch of other people. But after the skies cleared again we managed to sneak down into amazing seats to watch the rest of the game. Brandon was in such an aroused state due to the Orioles’ winning he demanded to play a game of Scene It? when we all got back to his apartment. He then proceeded to lose horribly (Cassie, who forecasted coming in last place surprisingly won).

The next day I returned to Casa De Jones to play some basketbanus with El Stever and Brandon. In my absence, they (along with Toine-master) have devised a new, more potent form of Crappy in which each person must add a word to a growing sentence while shooting the ball. Screwing up either due to Crappy rules or not coming up with a word results in a penalty and the whole thing is just so funny to play. Once again Brandon lost (I won 2-0 🙂 ) but he might’ve been a little depressed that his girlfriend, Toine, didn’t show up to play.

(Warning: Schumin-style ending!) All in all, it was a great weekend to relive the Arlington, Virginia experience and to see Brandon’s alcohol-reddened cheeks again. But I knew I would have an interesting, New York-themed weekend to look forward to upon my return … wait for details in the next Stanus blog!!!!!

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Not Surprising … But Impressive!

My beautiful NBA season may be over, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to get excited about basketball-wise. In fact, much to the chagrin of many, my entire life is devoted to that very thought! The NBA just put together the official Top 10 Plays of the 2007-2008 NBA Season. Not surprisingly, I’m sure you’ll see what I was so excited about … cou(#6)gh! But still, for all of you NBA haters, take a look and realize the NBA is heading head-first into another golden era a la the 80’s!

Video © 2008
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