Archive for August, 2008

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