Another Ultimate American Spectacle

Floyd and Conor onstage in London while on a promotional tour (photo by Matthew Lewis)

Floyd and Conor onstage in London while on a promotional tour (photo by Matthew Lewis)

By Josh Tribe

It was when I couldn’t find a single political pundit predicting Trump would win that I started to think Trump was gonna win – I feel much the same way about the upcoming “Money Fight” between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Conor McGregor. 

First off, congratulations to anyone reading this previously unaware of the upcoming prizefight between undefeated boxing savant Floyd Money Mayweather and gladiatorial UFC demigod, the Notorious Conor McGregor.  If you’ve escaped the wall-to-wall hype, I’m inferring some sort of equanimity upon your blissfully oblivious brain, and about to forever trounce whatever innocence you may possess.

So which is it: historic showdown or shameful freak show?  Both?

Quite obviously, it’s the perfect sporting event for this social media era of identity politics gone ballistic.  Though eerily similar to the election, this money fight is decidedly less embarrassing. Who cares if both pugilists are basically unlikable?

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice

— Bob Dylan, "Hurricane"

These guys love talking about it – the ring is their paradise.  The fight’s precise location: Paradise, Nevada, an oxymoron if ever there were one.  McGregor speaks of bouncing heads off the canvass.  Mayweather holds up hundred million dollar checks.  Perhaps it’s my idealization of Dylan’s projections onto Rubin Carter, but I still can’t decide which of these guys is more unlikable.  Here they are, re-contextualized…  

As you already likely know, it’s a classic binary battle: young vs. old, mixed martial artist vs. Queensbury roles boxer, and of course the least discussed, biggest draw: white guy vs. black dude. 

In the boxing corner: Mayweather: greatest defensive wizard in the history of boxing, equally famous for his financial prowess and accompanying flamboyance.  Born to a family of professional fighters, fast and pretty, young Floyd nevertheless grew up poor, became rich, and has forever since been obsessed with the one-word American mantra: more.  A far more chimerical character than he’s given credit for, Money Mayweather is waging an all-out war for more.  He speaks of controlling chessboards; discordantly invokes Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; claims to be fighting for all America, Black America and “the Spanish” specifically; endorsed Trump and stands by it; rejects the African-American taxonomy, reckoning he’s as American as the Mayflower, and more originally American than even Native Americans (who, he recently referred to as such, before apologizing and correcting himself, “the Indians, I mean.”) (Who can blame boxers for failing to keep up with preferred nomenclatures, especially one espousing black pride, American nationalism and faith in Donald, all in unison?)

In the upstart’s corner we find McGregor: a few years removed from Ireland’s welfare rolls, he’s become a new-age poster child for talking and willing reality into existence.  He’s like the Brad Pitt character from Snatch, imbued with sliver-tongued shit-talking skills, and he’s dominated the UFC world over the last few years, helping the sport all but eclipse boxing as the world’s most popular form of competitive violence.  They don’t make white men in this country like McGregor – a guy like this could only emerge from Ireland or Russia.  He oozes charisma, confidence, street fighting mojo.  There’s something decidedly boyish about him – despite the Tyler Durden darkness, the guy’s got his share of Mary Lou Retton too, the little leprechaun that could.  He is the severe underdog, far as the gaming odds go.

Most commentators, especially boxing purists and sports media establishment types, view McGregor’s chances for victory exactly the same way the mainstream media gauged Trump’s odds of becoming president.  Even within the unheard stepchild air carried by UFC loyalists, the confessionary consensus is that McGregor’s efforts will be considered successful if he “gives Floyd a good fight,” whatever that means.  Others say he’ll be lucky to land a single point-worthy blow.  Many of these MMA guys relish in their (dead-on) perception that Mayweather would have no shot whatsoever if he battled McGregor in the octagon.  UFC commentator (and new Oprah for stoners) Joe Rogan makes the point that while Mayweather may have all the confidence in the world, boxing-ability-wise, he’s never faced a man able to say to his face: “If this was a street fight, I’d fooking kill you.”  At some subconscious level, the esoteric Rogan ponders, that’s gotta rattle Floyd just a little bit.

Floyd takes the mic in Brooklyn in mid-July (Photo by Mike Lawrie)

Floyd takes the mic in Brooklyn in mid-July (Photo by Mike Lawrie)

Convoluted analyses permeate the airways; variables are emphasized and deemphasized – here are the brass tacks, as they appear from afar:  Mayweather is 40, 5’8", and naturally carries between 135-155 pounds.  He is 49-0, but hasn’t knocked anyone out this century, save one poor schmuck who head-butted him, stopped in the middle of the fight to apologize for said head-butt, and was promptly dropped while dumbly looking at the referee – one of the myriad of events which have cast Mayweather as a villain.  He’s an artist, Mayweather, who still seems to have every marble, all of which he focuses on his monomaniacal goal – becoming as rich as fucking possible.  Aside from his mastery of the art of boxing, I find nothing likable about him, save perhaps his unapologetic narcissism. McGregor is 29, taller than 5’9", and naturally carries around 170 or so pounds.  That’s much younger and much bigger. 

The last organized pugilism I took part in was freshman year PE wrestling.  I was one of the bigger boys within the under 100-pound weight class and boy did I beat the shit out of those little fucks, many of whom were on the wrestling team, and whose skills far exceeded my own.  All I can authentically use to compare relative size advantages in athletics is basketball.  As a 5’8", 150 pound point guard, I feel especially sensitive to the difference between 5’8½" and 5’9½", 150 and 170 pounds.  McGregor will make weight, but by fight time, it will be obvious just how more significant he is, physically.  Even if I were in the best shape of my life, being 43, I cannot contemplate competing athletically against an insanely fit 28 year-old man or woman, let alone one bigger and more naturally athletic than myself.  I’m no expert, and no way to verify these things anyway, but from watching my share of each man’s battles, McGregor appears to my eyes as the vastly more athletic man – something the American media could never utter with a straight face, given the quiet racism that flipped sometime between Jack Johnson and Jackie Robinson, the presumption of Caucasian athletic inferiority – a theory which has silently worked to belittle black and white athletes alike… A white guy simply cannot play wide receiver, running back, compete in sprints, or beat black guys in boxing matches – the work ethic and intelligence of white athletes is (still) highlighted, while, black athletes are (still) largely seen as naturally gifted.

McGregor is hungrier, younger, bigger, stronger, completely unorthodox and superior athletically: I think he’s gonna bloody up Pretty Boy Floyd – I pray it doesn’t happen – I’m probably the only man on earth who believes McGregor will win and isn’t happy about it.  But I think it’s about to happen.  Conor McGregor’s gonna do exactly what he’s been telling everyone he’s gonna do.   

For a zillion reasons, I can’t help but root for Floyd.  But mostly it’s out of loathing for a few McGregor enthusiasts.  Bryan Callen, resident village idiot within Rogan World, said the other day he’ll move to Ireland to be Conor’s feet-washer, if the Irishman pulls the upset.  Skip Scrotum-Face Bayliss looks like he’s about to start jerking off on air as he tells Floyd Mayweather, Sr. how the uppity Irishman’s gonna put his son in the hospital.  From my vantage point, older, smaller Floyd’s the only one with a chance of getting hurt, so odds be damned, he’s the underdog.  If he’s to push his record past Rocky Marciano, it’ll be in typical fashion: ploddingly methodical, utterly unhittable, scoring points in tactful smatterings – though he claims he cannot allow it to be a defensive fight; that he must “go to” Conor, nobody thinks he’s serious.  Floyd is risking his mental marbles for gold ones – if McGregor gets him with one of those monster left hooks, I hope he goes down, swallows his pride, maintains the brains he was born with.  I pray that Mike Tyson and Max Kellerman are right and Mayweather’s gonna pick McGregor apart like MJ would Lavar Ball, if such basketball blasphemy ever came to fruition.  Call me sentimental, but I don’t wanna see the American black guy, the older, smaller guy, get his brains bashed in by an Aryan Irish madman destined to forever destroy the memory of Gentleman Jim, ‘Real Rocky’ Chuck Wepner, big galoot Gerry Coony and all other Mediocre White Hopes – the Great White Hope is fucking here; his name is Conor McGregor; and he’s about to be bigger than LeBron James.

It’s boxing, perhaps the only institution shadier than politics, so anything might happen.  Example: Mike Tyson didn’t lose to Buster Douglass.  Any decent Tyson documentary will include the clip: Tyson knocking Douglass down, the ref taking 15 seconds to count to ten.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it comes out 50 years from now, that Floyd took a secret ten figure extra payday from the modern day mob to not only lose, but let Conor ritualistically humiliate him – I pray I’m wrong – but I think Conor might beat Floyd senseless, because it’s rigged, or because it isn’t.  Like the election, the whole fucking thing could be pure charade – no way to know.  Last aside: anyone who fights people to earn a living is a lunatic – brave perhaps, etc., ad infinitum, I’m not knocking them – but they are, by definition, insane individuals.

Money Mayweather trains for the showdown at his gym in Las Vegas (Photo by Isaac Brekken) 

Money Mayweather trains for the showdown at his gym in Las Vegas (Photo by Isaac Brekken) 

Back to the unending tantric foreplay which precedes any clusterfuck deemed important enough to dominate social media: McGregor’s detractors see it as absolutely preposterous: a man with no professional boxing experience taking on one of the sport’s all time-greats.  Boxing, however, is one element of mixed martial arts — and Conor McGregor, quite obviously, has been mashing motherfuckers’ faces since he could stand.  And as Mayweather deftly insists, McGregor’s specialty within his dominance of the UFC, has been his ability to knock people the fuck out, with his left fist. 

It’s likely to be incredibly uneventful, or an all-out bloodbath.  The two lunatics with three-syllable M-names have been touring the world, shouting at each other in televised press conferences that, unlike the fight itself, have had no trouble selling out.  Even sportscasters who cheerlead the trash-talking of Muhammad Ali, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan et al, cringed as the two lunatics berated one another – far as performance art goes, Conor has out Mayweather’ed Floyd – of course it’s his cockiness that’s made him so popular, the identical sort of cockiness that’s, for two decades now, made Mayweather unpopular.  The double standard isn’t lost on Floyd.  Fans of Mayweather, an accused wife-beater and general all-around asshole, are fans of greatness.  Unlike Trump supporters, who I think, all in all, are far more racist than they get credit for, Conor’s fans wouldn’t have rooted for Max Schmeling against Joe Louis – but all the racists are pulling for Conor in a way they probably still, despite the ascendance of Trump, feel unsafe expressing freely.  Unwittingly, McGregor’s about to become an Alt-Right icon.  

On that note, during the lowest-common-denominator press conferences, McGregor said things such as “dance for me, boy,” while Mayweather resorted to more generic insults, “pussy,” “faggot,” which seemed completely disingenuous, as if designed to rally the LGBTQ community to McGregor’s corner.  Years ago, Muhammad Ali implored Chuck Wepner to call him nigger at a press conference.  When Wepner refused, Ali claimed Wepner said it to him in the bathroom.  Muhammad Ali would have loved Conor McGregor, as Floyd Mayweather does.  He’s great for the old beloved bottom line.  Though nobody heard it, Mayweather now claims McGregor “called us monkeys,” and it should be noted that nobody within Conor’s inner-circle feels their boy’s a racist – insane how anyone thinks either of these guys capable of abstract thought, lucid political ideology, etc., but we love to project such traits on celebrities…

As McGregor comes off as spontaneously irrepressible as the crude wild-man, with his cauliflower ear, blond Nazi hairdo, menacing chest tattoo, fuck you pinstripes etc., enter Mayweather’s latest incarnation – in a recent ESPN interview, he sounds as shrewdly paradoxical as Louis Farrakhan – an ingenious conman, everything about him is clean… Over 40, a boxer, his skin as unblemished as his record, handsome face unscarred, bald head beautifully round, his teeth wedding gown white, his manner ultra calm, self-effacing, maniacally and self-admittedly calculated, a religious zealot on behalf of greed.  It’s a nuanced performance.  He looks like what he’s become: a cold, calculating mogul – whether he’s being tyrannically egomaniacal for the crowds or self-deprecating with Stephen A. Smith, he couldn’t be smoother, prettier.  Conor couldn’t be any more rugged – but they’re the same guy, from similar backgrounds, poor kids who cashed in dates with destiny.  It’s Horatio Alger Jr. vs. Horatio Alger Sr., though at this point, both are closer to Hearst than say, Booker T. Washington or the Irish immigrants involuntarily conscripted into the Union Army during the War Between the States. 

Say what you will regarding the onerously repulsive aspects to this multi-layered specter of violence, the alternating similarities and stark contrasts between these two men are so aesthetically glorious, so astatically juxtaposed, I find it hard to believe anyone with even the remotest interest in American sports or society will be able to turn away – like the election, you may be too disgusted to vote, but it takes a special sort of monasticism to ignore the outcome altogether.

Endless analogies have been offered up by pundits eager to make sense of the unprecedented shit show – which may not be a shit show at all, may turn out a farce of epic proportions, or just a typically boring Mayweather schooling of yet another fighter not named Floyd Mayweather Jr.  Standup comedian Bill Burr says the boxing rules format is like Jerry Rice competing against Tom Brady to determine who the best football player is, measuring only their ability to throw the football.  To him and countless others, it’s a mockery, of boxing and mixed martial arts, and these two insanely rich men slated to become evermore insanely rich men as a result of the billion dollar bout, which strangely or unsurprisingly, is finding difficulty selling out. 

Like the election, a relative handful of fanatics faithful to their affinity for one candidate’s perceived messianic or antichrist qualities, take it insanely seriously, while the rest of us sit back and wonder how anyone could be excited by the prospect of President Clinton part 2, or President Trump. I’m finding it easier to root for Mayweather than Hillary, but just barely. 

I hate this fight, which on one hand is nothing more than American race porn – and I love it, because it’s sport, and both men, in their own right, are underdogs… Boxing, which continues to reveal itself as less barbaric than American football, is the perfect prism from which to view the American love-hate relationship with hate.  We love when athletes are so direly competitive as to appear to harbor actual hatred for one another – when, that is, their hatred of their opponent is seen as pure, squarely within the ever-narrowing borders of political correctness – our hatreds now must be publicly approved.  How anyone could view either of these men as being about anything other than themselves is beyond me. Nevertheless, hatred’s popularity, as an emotion, is at an all-time high.

Stephen A. Smith asked Mayweather how he would feel if the paying audience at T-Mobile Arena end up rooting against him.  It was the only time I’ve seen a crack in Mayweather’s feathery veneer – it was as if he subconsciously processed a million things: Trump, who he supports; Colin Kaepernick who he hasn’t supported; plus the aforementioned reality that McGregor’s popularity is due in large part, with the white public’s tolerance for white cockiness, and its disdain for the same product wrapped in brown skin – it was as if he did some quick sociological algebra he’d yet to consider: figured the audience in attendance will be overwhelmingly rich, white, male – and the likelihood that despite his flag-waving and Trump supporting, these men are more likely to view Conor as one of their own – and this massive realization served to reinforce, validate and justify what he’s chosen as his sole purpose in life: accumulate material wealth.     

Last note: in a reckless effort to promote ticket sales, Mayweather has agreed to petition the boxing commission to allow he and McGregor to use eight-once gloves – still bigger than UFC gloves, but a technical switch highly advantageous to his opponent.  Perhaps he knows the boxing commission won’t sanction the smaller gloves, but if it does, I’m all the more convinced Mayweather’s in big fucking trouble.  I just don’t see him eclipsing Marciano’s untainted record.  Not this month.  Faulkner would have a field day with this – Dark Abyss in August.  The Age of Trump dictates the fulfillment of White Hope.  When that young white menace right out the Nordic sieve of Western Civ. comes back-flipping at Pretty Boy Floyd, this white man, squarely aligned with Team Five Foot Eight, will be screaming at the screen, “Easy work, Floyd!  Easy work!”, as if I were Floyd Mayweather, Sr.  I don’t think the Alt-Right will handle a McGregor victory well.  The last place I’d want to be come fight time, is at the fight.  The chances for a riot, because the fight lives up to expectation or doesn’t – between the gamblers, racialists, loyalists to fighting-formats, it does seem to be an event without much chance for redemption – for anyone, save perhaps, the Spanish.

---

PRE-POSTSCRIPT ABOUT-FACE

People are crazy and times are strange
I used to care, but things have changed

— Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed"

A few things happened.  First, I watched as McGregor responded to Mayweather’s accusations of monkey-calling.  It was the most genuine bit of footage I’ve seen from either lunatic.    McGregor isn’t a white supremacist.  Mayweather isn’t a black supremacist.  McGregor is a McGregorist and Mayweather’s a Mayweatherist.  They’re genius self-promoters, finely tuned athletes who’ve dedicated the requisite ten thousand hours for mastery.  After watching the apocalyptic shit show in Charlottesville, I no longer give a Frenchman’s fuck who beats who in the billion dollar sideshow.  Call it sporting history, call it Queensbury heresy – it doesn’t mater.     

I keep calling the fighters lunatics – yet, within their madness, they’re actually the sanest people involved.  McGregor stands to make upwards of 150 million dollars; Mayweather, perhaps twice that.  People the world over are being assaulted, bombed, starved, raped, pillaged, and not receiving one cent in compensation.  Assuming the fight itself is on the up and up, it’s a more honest symptom of the human disease than nearly anything else miscalled Western civilization’s pumping out.  The gall of this country, that’s on a trajectory to be selling out stadiums to watch Muslims get fed to wild boars and wildebeests by decade’s end… The NFL (!) with its weekly circle-jerk to the war planes, players’ with mashed potatoes for brains cruelly criminalized for partaking of cannabis, talk about freakish embarrassments to American sports, look no further than the plantation reactionaries unwilling to let Kaepernick sling their pigskin.  Sixteen touchdown passes and four picks – blackballed by one of the many malevolent American sports institutions with a PR budget big enough to push all scrutiny aside.  Doesn’t everyone know by now, what goes on at/in Guantanamo?  Does not everyone remember the images to surface from the American Military Inferno known as Abu Ghraib?  Have you not, and I mean today, seen another unarmed human being murdered by the police in broad daylight?  A pervert is President; we’re 16 years into a nebulous crusade to genocide anyone with good reason not to like us; Trump or no Trump, we insist on calling human beings within our boundaries illegal aliens; and the fight game, monopolized by hallowed boxing until the synchronous, separate ascendances of Mayweather Jr. and the UFC, is a broken record of shameful exploitation – has there ever been a famous boxer not to have been screwed out of most of his fortune?  Well, I can think of one: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.  The Notorious One (McGregor), who’s as famous for being less than five years removed from the Irish welfare rolls as Money Mayweather is for his Rolls Royces, has been wise to plagiarize Floyd’s business plan.  What we’re seeing with Mayweather-McGregor is two athletes asserting unprecedented control over their careers.  The middlemen are fading – they remain, but the days of the Don King stranglehold on prizefighters’ purse strings are done.     

Oh the bullshit being slung around: that Mayweather must win because boxing, the more traditional, elegant fight-game, must defeat this renegade UFC barbarism.  What a vacuous, vicarious culture! that’ll never ever forgive Roberto Duran for saying “no mas.”  You trying fighting Sugar Ray Leonard!  We want to see these guys kill each other, then get all up and arms when they kill each other, when they quit, when they lose, when they win with disappointing titillation quotients. 

The world over which lavishes competition, encourages conquering urges – the urge to conquer and the conquering of urges deemed unnatural.  Who’s anybody kidding?

Here’s the thing: this, this prizefight, combat sports, ought to be the pinnacle of violence within human existence.  That it isn’t – that’s the embarrassment.

To Floyd and Conor, all I can say is good luck lads, I hope you make it – I’m rooting for the both of you.

Campaigning in Los Angeles (Photo by Harry How)

Campaigning in Los Angeles (Photo by Harry How)

German engineered Florian Jungwirth leads the San Jose Earthquakes from the back

Florian Jungwirth has enjoyed a breakout season in the MLS since coming over from Germany's top league in February (photo courtesy of SJearthquakes.com)

Florian Jungwirth has enjoyed a breakout season in the MLS since coming over from Germany's top league in February (photo courtesy of SJearthquakes.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

It may not get as much airtime on American televisions as the English Premier League, but there is little debate that Germany's first division Bundesliga is one of the very best soccer leagues on the planet. Bayern Munich, the league’s flagship club, is one of the most recognizable names in all of sports. Cities in Germany all but shut down for days at a time to support their beloved clubs, stadiums of over 40,000 seats are consistently full, and fans live and die with every result. The NFL in America might be a fair comparison, only the tradition and passion in Germany runs even deeper. As evidenced by the country’s 2014 World Cup title, soccer is everything in Germany, with the Bundesliga serving as a sacred training ground for international glory.

Growing up in Grafelfing, Germany, Florian Jungwirth knew this all too well. He, like countless boys his age shared the rough framework of the same “German soccer dream”: grow up to play professionally in the Bundesliga and one day star on the German National Team. Save for your Dirk Nowitzkis of the world, it was really that simple. Germany offered the best platform, it was up to the players to see if they could rise to the occasion.

Two years ago, at the age of 26, Jungwirth had all but brought his dreams to fruition. No, he was not a member of Germany’s 2014 World Cup title team, but as a teenager he was captain of the U-19 ad U-20 German national youth teams. And by his mid-twenties, he had earned a spot in the first division of the Bundesliga playing for SV Darmstadt 98. Much of the dream had become a reality and he was living it. Sold out stadiums of roaring crowds, intense media coverage, international recognition, the Bundesliga had it all. But then, out of nowhere, Jungwirth received a call from a former teammate. One that stuck with him.

“A couple years ago, while I was playing for Darmstadt in Germany, Gregg Berhalter gave me a call. We played professionally together for 1860 Munich. It was his last year in the Bundesliga (2nd Division) and my first. He had moved on to coach in the MLS with the Columbus Crew. He asked me, ‘would you ever think about coming to play in the MLS?’" explained Jungwirth. “And from that day on I started really following the league. Now here I am.”

Berhalter, an American who played his soccer at the University of North Carolina, made 44 appearances for the U.S. National Team, as well as stints in various professional leagues around the world. Now as a coach in the MLS, he knew reaching out to Europe for players would be a smart way to improve his new team, as well as the league in general. Fortunately, Jungwirth was there on the other end to listen.

Bayern Munich's Arturo Vidal and Darmstadt's Florian Jungwirth vie for the ball during a German Bundesliga first division match in Munich, Germany.

Bayern Munich's Arturo Vidal and Darmstadt's Florian Jungwirth vie for the ball during a German Bundesliga first division match in Munich, Germany.

With the MLS seed planted, Jungwirth and his wife began to keep a close eye on the American league and what it could potentially offer. Cities in California were especially quick to catch the Jungwirths’ eyes. That’s why when new Quakes' general manager Jesse Fioranelli called with a handsome contract offer to play Major League Soccer in the Bay Area, Jungwith couldn’t refuse. “I think my wife would have divorced me if I said no,” Jungwirth reflects with a smile. “45 minutes from the sea, 45 minutes from the mountains, it’s hard to say no to the Bay Area. Playing for the MLS and living in California, for me, it’s the whole package. It was an interesting vision of Jesse. He wanted to create a new idea for the club with a new style of play and he wanted me to be a big part of it. It was hard to say no to that.”

Starting at center back for all 14 Eathquakes games this season, the 5’11”, 174lb Jungwith has made an immediate impact with his new MLS club. Even on the backline, Jungwirth has already recorded two goals and two assists on the young season, leading to a nomination for July’s MLS All-Star Game, as well as talk regarding the MLS newcomer of the year award and the defensive player of the year.

Perhaps Jungwirth’s largest contribution to the Quakes thus far has been his stability on San Jose’s backline. Originally slated to play in the central midfield, Jungwirth was thrust into the center back position after Harold Cummings (a Panama National Team veteran) was lost for the season due to injury. Despite the new role, Jungwirth has played with great effectiveness from Game one. #23 is constantly flying around the pitch making plays, winning 50/50 balls, slide tackling forwards, organizing the defense, orchestrating and building up the offensive attack. Watching him play for just 10 minutes lets you know his feel for the game, his technical skill, and his tactical decision making are all at a premier level. Overall, he’s quickly turned into the impact player that Quakes management were hoping for when they signed him away from the Bundesliga over the winter.

“When I first came to the Earthquakes, Jesse (Fioranelli) wanted me to be a leader. Some of my teammates could have taken that the wrong way, coming from Europe and talking from the first day, but I simply want to help the team. I’m a natural talker on the field and my position requires that. Fortunately, my team has responded well to me and we’ve been successful.”

Of course, Florian’s immediate impact on the Quakes should come as little surprise to those familiar with international soccer and the extremely high level being played in Germany. “Defending World Cup champions” speaks for itself, but the country has built up a system of player development that is second to none across the globe. Products of Germany’s system have an understanding of the tactical side of soccer that few others share. It produces players that know exactly what to do with the ball on seemingly every touch, with efficiency holding more value than flair. From a very young age, German youth are taught the correct way to play, feeding like a funnel all the way up to Germany’s national team. The art of “The Beautiful Game” will never be boiled down into a science, but the Germans might come closer than anyone to doing so.

Florian wore the captain band for Germany's Under-20 Youth National Team (photo by Thomas Starke)

Florian wore the captain band for Germany's Under-20 Youth National Team (photo by Thomas Starke)

From the age of 11, Jungwirth was taught the game in a German soccer academy dedicated to player development. It was not a soccer lab or a factory, but then again, German soccer academies aren’t all that different. Places where future World Cup and Bundesliga stars are engineered just like the latest Mercedes Benz model. For six years (U-16 to U-20) Jungwirth starred on Germany’s youth national team, competing internationally against the best players in the world in his age bracket. For the U-19 team, Jungwirth served as the team captain of the side who won the UEFA European U-19 Championship, beating Italy in the final in the Czech Republic.

When asked about the experience of leading such successful teams in international play at that age, Jungwirth smiles and shrugs it off as no big deal. “The German National Team is at a much different level than something like under-20’s. That is a huge step,” he explains.

Despite not getting the call from the world’s best soccer team, Jungwirth parlayed his success as a junior into a lucrative pro career. Nothing was given to the gritty player, but Jungwirth found a way to latch on with Darmstadt who was at that time in Bundesliga’s second division. But thanks in large part to Jungwirth’s performance, Darmstadt enjoyed one of its best seasons in years, which earned them a spot up in Bundesliga’s fabled first division.

“We were the smallest team in the second division,” explains Jungwirth. “No one was expecting us to do anything. Experts actually thought we were going to drop down to the third division that year. But we ended up going on a 16-game winning streak and we made it into the first division.”

Once there, Jungwirth enjoyed a year and a half playing in Germany’s top league, further developing his game against the world’s best, all with an eye on his own American dream. Now that he’s made the leap of faith to play American soccer in the prime of career, he hasn’t looked back. So far, it has worked out not only on an individual level, but also for the San Jose Earthquakes themselves as the team is in a good position to get back to the MLS playoffs for the first time in five years. Jungwirth doesn’t take this playoff opportunity for granted, as his days in Germany found him stuck behind NBA style super-teams like Bayern Munich.  “In Germany, you can play like you want, but if you are on a small team, you don’t have a real chance against a team like Bayern Munich, but here in the MLS, so many different teams have a chance to win a title. I like that about this league.”

Unlike David Beckham who came over from Real Madrid to play out the twilight of his career with the L.A. Galaxy or Barcelona’s David Villa who is currently doing the same with New York City FC of the MLS, Jungwirth is still very much in the prime of his career. By no means is this some sort of marketing play by Jungwirth to spread his personal brand in an American city while playing some soccer on the side. “Flo,” as his teammates call him, is here to win a professional soccer championship. Something that wasn’t going to be possible across the pond in Europe.  

Without a doubt, the Bay Area’s own Chris Wondolowski still remains the face of the Earthquakes’ franchise, responsible for the lion’s share of the club’s flashiest goals. But in his first season, Jungwirth is quickly showing San Jose faithful why he could be best described as the Quakes’ trusted engineer. Always working, always improving, always producing, but never breaking.    

Florian celebrates with the face of the Quakes franchise, Chris Wondolowski. (photo courtesy of SJearthquakes.com)

Florian celebrates with the face of the Quakes franchise, Chris Wondolowski. (photo courtesy of SJearthquakes.com)

What drives Kristine Anigwe?

Already written into Cal’s record books, when will the sophomore center be satisfied?  

Anigwe has reached 1,000 points faster than any Cal player in history (photo courtesy of pac-12.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

Seated next to her coach in the bowels of Key Arena, Kristine Anigwe couldn’t take it anymore. Like a winter downpour in Seattle, the tears were inevitable at this point, it was only a matter of how long they would last. All anyone could do was pass her a towel.

The 10th seeded Bears had just bowed out in the semifinals of the 2016 PAC-12 tournament, a six point loss at the hands of 3rd seeded UCLA. Anigwe had an outstanding game in defeat, 26 points and 15 rebounds to be exact, both numbers eclipsing her already gaudy season averages of 20 and 9. Numbers unheard of for a freshman. Especially one who didn’t pick up the game of basketball until the 8th grade.

Tasked with the near impossible chore of summing up a season in one post game press conference, fifth year head coach Lindsay Gottlieb chose to sing the praises of her freshman center and the otherworldly year she had. 43-points in a game, national freshman of the year, averaging almost double digit rebounds, scoring more than any frosh in Cal basketball history, the list of accomplishments goes on seemingly forever. But if you learn anything about Kristine Anigwe, all those accomplishments are thrown to the side after a loss. And maybe even forgotten. “Failing is very hard for me,” she says simply on a recent evening in Berkeley. “I dread it. I hate losing. I hate not doing something that I know I could do.”

Losing is something the Cal women did a lot of last season. A fact Anigwe willing shoulders the blame for. Despite her record year, Anigwe is haunted by the fact that it was her beloved coach’s first losing campaign in her Berkeley career. In Gottlieb’s first season as Cal’s coach, she took an NIT team to the NCAA’s. The next year, Gottlieb had the Bears in the Final Four. Now, Gottlieb was at the podium following her first sub .500 season that included a dismal 4-14 mark in the PAC-12. Even so, all the protective coach could do was praise her team’s effort, particularly an emotional Anigwe, who proved incapable of talking. The pain of falling short on Gottlieb’s expectations was too much to bear.

Anigwe fights her emotions following the end of the PAC-12 Tournament in Seattle in 2016 (photo courtesy of Pac-12.com)

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Sitting down with Anigwe behind the scorers table at Haas Pavilion, two things quickly become noticeable. One is that Anigwe isn’t particularly comfortable talking about herself. Another is that she requires some extra room for her legs that power her 6’4” frame up and down the court and even to the rim for dunks (we’ll get to that later.)

She is eating a post workout meal of soft tacos, in the kind of way you’d expect an Olympic Triathlete to eat, with the nutritional value being the most important aspect of the act. The gym is quiet now, except for the welcome squeaks, dribbles and swishes being made by Ivan Rabb. The future NBA first round pick is taking advantage of the vacant floor space, fine tuning his game in the middle of conference play.

The presence of NBA-bound Rabb, along with Anigwe’s upbringing in Phoenix inevitably brings up the topic of the Suns. Steve Nash? Amare Stoudemire? Was she a fan? “No,” she says matter-of-factly, “I grew up watching the Phoenix Mercury. I loved Diana Taurasi. She was a huge inspiration for me.”

Despite having the luxury of a WNBA team in her backyard to look up to and always being the tallest girl in her class, it wasn’t until just before high school that Anigwe found her way onto a basketball court. Fortunately, her area volleyball team was good enough to push her into her calling. “To be honest, back then I tried out for the volleyball team and I didn’t make it. So I went ahead and tried basketball. It’s worked out from there.”

Her two parents, Annette and Christopher, ran a strict household focused primarily on academics and the fruits that books could bear for their four children. Basketball was secondary to Anigwe, up until the time her talent was spotted and she was sent to Colorado Springs to try out for Team USA’s youth program. By the time Anigwe was selected to Team USA and began jett-setting to international tournaments, she started to realize basketball could really take her places. “Don’t get me wrong, I made the team, but the tryouts were really nerve wracking. It seemed like so many great players were getting cut everyday. But after I made that team, I really began to take my basketball career seriously.”  

By her junior year at Desert Vista High School, Anigwe was morphing into a star. In addition to her duties with Team USA’s program, Anigwe was competing on the women’s AAU circuit with the “Arizona Elite” and her trusted coach Kenny Drake. Not only was she playing for his team, but also dedicating herself to attending his private workouts on the side, even if she hated it. “Yes, I often really hated those workouts,” she explains. “Sometimes I would have to sit down in the corner of the gym and take off my shoes, but Kenny would refuse to let me leave the gym until we finished our workouts. He really made me so much better at basketball.”

By the spring of her junior year, Anigwe lead her high school team to an Arizona State Championship. Anigwe was the star that brought the school the glory of a state crown, but true to her personality, she has trouble recalling all the details of the triumph. “I can’t remember if we played in the Suns’ arena or not to be honest, now that you ask. I just remember it being a really fancy place.”

What Anigwe remembers most about her high school career is failing to win back-to-back titles, falling to Goodyear Millennium High in the the Division 1 semifinals. Anigwe took the loss hard, almost completely shutting her down. “It was tough. I remember I didn’t really talk to anyone for like a week. I spent a lot of time in my room just writing in my room. Sleeping, talking to my mom, writing some more. But eventually I realized I had to grow up and move on.”

Anigwe in her final high school game with the Desert Vista Thunder. A semifinal loss in the Arizona state championships. (photo by Nick Cote)

Moving on meant turning her sights to a bright future in the college ranks. By now, she had been named the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, to go along with her eye-popping stats with her AAU club team and gold medals on Team USA’s junior teams. No one could have blamed her if visions of UCONN, Tennessee, or Stanford began to pop into her head. After all, the late-bloomer was now a nationally recognized blue chip recruit. But even with her rising stock shooting through the roof, Anigwe never wavered on her verbal commitment to Berkeley and coach Gottlieb. “In the end, Cal showed interest in me when no one else did. I trusted them at an early age. For me to get super good and decommit is not a part of my character. At the end of the day, you know where your roots are, where your heart is and who has your back.”

With her commitment to Cal solidified, Anigwe overcame the anguish of her senior year defeat by attending the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago, an event reserved for the best 48 men and women high school basketball has to offer. When ESPN personnel realized Anigwe could dunk, they pushed her on the idea of being the lone female in the annual dunk contest, one that has produced a long list of NBA superstars. Anigwe, shy by nature, took a leap of faith and gave it a shot. But with the cameras on and her legs jet-lagged, Anigwe came up empty in her turn to dunk. Naturally, the internet’s reaction was polarizing. From basement bloggers ripping her, to 13-year-old girls congratulating her for rising above the rim with the nation’s best male athletes. Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon ended up beating Anigwe and the rest of the field with a monster dunk, leaping over the head of a standing Jalen Rose.

Nowadays, a google search of Anigwe will no longer lead you straight to her famed dunk attempts at the McDonald’s contest. Instead, you’ll be hit with stories of her 50-point night on December 8th, 2016 versus Sacramento State. Of course, Anigwe doesn’t like to talk about it, but it was a night that put the spotlight back on Cal women’s hoops for the first time in a while here in the Bay Area. In what was a incredible display of efficiency, Anigwe managed to score all 50 points in just 24 minutes of play. Moreover, her 19 buckets were converted on just 23 shots. Virtually every time Anigwe caught the ball, she finished with a basket. With her right hand or her left, midrange or under the basket, Anigwe’s deft touch and uncanny ability to finish around the basket was put on full display for the nation to see. No player, even in the higher scoring men’s game has reached the 50 point plateau. Ed Gray’s 48 against Washington State in 1997 is the closest any Cal player has come. That is until Anigwe did it, using only 24 minutes to do so.

Even with all the attention the 50-point night brought to the program, Anigwe does her best to avoid the topic. “I honestly don’t like talking about the 50 point game. I don’t want my legacy at Cal to be all about one 50 point game. I want it to be, ‘Kristine helped take a team to the Final Four.’ Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun game. But I want to help change the program and be a part of an incredible team at Cal.”

Despite being apprehensive to talk about her personal accomplishments, Anigwe is never at a loss for words when speaking about those around her. After all, the Media Studies major has visions of a career in broadcast journalism after she hangs up her sneakers. “Kristine’s Korner” is already a broadcast platform she has dabbled with in the past, and hopes to do more of.

If she had it her way, she’d do some features of some of her favorite people in Berkeley including her trusted coach Gottlieb, who Anigwe describes as “Incredibly caring. Caring about her players, caring about the program.” Anigwe also is quick to deflect praise on her trusted point guard Asha Thomas. A sophomore from Oakland’s Bishop O’ Dowd High School, Thomas is responsible for keeping the Bears calm and confident, even in the hairiest of situations. “Even when there is fire all around her, she always leads us in a calm way,” explains Anigwe. Thomas’ love for her home city of Oakland and its deep rooted culture is also something Anigwe enjoys being exposed to. “She just loves Oakland and repping the Bay Area. Always trying to teach me new Oakland lingo. She tries to keep me hip that way.”

Anigwe rises for a dunk attempt at the McDonald's All-American Dunk Contest in 2015. (Photo courtesy of bearinsider.com)

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Now over halfway through her sophomore campaign, with the dust settled from her 50-point barrage, Anigwe is focused on navigating her team back into the NCAA tournament, a place Coach Gottlieb is so used to being, but where Anigwe has yet to find. This season started as good as ever. Ignited by Anigwe’s nightly double-doubles, Cal started the year 13-0, the best start in program history by a wide margin. Unfortunately, this has given way to a 3-7 start in league play. A disappointing result that has eaten away at Anigwe thus far.

As a player and as a person, Anigwe is often times more driven by the fear of failure that the feeling of success. She admits this can be a gift and a curse. Her coach recently told the Mercury News, “Kristine is the most self-motivated player we’ve ever had here. It’s not close.” But this self-motivation has its costs, as it can put blinders on the ability to see and appreciate success as its unfolding in the moment. Explains Anigwe, “People think I’m just running through life without appreciating things or digesting accomplishments, and yes, it can be lonely. But to me it is scary to fail, so I’m always looking for ways to get better and avoid that failure.”

Even if Anigwe were to give her coach the gift of another Final Four trip at Cal, there is a good chance Anigwe will be wrapped up in her obsession to improve her game indefinitely. Beyond her Cal career looms the light of more basketball in the WNBA, not to mention the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, or her post playing career endeavors into the media business, or even a crusade to close the wage gap in women’s sports like basketball, soccer and the like.

Whether or not Kristine Anigwe will successfully overcome her dread of failure still remains to seen. But rest assured, she’ll leave a wake of her defeated opponents on the way to defining her own definition of success.

Darius Allensworth wears the memory of his childhood friend as the cornerstone of Cal’s defense

"DA" will lead the Bears in 2016 as one of Cal's veteran defenders. (Photo via www.instagram.com/ovo_da2/)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

As a young kid growing up in Southern California, star Cal cornerback and team captain Darius Allensworth had nobody to play Sony Playstation with. With no brothers or sisters in his immediate family, Allensworth was forced to play video games alone, often begging his father, James, to sit down and play a game or two with him, usually to no avail.

The game most often in question, NFL Blitz, featured Allensworth’s favorite player Randy Moss repeatedly hauling in 70-yard touchdown catches alongside hall-of-famer Cris Carter. A video game that favored passing to a laughable degree, every game of NFL Blitz was a nightmare scenario for defensive backs, especially when Moss and Carter were sent deep with young Allensworth behind the control sticks.

When James finally did agree to sit down and face his son in a game of Blitz, he wanted to make sure he taught Darius a lesson. The rule was simple: If Darius lost to his dad, he couldn’t touch the Playstation for a full week.

“My dad would always play me with the Colts and I would take Moss and the Vikings,” explained the younger Allensworth. “Well, my dad would win and take away my Playstation for a week. At first I thought he was joking or something, but he was dead serious. ‘You need to learn how to win’ is what he would tell me. And that was it. I was done for a week.”

Despite not having a bigger sibling in the house to toughen him up, the simple lessons on competitiveness from his dad started to pay off at an early age for Allensworth as he involved himself in seemingly every sport he could find, including basketball, soccer and baseball. Football, of course, was another one of Allensworth’s talents, and his father couldn’t help but see the potential in his son and try to cultivate it.

With a future scholarship in mind and the bright lights of big-time high school football, Allensworth moved away from his middle school friends to go live with his father in Corona, CA and play for perennial power Centennial High. Despite his success on varsity as a freshman, Allensworth felt the strain of being away from his mom Sonja and all the friends he went to middle school with. He was homesick and wanted out of Corona, but there was one problem: his friends from home were all going to Heritage High, a brand new school that barely was fielding a team at the time.

“My dad was furious,” explains Allensworth about his abrupt decision to leave Centennial. “I was at a school where tons of players get scholarships to go play D1, and here I was leaving to go to Heritage which was new and an unknown. My dad warned me I would regret it, but I just missed my best friends.”

James’ concerns were more than valid, especially when you consider his son was leaving a football factory to go to a school that first carried a tackle football team in 2009. Not exactly the blueprint to become a PAC-12 starter, but Darius was willing to roll the dice. If his friend from middle school named Donovan Adams was around, Allensworth figured he’d be ok.

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Allensworth has totaled 73 tackles over the first two years of his Cal career. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey)

 

Growing up, Adams was two years older than Allensworth. A gifted athlete in his own right, Adams first met Allensworth in middle school, where the two shared their love for sports. Adams was always a beloved kid around town that Allensworth made sure to look up to. When Allensworth returned from his stint in Corona, Adams was there waiting, and their relationship quickly took off. “When I got to Heritage, Donovan was a senior and I was a sophomore. He really did take me under his wing. I was too young to drive so he would pick me up, take me to work out with him. He built a relationship with me and introduced me to all the coaches and showed me around the school. He was really there for me when I moved back.”  

Allensworth only got to play one season alongside his friend before Adams moved onto college, but the two made the most of their time together, not only winning games on the field, but helping to build a high school football program from scratch, literally. “Tackle football didn’t start there until 2009 and I was a sophomore in 2010. Me and my friends had to basically pioneer the recruiting process at Heritage. It was so new to everyone. I remember I got my first scholarship offer from Arizona and had to call my high school coach to let him know. He was really surprised to be honest. It was all so new to everyone.”

By the time Adams had graduated from Heritage, he had successfully laid a solid foundation for Allensworth to follow before moving on to Fort Lewis College, a Division II school in Colorado. But after a short stint in the mountains, Adams returned to Southern California to attend Riverside Community College and take a shot at Division I. On June 6, 2012, tragedy struck the Heritage High family, as Adams was killed in a car crash, just days before Allensworth was set to finish his junior year of high school.

“It was kind of a crazy time. He was respected by so many. It happened with four days left in school. Teachers canceled the rest of the year. Finals weren’t held. His open casket funeral was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. That and the funeral here for Ted Agu.”  

Following the tragedy of his close friend, the local community was left in shock, doing whatever they could to keep Adams’ memory alive. Allensworth was forced to train for his senior season without his trusted workout partner and mentor. He also had to decide where to go to college. Arizona, UCLA and Wisconsin all gave offers, but Allensworth kept one important factor in mind: Donovan Adams' favorite college was Cal.

“When we were younger, Donovan was a big DeSean Jackson fan. And he always carried around this Cal lanyard for like two straight years. Even though we were from So-Cal, he loved Cal,” explains Allensworth. “When Jeff Tedford offered me a scholarship and I visited Berkeley, it all just felt right. Even when Tedford left, it still felt like the right place for me.”

Following an ACL tear in his knee during the fourth game of his senior season, Allensworth would spend his first year up in Berkeley as a redshirt. In his first action in 2014, he came off the bench and played beautifully, earning a starting role last season where he showed he can shut down some of the best receivers in the country. Now as a junior, Allensworth is considered a legit NFL prospect, a team captain, and preseason candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the nation’s top defensive back). In short, he might very well be the most important player on Cal’s entire defense.

Last year, Allensworth started all 13 games and accounted for 11 pass breakups and 41 tackles. Known around the PAC-12 as a technically sound corner, Allensworth seems to always be in the right place at the right time, routinely in lockstep with downfield receivers and rarely out of position when the ball is thrown his way.

Allensworth has also drawn on the wisdom of his current cornerback coach at Cal, John Lovett. Lovett is about as experienced as they come, having coached at the highest levels around the nation in both college in pro. His most recent job was coaching the defensive backs of the Philadelphia Eagles alongside Chip Kelly. “He brings an NFL mentality to the table,” Allensworth says of Lovett. “He’s honestly taken my game to another level.”

It is no secret that during the course of the Bear Raid era, the Golden Bears have often left much to be desired on the defensive side of the ball. Allensworth has heard the skeptics over the course of his career, but now as he moves into his role as captain, he knows cooler heads must prevail. In explaining the mentality the defense must take on, Alllensworth says, “You have to play free out there. Fast and physical. Playing with pressure is how you get beat. We can’t play with doubt in our head.”

This is easier said then done, especially with the cadre of QB’s the PAC-12 is featuring this year including UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Washington’s Jake Browning. There’s no doubt Allensworth will be tested each and every week with the kind of schedule Cal has this year.

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Darius and his Heritage High teammates honor their late friend, Donovan Adams. (Photo via www.instagram.com/ovo_da2/) 

As Allensworth embarks on his fourth year on campus at UC Berkeley, he can’t help but feel the allure of an NFL contract that could be his with a stellar junior season for the Bears. After all, one of Allensworth’s best friends on the team the last three years has been Jared Goff, this year’s number 1 pick. “J-Smooth! That’s my boy, man,” laughs Allensworth. Every time I watch (HBO’s) Hard Knocks and see him make a bad throw, I have to text him. We’re really close.”

But even with the laundry list of ex-Cal players succeeding in the NFL, Allensworth still manages to keep a level head when talking about himself. He chooses to focus on his friends who helped him get to where he is and the team that he’s taking the field with in Berkeley this year. His laid back, easygoing nature seems to put everyone around him at ease, until the whistle blows and it’s time to lock down the receivers across from him. “I’m definitely a different person out there on the field,” he assures.

A sociology major in the classroom at Cal, Allensworth has taken an interest in the subject and how it breaks down people’s opportunities in life. “I feel like these are important things to learn about especially in the times we are living in today with all the shootings and poverty rates that have been going on. I think it’s really important to know where everyone is coming from and Berkeley has helped me with that,” he says.

Regardless of where Allensworth's life steers him after football, he is always quick to remind you that Donovan Adams will go there with him, ready to help him through any challenges that may arise. For the third season in a row now, Allensworth has worn a piece of Adams on his back, in the form of the number 2. A number Adams coveted during his days at Heritage High. “He wouldn’t let anyone else wear number 2. Wouldn’t even let people try it on. It was his number. But now I get to wear it in his honor at Cal.”

When Allensworth is explaining this, the serious significance of #2, he gazes up at the top rows of Memorial Stadium, remembering Donovan. “Up there in Section PP, that’s where he was with his mom Eileen in 2010. Up there for the UCLA game. He was rooting for Cal I’m sure.”

Cal will host UCLA again this year; this time it will be two days after Thanksgiving. But even if Donovan Adams isn’t in Section PP that night, Darius Allensworth doesn’t believe he’ll be playing that game alone. The older DA will be up there somewhere. Rooting on the Golden Bears.

Forged in the Windy City, Charlie Moore embarks on a career at Cal

Charlie Moore has drawn comparisons to another Chicago turned Berkeley point guard, Jerome Randle. (photo courtesy CalBears.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

 

It’s early August in Berkeley and Charlie Moore has no idea he’s late for his scheduled interview. Seemingly oblivious of his surroundings, the soon-to-be college freshman is planted on the wing on the north side of Haas Pavilion, launching three-pointers in perfect rhythm. Rarely hitting the rim, his calm facial expression doesn’t waver. Catch, release, swish, repeat. The pattern, reminiscent of a Steph Curry pre-game warm up show at Oracle Arena, never seems to change.   

By this time in the evening, members of the women’s Cal volleyball team have taken over the better part of the floor as hip-hop music engulfs the gym. The crowded floor now pushing him further into the corner, Moore remains intent on continuing his shooting bender for as long as possible. At this point, the idea of sitting down and talking about himself for 45 minutes is the last thing on his mind.

“I apologize for making you wait, I was just getting a few shots up,” Moore sheepishly explains to me when he is finally corralled off the court. His baby-face and calm voice providing all the sincerity one could ask for. Now that he’d had his daily fix of basketball, young Charlie had my undivided attention. Beside maybe on a game of NBA 2K17, the basketball junkie from Chicago had nowhere else to be.

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To understand Charlie Moore’s story, it helps to first look at his resume. And the most impressive bullet point reads as follows: “2016 Illinois Mr. Basketball.” Fortunately, the accolade speaks for itself, as Moore seems to have no intention of reminding others of how good he really is.

Generously listed at 5’11”, 170, if you saw Moore walking through campus this fall, you’d surely suspect him of being a Berkeley High student sampling the college life, long before guessing he is the latest prized recruit on Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Cal basketball team. And when you learn that Moore was recently named the best player in the best basketball city in America, it almost requires a double take. This kid did what?

The last four winners of Illinois’ Mr. Basketball Award are a who's who of star players. Ryan Boatright won the award in 2011, and went on to lead UCONN to a national title in 2014. Jabari Parker won in both 2012 and ‘13, then went on to star at Duke before being drafted no. 2 overall by the Bucks. Jahlil Okafor followed in 2014 and won the national title with Duke as a freshman before going no. 3 overall to the Sixers. 2015 saw Jalen Brunson win the award and proceed to win the national title with Villanova this past season. In 2016, Moore quietly etched his name onto the prestigious list of Illinois greats.

His explanation for his success you ask? “My dad (Curtis Moore) put me in the gym at a young age, and I love basketball, so I kept myself in the gym,” says Moore. “I always stayed focused and kept working at my craft.” The simple recipe led Moore to extraordinary results on the court, and goes far in explaining his personality in general.

On the court, Moore plays with a passion and toughness you would expect from an undersized guard who grew up in the gyms of Chicago’s gritty South Side. Fearless with the ball in his hands, Moore attacks the rim repeatedly during games, often finding himself on the free-throw line completing a hard earned three point play. When he’s not throwing his body around on drives through the paint, Moore is equally comfortable launching three-pointers from well beyond the arc. He’s repeatedly squared off with Chicago’s toughest guards, in the city’s biggest games and matched or exceeded their intensity. A showman on the court, Moore often breaks out the Draymond Green signature flexing gesture after laying waste to a defender. His quiet rage sometimes bubbling over a calm, floor-general-type presence.

But off the court, there are no signs of the brutal toughness needed to succeed in the windy city Moore is from. Instead, he comes across as patient, calm and cordial. The type of person who would rather gloss over his laundry list of basketball accomplishments in favor of talking about his older brother’s master's degree classes or all the time his father put into helping Charlie improve as a youngster. A person who enjoys going to class everyday and has no qualms about staying home on a Friday night to watch his favorite show, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” It’s a simple life, and Charlie seems to like it that way.

Charlie running the point for the Mac Irvin Fire, one of the top AAU programs in the country. (photo courtesy of MacIrvin.com)

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Born and raised in basketball-crazed Chicago, Charlie quite literally had a basketball placed in his crib by his father Curtis. From day one, Charlie hardly held interest in other sports, instead following his dad’s lead and dedicating himself to hoops. A friend of the late Benji Wilsongrowing up, Curtis taught Charlie everything he knew about the game of basketball, never hesitating to drive him to another tournament or pick him up from a late-night practice across the city. If there was trouble in the neighborhood surrounding Charlie, he hardly was affected by it. “My father never let me get involved in negative things. He would drive me if I needed to get to a practice or game. He always kept me in the gym which helped a lot,” explains Charlie.

By middle school, Moore was a star on Chicago native Michael Finley’s “Bumble Bees” AAU team. By the end of his eighth grade year, Moore took a step up and was selected onto arguably the best AAU team in the country, the Mac Irvin Fire. From there, rumors of an undersized guard from Chicago with slick handles and unlimited range began to build. Moore began traveling the country with the Fire, proving himself against the best players he could find, never coming close to backing down.

For high school, Moore chose Morgan Park, a team coached by Mac Irvin’s son, Nick. It certainly didn’t take long for little Charlie to shine at the high school level, as the 5 foot 5 freshman helped contribute to a state championship for the school. As a sophomore and bigger contributor, Moore would win the state title yet again. But despite his success, major Division I colleges weren’t exactly beating down Moore’s door with offers. “Some of my offers in high school came relatively late,” explains Moore. “But Cal was definitely one of the early ones.” 

When it came time for Moore’s senior season and time for him to pick a college, he was faced with his life’s biggest challenge as his father suffered through a sudden stroke and became extremely ill. While Charlie helped nurse his father back to health, he chose to follow in Derrick Rose’s footsteps and play his college ball at Memphis for young coach Josh Pastner and his assistant Damon Stoudamire. But things changed in the eleventh hour when Pastner left to coach Georgia Tech and Stoudamire was named the head coach at the University of the Pacific, leaving Moore time to reconsider his future and eventually choosing to come to Berkeley and play for Coach Martin. The tumultuous year ended with Moore averaging 28 points in his senior season, despite not meeting the team’s expectations of another state title run. But more importantly, Charlie’s dad health slowly began to improve.

When Moore takes the floor at Haas Pavilion this November he will be following in a long line of Chicago stars who have found success in Berkeley including Dennis Gates, Sean Lampley and Jerome Randle. Randle, who’s game mirrors Moore’s in both style and stature, was named the PAC-10 Player of the Year as the Bears' point guard in 2010. Naturally, Moore has looked up to Randle over the years. “Jerome and I have a great relationship. He’s a great guy and had a great career out here in California, and I have always respected the way he played coming out of Chicago,” said Moore.

Coach Martin was also thrilled to land a player like Moore when one considers that Martin fashioned himself as a resilient player from an inner-city in the Midwest (East St. Louis). In many ways, Moore sets up as perfect fit to run Martin’s offense and overall style of hard-nosed basketball he brought to Berkeley two years ago. “When people think about Chicago basketball, they think, ‘where can I get tough players that will run through a wall for me?’” explains Kurtis Ellison, Charlie’s assistant coach at Morgan Park. “That’s what Coach Martin is going to get in Charlie.”  

Since Moore has moved across the country to start a new chapter of his life in Berkeley, he’s had time to reflect on the career he left behind in Chicago. One filled with record breaking performances, multiple state championships, and one “Mr. Basketball” crown. Mention him in the same breath as Chicago high school legends such as Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway and Dwayne Wade and you will likely get more nods than arguments in gyms across Illiniois. Up to this point, his body of work speaks for itself.

But now in the Bay Area, far from familiar friends and family, Moore will be forced to start over and build a new basketball legacy from scratch for west coast fans to appreciate. Fortunately for Moore, he’s more than happy to do so. Just don’t ask him to tell you about it, he’d rather prove it to you out on the court.

Charlie receives a hug from his high school coach, Nick Irvin. (photo by Eddie Quinones) 

Life on Death Row: A Warriors 1993-2016 Draft Retrospective

"With the 8th pick of the 1997 NBA Draft, the Golden State Warriors select Adonal Foyle from Colgate University." (photo by Craig Jones)

By Josh Hunsucker | @JPHunsucker

For the majority of my life and Warriors fandom, NBA draft week brought upon me the mindset of a death row inmate hoping against hope, but ultimately accepting my inevitable execution.  For almost twenty years, I sat in front of the TV on draft night praying my death sentence will somehow get commuted.  With the exceptions of 1993 (Chris Webber) and 2001 (Jason Richardson) the Golden State Warriors carried out my draft day execution until they miraculously stumbled into Steph Curry in 2009 and General Managers Larry Riley and Bob Meyers outlawed the draft day death penalty in 2012.

Not to deny the entire morbid draft history of the Warriors, but 1993 seems like a good place to start. I could have started in 1980 when the Warriors made the single worst trade in the history of the NBA.  I could talk about how before the 1980 draft the Warriors traded Robert Parish and the 3rd pick to Boston for the 1st and 13th pick in the draft.  And how the Warriors ended up with a one time All-Star, Joe Barry Carroll, and a career 4.4 PPG guy, Rickey Brown, and how Boston got a slightly better deal in The Chief and Kevin McHale, considering they combined for four World Championships (three with the Celtics), 16 All-Star appearances, two spots on the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, and two hall of fame plaques.  But I won’t start there, mostly because I would have to painstakingly relive every Warrior draft blunder, every year, until 1993 with the exception of 1985 (Chris Mullin), 1988 (Mitch Richmond), 1989 (Tim Hardaway), and 1992 (The Oakland Strangler Latrell Sprewell), and OK, the 1991 Chris Gatling pick but that is for sentimental reasons more than anything.

Hope in Reality is the Worst of All Evils

In 1993, I was 11 years old, mesmerized by Michael Jordan, had a favorite player in Chris Mullin that I could completely identify with (white, lanky, left-handed, forward), exposed to the Fab Five and second favorite player Jalen Rose (lanky and left-handed, trash talker), and just witnessed the greatest basketball team ever assembled win the gold medal in Barcelona.  I was completely hooked on basketball and excited for the possibility that the Warriors would draft Chris Webber.  I knew that Orlando would likely pick him but the night before the draft I prayed to God for the Warriors to get Chris Webber.  The next day when the Magic drafted him I was sad but not surprised.  Ten minutes later Penny Hardaway and Webber were trading hats (and the Warriors were giving Orlando three additional future 1st round picks).  "There is a God," I thought.  

The 1993 trade draft night trade that sent Penny Hardaway to Orlando and no. 1 pick C-Webb to Oakland (photo by Nathaniel S. Butler)

However, my prayers were only answered for a year.  Webber, citing irreconcilable differences with then coach Don Nelson, exercised an exit clause in his contract and forced a trade with the Washington Bullets for Tom Gugliotta.  Webber’s rookie season, 1993-94, was the last time the Warriors would reach the playoffs until 2007.

Stranded On Death Row – The Chris Cohan Era Begins

1994 - The Warriors had the 16th pick in the 1994 draft, after making the playoffs the previous year.  They selected Cliff Rozier a forward from Louisville.  Cliff gave the Golden State two solid years of 5 PPG and 5 RPG (I’m rounding up) before getting shipped to Toronto a game into his 3rd year.  The Warriors missed out on the majority of the top players in the draft by having the 16th pick (Jalen Rose went to Denver at 13) but just for fun let’s mention, all of whom they passed up, Aaron Mckie (17th), Wesley Person (23rd), and Heisman Trophy Winner Charlie Ward (26th).  I can live with passing those guys up because no coach or GM will ever get it right 100% of the time or even 60%.  Oh yeah, the Warriors picked Anthony Miller (39th) and Dwayne Miller (44th) in the second round.  Who are they you ask?  Good question.

1995 - After going 26-56 the Warriors had the 1st pick in the draft for the second time in three years.  Golden State selected Joe Smith who the previous year was the National Collegiate Player of the Year at Maryland.  Smith wasn’t a bad pick but I wanted them to either pick Jerry Stackhouse or Rasheed Wallace, players that had a game more suited for the NBA.  Smith was the classic tweener that the Warriors habitually picked from ‘93-'08 and only learned how to effectively fit into a championship roster in the last three years.  In case you are not privy to a “tweener,” it’s a player that is between 6'8" to 6'11", that played in the post in college, does not have a developed outside or face-up game, took advantage of smaller and less skilled opponents growing up, is too small to play in the post in the NBA, but too slow to guard anyone on the wing. Overall, it's a player that no team in the NBA effectively used in the Pre-Draymond Green era.

Smith played only two years for the Warriors, earning First Team All-Rookie honors and averaging 17 and 8 before moving on to his second of 11 teams in his 14-year career.  The Warriors could have drafted literally anyone else but for the sake of clarity, the the Warriors passed up: Kevin Garnett (5th), Rasheed “Hash Weed/Ball Don’t Lie” Wallace (4th), Jerry Stackhouse (3rd), Michael Finley (21st), Damon Stoudamire (7th), Antonio Mcdyess (2nd), and Eric Snow (43rd).  Hindsight being 20/20, passing on KG leaves a deep, slow burn.  They did however draft Andrew Declercq in the second round, starting the trend of picking under-talented white big men, which is nice.  At least they didn’t draft the legendary Constantine Popa, although maybe they should have.

The Nadir

1996 - This was, hands down, not only the worst pick in Warriors history, which I discussed in detail here (yes, worse than Chris Washburn), it was the worst pick in NBA history.  GM Dave Twardzik and the Warriors selected, gulp, Todd (pause…look down) Fuller with the 11th pick.  It’s ok, I am wearing footwear without laces.  They passed up on the greatest player of the post-Jordan/pre-LeBron generation, whether you like him or not, Kobe Bryant (13th), Steve Nash aka Steph 1.0 (more on that later) who was on the top of my draft board (15th), Jermaine O'Neil, but hey, at least we got Zombie Jermaine in 2013 (17th), Peja Stojakovic (14th), and Derek Fisher (24th).  In completely a completely related story the Warriors went 30-52 thanks directly to Fuller’s 4 PPG and 3.3 RPG he chipped in every night.

The Class of '96 (not pictured: Todd Fuller)

Just to recap, we passed on Hall of Famer Kobe and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash for a guy who almost pulled out of the draft to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship and hosts the “Todd Fuller Math Competition” at NC State (all true).  Let it soak in.  Is your skin crawling yet?  OK, let’s move on.

Dave Twardzik and Gary St. Jean – General Mismanagement

1997 - Apparently, the Warriors scouts in 1996 and 1997 rated College GPA as the most important characteristic in a potential draft pick because they followed the unforgivable Todd Fuller pick with another college wiz-kid, Adonal Foyle, with the 8th pick a year later.  Adonal spent 10 fruitless years on the Warriors averaging no higher than 6 PPG and 7 RPG.  Personally, I hated Foyle for the first eight years he was on the Warriors.  He was a five-tool player: slightly overweight, inept offensively, slow defensively, had terrible feet (my dad’s number one pet peeve for big men), and combined that with atrocious hands. 

The Warriors twisted the knife when they flushed $42 million dollars down the toilet for six straight years when they re-signed Adonal in 2004.  The next year Foyle finally found a place in my heart.  I accepted that although he was a terrible player, he played harder than anyone on the floor every night for teams that consistently went through the motions every season. For that alone, Foyle reached cult status in the East Bay, albeit for all of the wrong reasons.  In the end, Foyle did set one NBA record with the Warriors, most games played without reaching the playoffs (641).

Oh by the way, Golden State passed up on Tracy McGrady (9th), Bobby Jackson (23rd), and pre-career ending injury Derek Anderson (13th) in '97.  They also picked the infamous Marc Jackson at no. 37, who gave the Warriors one good season and one amazing quote “Unstoppable Baby” after scoring a layup in a 29-point blowout.

1998 - The Warriors had the fifth pick after finishing with 19 solid wins in 1997.  Thank God they didn’t win the lottery because they would have picked Michael Olowokandi.  Golden State really wanted to pick Antawn Jamison but didn't want to pay him the rookie salary for the number five pick.  So, in an underhanded, cheap, stupid, and classic Warriors draft move, they agreed with Toronto to draft Vince Carter and then swap players after they picked one spot after the Raptors.  Jamison disappointed his rookie year as Carter lit up the NBA and highlight reels on his way to the rookie of the year.  Jamison did have a few decent years on some bad Warriors teams and had the back-to-back 51-point games against the Sonics (RIP) and Shaq/Kobe Lakers.

However, mostly Jamison is remembered for the bad taste his Warriors career left in the mouths of fans because we traded Vince Carter for him straight up.  Just for fun, that year the Warriors passed up the aforementioned Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki (9th), and Paul Pierce (10th).

Karmically, Jamison was dealt to Washington where he a) transformed his tweener game b) turned into an all-star and c) went to the playoffs with essentially the same nucleus (Arenas/Jamison) as he had in Golden State.

1999 - Due to some bad trades, the Warriors got stuck with the 21st pick in the 1999 draft and threw it away with tweener Jeff Foster, not to be confused with Oakland legend Greg Foster.  Golden State could have picked Andrei Kirilenko (24th) but opted for the “safer” Foster who was then traded for three time All-NBA Cool Name first-teamer Vonteego Cummings.  Coincidentally, Vonteego’s career was cut tragically short due to lack of talent as he only played three years in the NBA.  Golden State also picked their third white center and second left-handed white center when they drafted Tim Young with the 56th pick.  On behalf of all Warrior fans, I’d like to thank Tim Young for only making us suffer through a 137-minute Warrior career because it was mercifully shorter than his predecessors.

2000 - Golden State did not have a first round pick in 2000, a lingering after effect of the Webber trade years before.  They did have the 55th pick in the draft though and they used it on, wait, guess the height…YUP 6'7"…guess the position…YES! Power Forward… guess his style of play…WOW three for three, TWEENER.  Chris Porter lasted one year in the NBA and has been plagued by drug arrests ever since.

Execution Stayed

2001 - Finally a good draft, Gary St. Jean is back baby! The Warriors picked Jason Richardson with the 5th pick in the draft.  He won two dunk contests that brought some minor media attention to Golden State.  He played hard and had a nice all around game that continued to develop every year.  He was the right pick, finally they made a good choice. 

The Warriors also picked up Troy Murphy at no. 14.  Although he fit into the classic tweener mold, he extended his game outside and became an effective player for the Warriors averaging 15-11 in his fourth season and finishing three seasons averaging a double double.  The Warriors best pick that year was the diamond in the rough of the draft, Gilbert Arenas, who they picked in the second round with the 30th pick.  In his two years with the Warriors he began to blossom into a potential elite point guard.  After his second year, even though he publically said he wanted to stay in Golden State, and after the Warriors had a nice nucleus of Jamison, Richardson, and Arenas the Warriors failed to resign him.  Good thing the Warriors saved the money because he only averaged 22.4, 25, and 25.8 PPG over the next three years for Washington and was a perennial All-Star until knee trouble and locker room gun trouble began to catch up to him. 

A hidden gem of the 2001 draft, Gil Arenas (Rocky Widner)

Snap Back to Reality – Stranded on Death Row Part 2

2002 - The Warriors found themselves near the top of the lottery in 2002 after an abominable 21-61 record in the 2001 season.  They ultimately lost out on the Yao Ming sweepstakes and had the number three pick.  They picked Mike Dunleavy from Duke.  Dunleavy had become “the sexy pick” that year after his hot shooting propelled Duke to the National Championship.  The truth was, Dunleavy was too soft, too weak, and not quick enough to guard perimeter players in the NBA.  Golden State got four solid years of Dunleavy getting dunked on and falling down regularly, but only got 13.4 PPG and 5.5 RPG from him in his “standout” season as a Warrior. 

At this point, I am not going to even mention Jiri Welsch.  I will mention however, that Golden State could have selected Ama’re Stoudamire (9th), Caron Bulter (10th), Tayshaun Prince (23rd), John Salmons (26th), Roger Mason (30th), and Carlos Boozer (34th).

2003 - The Warriors picked Mikael Pietrus, from France, with the 11th pick.  When I heard about the pick I naturally assumed he was a white foreign center, likely a lefty, who had played against nobodies in Europe and would be a bust.  Boy was I wrong.  He was a black guard from Europe, who played against nobodies, could only average around 10 PPG, and would be nothing more than a role player.  Thank God we wasn’t a bust. 

Pietrus actually was a nice asset for the Warriors coming off the bench.  Not really what you want out of your lottery pick but I can’t complain, given the Warriors draft history.  The Warriors did manage not to pick Davis West (18th), Kendrick Perkins (27th), and Josh Howard (29th).  It also hurt to see Pietrus’ near inability to miss corner threes during the 2009 Orlando Magic playoff run (until the Finals).  He and Adonal were two blown games away from heading to L.A. with a 3-2 series lead.  I just can’t fathom Adonal Foyle and NBA Champ in the same sentence. Does he get a ring as Warriors Community Ambassador? Maybe.

Appeal Denied – Chris Mullin Made That Pick? I’m Just Going to Tell Myself it was Dave Twardzik or Gary St. Jean

2004 - After the 2003 Pietrus-white-European player scare, I didn’t dare fathom the Warriors going that route again.  Wait, yes I did. Never underestimate the power of the “Golden State Principal of Draft Counter Intuition,” which scientifically proves that picking Andris Biedrins, a left-handed white center from Latvia was the illogical but inevitable move for the Warriors.  Bad words were said, emotions were high, I was again floored.  I would have rather had Trevor Ariza (43rd), Richard Jefferson (15th), or maybe even Josh Smith (17th), just not Andris. At one point I even talked my way into this thought, “If Biedrins can learn to move his feet, not foul, get some meat on his bones, make free throws, work on his game in the off season instead of Disk Jockeying, and not get hurt at the thought of playing basketball, he could be a solid double-double guy for the Warriors. I was wrong.

2005 - After the turn of the millennium it looked like the Warriors might be fixing their draft karma after solid overall drafts in 2001 and 2003.  Then the Ike Diogu incident happened.  Even I bought into Diogu from the outset.  Well, after one year and 7 PPG I stopped being a believer and so did Golden State.  Good thing they passed up world champion Andrew Bynum (10th), Danny Granger (17th), and Nate Robinson (21st).  There is absolutely no way they could have used those guys.  They did find their second diamond in the rough in Monta Ellis, however. 

On a side note, shouldn’t the NBA have a mandatory motorcycle, ATV, and MOPED safety course?  Monta was a quintessential Warriors overrated draft pick. Since he wasn't a total bust and actually became the team’s first or second banana for the majority of his Warriors career, fans tend to forget that he shot the Warriors out of more games than he shot them into, that he led the league in foot on the line three-pointers, that he played no defense, and wasn’t the greatest teammate in the world (“Me and Steph can’t co-exist in the same backcourt”). Fans loved him mostly because he was a good player on a bad team and maybe because he got a Dubs tattoo and said “I’m Warriors for life.”

Monta repping The Bay to the fullest extent.

2006 - The Warriors improved marginally in 2005 (although the win column did not reflect it) and carried that momentum into the 2006 season.  Golden State, on the other hand, tried relentlessly in the 2006 draft to sabotage their future and unfortunately they succeeded.  For starters, they selected Black Irishman Patty O'Bryant, a classic tweener over Rajon Rando (21st).  I would have even taken JJ Redick (11th) over O'Bryant.  I am not even going to get into it about Kosta Perovic.  Except for the fact that he, Marco Belinelli, and Biedrins looked like the Russian mob when they are on the bench in suits and I suppose that intimidation factor is important.

The Warriors did however win 42 games that year and snuck into the playoffs, where they staged the greatest upset in 1st Round history by beating the number 1 seeded Mavericks in five games (the Warriors are the only 8 seed to beat a number 1 seed in a 7-game series, yay).  WE BELIEVE!!

2007 - When the Warriors drafted Marco Belinelli I was so numb and beat-down from the Warriors previous draft decisions that I felt absolutely no emotion.  I did not try to feel hopeful or doubtful.  I just chose not to feel.  During Summer League, Belinelli played outstanding.  The NBA even named him to the All-Summer League Team.  All Summer League is more akin to getting the “Coach’s Award” for showing up to all of the practices.  The Warriors hyped him as the next great foreign player and I completely bought in.  I convinced myself he was the next Dirk or at least the next Drazen Petrovic.  Consequently, I will never ever buy into anything that happens during any NBA Summer League game again.  Belinelli played only 7 minutes a game and averaged only 3 PPG.  I also received constant and incessant taunts from my friends for hyping Belinelli. 

During the draft, the Warriors also acquired the rights to Brendan Wright, a tweener, from Charlotte in a trade that sent the Warriors best draft pick since 1993, Jason Richardson, to the Bobcats.  In two years of work for Golden State, Wright averaged 6.2 PPG and 3.3 RPG in only 14 MPG.  Wright spent his Warriors career deep on the bench considering he showed little toughness and no outside game.  Belinelli reinvented himself in San Antonio under Greg Popavich and ultimately turned into about 65-75% of what Warriors fan thought he would be. As far as the 2007 goes, We continued to Believe until the last day of the season when the Warriors won 48 games and failed to make the playoffs, another NBA record. 

2008 - History repeated itself when the Warriors selected Anthony Randolph at number 14.  The Warriors drafted a 6'10" tweener.  Additionally, the Warriors missed the playoffs but unlike the past, Golden State’s draft pick had nothing to do with it.  Randolph was an electric player for the Warriors last season.  He was guaranteed every game to have an unbelievably athletic block, where he flew out of nowhere to swat the ball.  He also had at least one steal where he looked like he was completely out of control but somehow stole the ball, went coast to coast, and slammed it home.  Finally, every game he would make a bad play, as rookies do, hustle back, try and make up for it, and get yanked by Don Nelson at the next whistle.  He would then have a nervous breakdown on the bench until Marco Belinelli could talk him down by speaking Italian to him.  It was breathtaking.  I just hope that he gets considerable playing time this year and that they resign him when the time comes because I can just sense him leaving Golden State and playing a major role on a contending team in the next few years.

So, You’re Saying There’s A Chance - Larry Riley, You Beautiful Son of a Gun

2009 – This is why I am not an NBA GM.  I emphatically thought that we should draft Johnnie Flynn out of Syracuse.  I watched the 6OT thriller against UCONN in March of 2009 at The Garden and thought the guy was just a beast.  Throw out that he was undersized, throw out that he had a hard time creating his own shot, the guy could play.  Another undersized and unheralded “shooter” out of Davidson also caught my eye, Stephen Curry.  I too watched his performance in the Garden and his previous year’s NCAA tourney performance where he dropped 40 on Gonzaga and nearly pulled off an Elite 8 upset of Kansas.  I thought then if Johnnie Flynn isn’t available then Curry might be ok. I literally thought that maybe Threesus himself would be a nice consolation prize if the future 2014 Orlandina Basket Itialian Serie A league point guard isn’t on the board.  This is why I am not a GM (although I would have never picked Todd Fuller).  With that pick, the fates of the franchise unknowingly began to shift.

The Class of 2009.

2010 – Every GM strikes out.  Even GM's who pick Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Ekpe Udoh is Larry Riley’s Spaghetti Incident.  Udoh on paper seemed like the rim protector that the 2010 Warriors desperately needed.  Udoh was long, had a 7-foot plus wingspan, and led the Big-12 in blocks.  Unfortunately for Udoh and the Warriors he couldn’t stay on the court.  A lingering wrist injury delayed his debut in 2010 and in his year and half of service for the Dubs he played just under 20 minutes a game, averaging about 1.5 blocks per game.  He was ultimately traded to Milwaukee with Monte Ellis for Andrew Bogut in 2012.  He plays hoops in Turkey now.

2011 – For as underwhelming as the 36-46 were, I kind of like the Monta, Dorrell Wright, and Curry three point threat coupled with David Lee inside.  Going into the offseason I had no real opinion on who the Warriors should pick.  Despite what developed into a sold draft class, aside from Kyrie Irving (who at the time was even a risk due to being label injury prone) the 2011 class was somewhat underwhelming.  When the Warriors drafted Klay Thompson my reaction was very Klay Thompson-ish, kind of a “well…OK [shrugging].  Well that unassuming sharpshooter from Pullman Washington has turned into the best two-way guard in the NBA. Who knew.  On a side note, the Warriors also selected Charles Jenkins out of Hofstra. Jenkins found it hard to get on the court with a suddenly frisky Warriors squad.  By the end of the 2012-2013 season Jenkins was on to Philly and the next year was out of the league.

Maybe We Aren’t Doomed - Bob Meyers Strikes Gold

2012 - In 2012, the Warriors promoted Assistant GM Bob Meyers to GM and moved Larry Riley to Head of Scouting.  Riley and Meyers started their new partnership with a bang, going three for three in the 2012 draft.  Despite his disappearing act in the Finals this year, Harrison Barnes has been an effective player but somewhat frustrating for the Warriors.  Barnes went to North Carolina for college with much fanfare.  Heralded as the next, fill in the blank, Barnes was good at UNC but tended to shrink on the big stage and ultimately was not as good as advertised.  The Warriors took him with the 7th pick and he immediately broke into the starting line up for the 2012 Warriors.  In his rookie year he upped his scoring from 9.2 ppg in the regular season to 16.1 ppg in the playoffs.  Despite his unbelievable athleticism, still upward potential, and his key roll in the 2015 title run, Barnes may not be in the roster next year as he will likely command a near-max deal on the free agent market.

The Warriors also selected Festus Ezeli with the 30th pick in the draft. Festus, although injury prone, has been a nice big off the bench in his three years.  He played huge minutes in Game 6 of the 2015 Finals and conversely threw up a stink bomb in Game 7 of this year’s Finals.  Ezeli is also free agent this offseason that the Warriors have to make a decision on whether to keep or not.

The hands down best pick in the 2012 draft came in the second round at pick 35,  Draymond Green.  We all know the story, Saginaw Pride, Michigan State, constant winner, but a tweener. Ah yes, the dreaded tweener that Warriors drafted year in an year out in the 90’s and early 2000’s.  Yes, Draymond is a tweener but what separates him from all of the other guys we drafted is that he is a maniac that is solely focused in getting better, being a great teammate, and proving everyone wrong.  You can’t put that rating into verticality or length or explosiveness.  You can’t put something so intangible on a draft chart.  The best you can do is say, “hey, this guy has been successful at every level, he has gotten better at every level, he has leadership qualities, and Tom Izzo says he is a good dude.”  The rest is belief and a hope that he will give you quality minutes.  Anything like being a virtual Swiss Army knife on the court, anchoring a defense like no one since KG, dropping a triple-double in the NBA Championship clinching game, going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the 2016 Finals, and nearly winning Game 7 on the strength of his will to have the Warriors win is just icing on the cake.  I love Draymond Green.  He will always be an all-timer for me. I never thought that anyone would shake Chirs Mullin off the pedestal for my favorite Warrior but I think Draymond is on the path.

Oh yeah, we drafted Ognjen Kuzmic with the 52nd pick.  He is a World Champion and not playing in Greece.

I would be remise if I failed to mention Kent Bazemore. Yes, he went undrafted but Meyers saw him playing in Summer League for OKC and signed the guy.  He will forever be an all-time Warriors bench-mobber. The guy’s sideline celebrations of a Curry three or Warriors’ dunk are the stuff of legend.  It was tough to see him go but I’m glad that he has found a home on the Hawks and has become a key contributor there.

2013 - No picks.

2014 - No picks, just this.

2015 – In the glow of the 2015 Championship the Warriors picked Kevon Looney out of UCLA.  On paper, the guy seemed like a pseudo-Draymond.  He’s 6’9”, can play inside-outside, pretty athletic. Looney was hobbled by a hip injury early and then had to battle for playing time on the best regular season squad of all-time (yes, it si so brutal to have to write that).  So I will reserve judgment.

Of the first round picks the Warriors had from 1993-2009 (including 2nd-rounders Arenas and Ellis) Golden State first round picks (22 total) have combined to averaged on 10.5 PPG while on the Warriors.  Moreover, Golden State first round picks up to 2002 average only 3.6 years with the team (with Foyle being the clear outlier with 10 years on the team), that is not much staying power for a team to build a future with.  They drafted 13 tweeners Rozier, Smith, Declercq, Foyle, Jackson, Jamison, Foster, Porter, Murphy, O'Bryant, Diogu, Wright, and Randolph.  None of which panned out on the Warriors, save for Randolph who the jury is still out on.  They drafted 3 terrible white centers Fuller, Foyle, and Young.  Oh, Adonal Foyle isn’t white, my bad.  Considering all that, no wonder they ran off these win totals from 1993-94 to 2008-2009: 52, 26, 36, 30, 19, 21, 19, 17, 21, 38, 37, 34, 34, 42, 48, 29. 

Thank God for Larry Riley and Bob Meyers, the only GMs that have effectively stayed my annual execution.  No matter how bad losing the 2016 title hurts, at least I can take solace that the front office is competent and get more hits than misses in the draft.  With so much riding on this offseason and management claiming they will be “very aggressive,” it looks as though the Warriors will shift their a focus on free agency, rather than trying to build within the draft (30th pick).  As Bob Meyers knows though, this year’s Draymond Green or Kent Bazemore is out there, he just has to keep his eyes open.

Chance The Rapper rises to a new level with his mixtape: "Coloring Book"

I speak of wondrous unfamiliar lessons from childhood / Make you remember how to smile good / I’m pre-currency, post-language, anti-label / Pro-famous, I’m Broadway Joe Namath / Kanye’s best prodigy / He ain’t signed me but he proud of me / I got some ideas that you gotta see
— Blessings (Reprise)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

The one and only time I’ve seen Chance The Rapper perform was a complete surprise. It was at the halftime intermission of the Louder Than A Bomb poetry event in downtown Chicago, blocks away from where Chancelor “Chance” Bennett attended Jones College Prep high school. There was only time for three songs, but that was all that was needed to become entrenched as a fan.   

Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) is the largest youth slam poetry event in the world, attracting individuals and teams of poets from all corners of Chicago. High schoolers walk onstage at a sold-out theater every March and discuss the deepest, darkest and most powerful emotions that the city and country can produce in a teenager. The diverse crowd hangs on every thought provoking verse; standing ovations for the poets are the norm rather than the exception.

Surprisingly, Chance doesn’t have any LTAB hardware to his name, but he still found his way on the main stage as a 21-year-old adult. Equipped with his signature smile, the beaming ball of energy delighted the youthful poetry fans at the Arie Crown Theater when he revealed himself as the night’s special guest. Chicagoans reacted swiftly, flooding the aisles with their phones ready to record, jockeying for the best position to see their youthful city hero drop some poetic lines of his own. Not surprisingly, the high school contestants didn't seem to mind him stealing the show.

True to form, Chance mixed energy, positivity, and fun/catchy lyrics to give the crowd something meaningful to latch onto. With various areas of Chicago beleaguered by guns, drugs and the like, Chance seemed to know full well that his city needed his positive vibes, and he was there to provide.

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(photo by Dave Kotinsky)

Chance The Rapper released his third mixtape on Friday, May 13, titled Coloring Book. The working title of the 14 song mixtape wasChance 3 (hence the album cover), but in the 11th hour, his fans were presented with a coloring book instead, and a lovely one at that.

Highly regarded by the hip-hop community and beyond, Coloring Book already seems to be accepted as a classic. Drake, Kanye and Kendrick have all gotten their just do as of late, and rightfully so, but with Coloring Book, Chance seems to have a place at the table as well when you speak about modern hip-hop artists. Industry titans Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Future, and Jay Electronica all cut out time to rap with Chance on this mixtape, not to mention the Chicago’s Children Choir (see the lead-off song “All We Got”).

Pretty impressive stuff, when you consider Chance is still just a 23-year-old who doesn’t have a record deal and who lets his music play for free on the internet. His distinctive voice can be found on various other records across the industry as well, including Kanye’s February Life of Pablo album. His ability to seamlessly collaborate with so many other artists has, and will continue to pay off nicely for him and his fans.

Coloring Book comes on the heels of Chance’s first two mixtapes, his debut, 10 Day, was released back in 2012 while Acid Rap came a year later in 2013. The inspiration for 10 Day grew out of a 10-day suspension that “Little Chano” received for marijuana possession during his senior year at Jones College Prep (a selective enrollment Chicago Public School located downtown). As legend has it, Chance’s time off from school proved productive as it gave him time to create 10 Day, effectively putting his musical career in motion. Songs like “Nostalgia” and “Brain Cells” have a melancholy way of drawing you in and keeping you there; all the while interested in what the 19-year-old has to say about the world around him.

Acid Rap was the mixtape that took Chance to the mainstream. Song after song of raw talent and energy that makes it hard not to keep listening. "Paranoia," “Pusha Man,” “Acid Rain,” “Smoke Again,” and “Everybody’s Something” were just some of the songs that made a huge impression. Despite it being free, it still rose to no. 63 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart after being sold by unauthorized retailers and the like.

Coloring Book, at least after a weekend of listening, seems to be Chance’s best effort to date. The mixtape starts off with “All We Got,” featuring a thrilling intro that gets one locked in to listen to an hour of Chance drop bars. “And we back, and we back, and we back,” proclaims Chance. “This ain’t no intro, this the entree,” he assures us. Chance raps about his girlfriend (the mother of his first child) as well as other topics. He also let’s Chicago’s finest, Kanye West do his thing, not to mention the Chicago Children’s Choir. Overall, it’s a great way to draw one into a mixtape.

On the second track, “No Problem,” Chance welcomes Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz into the fold, and neither disappoint. It’s the type of song that makes you want to blast it as loud as possible on the freeway with the windows down, not a care in the world. The song makes reference to the record labels that Chance has kept at a distance. “Countin’ Benji’s while we meetin’, make ‘em shake my other hand,” he shouts. As expected, Lil Wayne’s appearance is a head-turner. “Half a milli’ in the safe, another in the pillowcase, codeine got me movin’ slower than a caterpillar race,” explains Wayne.

“Summer Friends” is the third song, and has a sound that reminds me of a Bon Iver ballad. Chance describes his life growing up on 79th street on the south side of Chicago. He paints the picture of a more innocent time in the city, with less guns and stronger family ties. “79th street was America then / Ice cream truck and the beauty supply / Blockbuster movies and Harold’s again / We still catching lightning bugs when the plague hit the backyard.”  

Coloring Book's seventh song, titled “Mix Tape” has the most catchy beat on the compilation. “Am I the only nigga still care about mixtapes?” asks Chance alongside Atlanta’s Young Thug. The defiant lyrics, once again challenging the setup of the current music industry, will keep your head bobbing throughout.

Buy this art print by Tyler Powers here

“Mix Tape” gives way to what will surely be the single of Chance’s third release. “Angels” comes at you with an incredibly catchy, fast-moving beat, with lyrics that keep you engaged throughout. Chance speaks about the city that he’s from and what it means to him. “I got a city doing front flips / When every father, mayor, rapper jump ship / I guess that’s why they call it where I stay / Clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play,” he demands. It is interesting to hear Chance mention the Mayor’s office here. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s former right hand man) has recently fired Chicago’s police chief over the Laquan McDonald tragedy. Moreover, Chance’s father Ken currently serves as Mayor Emanuel’s chief of staff.

“Smoke Break,” the mixtape’s 12th song, features perhaps the hottest rapper on the market, Future. The sound on this track is immaculate if you ask me, even if I am a bit biased. Fellow UC Berkeley grad Garren Langford produced the song while he was simultaneously finishing his senior year as a Golden Bear.

The 14th and final song is Blessings (reprise). Blessings is also the fifth track, but the reprise is something else. The song is beautiful on many levels, from the sound, to the rhythm, to the lyrics. Chance paints the following picture in the opening verse, “I speak of promised lands / Soil as soft as momma’s hands / Running water, standing still / Endless fields of daffodils and chamomile.” Chance continues on, recounting his rise to stardom and his passion for his craft. “I used to dance to Michael, I used to dance in high school / I used to pass out music, I still pass out music / The people’s champ must be everything the people can’t be.” Finally, Chance finishes his best work yet with the following questions, “Are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracle?”

In a mixtape lasting less than an hour, Chance The Rapper has put out a piece of art that will be appreciated for quite sometime, both by his home city of Chicago and hip-hop fans from coast to coast. Chance has arrived as a major player in the rap game and with his youthful energy and obvious talent, it looks like he’s here to stay. On Sunday, August 7th, San Francisco will host him in Golden Gate Park. The Bay Area will be hanging on his every word.

Mark Canha - Feeling Right at Home in the Bay Area

(Click above to listen to Mark Canha's interview with Section925)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

Mark Canha is not your average Major League baseball player. He’s redheaded, UC Berkeley educated, and is more interested in Michael Bauer's latest food review than what’s happening on the latest edition of SportsCenter.

Despite a muscle-bound physique, a set of hefty sideburns and a job as a baseball player, Canha is more cultured than you might think. By now, you probably know of his comprehensive culinary micro-blog (@BigLeagueFoodie) that takes you along with Canha into the nation’s most renowned and unique restaurants. But on top of that, Canha sports a dry, witty, and original sense of humor that A’s fans have grown to love after just one year.  

I was under the radar in high school for whatever reason. I always think it was a conspiracy because of the redhead thing,” Canha joked. “People don’t like readheads, so I like to blame it on that.
— Mark Canha

After spending five seasons on the minor league circuit as an overlooked farmhand for the Miami Marlins, Canha made his rookie debut in an Athletics’ uniform during the first home stand of 2015. Following a mishap at first base and pop-out to the catcher, Canha managed to laugh off the rocky start to his career in the Majors and turn it into a night he’ll never forget.

Canha came up in the bottom of the third inning with the bases full and unloaded a drive to right field that was just inches from a Grand Slam. He settled for a bases-clearing double as his first Big League knock. By the end of the evening, Canha had three hits (two doubles) and four RBI.

The only thing that overshadowed Canha’s monster debut was his humorous post-game press conference in the A’s clubhouse, as Canha deadpanned a classic line from the iconic baseball film, Bull Durham“Just trying to help the ball club,” Canha explained to Oakland beat writers with a smile. “Give it my best shot, and the Good Lord willing, things will work out.”

Whether or not Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner contacted Canha to congratulate the rookie on his performance is unknown, but manager Bob Melvin plugged him in the lineup the following night and off he went. By season’s end, Canha had played in 124 games and tallied 121 hits to go along with 22 doubles and 16 homers. In the month of August, he hit over .300. Not bad for a rookie that the Miami Marlins gave away.

WITH GOOD SPEED FOR A POWER HITTER, RON WASHINGTON HAS NO PROBLEM WHEELING CANHA AROUND THE BASES INSIDE THE COLISEUM. (PHOTO BY THEARON W. HENDERSON)

---

Canha was born and raised in San Jose where he eventually attended Bellarmine College Prep. One of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the Bay Area, Bellarmine prides itself on offering top-notch academics to go along with some of the best athletic programs in the state of California. Canha made sure to take advantage of both, succeeding on the competitive campus both on and off the field. But even after putting up big stats for the Bells (a team that boasts 14 MLB alums), Canha was still not as heavily recruited as he would have liked. His dream was Stanford, but then hitting coach and former Phillies first-baseman Jon Zuber convinced him to come to Berkeley and play for him at CAL.

“I was under the radar in high school for whatever reason. I always think it was a conspiracy because of the redhead thing,” Canha joked. “People don’t like readheads, so I like to blame it on that. But Zuber found me.”

In Berkeley, Canha joined a star-studded roster that forced him to wait his turn as a freshman. But come sophomore year, Canha was poised to break out and he credits the work he put in with the equally dry-humored coach Zuber as a key to his success.

“Zub was instrumental in my success of my breakout sophomore season. We did a lot of work in the Fall and I saw results. You build up confidence and see results, then you get more confidence. Zub really taught me how to hit in college. I had to make some changes.”

After leading the PAC-10 with 69 RBI as a junior, Canha would leave Berkeley a year early after being selected by the Florida Marlins in the 7th round. Once in their minor league system, Canha put up solid numbers year in and year out, but still felt as though he was overlooked. “I eventually came to the realization that I wasn’t a part of the Marlins’ Big Leagues plans,” said Canha.

It was hard to tell where Canha’s baseball career was headed following his 2014 season. All he really knew was that his wife Marci (also from San Jose) wanted to pursue her architecture career in the Bay Area. That’s why the Canha’s were elated when A’s GM David Forst gave Mark a call to let him know the A’s had signed him.

“Getting a call from David Forst, it was like bedlam for us,” remembers Canha. “We were unsure where this baseball thing was taking us and the fact that it took us to the Bay Area was outstanding for us.”

From the moment Canha arrived in the A’s clubhouse he was as comfortable as he ever felt. It showed in Spring Training last year as the hungry redhead led the team in homers while down in Arizona. He was playing alongside former teammate Marcus Semien and under Bob Melvin, both of which played at CAL. Needless to say, this felt like home for Canha.

In 2015, Canha played 75 games at 1st base and 58 games in left field, as well as few appearances sprinkled in at RF and DH. Wearing Josh Donaldson’s #20, Canha did his best to fill the void of the lost right handed power bat. A self-proclaimed lover of home runs, Canha didn’t get cheated at the plate as rookie. Seemingly loading up and letting it fly each and every at-bat.

With 2016 Spring Training just weeks away, Canha has a ton to look forward to in his sophomore campaign in the Green and Gold. He figures to be a key bat in the A’s lineup this year as he moves into his prime years as a pro (Canha turns 27 on Feb. 15th). He just recently finished filming a series of Green Collar commercials in Arizona and is now hunkered down at the Baseball Rebellion training facility in North Carolina, working with his hitting guru, Chas Pippitt.

Now that he and his wife are happily settled in San Francisco, one of the only worries Canha has at the moment is what walkup song he should use at the Coliseum this year (he wants your help, btw). Other than that, Canha is thrilled to be in the food centric Bay Area, with plenty of fodder for @BigLeagueFoodie and even more at-bats in the ever-young Oakland A’s batting order.

“I went through the system for so long,” Canha told Tripper Ortman of Section925. “Really it sounds cliché, it’s very Bull Durham of me to say this, but I’m just happy to be here. Truly, I’m just happy to be in the Big Leagues. As cliché as it sounds.”

The Good Lord willing, things will work out.

CANHA PRIDES HIMSELF ON BEING A VERSATILE DEFENDER, SPLITTING TIME BETWEEN THE A'S INFIELD AND OUTFIELD. (PHOTO BY THEARON W. HENDERSON)

TRUMP: The American Nightmare

By Peter Horn

The quest to unearth the American Nightmare leads you through the nation’s slippery underbelly, past seedy corners framed by slumping silhouettes, through graveyards of shattered dreams and long-forgotten prayers, up a winding trail of revolting excess until your path comes to a dead end, the letters towering over you like a threat: TRUMP.

The irony of your search for the American Nightmare ending in a presidential campaign will not be lost on you, as Uncle Sam’s printed face bulges and swirls into the grotesque, his signature tophat riding a wave of wispy, Clorox-blond hair plugs, his swollen pointer-finger suddenly menacing as his star-spangled overcoat takes on a department store fire-sale cheapness. But the irony will take a backseat to the obviousness of it all, how for years Trump has waved the American flag like a matador at the dull-eyed masses to distract from his utter bastardization of the American Dream.

Trump is the embodiment of our nation’s basest impulses, the modern-day Ugly American with contradiction and hypocrisy sewed throughout every fiber of his corpulent being. The son of an immigrant with a hotel and golf course empire dependent on immigrant labor, who grossly generalizes Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers.” The heir to his father’s real estate fortune who advocates an uncompromising brand of bootstrapped free-market capitalism in which programs meant to level the opportunity playing field are socialist and wasteful. The beneficiary of multiple draft deferments with the gall to marginalize the POW experience of one of our nation’s true war heroes.

His dangerous comments on immigration and his tired Obama-birther crusade promotes a xenophobia that is, at its very core, un-American. His America is one where nobility is transferred generationally, a wealth-driven society in which the middle class should be seen and not heard, a melting pot stripped ingredient by ingredient until all that remains is a homogenous broth not unlike the plutocratic social structure our founding forefathers so proudly fled.

It’s greed and the inevitability of entitlement that keeps the pedal pressed to the floor as he rounds hairpin turns at impossible speeds, racing towards the cliff of the next economic cycle in a one-seatbelt convertible with the myopia and selective memory of an addict, the sound of the crash followed closely by the revving of the engine. If the definition of insanity is repeating an action expecting a different result, then there’s a French Cuffed straightjacket waiting for him at the end of this campaign.

Trump crudely equates his personal value to his net worth, which, like his ego, has proven to be inflated. And herein lies the distillation of Trump’s septic American dream: taking all that makes this country unique and (at times) exceptional—freedom, liberty and the opportunity for upward economic and social mobility—and pushing them behind a flashing neon red, white and blue dollar sign.

There are lessons to be learned, even from nightmares. In many ways, Trump is the Presidential candidate we all deserve for allowing the scales of power to be tipped so far in favor of big money and special interests. He is a spray-tanned, vitriol-spewing verdict on the state of our modern political and social strata, and his candidacy should serve as a cautionary tale.

For once we mute the bluster and peel away the layers of hair plugs and veneers, we can see Trump for what he truly is. He’s a vacant McMansion on an unfinished block, a suburban promise never meant to be kept who’s forced to draw attention to the glittery surface for fear one peers beneath. He’s the American flag paper plates crammed into the clearance rack on July 5th. He’s a bloated wolf in red, white and blue-stained sheep’s clothing. He is the American Nightmare. 

"Thank You Warriors" - Dub Nation’s 40 Year Journey to the Promise Land

(PHOTO BY BECK DIEFENBACH)

(PHOTO BY BECK DIEFENBACH)

By Josh Hunsucker | @jphunsucker

How are you supposed to feel after your team wins the title? Since the 75th Anniversary of the NFL, when Steve Young tossed six TDs for the Niners’ fifth Super Bowl title, I haven’t felt that feeling. I was twelve in 1995, I was six and seven when the Niners won Super Bowls three and four and when the A’s swept the Giants. Think back twenty years, think back twenty-six, twenty-seven years. Do you remember when something, anything, happened that long ago? Not only do you remember what happened, but do you remember how that made you feel?

I don’t. My first sports memory is eating Cheetos at my Dad’s friend’s apartment in the Marina with 3:10 left in Super Bowl XXIII when my Dad said, “Come here, you should watch this.” I sat on the floor in between my Dad’s legs, watching Joe Montana coolly march the Niners down the field for their third championship. I remember the two Bengal defenders colliding as Jerry Rice broke into the secondary. I remember John Taylor jumping and thrusting the ball towards the sky after he caught the game-winning slant. I remember all of that. I have no idea how that made me feel.

I remember watching cartoons before Game 3 of the Battle of the Bay. I remember watching the A’s parade on KTVU. I remember 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV. I remember Rickey Watters and Jerry Rice shredding the Chargers. I remember saying that we would win Super Bowl XXIX because Stan Humphreys was horrible in Tecmo Super Bowl. I specifically remember Gary Plummer pulling the “Monkey” off Steve Young’s back. I vividly remember all of that. I have no clue how that made me feel.

In the last quarter century-plus, I have ended every Warriors, A’s, and Niners season in one of two ways: a loss, or having missed out on the playoffs entirely. In more recent years, I remember how I felt when those seasons ended. The emotions run the gamut, most notably: comfortably numb (‘04-’08 Niners, ’09-’10 Warriors, 2010 A’s), hopeful (2000 A’s, ’10-‘11 49ers, ’06-’07 We Believe Dubs), frustrated (’07-’08 Dubs), distraught (2003 A’s), dead inside (’11-‘12 49ers, 2013 A’s), and confused (’14-’15 49ers).

As an A’s and 49ers fan, the fanbase and to a greater extent my fandom is shaped by history and tradition. Even when the teams experience success in the present, we feel trapped by the ghosts of the past. The A’s ever-changing Moneyball roster, regardless of success, gets lost in the glow of Rickey’s neon green Mizuno batting gloves and cannot escape the shadows that covered Stu’s eyes. The Niners of the present, similarly, are always compared to champions of the past and played under the unreasonable pressure of being 5-0 in the Super Bowl, which culminated in 2012 when someone briefly forgot that Frank Gore was on the team. We are rear-view mirror fans. We always look back and long for the better times of the past. Whether we like it or not, it is who we are.

As a Warriors fan, when I look back, I try to remember the good times. That means Run-TMC and Nelly Ball 1.0, when the Dubs got as far as the Western Conference Semis. That means C-Webb, one year and a first round exit. That means “We Believe,” a Baron Davis “And 1” in garbage time of a series we eventually lost and being the best team ever to miss the playoffs. That ultimately means the 1975 champs. A team that played before I was alive and was coached by a man that we called “The Destroyer.” In fact, my best memory of the 1975 team was having Al Attles run the defensive segment of Warriors Basketball Camp circa 1995 and making a t-shirt with his likeness. Relatively speaking, my best memories as a Warriors fan are suboptimal when compared to my memories as an A’s and Niners fan.

(PHOTO BY JOSH HUNSUCKER)

(PHOTO BY JOSH HUNSUCKER)

40 years is a long time. Since 1975 the Warriors had made the playoff 10 times in 39 years, heading into 2015. That is not much of a history. Part of being a pre-2015 Warriors fan was embracing mediocrity of the franchise. Ask any Warriors fan that liked the team before the Steph Curry era and especially before the “We Believe” era and they will delight in telling you their favor awful/cult hero Warriors players, their favorite underrated Warriors (“Oh yeah, he was kind of awesome”), a reference to three to four crap teams that meant something to them, and their favorite memories as a fan, generally in that order. For example, here are mine:

 

Favorite Awful/Cult Warriors Heroes

1.    Adonal Foyle – Epitome of  the “sadsackedness” era. The guy played so hard but was very limited talent-wise. I will always love you Adonal!

2.   Tony Delk – Held MJ to 14 points and scored 17 points in a tough 87-80 home loss in 1998.

3.    Chris Gatling – Gat Gun!

4.    David Wood – Inexplicably made 1998 USA basketball team.

5.    Larry Hughes – Larry Hughes Headband Night.

6.    Rony Seikaly – Spray painted his shoes black because he did not have team colored shoes.

7.    Anthony Randolph – I still don’t know how he didn’t become a more athletic Chris Bosh.

8.    Earl Boykins/Speedy Claxton – Professional versions of “Circus” King.

9.    Vonteego Cummings – Name alone.

10.  Kent Bazemore – All-time bench guy. Honorary 2015 Champ, right?

 

Favorite Underrated Warriors

1.    Sharunas Marshalonis – Lefty wingmen have a special place in my heart, so does anyone that Bill Walton loves.

2.    Latrell Sprewell – Still one of my favorites.

3.    Jason Richardson – The bright spot on a lot of crap teams.

 

Favorite Crap Teams

1.    ’97-’98 – Almost beat the Bulls at home.

2.    ’02-’03 – Made me think that a team that played absolutely no defense and featured a big three of Antwan Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, and Jason Richardson was worth watching on a nightly basis.

3.    ’93-’94 – C-Webb’s first year, Mully, Spree, Avery Johnson, and Jud Buechler!

 

Favorite Memories

1.    My first game: Mully drops 25 in a 126-118 win against Portland.

2.    Only time seeing MJ live: We lose, Tony Delk holds MJ to 14 points. Tony Delk drinks for free at my house for life.

3.    Pizza Pizza Pizza: Jud Buechler hits a three with under a minute to go to give the Warriors 120 points and all fans in attendance free pizza.

The sad part is that I ripped that off the top of my head in about five minutes but that is exactly what my Warriors fan friends and I talked about. Yes, we sometimes talked about Mully. Yes, we talked about the “We Believe” team. Yes, we talked about the current Warriors and how they may be something special. But all of those conversations existed in the context that the Warriors definition of “best” was being something other than comically awful or being merely a fleeting moment of success.

Being a Warriors fan has meant dreading the end of basketball season. Not because I miss watching below average professional basketball, historically speaking, but because it meant I was weeks away from the team perpetuating its losing tradition through the draft.

Last week, Bleacher Report NBA editor and all-around great human Chris Trenchard asked “What was your low point as a Warriors fan?” My knee jerk reaction was the 11th pick of the 1996 NBA draft. I thought and I thought, that really cannot be my low point. There had to be a gut wrenching loss or a bad trade. There had to be something else, right? Well, there isn’t.

I was at UCLA basketball camp. The Warriors were three years removed from Don Nelson pushing Tim Hardaway out of the organization and heading into the '96-'97 season, the Warriors were looking at washed up versions of Mark Price and B.J. Armstrong as their point guard tandem. I was hopeful that the Warriors would pick Section 925er, Santa Clara alum, and Steph Curry prototype, Steve Nash. That did not happen, this did:

David Stern slowly walks to the podium, the TNT camera focuses in on Stern, he looks at the draft card, “with the 11th pick in the…,” he looks at the draft card, “…1996 NBA Draft…,” he looks down at the draft card, “…the Golden State Warriors select Todd…,” he looks down at the draft card, “…Fuller from North Carolina State University.”

My 1996 self did not notice Stern looking back down at the card four separate times in 12 seconds, but since the advent of YouTube I can honestly say that I can account for at least 18 of the 12,403 views associated with the Todd Fuller draft clip. Every time I watch it I try to talk my self into the idea that maybe David Stern keeps looking down at the draft card because he does not want to misspeak at the podium. I really do. But he looks down four times in 12 seconds. 1/4 of the time he is verifying what he is reading is actually true, this can’t be overlooked or under-analyzed.

The key look down moment is after David Stern says “Todd.” When he says “Todd” he is looking dead-on at the camera, just seconds after he had previously looked down. Then he pauses and looks back down right before he says “Fuller,” as if he is flabbergasted as to why the Warriors refuse to make a good draft pick, let alone why in the world anyone would spend a lottery pick on Todd (pause...look down) Fuller.

Not convinced? Compare the Fuller look down to other lottery picks. David Stern either looks at the name the entire time (Allen Iverson and Peja Stojakovic) or looks up the entire time (Marcus Camby and Ray Allen). Generally, this is based on the complexity of the name. Well, Todd Fuller is about as vanilla as you can get. Yet, he looks down. I knew it, you knew, David Stern knew it, and the Warriors must have known that was an awful pick.

Smash cut back to 1996, I'm in the UCLA dorm common area. David Stern just uttered the name of the 11th pick in the draft and 14-year old me’s heart sinks and I blurt out “Are you F**KING serious, that is why we suck.” I remember thinking to myself, “Why do I like this team? Why do I like a team that never wants to get better? Why do we need another slow white center? Are we ever going to be good? What did I do to deserve this?” I should be having teenage angst over a girl that didn't like me back, not an existential crisis about liking a horrible basketball team. I’ve never been more miserable for a worse reason but that was my nadir as a Warriors fan.

In the grand scheme of sports fandom, having Todd Fuller define your low moment is arguably more depressing than say, Kirk Gibson’s walk off, not handing the ball off to Frank Gore, or being a Cold War Russian hockey fan. At least being an A’s or Niners fan meant that you went to the World Series or Super Bowl and being a Russian hockey fan in 1980 meant that you basically hadn’t lost in forever and hadn’t seen "Rocky IV" or "Miracle" yet. Those teams were relevant. True, those moments were historical gut-punch loses, but at least members of those fan bases can collectively share in those low moments. Having Todd Fuller as your low moment is isolating. It’s 12 insignificant seconds in the history of the Warriors that only 12,000 some odd people in the world have cared to actively remember. Nonetheless, because it’s an objectively trivial moment that I have given a lifetime’s worth of importance, to me it's the worst kind of low point.

Being a Warriors fan means truly appreciating the fleeting moments, like a good sideline closeout by Danny Fortson. Being a Warriors fan means growing accustomed to keeping games close, climbing back but never getting over the top, and making a fatal fourth quarter error to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but always getting sucked into thinking we can win next time. Being a Warriors fan means understanding that we will never have the best player and being OK with that. Being a Warriors fan means consistently showing up in the face of assured doom. Being a Warriors fan meant not being defined by our history because we never really had any.

These qualities forged a fan base that irrationally loved many unlovable teams. For the last 25-plus years, Warriors fans have filled the Coliseum/Oracle to near capacity. Inexplicably, they never quit on teams that quit on them. That is not to say that the organization did not push us close to our breaking point on a few occasions. When Chris Cohan low balled Baron Davis and broke up the “We Believe” Warriors, something shifted. Warriors fans had seen competent basketball for the first time in over a decade and in two seasons the Warriors were back to losing over 50 games again.

(PHOTO BY BLEACHER REPORT)

(PHOTO BY BLEACHER REPORT)

In 2009, the Warriors drafted Steph Curry. My top three draft options that year were Johnny Flynn, Steph Curry, and Ty Lawson, in that order. In defense of Johnny Flynn I saw the UCONN game that year and became a believer. That draft was the only good and lasting thing that Chris Cohan did for the Warriors besides bring back the “The City” style uniforms and selling the team.

Under new ownership, Warriors fans were exposed to something new, an ownership group that gave a crap about winning. Initially Joe Lacob’s absolute positivity baffled and confused us. Saying something like this: “I'm looking forward to a tremendous ride on our journey to the return to greatness. We will work extremely hard to represent you as the championship organization that you deserve and the team that you will be proud to be a part of,” just doesn’t compute to a Warriors fan in 2010. It was too lofty for me not be skeptical. Return to greatness? When? Championship organization? Yeah, ok.

This attitude boiled over on the disastrous Chris Mullin Jersey Retirement Night when Joe Lacob inexplicably took the mic to address the crowd right after he traded fan favorite Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. There was a poison in the crowd that I had never seen come out in all my years of watching Warriors hoops. Although Lacob was ultimately vindicated by the trade and correct in his assessment of the Warriors impending success (which were not helped by Rick Berry’s futile pleas to the crowd), he was tone deaf to the emotions of a fan base that had experienced decades of losing and refused to be put on by another owner that they felt was lying to them about working “extremely hard” to build an organization that the fans deserved and could be proud of. The Warriors finished 23-43 that year and the status quo was felt as though it would remain firmly in place.

(PHOTO BY BLEACHER REPORT)

(PHOTO BY BLEACHER REPORT)

With Mark Jackson in his second year and a core group of competent players, the 2012-13 Dubs started to give off a “We Believe 2.0” vibe. There was guarded optimism when Steph made it through the season healthy and we actually gave the Spurs a series in the Western Semis. More importantly, basketball was fun to watch again. We played hard. We played creatively. We, as Jalen Rose says, “gave up good shots to get great shots.” We played together. This carried into the 2013-14 season, which ended in the most hopeful and satisfying seven game series loss in all of sports.

I remember thinking last year after the Clippers series, “we can actually be proud of that team.” We were banged up, down in the series, and fought all the way until the end. We were eliminated but there was a pseudo-Spartan romanticism to losing, “with your shield or on it.” I can live with those losses. As a Warriors fan, I am not gut punched by those losses because losing in seven games and going down swinging was better than we, yes “we,” had ever done as long as I had been alive. Were there problems with the team? Yes. But they were fixable basketball problems, not systemic organizational issues that infected and poisoned the team as they had previously.

The 2014-15 season was like playing a season of NBA 2K on a skill level setting which is one below the level that think you might not be able to beat. Sure the computer may go into “no effing way the user wins mode,” at times, but for the most part, everything fell into place perfectly under new head coach Steve Kerr. Losing not only became rare, it became surprising. Literally almost everything went right and success turned into legitimate cultural significance.

Steph gets the most all-star votes, “Steph Curry with the shot,” “Chef Curry with the Pot,” thisthisthis, and this all became things, then we led the Association in wins, offense, and defense, Steph won the MVP, swept NOLA, out-grinded Memphis, overwhelmed Houston, and Riley Curry set the world on fire. Before we could even realize what the hell was going on, we were squaring off in the Finals against the “best player in the world”/ best player of this generation.

(PHOTO BY EZRA SHAW (@EOSHAW))

(PHOTO BY EZRA SHAW (@EOSHAW))

Going into the Finals my inner Warriors fan took the position that making the Finals was gravy. We haven’t suffered like MJ did against the Pistons or LeBron against the Spurs and Mavs and just making the Finals seemed like enough of a happy ending. Another part of me felt abject fear whenever the name LeBron James was uttered. But still, a part of me remained that said, "hey, we can absolutely win this."

With the exception of Games 2 and 3, where the Cavs played harder and smarter than the Warriors, the Dubs put together four of the most beautiful basketball games I have ever seen. They played their best basketball, on the biggest stage, in the history of the franchise. As the final moments of the fourth quarter of Game 6 ran out I focused on one thing, remember the feeling, soak it in.

It is hard to describe the wave of emotions that come with winning the title. Joy and disbelief were the first that hit. That joy was pervasive for most of the night after Game 6, as I watched interviews and highlights well into the start of the next day.

However, after looking back on that night, witnessing the win in Game 6, reading about the celebration at Morton’s the next day, watching the championship in-flight Coco video, sharing in the happiness with 1,000,000 of my blue and yellow clad basketball friends at the parade, and re-watching the parade on Saturday, one feeling has been present through this entire playoff run and has only grown since the clock hit 0:00, thankfulness.

(PHOTO BY JASON MILLER)

(PHOTO BY JASON MILLER)

Being in a position where I have no effect on the outcome of the games (contrary to what I tell myself while executing any of my dumb superstitions), I am thankful that I get to watch a team that plays unselfish basketball and does so in a way that it is not only entertaining but, as a basketball junkie, is beautiful to watch. I’m thankful that Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber meant what they said when they bought the team and acted on it. I am thankful that Bob Meyers had the vision to build a championship team out of a mold no one had ever used, or at least used properly. I am thankful that Steve Kerr decided to take a coaching job close to his kids. I am thankful that Kerr surrounded himself with a great coaching staff (and that on some level Bill Walton’s mojo was aimed in the Warriors direction). I am thankful that everyone on the team embraced their roles, even when they changed. I am thankful that Steph Curry has no ceiling, that Iggy has no fear, and that Draymond has no filter.

Most of all I am thankful that we as fans all got to be a part of this ride. When Steph Curry spoke at the parade his first words to the millions in attendance were “We did it! We did it!” WE. It was clear that “We” extended to everyone, not just the team. This Warriors team embraced the motto strength in numbers (in case you missed everything this season) and a big part of that was making us fans feel like we were a part of the team. The MVP continued to emphasize the theme of inclusion, asserting that “We deserve this,” an assurance to the fans that stuck through the lean decades that suffering through every 50-loss season or bad draft was worth this moment of glory.

As I listened and re-listened to Steph’s speech this weekend the overwhelming feeling that runs through me continues to be thankfulness. For all I know, the parade that I went to on Friday may be the only one I will ever get to experience as long as I live. If it is, I am thankful guys like Steph Curry, who made that parade possible, understood the importance of making every fan feel like they just as well could have been up on that stage too. “Celebrate this trophy like there is no tomorrow,” Steph urged the crowd as he closed out his speech.

Thank you, we will.

"Since '74 - '75" - Oakland Feels Itself at Long Overdue Dubs Parade

(photo by Garrett Wheeler)

(photo by Garrett Wheeler)

By Garrett Wheeler

We take our place at 12th and Broadway amidst a throng of blue-and-gold clad revelers, the sounds of Mac Dre and E-40 thumping loudly from portable speakers. Small clouds of smoke drift through the morning air, champagne bottles are passed around. A dance circle forms and some girls drop and pop while others goad them on, waving and cheering in delight.

I'm in the buildin' and I'm feelin' myself

Man, I'm feelin' myself

It's 8:30 AM, a full hour-and-a-half before the parade is scheduled to begin, but the festivities are well underway. I've called in sick (err, taken a professional development day), dragged my butt out of bed at 5 AM, and traveled two hours west to celebrate this Warriors season with close to a million other like-minded folk. Because like Steph and Coach Kerr reminded us all season long, winning championships don't come easy. 

As the minutes tick by, the party keeps growing. Bodies enclose around us. Standing room becomes sparse, and latecomers begin hanging off ledges, climbing atop bus stop awnings and into trees. Three CHP officers on motorcycles whisk by, effectively alerting the mob of Dubs fans that the moment has arrived: the men who delivered the first Warriors championship in 40 seasons will soon be among us, if only for a moment.

And then, there they are. First the D-League guys, (and D-League Champs!) McAdoo and Kuzmic, plus Justin Holiday. Then comes Splash Brother #2, Klay Thompson, hat backwards, nodding and clapping in affirmation from the bow of his double-decker bus. Yelling, screaming, and chanting continues as the Champs slowly cruise by atop their buses. Wait, is that MC-Hammer up there next to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf? A new chant ensues: “Too legit, too legit to quit! Too legit, too legit to quit!” Hammer Time bops his head to the rhythm, holding up two fingers in acknowledgment as he rallies the Oakland faithful below.

Buses with a player on each end continue to filter down Broadway. Draymond (flanked by Marshawn Lynch) and Mo Speights appear, followed by the two bigs, Ezeli and Bogut. Then Harrison Barnes and Leandro, followed by D-Lee and Shawn Livingston. Finally, the MVPs. Curry at the helm, clutching a gleaming Larry O’Brien trophy in one arm, waving and pointing with the other, pausing for the occasional selfie. The Baby Faced Assassin is surrounded by family, of course. Those faces that have become so familiar are all there: his wife Ayesha, little Riley, brother Seth and sister Sydel, and parents Dell and Sonya. The Curry’s, what adoration! A new “Riiii-Leeeyy” chant swells forth and Sonya is beaming smiles, and Dell is a proud, proud man.

But wait, who’s that toward the rear of Steph’s bus? That would be Finals MVP, Sir Andre Iguodala. The chant quickly switches to “M-V-P, M-V-P!” and there’s Andre’s wide, toothy grin and a Bill Russell Award trophy hoisting into the air, glinting in the mid-morning sun. The man who contained LeBron on one end of the floor and delivered daggers on the other is now before us, and then he too is gone.

Coach Kerr rolls by in the back of a black Lincoln Continental convertible followed by a few buses packed with season ticket holders. And now the parade has traveled out of sight, but the memories, as they say, will last a lifetime.

 Warrrrrioorrrrrs. Warrrrriorrrrrrs.

We leave our spot and join the mass of people attempting to traverse down to Lake Merritt for the parade terminus and rally, but the streets are blocked and we’re routed all the way around Laney College. By the time we reach the Kaiser Center, it’s readily apparent that we won’t be getting within a mile of the stage so we instead post up near a giant screen erected on Lakeside Drive. We watch the interviews, the executive speeches, and the owners’ speeches as the sun grows warm overhead. There are no chairs and no shade but still we watch as Tim Roy and Bob Fitzgerald each have their turn with the mic.

Then one by one, Bob Fitz and Jim Barnett introduce the starters, plus Iguodala, and each gives a short speech at the podium. (Ok, Green’s speech wasn’t short, obviously.) The players talk about how magical the season has been, and how much they owe to Warriors fans. They talk about the City of Oakland deserving a championship, and about how they respect the Town and the people who call it home. “Stay in Oakland!” people yell, while others wonder aloud if there is anything that can keep San Francisco from stealing away a team that’s played its last 43 seasons in Oakland.

And while, as an East Bay native, I’d love to see the Warriors get a sweet new stadium in Oakland and the Coliseum City fantasy become reality, it’s necessary to separate the future from the present in order to savor this moment. After all, this was a championship, a season really, that was so extraordinary, so perfect, that all those hyperbolic clichés actually apply.

It was a story-book of narratives: the rookie head coach humbly allows his players to be themselves and never overreaches; the team’s best player becomes a league MVP and an NBA mega-star; the “heartbeat” of the team pulses from a stretch forward with moxie like Ali; Klay drops 37 in one quarter; an undersized lineup runs and guns (and defends) its way past bigger and stronger opponents; King James himself is dethroned, in six, and the Warriors win it all.   

Long after the confetti is all cleaned up and the players and coaches have gone their separate ways, the legend of the 2015 Golden State Warriors will live on. It was a season Warriors fans will never forget, a season that bonded all corners of the Bay Area together. Because as frivolous as sports can seem in comparison to the graver realities of life, it’s moments like these that seem to transcend the stats and the box scores and even the hardware that comes with a winning season.

To quote Riley Curry, (quoting Big Sean): “I’m way up, I feel blessed.” 

"An Evening with PHOX"

THE SEXTET FROM WISCONSIN HARMONIZING AT SAN FRANCISCO'S GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL (PHOTO BY PETER HORN) 

By Peter Horn | @PeterCHorn

On Tuesday, April 14th, concertgoers at The Great American Music Hall were treated to an intimate evening with PHOX- an evening in which guitars were played with the trunk of a stage-prop plant, banana-shaped maracas provided a festive backbeat and the crowd joined in to serenade the lead-singer’s mother via cell phone with a foggy rendition of Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco.”

The sextet that walked onstage looked more like an assigned school project group than a band that’s held captive crowds of 20,000-plus: a skinny redhead wearing a safari hat, a chubby bespectacled keyboardist with a pencil-thin hair part, the clean-cut jock on lead guitar who can only stay until football practice starts and the obligatory guy wearing flip flops over socks that no one trusts to take the project home. The motley crue consists of six childhood best friends for whom nothing is off limits; the chemistry and trust among the bandmates is on constant display, not just when they’re shouting inside jokes to each other across stage.

In between songs, the stage banter had a beer-soaked college basement feel, their candor at times refreshing (“Coachella sucks… lots of sexy people but everyone looks the same and the sun is disorienting… but I like San Francisco.”), at times bordering on cringeworthy (“Matthew waxed his butt for this show… his girlfriend’s here!”). But when the lights dimmed, the six-piece outfit from Baraboo, Wisconsin—that sleepy town northwest of Madison that of course you’ve never heard of—buttoned it up. Standing beneath the vintage parlor-lit PHOX lettering, the group shared with the crowded room their genre-agnostic sound: at times folky, at times poppy, at all times soulful.

Midway through the evening, the band moved to the center of the stage where they huddled for an acoustic set, a nod to the crowded dining room of their shared house that doubles as a rehearsal venue, “because everyone knows musicians don’t have enough money to eat in their dining rooms.” And with just a guitar, a banjo and the ubiquitous banana maraca behind her, Monica Martin’s voice took the stage: a smoky, reverb-laden performance that silenced any suspicions of novelty with a range spanning the lows and highs of a bass drum and a fork on crystal glass. With one hand holding a fistful of her signature black curls, she led us through acoustic renditions of “1936,” “Kingfisher,” and “Evil” from PHOX’s eponymous first album, the crowd for a moment forgetting why they even bother plugging in.

But it was in the strangely beautiful cover of Blink 182’s “I Miss You” that the genre-transcendent potential of her voice became clear, as she took a vapid punk ballad, stripped it down and carefully dressed it in silky reverb to create a haunting folk melody that barely resembled the original. Martin’s voice has an unmistakable air of nostalgia, adding a layer of somber gravel to even their most spit-shined songs, the kind of voice that could sing you happy birthday and leave you staring off into the distance, pondering the ephemerality of time.

Unlike her sock and flip-flopped bandmate, Monica (or “Oprah” as she introduced herself) does look the part—tall, with a head of hair that could solicit volumizing tips from Macy Gray—but she doesn’t quite act it, at one point reflecting on their tour, “It’s not what I thought I’d be doing, but then again I didn’t have many thoughts.” And it’s comments such as this that remind us of the simplicity of what we’re witnessing: six really good friends who really enjoy playing music together. Who just happen to be really good at it.

"Recurring Hoop Dreams" - The Section Visits Marshall Metro High School

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

The critical acclaim of the memorable and moving 1994 documentary, “Hoop Dreams” can speak for itself. When it premiered in Utah at the Sundance Film Festival, it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. Later it became an Academy Award nominee for Best Film Editing. Roger Ebert has gone on record calling it “The great American documentary.” High praise, especially for a film that was originally planned to be nothing more than a 30-minute PBS short.

We can all agree why the half-hour PBS project turned into must-see three hour marathon of heartache, triumph, and more heartache. It was raw, uncut and real. A happy ending was never guaranteed or even expected. It was completely up to the flawed characters on your screen to come through. Characters like Arthur Agee and William Gates. Teenagers trying to navigate the unforgiving streets of inner-city Chicago in the early 1990’s.

The amount of drama that unfolds in “Hoop Dreams” and the sheer improbability and jubilation with the Marshall Commandos 1991 playoff run “Downstate” sometimes makes the viewer forget how real the story actually was. As soon as Arthur and William turned in their respective high school jerseys and went off to college and the cameras stopped rolling, the struggle of real life in inner-city Chicago never slowed. And the stories related to the characters never stopped piling up. Arthur still lives in Chicago and attends Commandos games when he has the chance. William's coach, Gene Pingatore, is still leading St. Joseph’s, in his 45th season, at the age of 78. And that is just the beginning.

--

As perhaps you can imagine, hoop dreams still very much exist in Chicago. And for the lucky few, those dreams are realized. Just ask Derrick Rose, or Jabari Parker, or Jahlil Okafor, or even Marshall alum Patrick Beverley. All have made the NBA or are well on their way. And their path went through the Chicago Public School League. Last month, I paid a visit to Marshall Metro High School, 24 years after Arthur Agee took his team "Downstate."

The gym is still on the second floor of the school, discretely tucked in between classrooms and offices. There are still just five rows of bleachers on each side of the court. There are still un-retractable basketball hoops that hang over the stands that fans dance under to the rhythm of rap music during timeouts. The grand, church-like windows still overlook the court with the curtains open to let in the early evening light. There is still very little room for fans to walk along the sidelines. The passion for basketball remains just has high. The pace of the game still frenetic. Mom’s in the stands still cuss out the underpaid refs following every close call.

One of the only changes I can decipher inside the Commandos home gym is the court itself. It is clean and new-looking, with a glossy finish. “Luther Bedford Court” it reads. An ode to the Agee’s coach who died at the age of 69 following a long and distinguished career as the head coach at Marshall.

Beside that, it really did look no different that it appeared in 1991. Save for a collection of banners in the rafters that have been won in the last quarter century and a retired Patrick Beverley jersey; the former Marshall point guard who came years after Arthur and currently plays for the Houston Rockets.

The 2015 version of the Marshall Commandos are by no means a powerhouse, but they aren’t a pushover either. Just like the Agee era, they are right in the thick of things in their league. An unlikely participant in the state tournament, but athletic and aggressive enough to make an honest run come late February.

Tickets are $5 at the door to this particular Friday night Public League tilt between the Commandos and the Spartans of Orr High School. Orr was coming off a win over Whitney Young, a Chicago powerhouse where Michael Jordan’s son played, not to mention where Jahlil Okafor starred just last year before graduating to Duke.

As is tradition, the sophomore game comes first. The pace of the game blurring, the shooting leaving much to be desired. All ten kids on the floor can handle the ball and break down their defender to get to the rim. Rarely an offensive set is run. For each acrobatic layup made, a crucial free throw is missed. Among the footwear, Nike is still the king of the court. The Jordan emblem still omnipresent.

Standing with a current Marshall science teacher, she fills me in on the colorful backstories of the skinny freshman and sophomores sprinting up and down in front of me, hucking 3’s, loudly finishing And-1’s, diving for loose balls and trying to make the varsity and eventually the NBA. The brief stories are what you would expect. “The trouble maker,” “the lovable benchwarmer,” “the super-star in the making (if he gets his grades right).” It’s a list of characteristics that every high school team has but the stories become darker when she points out a man on the sidelines. He is at the end of the Marshall bench. The same area that Arthur’s dad Bo used to occupy during big Commandos games in 1991. The man’s name is Shawn Harrington. He was Agee’s teammate on the “Hoop Dreams” team. Today, he is paralyzed in a wheelchair.

--

In the middle of last year’s basketball season, on Thursday, January 30th to be exact, Shawn Harrington woke up to drive his 14-year old daughter to school. Harrington was the assistant basketball coach at Marshall, but he was driving his daughter to a more selective school. His car was in the shop getting repaired, so he was driving a rented white sedan instead. It was just him and his daughter in the car when the two were sitting at a Chicago stoplight at 7:45 in the morning. That’s when two men ran up to the car and opened fire. Allegedly, it was a case of mistaken identity. The worst kind of bad luck. Harrington leaned over to shield his daughter and was hit by a series of bullets. One of which paralyzed him. Less than a year later, he was back on the Marshall sidelines in his wheelchair, supporting the team he both played and coached for.

Sadly, Coach Harrington’s story of gruesome gun violence in Chicago is closer to the norm than the exception, especially when it pertains to the characters of “Hoop Dreams” and their families.

The year “Hoop Dreams” was released in ‘94, Arthur’s half-brother DeAntonio was shot and killed. In 2001, William Gates’ older brother Curtis was murdered. In 2003, Shawn Harrington’s mother was killed during a botched break-in. In 2004, Arthur’s father Bo was slain behind his house. In sum, it is a chilling laundry list of unnecessary violence.

There is a memorable quote toward the end of “Hoop Dreams” from Bo Agee when he asks the camera out of frustration, “Do you understand what is going on out here in these streets?” Fast forward twenty four years from that quote, and the question still deserves the same amount of contemplation. Shawn Harrington’s wheelchair on the Marshall sideline is the latest reminder.

Even despite “what is going on in the Chicago streets” today, if we learned anything from “Hoop Dreams,” it’s that there is always room for a redemption song of sorts.

Gun violence didn’t have much of a presence on screen in “Hoop Dreams” but plenty of other adversity did. Starting off with when Arthur was forced to leave St. Joseph’s after his freshman year because his parents, (his mother a nurse with a bad back and his father troubled by drugs), couldn’t afford to pay their son’s tuition. Or when William, a can’t miss NBA prospect suffered a career-altering knee injury. Or when Arthur works on his newfound dunking skills while he watches his strung-out dad sell drugs on the very same blacktop, right in front of him. Or when Arthur turns 18, and the family’s monthly government income drops from $368 a month to $268. Or William trying to raise a newborn baby stuffed inside a since demolished Cabrini-Green project building. Or the Agees having the lights shut off because they simply couldn’t pay the bill.

Of course, much to director Steve James’ delight, things miraculously come together at the end of “Hoop Dreams” in a very special way. Wearing his idol Isiah Thomas’ number 11, Arthur leads a team labeled as the “Giant Killers” to a Chicago City Title and a deep run into the state championship tournament, all the way down to Champaign and the University of Illinois. Complete with the bright lights of a BIG 10 arena, television coverage and spreads in the Chicago Tribune. There was no telling it would ever work out that well, but somehow it did.

--

The original premise of “Hoop Dreams” was to follow two Chicago teenagers as they navigated their quest to make the NBA. That happy ending never did materialize. Real life got in the way. William ended up quitting basketball at Marquette and Arthur’s dream simply ran out of steam, as it does for almost everyone. But on this night in January 2015, hoop dreams are still very much in tact.

The Marshall science teacher tells me the player to watch on the varsity is a kid by the name of Tyresse Williford, a junior point guard. Just like Agee, he has dreams of taking the team "Downstate." To Peoria, Illinois at Bradley University to be exact, the current site of the state playoffs.

Just like in the sophomore game, the pace of the varsity version of Orr and Marshall is just as fast, if not faster. And the shooting is better, but still not spectacular. Every opportunity to the drive the ball to the basket is taken and every long rebound results in an exciting fast break.

The crowd is smaller than it was in 1991. Unlike during the Agee years, the only people occupying the seats up above the west-end basket are the Orr cheerleaders and the science teacher filming the game.

The music played during timeouts is as explicit as a group of inner-city Chicago teenagers can manage. Including the catchy, yet gruesome top-40 rap hit, “Try Me” by DeJ Loaf. By halftime, I was half expecting Arthur to show up, or at least his mom Sheila, but I could spot neither.

As so often happens in City League games, when things got going in the second half, the teams started trading baskets and emotions ran hot. Security at Marshall games these days is always tight, but tonight was especially so, considering the two schools brawled in their earlier meeting at Orr this season. It was a fight that even spilled over to involve spectators. Marshall’s athletic director, Dorothy Gaters (owner of 1,000 wins as the current Marshall women’s coach) wasn’t about to let it happen again.

Following some fourth quarter drama, Marshall won this particular league game over Orr 61-59. Despite the upset win, the celebration was relatively subdued. It seemed the main focus was just getting all the people inside the gym down two flights of stairs and out the door without any dust up. Moreover, Marshall had a game versus Whitney Young the following week they were already appearing to focus on.

Surprisingly, save for a banner in the rafters for Arthur and Shawn Harrington’s 1991 “Downstate” team, there is no trace of any “Hoop Dreams” hype material. To be honest, it was tough to even find a photo of Arthur Agee anywhere in the building. In the end, it appears 1991 was just one success story in a long list of triumphs and tribulations Marshall Metro High School has gone through over the years. The time for reflection is minimal when there is always a new group of freshman walking through Marshall’s doors every year.

There is no telling what will happen with the 2015 versions of the St. Joseph’s Chargers and the Marshall Commandos. St. Joseph’s is ranked and “Ping” is still at the helm even in his late 70’s. Most people believe they have as good a shot as any of making it "Downstate."

Marshall is once again going into the playoffs as a team not expected to make it very far, but someone nobody wants to play. They are a team with only a flicker of hope of actually going downstate, but they have a gritty point guard with NBA aspirations.

Surely, it all sounds quite familiar. In the case of Chicago high school basketball some things do change, but mostly, they stay the same. And in the end, that’s just fine.

“Celebrating Sarah” - A Fallen Skier Paves the Way For Two NorCal Olympians

Brita Sigourney (center) celebrates after an X Games event with Sarah Burke (on Brita's right)

Brita Sigourney (center) celebrates after an X Games event with Sarah Burke (on Brita's right)

By Connor Buestad | connorbuestad@gmail.com

For the majority of her life, Canadian freeskier Sarah Burke didn’t necessarily know where the sport of skiing was going, she just knew she was pushing it forward, and she did not want it to ever stop. By the time of her death at age 29, Burke had added to the progression of the sport more than any other competitive female skier who ever lived. When South Lake Tahoe’s Maddie Bowman and Carmel’s Brita Sigourney compete in their first Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, they’ll be skiing in a first ever event that Burke pioneered, the Olympic Women’s Skiing Halfpipe.

From the minute Sarah Burke strapped on a pair of skis, she was always intent on taking things to the next level. Riding with the boys, seeking out the most difficult terrain, sending the biggest airs. As she got older and starting competing, she found herself constantly lobbying for the inclusion of more women in events. If there was a sponsored slopestyle event in Colorado or a halfpipe event in Utah, Sarah wanted to make sure there was a contest available for the girls as well.

“When I started (in slopestyle and halfpipe) I was the only girl,” Burke once said. “And it was always a battle, always a fight to be there.”

Using her beaming smile and undeniable aerial talent on skis, Burke slowly but surely integrated women into the mainstream competitive freestyle skiing scene throughout her twenties. She promoted ski camps in order to get other girls to try her sport, and years later would go as far as to coach her direct X Games competitors in the offseason in order to teach them new tricks and progress her sport further. Burke was hooked on the adrenaline rush of skiing down a halfpipe on skis, and she wanted as many other girls to experience it as possible with her.

For Burke, development of a women’s ski halfpipe tour to go along with a nationally televised Winter X Games event was not enough. Inevitably, the end goal was to get her sport into the Olympic Games in Sochi, and she was convinced she could pull it off. True to form, midway through 2011, it was announced that the 2014 Winter Olympics would feature the women’s ski halfpipe event. As the first girl to land a 720, 900, and 1080 in a halfpipe, it was seemingly only a matter of time before Burke would be crowned as the first Olympic gold medalist in a women’s halfpipe.

Tragically, Sarah Burke would never get a chance to appear on the Olympic medal stand she essentially built herself and sing her national anthem. Burke died on January 19, 2012, nine days after crashing during a training run on the Eagle Superpipe in Park City, Utah.

Not long after her death, Sarah’s husband and acclaimed skier Rory Bushfield, spoke in an interview about how Burke passed away doing what she loved to do.

“She was an amazing skier, always pushing herself. She was doing things she didn’t need to do to get a gold medal. She was doing them to push her side of the sport, like she did to get skiing halfpipe into the Olympics. Halfpipe skiing will debut in Sochi and that was her dream all along. She could have easily just won events with her stock run, but instead she was constantly learning new tricks and progressing the sport. And also getting other girls to do the same.”

Two of the women that will compete in the Olympic halfpipe event that Burke pushed so hard for are Maddie Bowman and Brita Sigourney. Both of which grew up skiing on the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. Bowman learned to ski at Sierra-At-Tahoe, while Sigourney first laid tracks at Alpine Meadows. Both were flying down mountains before the age of five.

Bowman grew up in South Lake Tahoe, a stones throw from the chairlift. The daughter of two professional skiers, Bowman’s parents passed down an uncanny sense of balance and feel for the snow. Ms. Bowman was also an elite gymnast. In the end, it was a perfect recipe to produce a halfpipe skier.

But of course, when Bowman was a youngster, the idea of skiing inside a halfpipe hadn’t really taken hold for women yet, so her earliest years were spent on the alpine downhill racing team. Soon enough, however, Bowman was introduced to the new-age free skiing disciplines such as slopestyle skiing and halfpipe. It wasn’t long before she was hooked.

“I quit racing when I was thirteen,” says Bowman. “It was a little too serious for me, so I switched over and joined the freeride team at Sierra, my home mountain. I kind of fell in love with it. Just skiing with all my friends all day. It was the best. I couldn’t turn that down. I had to keep going.”

Maddie Bowman and company will compete for Olympic gold on February 20th

Maddie Bowman and company will compete for Olympic gold on February 20th

As a junior at South Lake Tahoe high school, Bowman was starting on her state championship soccer team, as well competing in the Winter X games on ESPN. After earning a silver medal in the 2012 X Games, Bowman has won X Games gold in the halfpipe for the past two years. Now still just 20 years old, the 5 foot 1 inch Bowman has asserted herself as one of the favorites to win Olympic gold in Sochi.

Clipping at the heels of Bowman during these Olympics, with chance to win Gold herself, will be the 24-year-old Brita Sigourney. Unlike her counterpart, Sigourney didn’t get to grow up at the base of her home mountain. Instead, she grew up five hours away in Carmel, CA. This didn’t stop Brita’s dedicated parents from getting their ski-obsessed daughter up to Alpine Meadows virtually every weekend in the winter, regardless of the traffic conditions.

Growing up closer to the beach than the mountains, Sigourney developed into an exceptional water polo player in high school, leading to an offer to play collegiately at UC Davis. So for three years of college, Brita did both. Balancing her time between the pool and the halfpipe. Soon, polo would give way to skiing and by 2011, Sigourney was a silver medalist at the X Games. The following year, she won bronze and this past year she placed 5th at X-Games in the lead up to Sochi.

For the past few years, Sigourney had to battle through a series of harsh injuries. The list includes a microfracture in her knee, broken collarbone, torn ACL, and fractured pelvis. Through all this, she has persevered.

“I’ve had a lot of injuries in my career. And I definitely have to gather a new sort of motivation after every one I think,” said Sigourney. “I actually think I’ve benefited from each one, because it’s given me the time to step back and look at why I ski and how much I love it. Your first day on snow after so long of just rehab and gym time is the best feeling ever. It’s crazy, my mom asks me every day, and I don’t think she fully understands why I ski, because she is so heartbroken every time I get hurt. Probably more than I am.”

While Sigourney may not be America’s best chance at a gold medal, she is perhaps the most capable of throwing the biggest trick. In the 2012 Winter X Games, Brita became the first woman to land a 1080 in a full women’s halfpipe run.

Of course, the first woman to ever pull off a 1080 was Sarah Burke. If you asked Brita where she learned how to take things a step further and land one in competition, the answer is probably from working with and watching Sarah Burke.

The last qualifying event for the Women’s Ski Halfpipe event in the 2014 Olympics was recently held in Park City, Utah. Almost exactly two years removed from the accident, Bowman and Sigourney found themselves at the top of the same Eagle Superpipe that claimed Burke’s life. Bowman had already qualified, but Sigourney skied that day with her Olympic dreams still in the balance. You could say Sarah Burke had paved a new course toward Olympic dreams. Maddie Bowman and Brita Sigourney were at the top, ready to realize them.

Skiing pioneer, Sarah Burke.

Skiing pioneer, Sarah Burke.

“36 Hours in Vegas” - A Short, Strange Trip to the WCC Basketball Tournament

The ultra-intense Rex Walters nearly led the USF Dons to an upset win over BYU (photo by Ethan Miller)

The ultra-intense Rex Walters nearly led the USF Dons to an upset win over BYU (photo by Ethan Miller)

By Connor Buestad | connorbuestad@gmail.com

When deciding upon my mode of transportation to my inaugural visit to the West Coast Conference basketball tournament in Las Vegas, I felt it was only appropriate to take a bus. I figured you fly to a major conference basketball tournament like the ACC or the SEC, but you drive to a mid-major conference tournament. That’s just customary. So I ended up riding a Tufesa bus out to Sin City (via Salt Lake City), one that proudly markets their ability to transport you from Mexico to the Southern United States comfortably in the middle of the night. This particular Monday morning trip only produced a total of four passengers.

If you take the Tufesa to Vegas, the closest they’ll get you to the WCC Tournament is out front of the Excalibur Hotel on the strip. From there, it is up to you to hail a cab, or use the empty pedestrian overpass to simply walk over the crowded freeway in order to get to the Orleans Hotel & Casino. The Orleans is located off the strip in a relatively seedy area. One of the more prominent landmarks surrounding the Orleans is a Deja Vu “All-Nude” gentlemen's club. Across the street lies various cheap eats and convenience stores ready and willing to soften the blow of some bad-beats on a the blackjack tables.

Walking through the parking lot approaching the main entrance of the Orleans, there really is hardly any sign that a Division 1, ESPN televised basketball tournament is going on inside. It wasn’t until I reached the glass front doors of the casino and saw some “WCC Tournament” stickers that I was able to confirm I was in the right place.

As is true with all Las Vegas hotels, the Orleans casino floor is an intentional maze, free of clocks or useful maps, designed in way that makes you completely give up on where you were originally going in favor of just sitting down at a table with half drunk strangers and gambling.

By this time it was just 10 minutes until the Saint Mary’s Gaels and Gonzaga Bulldogs were set to tip-off in a semi-final tilt, and I was literally lost in the middle of the casino floor with a standing room only ticket in my hand.

“Can you tell me where the basketball game is going on in this place?” I ask a tired-looking poker dealer. “Yeah,” he responds. “Walk down past those slot machines, make a right at the T.G.I. Friday’s, and you’re there.” Easy enough, I thought to myself, and proceeded to make my way past the slots in search of the T.G.I. Friday’s landmark.

As dedicated as I was to WCC semifinal basketball, the lure of T.G.I. Friday’s happy hour potato skins and discount Bud Light proved too much for me to ignore. Minutes later, I found myself placing my order with a muscle-bound server in a Friday’s uniform chock-full of flair.

The game was on a flat screen TV, my thinking went, and how incredibly good are potato skins after a 6 hour bus ride?

“Hey man, you going to the game?” asks a heavy-set man from Washington state. “As a matter of fact I am,” I respond.

Steve was his name. And he was “In Vegas for a little while for various reasons,” some of which were to soak in both the WCC tournament and the PAC-12 tourney the following week. He, like so many other Gonzaga fans I encountered over the weekend wasn’t an actual alumnus of the school, but a fan nonetheless who “has been watching the Zags play for a long, long time.” (i.e. since the 1999 Santangelo, Calvary, Frahm team.)

One of the many backroads to the Final Four (photo by @section925 on instagram)

One of the many backroads to the Final Four (photo by @section925 on instagram)

By halftime of the Gonzaga v. Saint Mary’s semi-final, I had managed to settle up at T.G.I.’s, ride along the flat-moving-escalator to the Orleans Arena down the hall, and find my standing-room-only seat among the other degenerate basketball junkies in attendance.

The atmosphere inside the Orleans is a bit weird. The home to minor league hockey’s Las Vegas Wranglers, the arena is a far cry from the homely feel of McKeon Pavillion in Moraga or War Memorial in SF, or the Kennel in Spokane. Aside from the die-hard fans who flew in from their respective WCC campuses, most of the spectators inside the arena almost just seemed to be there by accident. Maybe they were gambling on the game, maybe they were just looking for some more Las Vegas entertainment, maybe they were staying on the 12th floor of the Orleans and wanted a break from their wife and teenage kids, maybe they liked basketball just a little too much.

Concessions sold garbage food like nachos and dippin’ dots (“the ice cream of the future”), but no beer was allowed to change hands. You also couldn’t place a bet on the game inside the Orleans Casino. To do that, you’d have to seek out one of the countless sportsbooks outside the Orlean’s property line. Somehow, this rule helped protect the integrity of the game.

On the court, Gonzaga was a flat out better team than St. Mary’s. David Stockton (John’s son) controlled the game throughout and Kevin Pangos played like his efficient self. In the post, Sam Dower dominated Brad Waldo. With Matthew Dellavedova gone to the NBA and Gonzaga laden with senior experience, the Gaels proved to be no match. The Gonzaga faithful, outnumbering St. Mary’s supporters by about 5 to 1, reveled in the victory over their arch-rival from the Bay Area. As St. Mary’s players walked into the locker room after their convincing loss, all they could hope for was a bid to the NIT. Their dreams for another trip to the Big Dance had been dashed.

Game two of this night of semi-final matchups pitted another Jesuit school visiting Sin City (University of San Francisco) versus the mormons of BYU. As it turned out, this game ended up being a Las Vegas late-night instant classic.

The upstart Dons of San Francisco, coached by the fiery ex-NBA sharpshooter Rex Walters, played above their heads against the Cougars of BYU. Walters, who earlier this year watched his starting point guard Cody Doolin quit the team after a inter-team fight in practice, was a joy to watch coach. Screaming one second, laughing the next, Walters provided a welcome sideshow on the USF sideline. He was gunning for a huge upset win and his freewheeling coaching style was on full display. The Dons took the Cougars into overtime, but eventually fell two points shy of the upset, 79-77. Walters, gracious in defeat, will hopefully be back in Vegas next year for another crack at the big boys of the WCC.

Not long after the Dons loss, I found myself sitting in the lobby of the Palms Casino food court, eating the only food that was readily available, which happened to be a McDonald’s Extra Value Meal. ESPN announcers Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham apparently weren’t hungry, as they slowly walked by with loosened ties, only to disappear into a sea of slot machines. However, it wasn’t long before a couple members of the USF team arrived at Mickey D’s, jonesing for a postgame meal of any sort.

Tim Derksen, USF’s sophomore guard who played valiantly in the OT loss, sat quietly with a couple college buddies wearing “USF Sixth Man” T-shirts. Far across the casino floor, the Palms Sports Book’s giant big screen TV is airing SportsCenter on loop. Derksen’s friend nudges him on the shoulder, encouraging him to look up and watch his highlights play out on the big screen. Derksen raises his head for a moment, only to look back down and resume eating his french fries before the ESPN anchor can tell us who won. He, like the rest of the patrons at this late-night Vegas McDonalds already knew the outcome.

The Dons would ship out of town the next morning, while I would stay one more night to watch Gonzaga win the 2014 West Coast Conference crown. Only one team from the WCC would get to head back home a winner. The rest of the league would have to concede that Sin City had gotten the best of them. As history shows, it’s never easy to leave Las Vegas on top.

David Stockton cuts down the nets at the Orleans (photo by Ethan Miller)

David Stockton cuts down the nets at the Orleans (photo by Ethan Miller)

A Local Star Prepares to Take Flight in Berkeley

By Connor Buestad | connorbuestad@gmail.com

The basketball gym at Riverview Park in North Augusta, South Carolina is nothing fancy. It’s the type of sprawling, multi-purpose gym you’ve been to a million times. A place to hold indoor soccer games, summer hoop camps, or a Friday night co-ed volleyball league. It’s your run of the mill suburban rec center that allows weekend warriors to shake off the dust of another long work week and get out and run. This all changes, however, for one week every July. That’s when the best basketball players in the world under the age of 18 descend on North Augusta to compete in the most prestigious AAU tournament there is. They call it the “Peach Jam”.

As you can imagine, for better or worse, Nike has their fingerprints all over the Peach Jam. The flagship tournament marks the culmination of the “Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL)”, which is effectively a group of prestigious AAU basketball tournaments run by Nike designed to highlight the athletes Nike hopes to one day sponsor. In the end, it works out for everyone. Nike puts on the tournaments, players get exposure, and college coaches get to see all the best talent of tomorrow crammed into one gym competing against one another.

Last year’s Peach Jam headliner was undoubtedly Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins. Widely considered the best high school player to come along since LeBron James, Wiggins fell one point short in the tournament championship. He lost to Cal’s Jabari Bird.

Playing for the Oakland Soldiers, an AAU team LeBron once played for extensively, Bird found his team down 50-49 with under 10 ticks on the clock. Bird was being guarded by Wiggins on the left wing when the ball came his way. Without hesitation, he rose up and fired off a three with everything on the line. Wiggins couldn’t help but commit a foul. Bird calmly strode to the free throw stripe, in a sweltering South Carolina gym in July, under the watchful eyes of the Mike Krzyzewskis of the world, and calmly drained the game winners.

Sure enough, before Bird could even board his flight back out to Oakland, The North Carolina Tar Heels came calling, Jabari’s dream school.

“My dream school growing up was North Carolina. I wanted to be just like Jordan,” explained Bird in his high school coach’s office. “They came on too late though. I remember right after we won Peach Jam, I’m on my way home, and I get a text from one of their coaches offering me a scholarship. It was kinda crazy. UNC was a school I always watched growing up. But I had to say no. It was too late.”

Indeed, the 6’6” swingman, who’s always made sure to wear number 23, had worked his whole life to receive that text. For someone to offer him a chance to follow MJ’s exact footsteps and play for the Tar Heels of UNC. But Jabari is serious when he says it was too late. The Vallejo, CA native had promised to be a California Bear, and number 23 is a man of his word.

In order to connect the dots and fully understand where Bird developed his respectful demeanor, his cool confidence and his Jordan-esque smile, it helps to walk the halls of his alma mater, Salesian High School. Located in the heart of Richmond, the private school of 451 students shares a fence with the neighboring Richmond High School located just steps down the road. The quaint Catholic school features manicured lawns at the base of intelligent architecture. Students walk the halls in traditional school uniforms, while the administration is quick with a smile to the rogue stranger passing by. Principal’s Timothy J. Chambers popular slogan is “come and see”, and to be sure, the school’s excellence speaks for itself.

On the day I visited with Jabari, it was the second day of a new school year at Salesian. The back to school hustle and bustle didn’t stop Principal Chambers from corralling me into his office for a chance to discuss the attributes of his latest student done good.

“He was great,” says Chambers with beaming pride. “I can say that without a qualification. He was a leader. In the hallway, in the classroom, wherever he was. His language, his style, he had no pretense to superiority at all.”

It would be hard to blame Bird for having said pretense, considering his presence on campus. The main entrance to the school opens up to the a trophy case featuring the State Championship trophy Jabari won as a Junior in 2012. Down the hall, a conference room is adorned by a blown up photo of Bird in a McDonald’s apron from a photoshoot he did following his selection as a McDonald’s All-American. Yet despite all this pomp and circumstance surrounding the 18 year old, it hasn’t seemed to have gotten to his head.

Bill Mellis, a former team manager for the Cal Bears basketball team during the Jason Kidd era and current Salesian head coach, jumps at the chance to speak fondly of his former player both on and off the court.

“I’ll just say that for someone that was as recognizable and in the limelight, he is very down to earth. He loved his senior class. Not just the basketball players, but all the way down to the teachers. He treated everyone with respect and didn’t walk around like he was better than anyone else. One of his first year’s here, during a spirit week, he came in a full on purple Teletubby costume. He can laugh at himself. He was never above anything.”

If our location for an interview was any indication (cramped in the back corner of Mellis’ “under-construction” basketball office) Jabari’s reputation for humility in the face of humungous hype certainly seems to hold weight. With his never ending legs and Inspector Gadget arms coiled up like an accordion on his old coaches’ couch, Bird is at ease discussing the long arch of his basketball career.

The son of a San Quentin Prison guard, Jabari had his old man around in the afternoons to rebound for him when he was itching to get some shots up in the family’s backyard. That’s because his dad, Carl Bird, worked the graveyard shift, in part to have more time to spend with young Bari. It also didn’t hurt that Carl knew his way around a basketball court himself. A 6’8” forward who led the Cal Bears in scoring twice during the 1970’s, Carl was drafted by the Golden State Warriors and eventually cut out a long career for himself in professional leagues overseas.

“My dad always worked with me in the backyard. It would then go to HORSE, and he would always beat me in HORSE, then it went to one-on-one. I’m a little kid, and he’s like 6’8” 240, a big guy, but he wouldn’t let me win. He wasn’t about letting me win. That definitely helped me with my competitive edge.”

Not only did Jabari benefit from patterning his game after his father, he also remembers becoming infatuated by the Greatest Of All Time, Michael Jordan, at a very young age. It just so happened that the youngster grew up to be the same height as MJ, with a similar body-type and style of play.

“Growing up I just watched Michael Jordan videos all the time. I mean, who didn’t want to be like Mike? I remember watching him in the Finals versus Utah. Just as a little kid next to my mom, imitating his moves on the couch, trying to do whatever he did. I even watched Space Jam all the time. I had all his DVD’s. Everything.”

Inspired by Jordan like so many his age, Bird became consumed with the game of basketball, playing any chance he got. Whether it was an outdoor playground in Vallejo, inside at the Mare Island Sports Center, or at an AAU tournament with the Vallejo Hustlers, Bird was rarely seen during his youth without a basketball under his arm.

When it came time to pick a high school to attend, Bird chose Benicia High. A relatively unknown program, Bird’s reasons for attending Benicia were threefold. The school was relatively close by, all his friends were going there, and the coach was the son of Al Attles. The same Al Attles who drafted Carl Bird onto the Warriors decades earlier. After experiencing a five inch growth spurt the summer leading up to his freshman season, Bird became a breakout player for Benicia averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds playing against guys four years older than him. It wasn’t long before he got his first call from the Oakland Soldiers.

“I remember the Soldiers called me after my freshman year, and I knew who the Soldiers were. Carl Foster called me. I was super nervous at the tryout. When I walked into the tryout I saw all these elite guys like Jabari Brown, Dominic Artis, etc, and I was thinking, ‘I’m not supposed to be here’. I don’t want to say I was star struck. But there was just a lot of talent in the gym, Aaron Gordon, everyone. Initially, I didn’t feel like I belonged there.”

Whether Bird felt he belonged or not, he turned in a great performance at the tryout and was able to make the squad. With an alumni list of players that include LeBron James, Drew Gooden, Chauncey Billups and the like, there was no understating how big of a deal it was for Jabari to become a Soldier. For the next three summers, Bird would tour the United States, stopping off at an array of elite tournaments to play the best talent the team could find. Alongside him the entire way was Aaron Gordon, the current Arizona Wildcat who won California’s Mr. Basketball award twice while at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose.

“I was motivated. On the Soldiers I was never known as ‘that guy’. When people talked about the team I played on, in my age group, it was always about Aaron Gordon. And Aaron is a good friend of mine, but at the same time, I see him as a rival. Any accolade he got, I wanted it too. Being on the same team as him pushed me to work hard because I wanted everything he had. I wanted be seen on the same level as him.”

It was that first summer with the Soldiers that Jabari met point guard Mario Dunn. An electrifying player in his own right, Dunn had just finished his first year at Salesian, and continually sung the praises of the school and the basketball program in front of Bird. Because Bird’s coach at Benicia had recently been let go, Jabari figured why not head over to Salesian and chase down a state championship with his buddy Mario. He eventually achieved just that, but not before being embroiled in an alleged recruiting violation.

In what by all accounts was a mix up in the bureaucratic paperwork of the California high school athletics governing body, it was deemed illegal that Jabri had talked to Mario about Salesian before enrolling in the school. Forced to succom to the “Pre-Enrolment Contact” rule, Bird’s Salesian team had to forgo six of their wins that they earned at the beginning of the season. Coming back from a brief suspension, Bird, Dunn and current Oregon point guard Dominic Artis were able to make it all the way to the Division IV State Championship game only to fall short at Arco Arena. The next year, with Artis gone to a Las Vegas prep school, Bird broke through and brought home the elusive State Championship trophy back to Richmond.

Following his subsequent Peach Jam title over Andrew Wiggins, Bird returned home last summer with the world at his fingertips, literally. Virtually any school in the nation had their doors wide open for Jabari, should he have chosen to walk through. Ultimately, he chose to be a Cal Golden Bear, becoming just the fifth McDonald’s All-American to come to Berkeley, joining the likes of Shareef Abdur Rahim, Leon Powe and Jason Kidd.

“Cal was the first college to offer me a scholarship when I was a freshman at Benicia. Honestly, that meant a lot to me. I came into high school as an unknown player, and as soon as I started putting up numbers, Cal came calling and offered me. After that, Washington and Arizona and other schools started calling. But I was always the type of guy who knew he wanted to stay close to home.”

By staying home, Bird became the most heralded Bay Area high school senior to stay local for college since Leon Powe went from Oakland Tech to Cal. Stanford and Cal’s rosters have largely been made up of talent from Southern California as of late, not to mention St. Mary’s looking all the way to Australia to fill out their roster. Last year’s NBA rookie of the year, Damian Lillard from Oakland High, ventured out to Utah to play for Weber State in lieu of staying local. It’s a trend Bird is excited to try to change.

“That is one of my goals. To show kids from the Bay Area following in my footsteps that you don’t necessarily need to go away to play college ball. You can be an All-American, stay close to home, and still accomplish your dreams. Jason Kidd did it, Leon Powe did, I want to do that too.”

While not every superstar from Northern California stays local like Bird, there will be a host of local hoopers doing damage in the PAC-12 this year. Dominic Artis from Salesian will be running the point for Oregon, Aaron Gordon is poised to dominate at Arizona, and Darin Johnson from Sacramento is set to breakout at Washington.

“The PAC-12 should be awesome to watch this year,” says Jason Lincoln, a videographer from the hit YouTube site “Yay Area’s Finest”. “I’ve watched a ton of basketball in the Bay Area over the years, and this is definitely one of the best senior classes I’ve ever seen.”

Lincoln, along with Yay Area’s Finest head honcho Travis Farris, has been filming highlight videos of Bird, his boyhood friend, for as long as he can remember. It’s a passion project that Farris and Lincoln have pushed to become what is now a famed YouTube channel that attracts a cult following of basketball lovers.

“Those guys have been filming me since I was in the ninth grade. I’m all for it and I love supporting it. I think its cool because people say they have all these highlights and want them to get out and Travis and Jason are always there. If you put on a show, YAF is going to put it out.”

Highlight tapes aside, Jabari knows full well that if he expects to send Cal to the Final Four, or find himself on an NBA roster, he has his work cut out for him. Bird’s best attribute is his mid range game. Using his length and smooth athleticism, Bird should have little trouble in college getting off one dribble pull up jumpers and finishing lobs in transition. But there are still some holes in his game that he must fill in order to play at the highest level. Namely defense and ball-handling. Two things Coach Mellis believes Jabari will sure up, so long as he buys into Mike Montgomery’s no nonsense style over in Berkeley.

20 years ago, Bill Mellis shared the huddle with Jason Kidd as the Cal Bears knocked off the two time defending National Champion Duke Blue Devils. He watched the magician that is J Kidd pick apart a seemingly helpless Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. Duke’s chance at an historic three-peat evaporated, while Cal marched on to the Sweet 16. The Sports Illustrated cover photo from that game is prominently displayed in the Salesian basketball office still to this day.

As I finish talking to Bird and he uncoils from his seat in his coaches’ office, Jabari lets out one of his signature smiles as he discusses his Unit 1 freshman dorm arrangement at Cal. Mellis has walked those dormitory halls a thousand times. Eaten at Top Dog down the street, gone to Memorial Stadium every Saturday. More importantly, he’s seen and heard the Harmon Gym crowd explode with noise and spill over onto Bancroft Avenue after another “You had to be there” performance from Jason Kidd. As Mellis and Bird embraced each other a week before Jabari headed off to college, they both knew. They knew the story of the coming years about to unfold was going to be filled with unexpected twists and turns, gut wrenching defeats and historic victories. They both knew it, and were ready for it to begin. But for now, the two could just smile.

“Country Comes to Town” – Sonny Dykes Arrives in Berkeley to Lead the Golden Bears

(Photo by Brant Ward, The Chronicle)

(Photo by Brant Ward, The Chronicle)

By Connor Buestad | connorbuestad@gmail.com

Deep in the heart of Texas, days after Sonny Dykes was introduced as Cal’s newest football coach, his father, Spike Dykes, is talking pigskin with a couple of football junkies on the “Cook’s Pest Control Hotline.”

At 75 years old, and with a glorious football career in his rearview mirror, Spike has no politically correct filter, no recruiting agenda, no schtick, just some stories about the good ol’ days of amateur football in the Lone Star State. And when the topic comes up of his boy moving out west to coach the Golden Bears, Spike shoots straight as an arrow.

“You talk about country come to town,” says Spike with a chuckle. “I think we probably dance to different drummers, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think I’d fit too good out there (in California). But I hope he does, I hope he can do it.”

And by “I hope he can do it,” we all know what Spike really means. Can his boy Sonny do what has proved impossible for the past 55 years in Berkeley? Can he bring a Rose Bowl berth to the faithful of Strawberry Canyon? Can he restore order in program that finished 3-9 last year while sporting the lowest graduation rate of all Pac-12 schools (48%)? One thing we’ve learned already, if Sonny succeeds, he’ll do so by keeping things simple, just like his old man did.

Born in the fall of 1969, Sonny Dykes grew up in Big Spring, Texas, as the son of a football coach. In a state certifiably obsessed with football, where a good seat at a high school game can require a Season Ticket Personal Seat License, Sonny was fed football for as long as he could remember. Naturally, he wanted to be the next Roger Staubach. The only catch was that he wasn’t very good. At least, not good enough to play for his dad, who was the coach of Texas Tech at the time. Fortunately, he knew how to handle a baseball bat.

“I was just kind of an average high school football player and if wanted to play I was gonna end up going to some school I’ve never heard of to play football,” Sonny told KNBR. “I just happened to be a little better at baseball. I could at least go to a school I’ve heard of. I was just kind of a guy on the baseball team.”

But following his graduation, there was no shaking the football lifestyle that had been ingrained in him at a young age. Even if he wasn’t good enough to cut it as a player, he couldn’t help but go back to it as a coach.

Sonny’s first legitimate coaching job took him 55 miles south of downtown Dallas to a small football town called Corsicana, Texas. The city’s motto is “Live, Work, Play.” It was Sonny’s kind of town. Sonny coached the quarterbacks at Navarro College. In his second year they made it to the Texas Junior College Championship. Soon thereafter, Sonny wound up at the University of Kentucky, where he served as an assistant to Hal Mumme, the Godfather of the “Air-Raid” offense. The Air-Raid concept led him back to Texas Tech, where he coached under fellow Air-Raid master Mike Leach. This was followed by a stint in the Pac-10 as an offensive coordinator at Arizona, and finally three years as the head man of Louisiana Tech in the WAC. Today, Sonny finds himself behind the wheel of a team and program ripe with potential, but fraught with flaws as he heads into the 2013 season facing perhaps the toughest schedule in college football.

This will be the first year Cal has had a new football coach since Jeff Tedford was hired back in 2002. Much like Dykes, Tedford was brought in based on his acumen as an offensive coordinator. Dubbed a “quarterback guru,” Tedford came to Berkeley with an offensive mindset, determined to jumpstart a god-awful program. In his freshman campaign, Tedford gave Bears fans a winning season, just one year removed from a 1-10 debacle under Tom Holmoe. By his third season, Tedford had the Bears ranked in the top 10 nationally, knocking on the Rose Bowl door.

During the middle of Tedford’s time in Berkeley, good times were rolling, and there seemed to be no end in sight. Tie-dyed “TedHead” shirts were printed, Marshawn and DeSean routinely ran wild, multi-million dollar stadium renovations were drawn up, and the Bears even flirted with a number 1 ranking. Somewhere along the line, however, Tedford seemed to lose his mojo, quality quarterbacks slowly stopped walking through his office door, and he was eventually forced to give up the once-promising program he cultivated.

In his shoes now stands a swashbuckler named Sonny Dykes who has been entrusted with the tall task of bringing the Bears back to Pac-12 prominence. It appears he plans to do so with the mantra of “KISS… Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

While Tedford was known for implementing a thick, complex playbook each fall, Dykes plans to take the exact opposite approach with the Air-Raid, or “Bear-Raid,” as it is now appropriately called in Berkeley. No doubt, Tedford’s offense worked wonderfully when it was run by a quarterback up to the task (see Rodgers, Aaron), but the complexities of the Tedford attack seemed to fall apart under his less adept signal callers in the past few years. Dykes, on the other hand, values the power of simplicity to make his offense move.

The Air-Raid style that Dykes will use traces itself back through a web of successful coaches. It is said the initial framework of the offense was spawned at BYU during the exciting passing years of Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer. LaVell Edwards was the coach during that era, and it was his mission to give his quarterbacks a simple, free and easy system to work in. Huddle only when you have to, use four wide receivers, let the QB go from the shotgun, and have him audible whenever he sees fit. This system worked, year after year, and it spawned a coaching tree that eventually named the system the “Air-Raid.” Hal Mumme took to it first, followed by Mike Leach, and now Sonny Dykes. 

In his three-year stay at Louisiana Tech, Dykes more than proved the value of the Air-Raid. Last season, Dykes’ offense churned out 577 yards and 51 points on average per game—all with an offensive playbook that consists of roughly 20 core plays. Huddles were mainly an afterthought last season, as Dykes’ offense reeled off the second-most offensive plays from scrimmage in all of Division I. Get to the line, survey the defense, snap it and let your athletes make plays. Rinse and repeat.

“Athletes who make plays” certainly have not been in short supply in Berkeley over the past decade. One would be hard pressed to flip on the tube on a fall Sunday and not see a Cal alum starring for an NFL team. Pro talent has been steadily flowing through the Cal recruiting pipeline, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t fully blossomed in Berkeley, especially at the quarterback position. Sandy Barbour and company are banking on the hope that a little simplicity will be just what the doctor ordered.

While Tedford leaves behind all the positives that come with a renovated Memorial Stadium and a new high-performance training facility, he also leaves his successor with an incredibly competitive schedule to navigate. Dykes inherits the least experienced team in all of the Pac-12 (five returners on defense, four on offense to be exact), and must face Big-10 power in Northwestern right out of the gate. Two weeks later, the team expected to claim the national championship and the Heisman Trophy, Ohio State, will show up in Berkeley. Sprinkle in a late September road test at Oregon and you have yourself a murderous first month of the season to contend with.

Dykes can only hope his simple, straightforward offense will jibe with what will likely be redshirt freshman Zach Kline at quarterback. If Kline can channel his inner Jim McMahon and Steve Young, the Bear-Raid will provide all the freedom he needs to make plays. What the offense won’t provide is a complex, intricate system designed to deceive the defense and hide offensive flaws.

Sonny Dykes, born in America’s football heartland to the son of a famed Texas coach, knows the drill all too well. Success isn’t measured by progress, or talent, or potential, but rather the cold hard facts of wins and losses and BCS Bowl appearances. It’s “win now,” and after that, it’s “what have you done for me lately.” It’s coaches at SC and Oregon bending the rules and breaking for the NFL as soon as it gets too hot. It’s Mike Leach at Washington State, it’s Jim Mora Jr. at UCLA, David Shaw at Stanford. It’s non-conference games vs. Big-10 powers. It’s the Wild West of college football, and good ol’ Sonny now finds himself right in the thick of it all. The Bear-Raid era is upon us and Cal fans can only pray it delivers the Rose Bowl they have long deserved.

(Photo by Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

(Photo by Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

“Get StOAKed” – An Oakland Clothing Line is Determined to Challenge Perceptions

By Connor Buestad | connorbuestad@gmail.com

A group of five 15 year olds isn’t supposed to be able to captivate a room like this.

Tears of joy and pride, prolonged moments of intense contemplation, and rousing standing ovations were supposed to be reserved for “Graduation Saturday” at UC Berkeley. And although more than a few remnants from the Cal graduation yet remained, it was Sunday now. By this time, the diplomas had all been given out, the pictures had all been snapped, the celebratory bottles of wine had been emptied, and the grandparents were well on their way back to Florida.

A newer, younger generation of students now had the stage in the Haas School of Business main auditorium all to themselves. An impressive collection of East Bay ninth graders had descended upon the Berkeley campus to compete in a business competition and pitch their start-up ideas to a group of distinguished panelists. The event, put on by BUILD.org, promised the winner a thousand dollars of seed funding.

In front of a standing room only crowd, it was a clothing company called “Stoaked” that stole the show.

Ryan Frigo, Jovon Jenkins Jr., Desmond Cliett Jr., Christian Johnson, and Kai Crosby, all Oakland Tech Freshman, took the stage near the end of the competition and left no doubt who was the most deserving winner. In a compelling presentation, the five-man team went far beyond simply explaining their brand, but instead dove headlong into social issues plaguing the city of Oakland. A city that the team is currently growing up (and taking pride) in.

The Stoaked contingent used a microphone instead of a bullhorn in order to be heard on this day. And their focus was on their hoodies rather than the 1%. But their speech held undertones of the since past Occupy Oakland movement, and the crowd surely was struck by the gravity of the moment.

“Stoaked is an apparel company that represents Oakland’s life, beauty, and soul,” explained company leader Kai Crosby. “The brand represents a lifestyle and a vision that Oakland’s potential will continue to be brought out, and will bring positive outside perceptions to Oakland. We are trying to slowly change the image of the city we grew up in by selling clothes.”

Ryan Frigo continued to captivate the audience with more background on how Stoaked came to be, and where he plans to take it in the future. It is a company that sells a fashionable, well designed, original product, but the founders make sure their goods also come with a positive and meaningful message.

From L to R: Frigo, Jenkins Jr., Cliett Jr., Johnson, and Crosby (photo by Gene Dominique)

From L to R: Frigo, Jenkins Jr., Cliett Jr., Johnson, and Crosby (photo by Gene Dominique)

Frigo, who appears to be the brains behind the technical side of the product, has chosen a logo for Stoaked that epitomizes the change in Oakland that he is after. The spreading roots of the “City of Oakland Tree”, centered inside a triangle is the logo representing this up-and-coming brand. And if even incidental, consumers can’t help but see the triangle as representing a delta sign, as in change.

“We looked into the Oaklandish logo (also depicting the ‘City of Oakland Tree’) and we realized they don’t have any special rights to the city tree, so we went ahead and made our own design out of Oakland’s city logo.”

The company Frigo makes reference to here, Oaklandish, is an established clothing brand who is dedicated to supporting and representing the city of Oakland in the most positive light possible. With shirts including the one depicting the word “stAy” in support of the one-foot-out-the-door Oakland Athletics, Oaklandish has made every attempt to support the city through a local, artistically driven clothing store.

And as much as stores like Oaklandish have done to change and improve the perception of the city of Oakland, there is no substitute for the perspective that the members of Stoaked posses. Even despite close ties with Oakland and her sociology degree from the University of Chicago, Oaklandish’s CEO Anglea Tsay can’t quite compete with how local Stoaked really is. In the case of Ryan, Kai and the rest of the Stoaked staff, they embody the image and purpose of the clothes themselves. Their models are their classmates, their design consultants are their buddies who skate the rails behind Oakland Tech.

It wasn’t until Frigo finally laid his paws on a heat press that Stoaked went from just a lofty idea to something of substance. Now that same heat press is working overtime in his family’s basement, churning out shirts, tanks and hoodies for customers all over the Bay Area.

“Me and my friends take pictures all throughout the city of Oakland,” explains Frigo. “Sometimes it’s in an urban setting, other times it’s up in a secret spot in the hills. Using photoshop and different design programs, we create what the images will look like, then we use transfers and a heat press to get them on our clothes.” 

It is a process that can be time consuming and labor intensive, especially for a 15 year old. But as Frigo explains, “It doesn’t really feel like work, we enjoy doing it. We love making these clothes.”

As Spring gives way to Summer, the young men of Stoaked have graciously moved on from their business comp triumph. The seed money has already been re-invested, the Summer Line has been released and the all important Fall roll-out of apparel is in the pipeline. But as anyone already knows from hearing this group of entrepreneurs speak about their city and their mission, their goals go far beyond just the next quarter of sales.

Stoaked has decided to not just agree to change or sign up for a movement, but they decided to start one themselves. With each picture taken, each shirt pressed, and each item sold, they plan to come closer to changing the perception of the city they are growing up in.

 If they aren’t careful, they just might do it.

“Good Kid, Mad City” – Steph Curry Captivates The Bay, One Jumper at a Time

The love is mutual.

The love is mutual.

By Connor Buestad | connorbuestad@gmail.com

I received the text out of the blue, around 6:15pm, on a dreary late December Tuesday night.

“Dubs vs t-wolves tonite at oracle. Can you roll?”

Normally, the answer would be no. I was all the way out in the Sunset District of San Francisco, the game started in less than an hour, the Warriors were playing pretty awful, Monta Ellis had just been traded to the Bucks for a bloke named Bogut, the list of excuses went on.

But anytime you can watch Luke Ridnour run the point for the T-Wolves alongside Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and Michael Beasley, you have to go, right? So I did. I dragged my ass through the city, over the bridge and down to The Oracle.

By the time I got to my buddy Mike’s “lower-bowl-between-the-baskets” seats, it was already early in the second quarter. Beside some fundamentally sound pick-and-roll two-man game between Ridnour and Love, the game was sloppy at best. It had a “too many games in too few nights” NBA feel to it.

It wasn’t until just before halftime that I finally received the memo that it was “Chris Mullin Night” at the Arena. This meant that Mully would have his #17 jersey lifted to the rafters during a halftime ceremony. The ‘T’ and ‘M’ from RunTMC were going to be on hand, not to mention Tom Tolbert, Al Attles, Rick Barry, and Greg Papa. A who’s who of Warrior greats. Even Sharunas Marchulenis’ face was on my ticket stub. Suddenly, this night was shaping up to be much more interesting.

We all know what happened next. A dumpster fire broke out at center court. A textbook PR nightmare. An ugly lesson of sociology. An awful night in Warrior history.

It should have just been Mully out at center court with his wife and kids, and Mitch Richmond and Timmy Hardaway, and maybe Tom Tolbert. But god forbid if Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob decided to skip out to center court with a shit eating grin on his face and take the mic “to say a few words”.

When you are the owner of a franchise, there isn’t exactly someone above you to tell you when a bad idea is actually a terrible idea. So Joe Lacob went with his gut and took the mic, just days after trading away fan favorite, Monta Ellis.

A litany of angry boos rained down from the upper deck when Lacob tried to congratulate Mullin for being one of the best Warriors of all time. Mully attempted to take the mic back and put out the fire. It didn’t work. More boos rained down.

The lower bowl decided not to boo. Maybe because they were just stoked to be sitting in the lower bowl and were in a good mood, maybe because they were close enough to Lacob’s seats to feel some sympathy for the 5’2” owner. The upper deck, meanwhile, was unmerciful.

Rick Barry stole the mic (wearing a tan corduroy blazer, no less), and basically yelled at the fans to shut up and respect Mully’s night, but to no avail.

At that moment, the “We Believe Era” of Warrior basketball seemed like a lifetime ago. The Dubs were getting their ass-kicked by the T-Wolves, Monta was gone for good, and Mullin Night was getting drowned out by drunk/angry boo birds.

What a difference a year makes.

As it stands today, Lacob’s decision to get rid of Ellis not only seems defensible, but maybe even advisable. Curry and Ellis were allegedly not getting along, and there wasn’t enough room in the Warrior backcourt for two small guards who needed to constantly be shooting. Warrior brass decided to roll the dice on Curry’s ankle and not look back. If the 2013 playoffs are any indication, this has been the smartest decision Lacob has ever made in his life.

The phase “that player was born to _____” gets thrown around quite a bit. But in Stephen Curry’s case, it is safe to say he was indeed born to shoot. His dad, Dell, wasn’t much of a jumper, or a passer, or a defender, but if you left him open he didn’t seem to ever miss. A journeyman in the truest sense of the word, Dell played for five different NBA teams during his career. The formula went something like this: give Dell a uniform, give him a point guard that can find him open (ie. Muggsy Bogues), and he will nail jump shots for you. Rinse and repeat.

Now, what do you get when a shooter of that caliber marries a standout ACC volleyball star? Well, you get a more athletic version of Dell. And for this, Warrior fans are grateful.

Even though Steph was born with the perfect shooter’s DNA, it was always tough to believe the younger Curry would turn himself into a top tier scorer in the NBA. Talented, yes, but not LeBron, Carmelo, or Durant talented. Having the name Curry written on his back wasn’t enough to get big college basketball programs to give him a look. Instead, he had to settle on tiny Davidson College as a proving ground for his NBA worth. Three years later, after dominating the mid-major circuit, the NBA finally came calling.

Curry’s rap for his first three years in the league was “great shooter, bad ankle”. It seemed anytime Steph found himself getting in a groove and putting up big offensive numbers, his fragile ankle would give way. He’d spend a few weeks on the injured list while he tried to find a new ankle brace that would work out better. All the while Bay Area sports talk would argue whether or not Steph “would ever get right”.

The “Stephen Curry National Coming Out Party” took place where coming out parties are supposed to take place, at Madison Square Garden. On sport’s biggest stage, in a nationally televised game, Mr. Curry went unconscious for four quarters. When he awoke, the 25 year old had poured in 54 points and 11 three pointers. Even though the Knicks ended up winning the game versus the shorthanded Warriors (D Lee got suspended for fighting the Pacers the night before), the New York fans were sheepishly cheering on the three-point artist by games end. The performance was a spectacle in a very Steph Curry kind of way. It wasn’t LeBron manhandling lesser opponents; it was Steph simply mastering the art of the three point shot. Just casting up a ton of shots… and not missing.

More of the same Steph Curry heroics were put on display when the underdog Warriors took on the Denver Nuggets in round one of the playoffs. Steph single handedly turned the series into appointment television for basketball fans across the nation. The 6’3” guard whipped The Oracle faithful into a frenzy, basically shooting whenever he touched the ball, draining three after three. In game four, Curry scored 22 points, in the third quarter alone.

Now in the Western Conference semi finals, the Warriors are flying back to Oakland tied 1-1 with the experience laden San Antonio Spurs. Game 1 turned out to be one of the more gut-wrenching losses in franchise history, with the Dubs blowing a 16 point lead with four minutes left in the game. Steph Curry’s second 22 point third quarter outburst of the playoffs had gone to waste and the Charles Barkley’s of the world seriously wondered if the Warriors could overcome such an inexcusable loss.

Game 2? Well game 2 turned out to be the Klay Thompson show. The second year player out of Washington State pulled his best Steph Curry impression and made 8 of his 9 three point shots on his way to a career high 34 points. The last time the Warriors had won a game in San Antonio, Thompson was a six year old.

Now dubbed the “Splash Brothers”, the Steph-Clay combo has no shortage of confidence from their coach, Mark Jackson. Says Jackson about his youthful backcourt, “I have the greatest shooting backcourt that has ever played the game… call my bluff.”

Calling Steph Curry and Klay Thompson the greatest shooting backcourt that has ever played the game is more than a little ridiculous when you stop and think about it. But at this point, no one in Dub Nation is thinking twice about anything, not even Joe Lacob. The hopes of a Warriors trip to the Western Conference Finals rests in the hands of Steph Curry. A good pair of hands indeed.

The Big Fundamental may have got the best of St. Mary’s Brad Millard in ’97, but this is 2013.

The Big Fundamental may have got the best of St. Mary’s Brad Millard in ’97, but this is 2013.

“A Team From Berkeley Bound by Tragedy” – The Cal Bears Reach The Women’s Final Four

Three of Cal’s players have had family members slain by gunfire (McClureImages.com)

Three of Cal’s players have had family members slain by gunfire (McClureImages.com)

By Connor Buestad | connorbuestad@gmail.com

For as long as Barack Obama has been the President of the United States, he has stayed true to an annual tradition come every March. He takes the time to fill out a bracket.

Not only does Barack spend hours navigating through the Men’s field of 68, but he also makes sure to pencil in his predictions for the women as well. And of course, as with anything the president decides to do, he catches some flack from an opposing side.

Shouldn’t Mr. Obama be spending his afternoon on foreign policy rather than bracketology? Isn’t this just a publicity stunt to win over the 18-34 ESPN demographic? If it weren’t for Title IX, would Obama ever fill out a women’s bracket?

Regardless of where you find yourself in the petty debate, there is no argument when it comes to Obama’s passion and knowledge for the game of basketball. The man knows his hoops. So when he sat down with ESPN to walk America through his Women’s Final Four predictions, it meant something when he chose the California Golden Bears to be one of the last four standing. In retrospect, when one understands the story behind the 2013 Bears, Obama’s upset pick begins to start making sense.

We’ve all heard the rhetoric a million times. Turn on any press conference after an important athletic event and the word “adversity” will start to bounce around like a ping-pong ball. Every team has adversity and every good team ends up overcoming it. But what the Cal Women’s basketball team has experienced goes far beyond adversity. The Cal women have overcome tragedy.

If there was a cover girl for the Bears’ excruciating hardship, that girl would be Tierra Rogers. Now in her Senior year as a scholarship athlete at Cal, Rogers has never stepped foot on the Haas Pavillion floor.

Growing up in the Hunter’s Point district of San Francisco, Rogers was a basketball prodigy from the moment she was old enough to dribble a ball. On the playgrounds near Candlestick Park, Rogers was known affectionately as “The Lady Iverson”. There was nothing Tierra couldn’t do on a basketball court. She was so good, her father, Terray “Tat” Rogers, used to take her to the park and bet other grown men that her daughter could make more than 7 out of 10 shots from the free throw line. It wasn’t that Terray had to do it, but the money was too easy. Tierra was virtually automatic.

By high school, Tierra found herself as the best player on the best team in the nation, the Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep Irish of San Francisco. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, the Lady Irish won the State championship. For two straight seasons in ‘07-’08, Tierra’s team never lost a game. She was a can’t miss star in every sense of the word, but on Jan 12, 2008, things would never be the same for Tierra. This is when two men in hooded sweatshirts rushed at Terray Rogers in the parking lot of a basketball gym. As the gunshots sounded outside, Tierra was in the gym getting ready to play the second half of a regular season game. Terray was pronounced dead at the scene.

In many ways, Tierra was the reason her dad was doing well at the time of the shooting. If it wasn’t for her inspiring potential on the basketball court, her dad might have already been gone well before she reached high school.

Adam Rogers, Tierra’s grandpa and Terray’s dad, was murdered in San Francisco back in 1977. He had been in and out of jail and heavily involved with drugs and gangs. In his later years, Adam had rehabilitated himself to the point where he became a community activist. “Adam Rogers Playground” still stands in Hunter’s Point today for the good things he did, but he ultimately fell short of outrunning his demons.

The same story could be told of Tierra’s dad Terray. Shortly after Tierra was born, her dad was locked up in jail for his involvement with drugs and gangs. When he got out, he followed his father’s footsteps of reinventing himself as someone with a job and a positive presence in the community. Perhaps what truly kept him on track was his daughter and the athletics gifts she had that made everyone in the Rogers family so optimistic about the future.

Just months after her father was murdered outside the gym of one of her games, Tierra found herself inside Arco Arena in Sacramento. Another State Championship would be won for SHC Prep. Another undefeated season in the books. Of course, this time it didn’t feel right. Tierra wanted to quit basketball entirely. The basketball court didn’t serve as a sanctuary for her to remove herself from Tat’s death, it only made the memories more vivid.

A year later, now as a McDonald’s All American, Rogers choose to stay close to home and take her game across the Bay to play for the Bears. Tierra forged a fast bond with the Cal coach that recruited her, Joanne Boyle. Boyle promised her a fresh start. A new school, a new campus, a new home gym to play in.

In late September of 2009, just weeks before Rogers would put on a Cal uniform for the first time, she collapsed during a routine workout and nearly died. Rushed to the hospital, doctors were able to keep the freshman guard alive, but her college basketball career would be over. At the hospital, Rogers would be diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia. A defibrillator was implanted and rigorous exercise was deemed out of the question. Overnight, Rogers went from a world class athlete, to someone who wasn’t allowed to run a mile in under nine minutes.

Fast forward four years and Tierra can still be found on the Cal bench, supporting her teammates. Joanne Boyle, the coach that brought Tierra to Berkeley, has since left Cal to coach at Virginia. Somehow, Tierra has stuck it out. Showing up at practices and games week after week, year after year. The University has honored her scholarship all the way through and rightfully so, as Rogers has found a way to make an indelible mark on the Cal program, even without a uniform on.

As the Cal Bears sit in their hotel rooms in New Orleans on the eve of the Final Four, there is no doubt some reflection being paid to the greatest season in Cal basketball history. Cal has never appeared in the Women’s Final Four and outside of Stanford, it has been 25 years since a Pac 10 team has made it this deep into the tournament. And while Tierra Rogers wasn’t able to contribute in the box score to help this team accomplish so much, her intangible contribution as an unofficial trauma counselor can’t be measured. Two of Tierra’s current Cal teammates have also lost family members to gunfire.

Gennifer Brandon, Cal’s Junior interior scorer and rebounder, was a young girl living near LA when her dad was shot and killed after being mistaken for an armed robbery suspect. Greg Brandon had recently retired from the NBA, where he played for the Seattle Supersonics. The shooting sent shockwaves through the family and Gennifer’s mother began fighting a battle with alcoholism. Sooner than later Gennifer wound up in foster care. Fortunately, Brandon found her way to Berkeley where she has slowly blossomed into one of the most dynamic players in the nation. If the Bears expect to be the last team standing in New Orleans, much will be due to Brandon’s ability to change the game with her athleticism.

Perhaps the Bears’ fiercest defender also happens to be the team’s shortest player. Senior Eliza Pierre, who with feisty energy, cornrows and a pair of her signature glasses, comes off the bench for Cal and seems to wreak havoc on opposing teams’ point guards.

Sadly, Pierre has been the latest Bear to lose a loved one to murder. In the summer of 2011, Eliza received a call only to learn that her older brother Wilson had been killed in a gang-related shooting at a party in North Hollywood.

Fortunately for Brandon and Pierre, they have not needed to look far for advice on how to get through a basketball season with the unfathomable weight of murder on one’s mind. Tierra Rogers has done it. She has done it as a starting guard for one of the best  Bay Area high school basketball teams ever, and she has done it from the sidelines for one of the most inspiring college basketball teams ever. She has done it and lived to tell about it.

When the Lady Bears take the floor in New Orleans on Sunday evening, it will be a far cry from a half full Haas Pavillion. Instead, it will be under the bright lights of New Orleans arena where the NBA’s Hornets call home. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to believe President Obama will be tuning in via Air Force One to check in on his underdog pick that proved him right. As they pronounce in a recent viral youtube video, a team that has been to the darkest of bottoms, is now here. “The whole Cal team is here”, at least for 40 more minutes.

Cal will battle Louisville on Sunday at 3:30 on ESPN for a trip to the National Championship (McClureImages.com)

Cal will battle Louisville on Sunday at 3:30 on ESPN for a trip to the National Championship (McClureImages.com)