When a bunch of athletes are constantly hanging out with each other, it is natural for a lot of trash talking to go on. But if you are a small, white, Ivy League grad, you are probably going to deal with more crap than the average person. That is just the way the world works. There are a couple of main points people like me have to contend with.
First, there is the education aspect. People are always trying to utilize your supposed genius-ness. They think every one who does 4 years at Harvard comes out as some sort of cross between Stephen Hawking, JFK and Mark Zuckerberg. They get upset when this is not the case. “What do you mean you can’t help me with this computer problem? You went to Harvard.” Sorry dude, the teachers in my Government major did not spend a lot of time covering complex electrical engineering issues, and the elective I took about deciphering Hieroglyphics was a little light on the C++ side.
The Zuckerberg thing is a major sticking point for some people. They are dumbfounded that I did not know him and that I don’t work for facebook. It doesn’t sway them to say that he left school before I arrived, and that even when he was there it’s not like he was wandering the halls throwing stacks of money and job applications at his fellow students. Yet, guys are convinced that if they were in my shoes they would be tech billionaires by now.
So yes, I went to a good school. No, that does not mean I have a photographic memory, a world changing website idea, or the ability to instantly convert any and all currencies in my head. In reality, math is not a strongpoint for me. Friends have found this out the hard way. Sometimes I give bold, confident sounding, but almost always wrong answers to math questions. It usually takes them a second, then they go “wait, there is no way I owe 63 dollars for that piece of pizza and iced tea!”
Then there is your average, run of the mill Harvard bashing. I live in a world where every forgotten play, misheard takeout order, or wrong turn will inevitably lead to a barrage of incredulity: “You went to HARVARD?!? This is unbelievable. Harvard! This guy. I got a degree in agriculture and never cracked a textbook in 4 years, but you don’t see me pulling bull*$#& like this.” It’s funny how fast it escalates. It is never enough just to criticize the initial mistake. They have to point out how they, though hailing from (insert non-Harvard school,) would never in a million years do anything as completely irredeemable as, say, going the opposite direction down a one way street.
Then there is the whiteness, which leads to constant celebrity comparisons you have to shoot down. If you are watching something on TV as the only white guy amongst a bunch of black friends, be ready to be told you like any number of goofball white actors. One time a friend basically ran a campaign to convince people I looked like Screech from Saved By the Bell. (A charge I deny, but you be the judge.)
It seemed like it was always on the tip of his tongue, even when we were with people we didn’t know. He did everything short of creating T-Shirts that said “Drew? Or DUSTIN DIAMOND?” with my face on Screech’s body. Thank god he never got much traction with that.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am not looking for pity. I thrive in the clowning-on-people game. My problem is not being helpless, but with taking things too far. What I consider biting wit can sometimes be misconstrued as “being a f*$^& a-hole.” Fine line.
When the situation calls for it, I have been known to bash organized religion, excessively gloat after video game wins, question the validity of people’s clearly made up “facts,” and tell people that they should stick to their day jobs because their freestyle rap game is more Eli Porter than Biggie.
(The freestyling epidemic that swept through my team 2 years ago might deserve it’s own post. I even got in on the action. I was far from the best, but I did manage to cause a minor scandal by memorizing the first verse of this song and spitting it as my own. It wowed everyone. Then the guilt overwhelmed me and I confessed. I should have just let it stand. Nice guys finish last.)
Proving people wrong about stuff they swear is true is an especially satisfying way of getting the upper hand. This happens most often when dealing with slightly older teammates. I don’t think they quite realize that the internet knows everything and that I WILL hunt down the truth. I remember being particularly pleased with myself after getting into a completely unnecessary argument with a couple of guys about whether former Providence Friar and AAU legend God Shammgod ever played in the NBA. I was pretty sure he had, and they were 100% positive that he had not. They could not have been more sure of themselves. The way they were talking you would have thought they were texting with Mr. Shammgod himself to confirm every statement they were making.
The next day at practice I hit them with some cold, hard truth:
Me: God Shammgod played 20 games for the Wizards in 1998! Boom! Suck it!
Them: Wait what? Ohh that, yeah. We forgot about that.
Me: Well, remember it. Cause I was right. I win.
Them: Shut up and get out the way, we’re shooting.
Not exactly the adulatory concession of defeat I was looking for. Looking back, my brand of smugness, and penchant for rubbing victories in people’s faces, probably contributed to the trouble that awaited me in the Ukraine.
In mid-December, 2010, Haifa travelled to the Ukraine to play a team called Khimik. It was an important game that had all sorts of implications for our advancement in this European tournament. My minutes had been very sporadic up until that point, and I was not sure what to expect in terms of playing time. That made me all the more delighted when I not only played, but single-handedly dismantled those commie thugs and led the team to victory. Check the stat line.
OK, I kid, the stats look weak, but I really did have a good game. I made key plays, got the ball to the right people, and played solid D on their star PG. The coach even praised my performance in his post game speech, which was amazing because he had never been one to give me much encouragement. I recall talking to him a few days before that game. We were discussing NBA point guards that I might do well to emulate:
Me: Chris Paul?
Coach: Dribbles too much.
Me: Steve Nash?
Coach: Dribbles too much.
Me: Russell Westbrook?
Me: Rajon Rondo?
Coach: No……Steve Blake
Coach: Yes. He moves the ball out of his hands quickly.
Steve Blake is my man. I loved him at Maryland. But it was clear what coach was telling me: Just pass the goddamn ball and get out of the way.
Thanks coach! Way to instill a sense of can-do spirit in one of your young players!
Look, I totally understand that this is a put up or shut up game. I don’t expect hand holding. I just thought it was hilarious, and telling, that he wanted me to emulate maybe the most unexciting, unremarkable, uninspiring guard in the whole NBA.
Anyway, back to the Ukraine. After the game, all the players were milling about the hotel, going from room to room. Sometimes guys will go out following a win, but we were in the middle of nowhere and it was like -97 degrees out. We were basically stuck inside.
I am not the most perceptive person, but I could tell something was up when almost all the people I was hanging out with left the room for a conspicuously long time. For a little while it was just me and one other guy, zoning out in front of the TV.
Then the main contingent got back, and my “something is not right” sense started ramping up. People were giving me weird looks and trying to hide their grins. One player was holding an ominous looking toiletry bag.
After a few minutes I was starting to think about getting the hell out of there. I had never seen any sort of hazing go on with this team, but if there was ever an optimal time and an optimal haze-ee, this was the stage and I was going to be the victim.
I wish I could say I thought up a complex scheme to escape, but I didn’t. It was pretty much “wait until the biggest guy is not looking and make a run for it.” So that’s what I did.
Except he was looking. Any notion I had of escape was forgotten the second this guy got his arms around me. You think you are strong until you are grabbed by a hulking power forward whose favorite pastimes are scowling, elbowing people and high intensity 6 AM weight-room sessions.
I was slammed back onto the bed, and everyone else joined in to hold me down. That is when the toiletry bag reappeared, and out came a small, black electric razor. Not good. It was raised to my scalp. Not good. The hair on my head is definitely the hair I cherish the most.
The next few minutes involved equal amounts of:
-pathetic pleading, centered around the fact that my mom was coming to visit soon and would be horrified if I was a skinhead.
-telling anyone who would listen that this had to constitute some sort of reverse hate crime.
-struggling against the 1000 or so pounds holding me down.
-emitting guttural moans of agony as my hair was treated like a shaggy sheep in the springtime.
Finally I was let up, and allowed to see a mirror. It was pretty horrifying, but even I couldn’t help but see the humor in it. It looked pretty ridiculous. They had basically just put lines all through my hair, without any discernible pattern. Thankfully someone had the decency to finish the job and clean the rest of the hair off. So I was bald, but at least I didn’t look like I got a cut from a vindictive blind person.
I got over it pretty quickly. I knew they wouldn’t have done anything to me if I was in a bad mood after not playing. They knew I was genuinely happy. There is no high quite like the feeling you get after playing a good game on a big stage, and I wasn’t going to let a little hazing ruin it. I needed a haircut anyway.
What I was worried about was that the hair cutting clip was going to make it on to a TV show called “Inside Israeli Basketball.” That was the name of the once monthly, 30 minute spot that our American owner produced. It ran on Fox Sports, and it was supposed to give people a feel of what it was like to play basketball in Israel. One of the players on the team had his own little segment on the show, and he had filmed the head buzzing fiasco.
I used to tell people back home about “Inside Israeli Basketball.” I assume some friends and family were anticipating checking it out. They would undoubtedly be anticipating a puff piece where I walk on the beach and talk about how much I love my teammates.
Thankfully, the Ukraine footage never surfaced. I am sure it would have been quite jarring if the my parents had tuned in hoping to see some game footage, only to be treated to a 30 second clip of their son getting gang-shaved by giant men, thrashing around on a flimsy hotel bed, screaming about his mother and hate crimes.