Don’t Be the Benchwarmer Everyone Hates

During the second half of my second year in Israel, I was relegated to the bench. I wasn’t a sixth man. I was the last man. Well, maybe I was just above the 17-year-old who was in the army and was only there half the time. But I certainly wasn’t playing.

I’d never been a bench warmer. While it was miserable at the time, I learned a lot. Like how sometimes you just have to deal with an “unfair” situation. You have no right to become an obnoxious, negative, sarcastic practical joker just because you think you’ve been slighted. That’s a good way to make a lot of enemies.

Here are a few other things you never want to do as a bench warmer:

1. Don’t mope through the entire pre-game warm up routine. Getting the ball-boy to play one-on-one with you instead of doing the team mandated defensive slides is a sure-fire way to piss of the fitness coach. The fitness coach might look like a caricature of a caricature of an 80’s workout video instructor, but the real coach actually listens to him. (even though he almost always has a very high IQ when it comes to soccer and all our drills had more than a striking resemblance to what I used to do during 3rd grade AYSO practices.) Your insolence will only put you further from your playing time goals.

2. Don’t sit on the bench and root for your teammates to fail. It seems obvious, but this was a hard one for me. I always assumed I’d be the towel waving type. The guy who makes up cool moves and goes crazy after every play and gets on TV at the NCAA tournament because of my infectious enthusiasm.

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I was the exact opposite. I would sit with a scowl on my face, arms crossed, just hoping that the person playing ahead of me would screw up. After every turnover I’d turn to my (equally disgruntled) buddy and make a comment. Usually way too loud, and along the lines of “good thing coach is leaving Avi in the game. He usually figures out the rhythms of the defense after his 7th turnover.”

I have newfound respect for the guys who stay engaged and enthusiastic while riding the pine. It’s the noble way to go, but man is it hard.

3. Don’t have an inside joke with your bench warmer friends where you lock arms during free throws that don’t matter. It’s funny, but only once, and only to you guys. It is pretty much flipping the middle finger to your coach. It also can lead you to spill a Gatorade all over someone who is much bigger than you if they are next to you and you forget they are not interested in this little game you play. Telling him that you were just trying to “lock arms in support of the team” will not be convincing after he looks up and sees it’s a twenty point game. I gave it up after that incident. Any further arm locking from our lackluster crew looked more like this pathetic effort from UConn.

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That guy on the left is praying for someone to tear their ACL so he can get some run. He looks like a bride who got cold feet at the wedding and doesn’t want to get walked down the aisle. Get it together, Huskies.

4. Don’t treat every practice like a game seven just because you think it’s how you’ll earn playing time.

This one may seem counterintuitive, since you would think that coaches determine playing time by practice performance. This is far from the case. Coaches determine playing time by who the think is the best, regardless of what happens in practice. If playing time were merit based the “trinamic trio” would have gotten a lot more run together during my college playing days.

While Israel was the first time I was a true benchwarmer, I did come off the bench quite a bit during my senior year of college. And when I was with the have-nots during practice, every now and then we would start lighting up the first teamers. This would happen most often when the starters were working on their zone defense. That’s when the the trinamic trio was made up of me, Dan and Alec would start blitzing them.

Dan, Alec and I all have our limitations as players, and there was a reason we didn’t play forty minutes a game. But we can all shoot pretty well, and holy shit did we make a good partnership attacking a zone. We used to murder. Just three after three after three. Every time we’d work on zone, the trinamic trio would go bananas. I’m serious. We had a (admittedly self proclaimed, but it stuck) nickname for crying out loud!

I remember one practice where it got so bad Coach Amaker switched his whole demeanor about what was happening. He went from being upset with the first team for allowing so many points, to extolling the second teamers, imploring us to continue the onslaught so as to humiliate the starters as much as possible.

But, did the trinamic trio ever play a single minute together in a real game? Nope. What if the other team was playing a zone and we were struggling to score? Coach Amaker must have unleashed that proven three headed- monster of sheer deep-bombing awesomeness, right? Never once. Because coaches stick to a script, and what happens in practice never matters as much as you think it will.

So, if you’re one of those guys who psyches himself up to the point of being nervous about practice, like I was, you need to calm down. At a certain point, things are going to be as they are going to be, and no amount of screaming at an assistant coach for blowing a call during a scrimmage is going to get you on the court. You’re going to stress yourself out. Do your best and let the chips fall as they may.

I have a special place in my heart for all the bench warmers out there. I know how much it sucks, and how you’re so much better than that asshole who took your minutes, and how good it can feel to smile to your nemesis fail in a big moment. But it’s just not worth the mental effort. I spent so much time being mad at my coaches and my teammates and my self that I barely ever stopped to take a breath. I wish I would have looked around and gone “huh. It’s pretty cool that I got into the best school in the world because I can put a ball through a hoop. It’s also cool that I got to travel internationally, make amazing friends, and get paid to put a ball through a hoop. Sure is nice.”

And if I could go back, that’s exactly what I’d do. Having had recent back and ankle problems, I realize that being able to play at all is a blessing.

Bench warmers of the world, don’t seethe after your team hits a big shot, because that should have been you in the spotlight.  Drop your ego, cheer and play the shit out of your air guitar if you want to. I promise you’ll have a lot more fun.

Why I’m Leaving Los Angeles for Wisconsin

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Wisconsin! For two weeks a year, but still!

About a month ago, I decided that I was moving out of Los Angeles. Everyone I’ve told has been surprised. The surprise turns to shock when I say I’m moving to Wisconsin.

The bewilderment stems from the fact that people in LA know the following things about Wisconsin:

1. It’s cold

2. The Green Bay Packers

3. Cheese

4. “Really, do you know how cold it is there?”

5.  Jeffrey Dahmer

You can see how convincing people of Wisconsin’s merits is an uphill battle. I wouldn’t move there if I thought all I’d be doing is shivering in my apartment, watching football, pounding string cheese and keeping an eye out for serial killers.

But, even if it wasn’t Wisconsin, I’d still be moving. So before I extol the virtues of the midwest, I’ll talk about why I’m leaving in the first place. Continue reading “Why I’m Leaving Los Angeles for Wisconsin”

Russell Westbrook is not THAT Good

The NBA media can’t shut up about Russell Westbrook’s recent run of play, and for good reason. He’s a beast. His body parts keep exploding, yet he keeps coming back stronger. The basketball gods said “we’re going to ruin Derrick Rose and Westbrook. They’re too good. And we’re assholes.” Rose went down, but Westbrook threw up two middle fingers and continued to rampage through the league. He’s a monster. One of the best players in the league. Yet, he still makes plays like this:

There he is, throwing up an airball. It happens, even to the greats. Thankfully for the Thunder, Enes Kanter grabbed the rebound and put it back in. OR DID HE.

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Continue reading “Russell Westbrook is not THAT Good”

Harvard Has No Use for Your Satire

In the next few weeks, I will apply to the HarvardWood mentorship program. HarvardWood may have the douchiest name of any alumni organization in existence, but it’s a great resource for the struggling writer. Not all Harvard grads have instant success when they set out to find a job in the arts. For every B.J. Novak…

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“I feel bad for anyone who hasn’t been cast in a hit sitcom by age 25.”

There’s a D.A. Housman…

Now THAT'S the look of someone who knows what they're doing with their life.
“I’m confused.”

Continue reading “Harvard Has No Use for Your Satire”

21 Steps To Get Through an Agency Workday

How to get through the day when you work at Hollywood talent agency:

  1. Show up to your desk in the morning. Realize you forgot to do something the night before. Endure some scolding from your boss.
  2. Blame your bosses previous assistant for the error, no matter what went wrong. “I’m sorry, I guess _____ never filed that. Some people just don’t respect the job.” (Harder to pull off after you’ve established yourself as average and the previous assistant was amazing. But, as the great Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.)
  3. Start feeling a little down, because it’s only 10:30 and you’ve already shown your boss how to copy and paste four different times.
  4. Cheer up, because while you don’t drive a Maserati and own a purebred labradoodle, at least you know how to fucking copy and paste.
  5. Massage your feet on a golf ball. Don’t worry about the looks you get for being in your socks. Your feet smell great!
  6. Roll your glutes on a lacrosse ball. Again, discard the wayward looks. Tell them to enjoy having limited mobility their whole life and that you hope medicare pays for their knee replacements. Or, something less mean.
  7. Tear the right side of your dress pants with the lacrosse ball. Feel foolish. Let a call go to voicemail while you try to fix your pants.
  8. 45 minutes later, rip the left side of your pants with the lacrosse ball. It’s minor. Shrug it off!
  9. Stand up. Do full, deep, toe-touch stretches.
  10. Go to the big bathroom stall for 10 minutes. Do a series of one legged squats and hip stretches. Pause when someone enters to use the stall next to you. Be grateful you can’t smell very well.
  11. Nervously laugh when you return to your desk and your co-workers start making fun of an “agent” they saw doing squats in the handicap stall. Cover yourself by chiming in about how weird that guy must be.
  12. See an online advertisement for a car racing game. Feel smug for not playing video games. Then, remember how many hours of your youth were spent playing Cruis’n USA on Nintendo 64.
  13. Think about Cruis’n USA for a while. Let another call go to voicemail. Contemplate why they chose to spell “Cruis’n” the way they did. Question the sanity of those fans who would stand right behind the finish line while Ferraris skidded toward them at 147 miles per hour.
Just watch from the side!
At least two of those people are about to get badly injured.

Continue reading “21 Steps To Get Through an Agency Workday”

Inside the Mind of a Disgruntled College Athlete

Basketball players and their coaches have two kinds of relationships:

Blissful and symbiotic –

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DOC: I love you guys. PAUL: I still don’t know what ubuntu means. KG: One day, when you’re coaching a different team, I’m going to say some unforgivable things to you and your players. I love you, but I’m a sociopath.

Or nasty and toxic –

I've had some wild coaches, but I've never seen someone get kicked. Too funny.
I love how nobody on the sidelines even reacts to the coach executing a running kick on a player. Just another day at practice!

I know players who loved their coaches, and players who wouldn’t have helped their coaches if they’d found them trapped in a burning car. There’s not really an in-between. It’s a love/hate thing, in my experience.

I thought it’d be interesting to look back on a time in my life when I was convinced my old college coach, Tommy Amaker, was a sadistic person. I truly believed that he was determined to ruin my life and drain me of every last vestige of enjoyment that I could get out of basketball. This should offer a glimpse into the psyche of a college athlete, and allow you to understand how nuanced player-coach relationships can be.

For some context, know that I used to be incredibly bitter regarding stuff that happened in my college basketball career. The more time that passes, and the further I get from the world of organized spots, the more I realize that I was way too myopic/intense/obsessive when it came to basketball. I’m proud of how hard I worked, but holy shit do I wish I could go back in time and swap out a few lifting sessions for some quality time with a therapist. Six-foot-nothing Jewish kids from the suburbs should be thrilled just to be playing college basketball, let alone starting for an Ivy League team.

Also, for what it’s worth, Coach Amaker and I are on great terms these days. I will always be grateful that he took the time to give me a solid recommendation to my team owner during my second year abroad.

So, after my sophomore year of college, the team was summoned to the locker room for a meeting with Frank Sullivan, our head coach at the time. We filed into the locker room and sat in folding chairs while Coach Sullivan paced back and forth, rocking a tight leather jacket. We knew something was up, since he normally wore the same four shirts. Either he was having a three-quarter life crisis and was inviting us on a ride with his new motorcycle gang, or he was no longer a part of the program, and thus no longer gave a shit what he wore. Turned out to be the latter. He told us that the athletic director was letting him go.

As much as that must have sucked for Coach Sullivan, I was excited. Our team was pretty terrible, and I thought some new blood would be good for the program.

To be clear, I never asked for Coach Sullivan to be fired. I didn’t have that power anyway. I was the third fiddle on a team that just finished at the bottom of the standings. It wouldn’t have been like MJ demanding that Doug Collins be ousted.

I'm the GOAT, and you're some dude with a perm who's only famous for losing to the Russians in the Olympics. Get out of my face.
Doug: “You’ve gotta pass the ball to Brad Sellers!”   MJ:  “…”

Continue reading “Inside the Mind of a Disgruntled College Athlete”

Why Players Don’t Listen to Their Coaches

European basketball coaches, and especially Israeli league coaches, have an obsession with strategic, aggressive fouling. “USE. YOUR. FOWWWWWWWWLS!!!” was easily the most frequent thing I heard during timeouts. The idea was to make the game choppy, take the offense out of its rhythm and prevent fastbreaks. The strategy made a lot of sense to me, but it also represented the most jarring difference in transitioning to the European style of basketball.

Let me quickly say that I always found it interesting that so many Israelis identified as “European.”  This was most noticeable in the way they dressed. You looked out of place if you weren’t rocking capri pants, an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt that was two sizes too small, and a faux hawk. But it wasn’t just a look. It was a mindset. I once got into an argument with a teammate after he proclaimed that Israel had “the best doctors in Europe.” I pointed out that we were in the Middle East. He would not budge. “Best doctors in Europe,” he insisted, while taking a drag off a cigarette, chugging some Turkish coffee, and slipping into his Crocs. Continue reading “Why Players Don’t Listen to Their Coaches”