How Ancient Wisdom Can Help Us Deal With Haters

Like most everyone, I once waged a battle against a force as relentless, punishing and timeless as waves crashing on the beach: kids being dicks to each other.

Here’s a quick recap of my life up until age 16, with a focus on what would become the major annoyance of my youth: my high voice making me feel inadequate on the basketball court. 

3rd through 6th grade — The good ol’ days. I was tiny and had a high voice, but every other young boy was in the same boat. We could all answer an incoming phone call and be mistaken for our sister or mother. This happened to me all the time. I hated it. If only cell phones had taken over a bit earlier.

7th grade — Even amongst mostly pre-pubescent people, I was smaller and more squeaky-voiced than most. I compensated by being scrappy on the court, which rubbed some people the wrong way. That included opposing coaches.

Once, when taking a crucial shot, a 40-year-old coach leaned over and whispered in my ear that I was a “little bitch.” I was 12. And you wonder why the AAU circuit gets a bad rap.

8th through 9th grade — The kids I played against were pretty much done with puberty. I still looked like someone you’d try to help if you saw me alone in the mall. 

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This is me at age FIFTEEN

This was the period where it felt like every time I called a play on the court, someone on the other team would echo back my words, mockingly, in a comically high voice. It was like playing against a team full of 80’s movie bullies. 

Throughout my playing career, I used to get so focused on the game that I often couldn’t hear the crowd noise. I think that’s why I found it amazing that there were people who had the wherewithal to openly mock me during a game. Kids are ruthless.

The annoying thing is, it totally worked. I hated when people made fun of my voice. I silently cursed my endocrine system. I jealously stared at other guy’s protruding Adam’s Apples during class. I ate like an NFL Lineman, hoping to jumpstart my growth and development. I did everything besides wander around by a radiation plant in hopes of scrambling some sense into my DNA.

Nothing worked. I was stuck.

I was too naive to realize there was no problem to be dealt with.

I never came across the studies showing that delayed puberty can lead to an increase in final height. I never thought of responding to the jeers with “do you idiots realize Mike Tyson has a high voice and he’d send your septum into your brain with one punch for looking at him wrong? Are you really equating vocal pitch with masculinity?” That would have probably led to more mocking for my use of big words. Again, kids suck.

What my interest in history has taught me is that everyone, no matter how awesome, is persecuted in some way. DaVinci was hated on for being gay. Socrates was murdered for suggesting that maybe a bunch of toga wearing gods didn’t have all the answers. Copernicus was excommunicated for pointing out that the sun does not revolve around the earth.

What all those people had in common was a strength of conviction. DaVinci rolled with a posse of gay dudes in open defiance of the customs at the time. Socrates accepted his death sentence with dignity, refusing to back down from his stance. (The judges that put him to death were later put to death themselves for having made a dumb mistake. Ancient Greece was on some real eye for an eye ish.) Copernicus, having been excommunicated and excoriated by the entire community, remained defiant. While in exile, he is known to have said (my updated translation) “those fucking dummies are gonna feel pretty stupid when I’m proven right.”

Now, being made fun of by a bunch of people for having a high voice doesn’t seem so bad. The giants of history had it a lot worse. I just want to reiterate the ancient wisdom that it’s always better to keep your head down, tune out the nonsense, and continue to work toward your goals. 

Eventually, my voice did deepen. Even if it hadn’t, my relentless focus on being a good player would have put me in the upper echelon of athletes for my age.  Would it really have been that bad if I sounded like a Powerpuff girl but still dropped 30 points per game? My anger only served as a distraction. 

I was infuriated by mean, un-clever people over something that was outside of my control. I hope to never repeat that mistake.

Ralph Waldo Emerson has an elegant way of putting it:

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

The quote is not 100% applicable, because I wasn’t so much misunderstood as simply picked on, but the basic point remains. There will be haters, and you only hurt yourself by giving them credence.

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Book Reviews, Harvard Weightlifting Madness, Hollywood Sadness

kesey

 

Books I’ve Been Reading

The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe

This is a classic for anyone who truly wants to understand the origins of the psychedelic movement in the 1960’s. If you’ve ever done a psychedelic and been overly worried about set and setting (quiet room, trip guide, etc.) then this could be a good book to check out. To the originators of the whole movement, set and setting was far less important than partying as hard as possible at all times. The core group out of northern California was tripping 24/7 and tooling around the country in a tricked out party bus. It’s a great read. Ken Kesey is like Keith Richards, Rob Gronkowski and Jesus all wrapped into one.

– The End of All Evil, by Jeremy Locke

This is a short read about how we are all slaves to our corporate masters. Also touches on how every nation exists to exploit its citizens and can only exists as long as we all live in fear. Should this book be required reading in high school instead of garbage like The Scarlet Letter? I say yes.

– Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, by D.T. Max

A biography of one of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace. I loved it. DFW was one of the most accomplished writers of his generation. That didn’t stop him from spending an insane amount of his free time writing letters to Jonathan Franzen, pleading for help with his procrastination problem. Makes me feel better for not blogging for months at a time!

Random Thoughts

  • This was in Delta’s in flight magazine:

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“Richard, the article is about how happy we all are. You’ve got to smile”

*Richard tries to smile.*

“Mr. Anderson, you’re frowning. Think about your happiest memory.”

*Richard imagines the sweet release of death*

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“That’ll do.”

 

  • I found an old training manual from my freshman year at Harvard. It’s amazing. If you read it, you’d probably think we were training for a strong man competition. If wins and losses were determined by who could scream the loudest while getting so deep into a backsquat that you can feel your discs slipping out of place, we would have been set. I mean, check out our unofficial mascot, Harvey Crim, who is featured on the first page of the manual:

Harvey Crim

 

Classic basketball body right there. Pretty sure Kevin Durant would be better if he looked like the physical embodiment of roid rage.

We all prayed at the alter of Harvey Crim. It’s nuts to look back and see the kinds of workouts we were doing either right before or right after a 3 hour practice. But, at least we had a manifesto on the second page of the book explaining why it was so crucial to work ourselves into oblivion day after day regardless of whether it made us better players:Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 14.28.38 PM

That’s some intense, typo riddled craziness! Did you catch the author? 

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If we ever had to see a real doctor because it felt like our workouts were making our knee tendons disintegrate, that was a disaster. Shouldn’t be done. Fight through it. Or, we were encouraged to seek out Dr. Squat instead. His prescription? Squats until you saw the white buffalo, preferably followed by exhaustion induced vomiting.

I’m all about hard work, and I have tons of fond memories of working out with my college teammates. I still maintain that we should have been a little more focused on improving our jump shots instead of our lifting numbers.

  • I found a great screen shot of an email from my ICM days. It shows just how brutal it is trying to make it as an actress in Hollywood.

Casting

 

Not just beautiful. Not just sexy. Beautiful AND sexy. That’s the golden ticket. Go to Julliard and learn how to be super, duper hot.

 

 

 

 

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.

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”

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”

Why Eurobasket Sucks

Eurobasket.com is the largest website in the world that exclusively reports on overseas basketball. Most people have never heard of it, but it is required viewing for anyone playing abroad. It actually does a decent job of aggregating the scores and stats from leagues all over the world, but it does so using the ugliest, clunkiest website known to man.

The site is, quite frankly, hard to look at. The layout is hopelessly cluttered, there is no intuitive way to locate old posts, and it is chock full of obnoxious advertisements. Also, the main page is extra awkward because they shoehorn video clips into the middle of the headlines.

One of the front page video clips you can access is a 2 minute highlight of Yugoslavia vs South Korea from the 1996 Olympic games. It has 5 views on youtube, and I think I account for 3 of them.

Timely! At least can’t accuse them of chasing trends.

Continue reading “Why Eurobasket Sucks”