Stuff I Liked in 2013: Loving Bas-ket-ball

December 30th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 01

Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk (manga, anime) is basketball. Inoue is a tremendous talent, one of those guys who I always forget is a favorite artist until I trip over his work or am reminded of it. Inoue worked on Slam Dunk from 1990 to 1996, long before he reached the heights he would achieve in Vagabond and Real. It’s interesting as a time capsule. There are a couple moments where Inoue’s art takes a leap forward, becoming closer to what we’re used to seeing from him. I think volume 12 was the first major one, but even the gradual growth is pretty impressive.

There’s a story in Slam Dunk, full of cute characters and motivations and things that make for good comics. It’s geared toward children, so the bad guys are rarely out-and-out bad. They all have their reasons, and most of them are very good. But what I’m here to talk about isn’t stories. I want to talk about basketball.

Part of the reason why Slam Dunk is so good is that it’s about the fundamentals. Kuroko’s Basketball, the current hit basketball anime, works on magic. The main guy is invisible and racks up dozens of assists per game, other characters have unlikely specialties, and there’s generally not much real basketball to be found. It’s all right, but it’s not real. In Slam Dunk, every character has a skill, but that skill’s the result of practice based in real world fundamentals. The main character sucks at basketball, so they make him shoot two thousand shots as practice. Another character may be the greatest one-on-one player in Japan, and it’s a direct result of not just his drive, but the fact that he played against his father since he was knee-high all the way up through to high school. He put in the hours and earned the results.

Inoue will explain basketball terminology in the middle of a story, but generally in a natural way. The eyes of players or journalists will widen, they breathe the name of the move that they just witnessed, and break down how and why it works, but only rarely dip into Naruto-style “Here’s a few diagrams and charts and exposition.” It feels more like commentary than edutainment, but like good sportscasting, you come away from it with new or deepened knowledge.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 02

That grounding makes Slam Dunk really enjoyable. Kuroko’s isn’t bad by any means, but it’s not basketball basketball. It doesn’t scratch that same itch for me. It’s a drama set in a basketball gym, rather than a basketball drama. Slam Dunk is all ball. The realism makes the cartoonier aspects work, because you’ve already bought in. It feels like the real thing.

I’m knee-deep in basketball right now. I was reading Slam Dunk and playing NBA 2k14 before the season started, and now I’m doing both of those, watching NBA games a few times a week, and going to a game a month or so. Next year, I’m going to start going to pickup games with a coworker, because why not?

There is something about that is pleasing, relaxing, stressful, and wonderful. I was watching Hawks @ Cavs on 12/26 while I cooked. I was listening mostly, but the closer they got to the end of the 4th quarter, the more time I spent standing in front of the TV while mixing or waiting out a cooking time. At the last play of the quarter—in a game that I did not bet money on and have no stake in beyond liking the Hawks—I threw my arms up and cheered when Jeff Teague hit a deep three to tie at 108 with 0:04.2 left in OT. I was into it, I was feeling it, and that’s a feeling that’s worth chasing.

That feeling has levels, too. Slam Dunk is by far the most passive basketball experience, but it’s still incredibly deep. The NBA season has narratives and storylines, but they’re nothing like the stories in Slam Dunk. Slam Dunk will squeeze tears out of your cold heart when you realize what’s at stake for the cast and how bad they want a win. The non-basketball parts, the relationships and history, are lethal when combined with Inoue’s storytelling abilities. In real life, it’s never so cut-and-dry, which is fine. They’re serving different masters.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 03

Watching ball is active, especially with friends. You’re critiquing the game as it evolves, hoping for your team to come home with a W and maybe a few good highlights you can brag about and watch on youtube or tumblr over and over. You then take that experience to work with you the next day and talk about your favorite plays, like this absurd Iguodala almost-highlight that dominated my day job. The athleticism and acrobatics will stun you in every single game if you let them. I’ve got an NBA League Pass account, and being able to watch replays on demand is incredible. (Not being able to watch Warriors games live, however, is garbage.)

NBA 2k14 is video game ball, a fantasy land where you can make anything happen, assuming you’re good enough. In previous versions of the title, I binged hard on a single mode (create a player, Jordan, Association, whichever appealed) and playing online with a friend. In NBA 2k13, before we called it, I’d won 57 games and the homey won 66. We kept a spreadsheet, too, so I knew that I’d racked up 8489 points to his 8498, and we were both averaging around 69 points per game—69 on the dot for me, 69.098 for him. Keeping track of that stuff changed the game, in a way. The stakes changed from trying to beast him in one game to trying to match him in dozens. That changed how we played, and I think made the games even more interesting and intense for us.

I’m taking it easy in 2k14 this time around, though. I play a few times a week, usually the featured game of the day or whoever the Hawks or Warriors are matching up against that day. (Sometimes I use it for revenge, too.) I’m only dabbling in the Lebron James fantasy mode, and I’m not playing a full season or two in a sports game for the first time since they put seasons into sports games. It’s all about will and skill this year, because the AI is punishing enough that if you slip for a quarter, you’re going to have to fight to get it back. But it’s all about you. It’s what you can and cannot do, your own personal talent for fake basketball. You can’t re-create things you’ve seen in real life, but you can get into the ballpark and make highlights of your own. I’ve been paying closer attention to how the commentary will guide you or subtly suggest tactics or players to focus on. If you pay attention, they can give you vague hints that’ll let you turn a game around or avoid a pitfall you keep running into. (I shoot a lot of frustration threes, and the gang is rarely happy about it.)

I can’t get enough of basketball, be it drawn, broadcast, or programmed. It’s my favorite sport, hands down, at this point. It feels good.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 04

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You Should Move It Move It

November 7th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Here’s a video featuring yours truly that I’m kind of super happy about. Check it out.

(you like that shirt, don’t you? Go get you some black swag from Ray’s shop.)

I got in a bike accident earlier this year, maybe you heard me being a big baby about it? The doctor kinda laughed when he told me what was up with my knee, which was that I “hurt it about as bad as you can hurt it without requiring surgery.”

After the accident, I got caught up in that cycle of feeling bad about myself and then feeling worse about myself, so I spent a lot of time chilling on my couch eating half pound hamburgers (throw some basil and A1 peppercorn sauce inside and whooooooo) and eating uncooked chocolate chip cookie dough like that’s a reasonable thing to do outside of special occasions. But it felt good, so I did it, and I enjoyed every slow bite, every crunch of chocolate in my teeth. I watched a lot of Netflix, too. You know how that goes. “Wah wah wah I can’t lock my knee any more, life sucks, I keep getting into stupid fights by accident, I have to stand differently now, my pace has changed, and can someone help me shovel chocolate chips down my gullet, thanks in advance.”

Anyway, it turns out if you sit on a couch eating crap all the time, you gain weight. Who knew, right? I definitely noticed after a while. It wasn’t hugely obvious, but I try to pay attention to myself (doubly so post-accident) and I was feeling kinda ehhh about it. I figured it was okay, because I’m getting older and metabolisms slow down and I’m not biking every day because of my leg and these things happen and blah blah blah I’m okay, you’re okay.

I’ve got this friend named Larry Leong. I’ve talked about him on here before or whatever whatever. He’s a good dude, and we hang out whenever I visit LA. Last time I visited, me and my death squad played some basketball, played some video game basketball, and just chilled out for a while. It was a nice weekend, the sort of weekend where you’re trying to figure out the best place to relax in the sun and thinking about walking absurd distances just ’cause it feels so good outside. You know those days? Those days drive me crazy. Tank top days. Frisbee days.

Anyway, on my way out of a mutual friend’s house and out of LA, me and Larry said goodbye and he hit me with the ol’ “Hey, catch you later, man. You gained some weight, huh?”


He got me so good. I don’t know what I peaked at, but when I weighed myself and decided to get right, I was at 184. I’m a hair under six feet (well, including my hair, a hair over at this point, but pedantic points are less than trash), so that ain’t too bad, but it is too much for my frame. It is too much for me, personally. On top of that, a couple of my oldest friends were getting married in LA in September, and I wanted to fit into my suit, you know? What if I met my next ex-wife there? I gained enough weight that I felt bad about it, because I knew that I shouldn’t have done it.

So, when I got back to SF, full of shame and thinking of ways to get back at Larry, I decided to start running. I haven’t really run since high school, but it’s mostly flat in my hood, so I figured I could do it. I asked around, bought a pair of shoes to make sure I couldn’t punk out, and started running a minimum of a mile each time out. I ran eight days straight, sprained my right ankle on night eight, and then made it worse on day nine, when I finished my run and realized that my ankle hurt so bad because I’d sprained it, not just because I wasn’t used to running.

That is 2012 in a nut shell. I decide to do something and immediately pay for it in blood.

I decided to fix my diet after that, since I was going to be benched for a couple weeks. I didn’t decide to eat less or eat healthier. I decided to eat smarter. Diets don’t work because diets need to last forever, but if you change how you eat, and I mean genuinely change it not just change it for a fad, you can do big things.

I cut my portions and paid closer attention to what I ate and when. No more half pound burgers, no more full bowls of rice, no more cookie dough. I rarely drink soda outside of root beer floats, and I don’t really get down with candy either, so that wasn’t an issue. I stopped cooking dinner at midnight, too.

I started weighing myself three times a day. That really helped, because it let me see exactly how what I ate affected my body. Fatter burger than usual? Up 2lbs on the day? Forgot to eat dinner? The point is to figure out how what I do affects my body, and figure it out in a way that lets me act on it. Eat too much one day, scale back the next. Lose the right amount of weight one day, keep it going the next.

Once my ankle was well again, I ramped up the exercising, too. I came up with a schedule. Wake up at 6, crawl out of bed eventually, and then spend the next two hours and a half hours before work writing, working out, or both. Usually both. My goal is to run three days a week, but I knew I wouldn’t always be able to make it. So I use free weights, resistance bands, and basic push-ups to get active for the off-days. If I’m chilling and playing video games for a few hours, I’ll stand up and do 40 curls with the resistance bands, just to make sure I’m not totally lazing about. It’s easy, it’s fast, and it gives my brain a break from staring at a TV screen.

Between late July and early October, I shed around 20 pounds, going from 184 to 164ish. I tend to hover between 163 and 166 these days. It feels good. I wake up earlier almost by default now, as I found out this weekend when I was up before the sun every day despite going to bed super sleepy. I feel better and more alert in the mornings after running or working out, which in turn makes my days better. My focus is better, I do more things, and I have more time to do those things. I feel more like me. I fit into my suit, too, and balled out at that wedding, looking like I just came fresh from the Harlem Renaissance.

Larry’s video series is called Move, Damn You. It’s great advice.

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Nike’s Find Your Greatness ad campaign is pretty good

July 26th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I was talking to someone on Twitter the other day about whether or not it was unfair that black superheroes tended to shoulder the burden of addressing racial issues in comics & movies, like the stereotypical angry black man or the uncountable comics where a black hero points out to his white mentor how grimy life actually is when you’re colored.

I agreed that it was unfair, but that we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. White characters will never shoulder that burden because white is treated as the default. They get to have regular adventures because they are treated like regular people. Black people are special. We’ve got baggage.

So the choice is either deafening silence, which is in and of itself an implicit suggestion that things are a-okay, or one type of character being expected to deal with one type of story before they can move on to regular stories. My point, I think, was that it was unfair, but necessary, because you can’t expect white characters to shoulder that burden and someone has to.

I really like this Nike campaign. “Find Your Greatness.” It’s another hit for Nike after a long line of them, and I love that it focuses on regular people instead of superstars. All the spots are pretty good, though I think the one with the diver is my favorite/the cutest.

But I think it’s notable that in a campaign that includes a wide variety of people, from black kids to Chinese martial artists to a kid who plays baseball with just one arm, the only spot to be explicitly educational, in a cultural sense, is the one that features Muslim women wearing headscarves. (The conceit of the campaign is that it’s documenting athletes in not-England Londons, but I’m not sure where in this case.)

The voiceover: If we think greatness is supposed to look a certain way, act a certain way, and play a certain way… we certainly need to rethink some things.

It’s not a complaint, exactly, more of a plain observation. I think it’s interesting that this is the one that has the “Be more accepting” message. The other short spots are of the motivational variety. “If greatness doesn’t come knocking on your door, maybe you should go knocking on its door.” “Greatness isn’t born. It’s made.” “Greatness is a scary thing. Until it isn’t.” “Sometimes, greatness is about overcoming insurmountable adversity. Sometimes it’s just fun.” That kind of thing.

But this one, the message is more pointed. Americans hate Arab peoples and distrust Islam. The role of women in Islam has been boiled down to “oppressed, forced to wear oppressive clothes.” The role of men has been boiled down to “sexists, murderous, terrorists.” That is the narrative right now. Don’t believe me? It was just last year, 2011, that Representative Peter King put American Muslims on trial for the actions of a few.

The narrative needs to be corrected. Which means that people need to be educated. Which means that these messages of empathy and acceptance… need to be said. It needs to be said, it desperately needs to be said to correct the poison we’ve been tainted with, but it is only ever said by, or by way of, the people who are victims of false and hurtful narratives.

That’s the rock and a hard place. It needs to be done, but it’s unfair at the same time. Why should I have to reprogram your idiotic beliefs when I had nothing to do with them being invented? But if I don’t… then the poison continues. And if that poison doesn’t directly affect your life, you’re probably not going to be particularly active about getting rid of it. It’s like being trapped in someone else’s box.

“Find Your Greatness” a great campaign, and I love the message behind it, even the “Stop being so mean to Muslims and Arabs you incredible jerks” one. This one’s my favorite spot, though:

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