Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

“Lucy means light and additionally (the name) carried extra significance as my maternal grandmother, Lucille, was a spiritual rock in our family, before her untimely death on my birthday in 2009. I loved that the strength of my grandma might have an opportunity to live on in her great-granddaughter and was very pleased when Jaime was the first to suggest that we name her Lucy.”

Our shining star's bright light

Lucy – our shining star’s bright light

Four days before The Amazing Home Birth of Lucy Fisher, amidst a second blizzard in as many weeks during the relentless January snow of 2011, we received a visitor.

I was standing at the changing table situated directly under a window facing our backyard. Perched confidently outside our second floor apartment, overlooking the children’s bedroom, was a breathtaking cardinal against the backdrop of snow. I called the attention of the whole family to come marvel. But it wasn’t just the cardinal’s symbolic beauty amidst the storm that was so captivating, for as in continuing to observe it I felt strongly that it had arrived here on our branches purposefully.

A symbol of beauty amidst continual storm may have been something even more

A symbol of beauty amidst continual storm, this cardinal’s arrival may have been something more

I am not sure I would be able to explain it to a skeptic, but as has occurred to me on previous occasions, I sensed that this particular bird in this exact moment was there specifically for me. That it was present to deliver a message and would be content to remain watching over my household until I received it.

The cardinal stayed long enough that I eventually was compelled to grab the video camera and record it’s appearance. The picture to the right is an actual screen shot from the recording on that winter day. I could not shake the feeling that this sighting was not simply fortuitous but meaningful in some way. I have never been inclined toward interest in animal spirits, but decided out of curiosity to Google possible meanings for the overt arrival of a cardinal.

The first website I found spoke of a cardinal as potentially representing the spirit of a deceased loved one signaling that they are still with you. I immediately thought of my grandmother Lucille, who had very unexpectedly passed away in her sleep two years prior in January 2009 on the birthday I share with her husband Vern.

Grandma Lucy and Vern (or Pops as we called him) had been very formative in my life, despite living some distance from us. It was Pops that gave our family our first computer and Grandma Lucy made a habit out of sending the whole family homemade birthday cards printed on her PC. It was humbling to think that I may have been the last person she wrote to while still alive. After receiving notice of her passing earlier in the day, one of my grandmother’s signature “Lucilove Creations” birthday cards arrived in the mail for me. Inside was a clip art picture of a bursting balloon with text that said, “Popping out of the balloon to wish you a Happy Birthday!” and a handwritten note that read, “Love, G’ma + Pop – thanks for the Holiday picture of your family. – Clara is so cute. –” It was not only a balloon, but our hearts that had indeed been burst.

I had been unable due to finances and work responsibilities to fly out to California to attend her memorial service and regretted that. I felt maybe in some small way that Grandma Lucy was trying to tell me that it was okay. I went and found the birthday card she sent me in order to re-read her last words once more.

It was not until much later upon revisiting that birthday card that I noticed the sticker seal (pictured) my grandmother had used on the envelope and my eyes widened.

Cardinal Stamp

Did the last piece of mail my Grandmother sent before she unexpectedly passed away contain a meaningful sign of things to come?

Maybe it had been my grandmother after all.

This notion was not dispelled at all within me when a few years later, I noticed again on my birthday and the anniversary of her departure that a Facebook friend had unwittingly changed their profile picture to an image of a solitary cardinal perched on a snow covered barren tree branch.

However, it was not until this week that a greater picture started to come into view. My wife was out on a winter walk with the two little ones when a cardinal flew up to them and landed right next to our daughter Lucy, who carries the name of her great-grandmother she was never fortunate enough to meet.

Or had they met?

Was it possible that our blizzard cardinal had arrived in anticipation of our little Lucy just days before her birth? That even before we had decided on her name, Grandma might have known? That perhaps her presence was in some way paying another birthday visit the day before Lucy would turn four years old?

I am not one to put much stock in fortune tellers, mediums and the sort, but I found it strangely compelling when someone very close to us recently paid a visit to a psychic and was told, with no inquiry at all, that my deceased grandmother was watching over Lucy.

And why not?

Jaime and I had often joked that in the transition from two to three children that an extra set of eyes would be helpful. The reality of having three small children within the span of less than three and half years is that you cannot attend to all of them the way you would like. You give it your best shot and pray to God it works out. Is it possible that God in His infinite wisdom and boundless sense of humor may have answered our prayer by letting Grandma Lucy look out for her namesake on occasion?

And if so, what is it that Grandma Lucy has seen?

LucyLove

LucyLove

I imagine she is seeing what the rest of us have been fortunate to experience, a wildly determined yet emotionally sensitive little girl with a heart full of love. Lucy is a scene-stealer in the best sense of the term.

My grandmother was a huge college basketball fan, perhaps she has laughed along with us enjoying every moment of Lucy’s annual March Madness NCAA bracket picks, including “Hot Mexico” in 2013. Maybe it was my grandmother who put in a good word for Shabazz Napier and UConn last year which resulted in our whole family losing to a 3 year old.

The Bracket champ gets to choose the lunch of their choice at the destination of their own choosing. In true Lucy fashion she selected to eat Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches at our local children’s museum Kid City. Even better was the time she won our “Easy A” inspired Family Member of the Week vote and decided we would all eat hot dogs and rice as her celebration meal.

As the third child, Lucy is regrettably and constantly subjected to influences we never would have let our eldest children be exposed to. But as the older kids reach new developmental milestones and as our hands have become increasingly tied, she is most often right there in the mix. Last year as the big kids discovered Star Wars, the result was a phase where Lucy would make her presence known by singing the infamous Darth Vader intro “The Imperial March” followed by mechanical breathing at the dinner table.

She seemed to struggle a bit naturally with the arrival of our youngest Miles. They are 32 months apart, the largest age-gap between any of our four, and I think she enjoyed be the littlest. But her infectious giggle and sharp wit have carved out a place all her own. Just a few months ago she began playing nicely with her baby brother and then remarked to Jaime, “I am not jealous of Miles anymore. I know I am everyone’s favorite!”

Never have we met a more fiercely independent young lady. I have worked with many kids over the years in various capacities and found that the vast majority can be convinced to alter their behavior given enough time and the right approach. Lucy defies the odds. Once she makes up her mind, you will not be able to change it in the interim.

Before she even had teeth she wanted to brush them alone. Just last week she had nearly psyched herself up for a visit to the dentist before changing her mind onsite. I had to hold her straight jacket style against me a week ago, wrapping my legs around the feral beast and holding her jaw open in order to get a halfway decent dental cleaning. To her credit, her oft-independent brushing has yielded no cavities. These tendencies along with her strong joyful passion for dancing through life has earned her the family nickname “Wyldstyle”. photo 2

But be not fooled by her rough exterior. She is a true romantic at heart, magnetized to love stories and dreams of being a princess. Whereas I made a semi-intentional effort to squash some of this in her older sister, I have Let It Go with Lu-Lu and enjoyed watching her be herself. The theme of her four year old birthday party was “Pink.” We decided to play with some Power Rangers action figures the other day and when in character as Troy the Red Megaforce Ranger I asked her Pink Ranger what we should do today, she replied, “Maybe… get married!”

I will have to keep my eyes on her and welcome any assistance from Grandma Lucy in this task.

But ultimately, what I admire most in our little girl is her kind hearted and loyal servant nature. She loves to help Jaime bake in the kitchen. She is so infatuated with her BFF that she goes about re-naming everything in our home “Shianna” in her friend’s honor. She even passed a test of Dumbledore’s earlier in the week.

I recently started reading through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with the kids knowing that my 7 year old bookworm Clara would latch on to the compelling story, and in true fashion Lucy came along for the literary ride, though she would have probably preferred nightly stories about princesses. After we finished reading the book, we rented and watched the movie.

The next morning we ran into a bit of inter-sibling conflict over which show they would like to stream on Netflix while I got ready for the day. Clara and Shepard were arguing over which of their selections should trump Lucy’s desire to watch Strawberry Shortcake. I decided to employ a little Harry Potter parenting and see which of the kids may have been able to internalize one of the major messages of the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I will make no spoiler apologies for a book that will reach the age of adulthood this summer, so as more of a refresher, Harry stumbles upon the Mirror of Erised with an “inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.” Ms. Rowling does not spell it out, but the cryptic inscription when read backwards says, “I show not your face but your hearts desire.” At the climax, Harry uses his familiarity with the mirror to foil the villain and secure the titular Stone, but is somewhat confused as to how he accomplished the feat:

Harry: “How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?”

Dumbledore: “Ah, now, I’m glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that’s saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it.”

Using this little nugget of wisdom I designed a test for my children. I first asked them, “What do you want to watch?” and all three provided their individual answers with no overlap. Next I posed the question slightly altered, “What do you think would be best for you all to watch?” Child One and Child Two maintained that their selections would not be only in their best interest but also for the greater good. Only Lucy deferred her personal preference. Therefore, much to the chagrin of the older siblings, Strawberry Shortcake it was.

Lucy wins again.

My prayer is that my daughter will be able to maintain her fiery independent spirit in balance with her demonstrated ability to sacrifice her own desires for the sake of community.

Grandma Lucy – Any assistance you can offer in helping your namesake and this little light of ours shine along the way is genuinely appreciated.

Lucy wins again!

Lucy wins again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading.

If you are interested in watching Lucy in action, here is a little impromptu interview we did last week recapping life as a 3 year old when Wyldstyle got out of bed reporting she wasn’t “sleepy”:

 

“Sports fandom is a fantastic gift with almost immeasurable value… it’s a proxy for real life but better, it renews itself, it’s constantly happening in real time, there are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day don’t, it’s war where nobody dies, it’s a proxy for all our emotions and desires and hopes. I mean, heck, what’s not to like about sports?”

– Steven Dubner, author of Freakonomics , on the 8-23-11 “Games” episode of NPR’s Radiolab

Sports run in my blood.

Both my parents were collegiate scholarship athletes and long advocated that if I was to afford a postsecondary education at a University that it would have to be on the back of my own athletic full-ride. In the first grade I was bribed to start playing Tee-Ball with a box of unopened baseball cards to begin tapping into my athletic potential. As a third grader in flannel shorts, I started playing in the Boys and Girls Club basketball league. I played sports, both organized and recreationally, throughout childhood, into high school and beyond with some success. But looking back, as much fun as it was to play, I think I was always equal parts athlete and sports fan at heart.

As a kid I played out entire Major League baseball seasons in my front yard using a wiffle ball bat, baseball glove, tennis ball and a box score inspired imagination. I loved going with family and friends to Jack Murphy Stadium hearing “Line Drives and Stolen Bases, Diving Catches, We’re Goin’ Places, C’Mon!” before the announcement of the Padres’ starting lineup. I would constantly beat out the Pistons and Celtics in my driveway for the Larry O’Brien Trophy as I became Magic, Kareem and Worthy. I recall repeatedly chanting “Go, Chargers, Go! 6 and 0!” before climbing into bed as the Bolts got started on their only Super Bowl season in ’94-‘95.

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Clara and I visit Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame Plaque in Cooperstown, NY in May 2008

Sports were more than a pastime for me; they were part of my identity.

It’s been a while since those days. Making the decision to get rid of cable years ago certainly drastically reduced time spent watching sports, but for a good portion of the last decade I still found solace in the box scores. At the end of a long day or when avoiding important tasks, ESPN.com or CBS Sportsline provided a window into another world. A world where “pitchers and catchers report” is synonymous with hope and the Opening Day bunting whispers anything is possible.

I found this to be especially true every time I moved farther away from home. As awful as the Friars have been, without a No-Hitter, a batter hitting for the cycle or a World Series trophy since their inaugural season in 1969, as heartbreaking as the Bolts have been over the past decade with McCree season ending fumbles and Kaeding missed field goals in the playoffs, these were my teams. Checking the scores, reading the game recaps, watching the highlights were all measures of solidarity with friends and family in America’s Finest City.

When Jaime and I were first married I would frequently sit in our Montana apartment literally watching a pitch-by-pitch Gamecast of Padres games on the internet. For non-sports aficionados, this basically entails sitting by yourself waiting for small dots and sentence fragments to appear on the screen and relay what is happening in a game you are not actually watching. Thrilling, no?

In the years to come we would move four times and add four children to our growing family. I slowly came to admit that in my life circumstance, spending significant amounts of solitary time watching other people playing sports was irresponsible when I have a family of my own that needs my limited energy and attention.

Thus, my 2014 New Year’s Resolution was to stop watching sports.

I was not going to stop watching sports because they were evil. I was going to give up watching sports because I had become dependent on them and my addiction had become an evil. If sports were in my blood, then perhaps it was time for a transfusion.

I had also become concerned at the role sports have come to play in our American culture and society. Is it possible that our major sporting leagues and events such as the NFL and Super Bowl are the magician’s wiggling fingers on one hand to draw our attention away from the other covertly covering the severity of our nationalistic xenophobia and military industrial complex?

But as happens with addicts, my inner voice of rationalization was at the ready once treatment had been seriously proposed.

Aren’t sports a great source of recreation and bonding? Sports are a form of social currency – if I give them up, I will lose opportunities for relationship building and a basis for camaraderie. What if my team finally wins after three decades of disappointment? What about the moments that transcend sport such as a reconstructed Drew Brees and the Saints providing a welcome distraction and Super Bowl ring to rebuilding New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina?

I found confirmation of my resolution though when I cracked open theologian Walter Brueggeman’s most recent book and read, “Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our ‘rest time.’”

I resolved that I was ready for an alternative rest.

I set out some ground rules in hope of getting into balance and having a realistic shot of fulfilling the goal:

#1 I would not watch/follow any professional sports or participate in any corresponding fantasy leagues (including game highlights or reading recaps, box scores or standings)

Note: College athletics would not apply. Not being a college football guy, I spend zero percent of my Autumn Saturdays watching football. However, the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tourney, aka March Madness, is one of my favorite things ever (in large part to my kids bracket picks each year). I agreed I would not watch any regular season NCAA games, but for March and March only, all bets would be off (or should I say on).

Likewise, from the outset I granted myself permission to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as I am not normally a huge Fútbol fan, and the World Cup is both a global and time-limited event.

#2 I could however talk about sports with others, and if others were to inform me of an outcome of a particular game or play, then I would be able to engage in that conversation (Similarly, if someone made a comment on social media about a game that would be fair game – though following teams on Facebook etc. would not be allowed).

# 3 Should there be a good opportunity to hang out with a friend revolving around a sporting event or attend a sporting event live, consideration would be given to allowance of a limited exception to Rule #1.

#4 Playing sports would be allowable under all circumstances

That’s it.

The goals weren’t meant to eliminate sports from my life, just to eliminate my dependence on them.

Test number one came early with the Chargers improbably making the playoffs and scheduled for a first round game at Cincinnati in the first week of January. I got some grief about my decision not to watch, follow or read anything about the game. I did happen to call my brother Eric late in the day just to “see how he was” and found out we had won, but received little additional detail. I was saved any further temptation when San Diego lost the following weekend.

March Madness came and went with my 3 year old daughter Lucy besting the entire family with her bracket picks on the back of a UCONN National Championship. The family winner gets to pick the location and lunch menu of their choice. Lucy went with Peanut Butter and Jellies at the local children’s museum KidCity. Yes, I lost to a toddler and it was awesome.

I didn’t miss much in the Spring with Lakers eliminated from playoff contention by March. Though San Diego State alum Kahwi Leonard apparently reportedly played out of his mind as part of a beautiful Spurs team performance in the NBA Finals that thwarted the Heat attempt at a 3-peat. Maybe I’ll catch it on ESPN Classic someday.

My heart stung a bit not watching on baseball’s aforementioned Opening Day, which should easily outdistance Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday. No qualms not paying attention to the mediocre Padres though. Early in the season Matt Souto came over and started talking baseball. I informed him I wasn’t watching this year, but that after a quarter-century of supporting for the Padres I could probably guess their record. Matt informed me San Diego’s season was 19 games in, I figured that likely meant we would be about 9-10. Nailed it.

My first real Major League Baseball news of the year came as a result of the unfortunate passing of Mr. Padre himself. Tony Gwynn lost his battle to cancer this past June and an entire city and sport fell silent.

The following month it seemed no one was silent as LeBron James announced he would be leaving Miami to return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll confess this seemed bigger than sport, a narrative that transcended the NBA into meta-Prodigal Son territory. Four years after making himself a spectacle and a fool with The Decision, the best basketball player in the world was this time quietly making the tough decision, the right decision, to go home to Ohio in an effort to bring a title home to one of the few U.S. cities with a more pathetic pro sports history than San Diego. I followed the story, but there were no games being played so I considered myself in the clear.

Football season rolled around and I backed out of all Fantasy leagues. Since I started playing Fantasy Football back in 2001, I have learned that most often the real Fantasy isn’t the make believe stat-based point system as much as the idea any time invested after the draft is actually yielding deeper relationships with any of the folks your playing with. Competitive juices end up far more likely to bring bad blood than a sense of deeper friendship and thus I signed myself up for a season-long bye from even the family league. I bequeathed my team “Christopher Walken” to my little sister Miranda and did not miss playing. In fact, without Fantasy Football as a distraction I went entire stretches of the season actually present enough with my family and church family that I didn’t even know who the Chargers were playing, let alone if they won. It was liberating. In the meantime, my sister brought more cowbell and won the league title in her first attempt.

In the end, it turned out to be the Kansas City Royals that made me officially relapse.

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League!

In the end, LBJ would open the door, the Royals would cause relapse and new Padres G.M. A.J. Preller would provide hope. Little sis takes over and wins the Fantasy League upholding the legend of Christopher Walken!

 

My good friend Nathan Miller’s favorite team, the Royals told a story too good not to follow as summed up in an article entitled, “These Royals Make You Believe in God” by Angela Denker. Ms. Denker wrote “It’s been said that sports are America’s religion and that this idolatry is our downfall. Maybe that’s true when the Yankees win the pennant or the Patriots take the Super Bowl. But when the Royals win the Wild Card and play in October for the first time in 29 years, Jesus smiles back at George Brett and James Shields. Jesus won like the Royals win. He rose like the Royals rise, when everything seems impossible and people don’t even know what state you’re from.”

Making their first postseason appearance in nearly three decades, I read the KC playoff box scores, watched the highlights, changed my Facebook profile picture, and basically broke all my rules. I did everything short of contacting Nathan directly because you don’t jinx a no-hitter in progress by talking about it and up until the World Series, the Royals went a perfect 8-0 in the Postseason. Their magical run finally ended with a runner on third in a one-run loss in Game 7. Despite not taking the crown, the Royals were my sports story of the year. Nathan summed up the journey nicely, “If you would have told me in March the Royals lost game 7 of the ‪#‎WorldSeries, I would have kissed you on the mouth. ‪#‎CelebrateNoMatter Thank you ‪#‎Royals

If new General Manager A.J. Preller’s aggressive offseason moves pay off in similar fashion for the Padres in 2015, I’ll be in a kissing mood myself.

In the end, I almost made it a year.

Seems I can’t get sports out of my blood entirely after all. But I do feel more in balance and that the progress made in addressing my dependency on sports was a step in the right direction for our family.

On deck?

A big league challenge to outsmart a growing dependence on my smart phone.

The best stories are unpredictable.

It was the evening of December 8, 2011 and I was in a risk-taking mood. Just a week and a half earlier, on the morning of November 27, 2011, while teaching an adult Bible class, I invited my Church family to assist with serving the orphans of our society. I told them of my social work case load of 16 youth ranging in age from 15 to 21, all removed from their homes and biological families. Young people who never exited the State’s system of foster care through reunification with their families or by adoption to new families. As thirteen of my 16 youth were over 18 years old at the time, there weren’t too many people lining up to help with providing Christmas gifts, instead preferring to donate to the cause of younger children in foster care. As Thanksgiving had just passed and Christmas would rapidly be approaching,  I mentioned that if I could raise enough money, say $400, I could purchase each of my kids at least a $25 gift card. Not enough to make a significant purchase, but enough perhaps to let them know that someone cares about them and that they are not alone.

The brothers and sisters at the Ward Street church of Christ immediately responded to this call and two weeks to the day of my request had already donated over $1,000 toward gifts for my teens. Folks were willing to give more and made sure I knew they were ready to give whatever was needed. People were so eager to help, I had to make an announcement to stop having funds donated. I would have a hard enough time wisely spending the money that had already come in.

Enlisting the help of my wife, gift cards were obtained from Ulta for makeup for my lone female client, from Chili’s for one of my college students, from Game Stop for a couple of my high school guys, from Target, the mall and so on. $100 was reserved for a young man trying to save up for a computer and when his foster mother was told of how the money came to be obtained, she said she “smiled for three days straight” reasoning that if someone was willing to ask church folk for money on behalf of foster kids that they “must have at least a little bit of church in ‘em.”

But there was one young man, whose case had recently been assigned to me, for whom I wanted to do something a little more extravagant. 17 years old, he had a decision to make prior to his 18th birthday in early January of whether to continue receiving services from the State and remain in his foster home, or to forego any further relationship with the bureaucracy and take his chances on the streets. He is the type of kid you can’t help but like due to his authenticity. For example, he informed me he was having a hard time making a decision about what to do at 18 as he feels he can only plan one day at a time and did not simply want to sign paperwork indicating an agreement he was not prepared to keep.

In looking for ways to build a relationship with this young man we came to talking about his favorite sport, basketball, and lamented the NBA lockout which was threatening the cancellation of the entire season. I asked him what team he followed and he confidently stated he was a Lakers fan, a rarity here in the Celtics’ backyard, and that his favorite player was Kobe Bryant. I chuckled in surprise and told him that I have been a life-long Lakers fan and that my favorite current player is Derek Fisher, who was acquired by the Lakers in the first round of the 1996 NBA draft along with Kobe. I asked him if he had ever been to a game and he laughed as he said no. I admitted I had never been to a game either, even though I lived in L.A. for a couple years, and teased that maybe we should go together some time.

Now here I was, sitting in front of my laptop on this early December evening, looking at tickets on StubHub for a prime-time Lakers-Knicks matchup at Madison Square Garden slated for February. The NBA lockout had finally ended and I was thinking, “Why not?” One answer was the insane ticket price of $175 a seat, close to an even $200 after fees. But I figured with All-Star point guard Chris Paul looking for a trade to the Knicks to form their own three-headed monster of CP3, Melo and Amare, and the Lakers coming to town I couldn’t really expect tickets to be less expensive in an arena that seats only 19,763. I informed Jaime I was thinking of buying two tickets, one for my foster youth with donated funds and that my seat would be financed in large part by gift subsidies from my mother who normally sends $150 my way between Christmas and my own early January birthday. I theorized this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for both myself and my client and my supportive and amazing wife mirrored my excitement encouraging me to purchase the tickets.

I was still hesitant to click the orange “Checkout” button, when I read that Chris Paul had just been traded. To the Lakers. And just like that, the tickets were ours. When I thanked the church the following Sunday for affording me the opportunity to serve in such fashion and explained the idea behind the purchase, there were many a teary eye among the congregation. Then it was my turn to feel the waterworks coming on when 9 year old Steven Pawloski approached me after services with a big smile and insisted I take his recently earned $20 bill so that my client and I could “buy snacks at the Lakers game.”

I couldn’t wait to tell the young man about the tickets. When I was finally able to track him down a few days later and I told him we would be going to see Kobe play live as a Christmas/Birthday gift, he laughed in disbelief the way I imagine Sarah may have when she heard through the tent flap she was to have a son in her old age. He didn’t have much to say, but it was the first look of joy I had seen on his face in the two months I had known him. His foster mother later told me he had reported the news to her with a mixture of happiness and sheer confusion, asking “Why would he do this for me? He doesn’t even know me.” To which she replied, “People don’t have to know you to want to do something nice for you.”

But in the days leading up to the game, the Paul trade to the Lakers was vetoed by the league, the Lakers would find the condensed scheduling of a lockout-shortened season especially tough on their veteran legs leading to a woeful road record, Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony was injured and it was announced fellow New York All-Star Amare Stoudemire would not be playing in the game after the tragic loss of his brother in a car accident. However, good spirits prevailed as we would still be able to see Kobe and D-Fish. Plus, with all of the Knicks’ firepower disabled, it appeared a lock we would see a L.A. win in our first NBA game.

I didn’t know who Jeremy Lin was until the night before the event. I was discussing the upcoming game and the opportunity it was going to build a stronger relationship with my client, when a co-worker mentioned the Knicks had some undrafted guard who went to Harvard and had been buried deep on their bench who had apparently found his way into the starting lineup and led the Knicks to a three game “Lin-ning” streak. New Yorkers and their losing team were finding love in a hopeless place as the California-born Lin, whose parents are from Taiwan, became the first Asian-American player to start an NBA game and lit up the Nets, Jazz and Wizards in a five day span averaging over 20 points a game. With the help of the New York City hype machine, suddenly Friday night’s matchup against the Lakers was again being billed as a marquee show, only this time due to a player who wasn’t even on the Knicks roster on Christmas day and was reportedly sleeping on his teammate’s couch.

The drive down to Manhattan provided ample time to hear my client’s own story from his perspective and our night was off to a good start as we walked through a lit up Times Square on Friday evening en route to the game. It appeared we were in good company as we approached “The World’s Most Famous Arena” with many fans dressed in Los Angeles Purple and Gold. There were also scattered Blue #17 jerseys fresh off the press that had already begun to circulate especially among the Asian-American fans in attendance. The souvenir stand on the lower concourse sold out of Lin jerseys before the game even started.

The sold out crowd was buzzing prior to the opening tip as we all looked forward to finding out if “Lin-sanity” could be sustained through a visit from Bryant, the league’s leading scorer, or if the novelty act was up. I was confident of the latter and leaned over to ask my client, ‘How much do you think we’ll win by?” He smiled as he shrugged his shoulders and declined to give his pick.

It did not take long to realize the young man had been wise in not counting Lin or the Knicks out. A couple minutes into the game, Lin knocked down a three from the corner over 7”1’ Center Andrew Bynum putting the Knicks up 3-2, and he didn’t look back. Lin set up Tyson Chandler for a bucket that put the Knicks up 5-4. They would not trail again. A jumper, a second assist to Chandler, another jumper, followed by a Lin steal and layup forced a Lakers timeout five minutes in with the score 13-4. Jeremy Lin was outscoring the Lakers himself by five points. My client and I looked at each other shaking our heads in disbelief and remarking that the Lakers looked tired after last night’s overtime win in Boston.

The electric New York crowd became more energized with each Lin basket and assist as the Garden’s Jumbotron incited cheers of Je-Re-My! Je-Re-My! Nearing the end of the first half, Lin blew past Derek Fisher on a fast break spin move and his following acrobatic lay-in gave him 18 points, gave his team a 9 point lead and won the hearts of all frustrated Knicks fans for life. The Knicks have this elaborate alumni program and kept announcing “Once a Knick, Always a Knick!” before announcing the attendance of Larry Johnson, Anthony Mason, John Starks and Walt Frazier at various points throughout the game. I found myself thinking that even if Jeremy Lin’s overnight sensation story doesn’t last another week, he already had earned himself an alumni pass based on the crowd’s admiration.

There wasn’t much to be pleased about as a Lakers fan as Kobe started the game 1-of-11 from the field and Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) had three more personal fouls than he had points (zero) shortly into the second half. Kobe appeared jealous of Lin by the mid-third quarter and awoke his Black Mamba alter ego as he began splashing ridiculous fade away jumpers over the backboard while double teamed and even awed the New York crowd with a laser pass to himself off the glass before tip passing to Pau Gasol for his only assist of the game. Kobe’s gunning brought the Lakers within 6 on a couple of occasions, but the basketball Linja could not be stopped.

Lin hit a three pointer in the face of 7”1’ Pau Gasol, then pump faked another Laker before connecting on a 20 foot jump shot, before splashing yet another three from the corner sending the crowd into a frenzy. Lin invoked memories of the NBA Jam announcer exclaiming “He’s on fire!” and “Is it the shoes?!?” While the originator of the latter phrase, Spike Lee, looked so enamored standing courtside I thought he might immediately switch out his #2 Landry Fields jersey for Lin’s #17. Not that Fields would have even minded, as he owns the couch Lin is sleeping on, and despite only scoring only six points in the game he tweeted afterward “Most fun I’ve ever had playing ball. Plain and simple. God is great! Congrats to @JLin7.”

Jeremy Lin, the Balling LINJA, Energizes the Knicks and Provides Inspiration Beyond Basketball

It sure looked like Lin and his teammates were genuinely having fun out there. Jumping and shouting and laughing with joy while playing the game. And while Kobe had laughed Lin off as a nobody the previous night when asked about him, it was Lin who had the last laugh metaphorically on Friday. He put the nail in the coffin when he called for a clear out with two minutes left in the game, causing the fans to rise to their feet in anticipation. He drove past Matt Barnes and split the Lakers’ seven footers once again finishing off a circus shot and the chants of “Je-Re-My!” morphed into “M-V-P!” Spike Lee and Justin Tuck of the Super Bowl Champion Giants (it pains me to write that) were bowing to him from their courtside seats, which I’m sure if Lin even noticed among the celebratory chaos, would have made him uncomfortable given his strong Christian faith and humble personality. After the game he praised his teammates with a few sports clichés, but was never self-congratulatory and thanked God for allowing him to live his dream. Certainly his performance was worthy of accolades as after Friday night’s game, Lin had scored more points in his first three NBA starts than any player in the modern history of the league. To borrow a line from Ron Burgundy, I wasn’t mad, I was impressed.

As we walked out of Madison Square Garden amidst drunken New York fans, the young man I took to the game came away with a similar impression of Lin, noting “I have to respect him.” People who have attended events at the Garden for years and covered professional sports in New York noted it was “one of the coolest nights” in the history of a landmark arena that has seen so many unforgettable events and “one for the ages”. I would have to agree. Neither I nor the young man will ever forget Friday night. The night Jeremy Lin cemented his status as a star and provided hope that all things are indeed possible, even for the overlooked and underrated. Sometimes all you need is an opportunity and to know that someone believes in you. Despite our team’s loss, I hope my client and I can both hold onto this lesson we witnessed firsthand.

It seems things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes they turn out better.

Michael Vick is an episode of ‘This American Life’ waiting to be produced. It seems everyone has a take on Vick, from the vehement critics he earned with his despicable off-the-field killing and torturing of dogs for which he served prison time to the adoring fans who have forgiven Vick as he has resurrected his professional football career in a way that has the phoenix considering retirement. Amidst persistent controversy and criticism, the remarkable comeback of Mike Vick unveiled its latest chapter on Sunday December 10, 2010 in a contest that appeared to be more a microcosm of his life’s journey than simply another game.

I was following the Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants game this past Sunday while running at the gym, paying particularly close attention to the performance of the Eagles’ Quarterback, who doubles as the quarterback on my little brother Eric’s fantasy football team. Eric and I were competing in cyberspace to determine which of our fantasy teams would be in competition of the “Daddy Pants” league finals this Sunday, with the first points of our annual brotherly competition at stake. I won’t go into details, but the competition is a big deal, so I was pleased to see that Vick, who has been playing out of his mind this season, was performing at a very pedestrian rate throwing for only one touchdown and accumulating less than one hundred yards passing as the fourth quarter got underway. With Philadelphia down 31-10 with less than eight minutes to play, I headed home from the gym, confident that if Eric’s team should out-fantasize my own, it would certainly not be due to the exploits of Number 7.

Of course, upon checking the update of our fantasy football battle, Vick had somehow accumulated an insane 99 points during my drive home resulting in a 38-31 Eagles’ Vick-tory and the demise of my fantasy team. The Eagles scored a mind-boggling four touchdowns in the final eight minutes to overtake the Giants and sole possession of first place in the NFC East with two games to play, while making a strong case that the first two letters in MVP stand for Michael Vick. I should have been shocked, but it seems extraordinary occurrences are commonplace for Mr. Vick these days.

Just over a month ago on November 15, 2010, Vick set an NFL record by accounting for five first half touchdowns against the Washington Redskins in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football en route to six touchdowns in three quarters and a 59-28 demolition of Washington. The performance was so dominant that it inspired 11 time national sportswriter of the year Rick Reilly to dedicate his weekly ESPN column to the headline that is Michael Vick.

In his article entitled “Time to Forgive Vick Is Here”, Reilly argued Vick paid a reasonable the price for his crimes against animals by serving 18 months in the notorious Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary which could easily have cost him his entire career. Reilly didn’t make the case that Vick’s delinquency should be forgotten, but did ask what more could justifiably be asked of him:

“The man is contrite. He is humbled. He is chastened. He has already given 24 speeches for the Humane Society. He has dismissed his old friends, has even run from them when they show up. What else is he supposed to do? Move into a dog kennel himself?”

The article piqued my interest when Reilly mentioned Vick would be using his off-day the following week to travel to Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut to talk about the evils of dog fighting. As a social worker in New Haven, I am often in the city’s schools dealing with emergent crises, but over the past year I have walked the halls of Hillhouse so often I feel like an honorary staffer.

From fellow El Capitan alum Kevin McAdam playing with Vick first at Virginia Tech and then with the Atlanta Falcons and then our Chargers nearly selecting Vick with the first pick in the 2001 NFL draft (which they traded to Atlanta for receiver Tim Dwight and draft picks that became LaDainian Tomlinson, Tay Cody and Reche Caldwell), I often felt Vick’s story was just a step away from intersecting with my own, even if only insignificantly. So I found significance in his plans to be present at Hillhouse and found my way into the school’s auditorium on November 23, 2010 in hopes of discerning whether the talented performer’s repentance act was genuine or just an attempt at a career makeover.

New Haven advertises itself with the slogan, “It all happens here,” but for a day it didn’t seem like such an exaggeration as both Vick and Bill Cosby were in town to speak to students. The Hillhouse kids didn’t seem to mind much that they were missing out on Cosby as they were brimming with energy and weren’t paying much attention to either Assistant Principal Ms. G or Principal Carolina’s appeals to quiet down. I made my way through the packed crowd and found a seat among the soon-to-be state champion Hillhouse High School varsity football team, less than a 40 yard dash from the stage prepared for Vick.

Principal Carolina announced he would bring Vick out and the excitement reached a fever pitch. With no Vick in sight, students began to give themselves whiplash with every preemptive shrill of excitement, believing the quarterback was capable of entering the room like a ninja, stealthily from any direction (ironically the Giants looked as if they shared this belief on Sunday in their attempts to tackle Vick in the 4th quarter). Screams started to accompany any athletic black male who entered the auditorium looking for one of the last seats as we appeared well on our way toward a fire code violation.

Vick entered stage right and the crowd erupted, but not as loud as I expected as it appeared some kids had already lost their voices and others had stoically convinced themselves that after five minutes of false alarms, they would no longer be punked, even when Vick actually showed up. The applause was generous and without any hint of dog lovers voicing their disapproval. I wondered if Vick’s reception would have been colder had he shown up in the suburbs or if he hadn’t recently ascended back to the level of NFL star quarterback.

Vick’s earrings glistened in the spotlight and he flashed his celebrity smile. He was dressed in a solid gray pullover, dark jeans and black tennis shoes worn in the style of 2015 Marty McFly.

Accompanying Vick was Wayne Pacelle, a Hillhouse graduate, current President/CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and second fiddle in the eyes of the kids. Pacelle began by noting the Humane Society’s goal of stopping animal cruelty in all its forms and noted he and Vick were present to bring awareness to the Society’s End Dog Fighting Campaign which has already made stops in Chicago, Charlotte, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. Pacelle presented as thoughtful and well educated, but realized people had not flocked to see him and sat down after commending Vick for getting up at 6:00 am on his day off to take a train from Philadelphia to New Haven, and stating that the star athlete is not mandated by the conditions of his Probation to perform any community service in the form of public speaking.

In contrast to Pacelle, Vick did not project himself as a polished public speaker nor an intellectual, but he did appear genuine as he began his story. Introduced to dog fighting at the age of eight, Vick claimed he he never considered dog fighting to be inhumane and admitted both that he was unwilling to listen to the advice of those who told him it was wrong and that he had not cared about potential consequences of his involvement. Vick then confirmed the adage that ‘no criminal expects to be caught’ when he acknowledged that the gravity of his orchestration of dog fighting rings didn’t register with him until he was arrested and convicted.

Vick appeared to be at his most vulnerable when he admitted to repeatedly lying to his mother when she questioned him about whether he was involved in dog fighting. Vick’s mother did not find out the truth about her son until he was arrested, breaking her heart. Vick, who had signed the richest contract in NFL history in 2001, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 while serving his prison sentence and told the students, “When I was sitting in a prison cell, I wanted to give up, I really did.”

Vick made known that his nation-wide school campaign against dog fighting is part of his attempt to help more dogs than he has harmed and sternly warned that as a result of his conviction “all the laws have changed” and “if you fight dogs, you’ll serve a prison sentence.”

It turns out it actually was Vick who approached the Humane Society with the idea making amends through speaking to kids in an attempt to eradicate dog fighting, perhaps lending some credence to his answer to a student question that he feels he can best demonstrate his rehabilitation by owning and caring for a dog after his probation expires. Vick said his daughter sees people on a daily basis with dogs in their condo complex and asks him if she can get a dog too. Vick looked pained when he recounted that he can’t currently get a dog for his kids due to his “ill-advised actions.”

Vick reported, “I think I’m being used by God” and advised those gathered to “always believe that you got to keep God first.” He continued, “(God is) the only reason, the only reason, that I’m standing here today.” He almost appeared to laugh and professed, “Some of the things I’m doing now, playing at the level I’m playing, I don’t know how I’m doing them.” I’m not sure any of us know how Michael Vick is doing the things he is doing, but it wouldn’t be far-fetched to view his story in light of Biblical redemption narratives or its metaphors about rising on wings of Eagles.

Vick has overcome giant obstacles in his Joseph-like rise from prison to stardom. To put things in perspective, the man who was incarcerated just 18 months ago is currently the NFL’s leading vote getter for the 2011 Pro Bowl (well ahead of the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning), guaranteeing that even if it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia this season, Vick will be able to bask in the Hawaii sun come late January. After Sunday’s victory over the Giants of New York, Vick gave credit to his teammates and again thanked God for the opportunity to participate in one of the “greatest comebacks of my career.” At this rate, Vick’s return to prominence may well someday be considered one of the greatest comebacks of any career. And while many remain unconvinced, I’ll count myself among the believers in Michael Vick.

It may be because I didn’t fly on a plane until the age of 18, but I believe there is something mystical about airports. Agreeably, there is little awe inspiring in the security lines or the baggage checks. But the magic exists in the terminal. To start, the place is filled with a diverse group of people from all over the world, gathered in one place with one purpose, yet with no evident relational connections to each other. But people attempt to manufacture relationships with strangers or end up on the phone with people not physically present, making the terminal a fantastic place to people watch. Here you can overhear phrases such as “environmental services boot camp” or pick up shards of conversations like, “Cleavage is all over the place. It’s a bit different from Burlington.” Fascinating.

People crave relational connection and naturally want to share things they’re excited about, so out of the airport’s vacuum of relationship arise genuine moments of people connecting over stories. The terminal provides opportunities to meet people like Linda, a 40 year school speech therapy veteran, who just travelled to Budapest with her two adult daughters in search of relatives who had opted not to immigrate to the Unites States three generations ago. Linda beamed as she told me that she and her children ended up finding their Hungarian family and a vineyard their relatives own and how they drank wine out of old coke bottles for two weeks while communicating through gestures. How’s that for a vacation?

Perhaps my favorite part of the terminal is that it’s the closest thing our muggle world has to a Portkey. There are alphanumeric portals taking people worlds away to places like Miami, Beijing, Jackson Hole, Zurich, Honolulu and Halifax. Where the heck is Halifax anyway? And that’s the point. Walk a few yards this way and you could possibly hop on a plane to visit an old friend, a few feet that way and you can go to a country you cannot even locate on a map (if TSA would only allow gate hopping). But one gate always makes my heart leap while walking past or hearing a last call for boarding. You guessed it, San Diego. There’s no place like home, especially when you don’t live there anymore and aren’t scheduled to go back anytime soon. The idea of walking down that particular breezeway and  just a few hours later stepping out into the salty ocean air is always very appealing.

Perhaps my hometown allegiance can be blamed for the strong emotion I experienced upon arriving at Dulles International in Washington D.C. on Thursday to find a man wearing a LaDainian Tomlinson Jets shirt. LT, perhaps the greatest San Diego Charger of all time, recently signed with New York after spending nearly a decade in America’s Finest City. And in sports, fan-player loyalty is a powerful thing. Ask Red Sox Nation. Go ahead, ask ’em. So, as much as I like LaDainian, it still hurt to read the story this offseason that he had tattooed the Jets logo onto his leg. And while at Matt and Kristin’s last Sunday night, it didn’t seem right to see him sprinting around wearing green, helping to defeat the Patriots (which he never seemed to be able to do in a Bolts uniform). I will admit, it was kind of fun to see a healthy Tomlinson running around like a younger and less brooding version of himself. It caused me to believe this must be how spurned lovers feel when they see their “ex” genuinely happy in a new relationship. Although likely depressed yourself, somewhere inside you might just feel a hint of joy on their behalf. But being happy for someone you still have feelings for is quite different than being happy for their new boyfriend. And the last thing you want to see is a t-shirt that advertises the fact that your relationship was severed and a new one has begun. I think I audibly grunted upon seeing the shirt, realizing that the once happy athlete-fan relationship we once shared is now itself terminal. Yet, wanting to do the right thing, I tried to engage the guy in conversation. You know, to see how LT is doing, to make sure he’s being taken care of properly and appreciated by the Jets fans. Yeah, breaking up is tough. But here I go again, attempting to create some semblance of relationship in a place where none would seem to naturally exist.

But could it be that a relationship actually does exist between us all? I think beyond our fear, beyond our comfort zones, beyond our deep-seated individualism, we know that we are all connected. Maybe it is in the times we enter into a shared space such as the terminal, when we leave our homogenized neighborhoods and workplaces, that we feel the mystery of a deeper truth begging to be discovered. In Acts 2, the church is birthed after the “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” are gathered in one place with one purpose, but have no evident relational connections to each other. But after Peter tells them of Jesus, three thousand of these folks then become united in baptism into God’s one family, a reconciliation of the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel in which one united people was dispersed. Maybe one would disagree or prefer their individual bubble not be contaminated by outsiders, but I believe Mother Teresa was onto something when she said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Like I said, there is something mystical about airports.