Lang’s World: Ten pearls of Whitaker’s wit and wisdom on sports and beyond 12.7.17
By Lang Whitaker
Grind City Media
1. Losing Isn’t Everything
The Memphis Grizzlies ended their 11-game losing streak on Monday night with a 95-92 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Over that three-week period, there’s no way around acknowledging that losing starts to weigh on you. There is no doubt that it was a brutal stretch: David Fizdale was relieved of his coaching duties; players lost their places in the rotations; fans saw their loyalty tested. It was almost as if the NBA Grinch was trying to steal Christmas here in Memphis.
I am a person who is particularly qualified to talk about losing, someone who understands losing on a grand scale. When I was in tenth grade, I tried out for my high school junior varsity basketball team. I’d played basketball my entire life, invested years scrimmaging against the same group of friends in various church leagues. But I had never played much outside that circle of guys, and wasn’t sure how my abilities would translate against a wider range of kids my age.
So I was pleased when I showed up for the JV tryouts and discovered I could not only hang, I could maybe even do some positive things. I would eventually make the team, which was probably as much due to me being good at basketball as it was that a bunch of the other kids missed a few tryout sessions. Whatever, I was on the team and expected to contribute.
For our opening game, I logged heavy minutes at shooting guard despite any real ability to shoot, and we lost by about a dozen. We followed that up with another loss, and then another loss, and another loss and another. Our coach tried shuffling lineups, ditching our offensive system, cancelling practices, but nothing really made much difference – we just kept losing. It was as if losing was what we were actually destined to do, and if that was our goal, then we should be considered wildly successful.
We ended the season with our piece de resistance, during which our coach finally reached his boiling point, in spectacular fashion. Down huge in the second half, coach called a timeout and defied anyone to shoot the ball, then spent the rest of the timeout just staring at us in silence. I guess he was just looking to minimize the damage? Moments later, a reserve forward found himself wide open under the basket, so he flipped the ball up and in for two points. Coach subbed him out at the next dead ball. We would go on to lose that game, 80-27.
We finished the season 0-12. I suppose you could say our entire season was a losing streak, but because losing was all we did, we had no wins to contrast it against. After a while, when losing is all you know, it can be hard to shake free of that feeling.
I’ve been around the NBA now for two decades, and the one maxim that’s true for all involved, from players to coaches to execs, is that the NBA is a marathon, not a sprint. There are so many games, night after night, and while it’s easy to look at a week or two and think they define your season, they really don’t when you zoom out and look at the entirety of a seven-month regular season.
Losing eleven games in a row was by no means ideal, but it’s also not the worst thing that can happen to your team. It ain’t over til it’s over, someone once said. And as I glance at the Grizzlies schedule here by my desk, it ain’t over.
So remember this holiday season as you carve into your roast beast, just because you lose some games, it doesn’t mean you’re a loser. At least that’s how I like to see it.
2. Scattered and Smothered
My love for Waffle House has been well documented. I believe with all my heart that Waffle House is perhaps the truest reflection of America, of both the good parts and the not-so-good parts. And this story about a man’s recent visit to a Waffle House in South Carolina is perfect in so very many respects.
To begin with, this customer had “a craving for Waffle House after a night of drinking with friends last week at around 3 a.m.,” which, as we all know, is pretty much exactly how Waffle House is best consumed.
Alas! This man arrived at the Waffle House to find that whoever was supposed to be on duty and serving up the food was instead asleep. Which, I mean, I feel like this is at least defensible. Who among us has not dozed off at 3 in the morning while trying to pull an all-nighter?
But did this dissuade our bold customer? Not in the least!
He explains: “As I was going around the corner, I saw the sleeping employee and they looked tired, they were sleeping, I was like, ‘Go ahead and rest fam, I got this.'”
GO AHEAD AND REST FAM, I GOT THIS!
And from the looks of things, he got it alright, cooking up a Texas Bacon Cheesesteak with extra pickles, which, as any true Waffle House aficionado can attest, is no simple order. I think he even tried to make hash browns, from studying some of the pictures. I enjoyed that he was “kind enough to clean the grill before he left.”
According to a statement from Waffle House, they weren’t thrilled with what went on that evening: “For safety reasons, our customers should never have to go behind the counter. Rather they should get a quality experience delivered by friendly associates. We are reviewing this incident and will take appropriate disciplinary action.”
Understood. But to be honest, all I’ve ever dreamed of in life is a chance to cook my own meal at a Waffle House. Give me an apron, a metal food turner and a paper hat, fam, and I got this.
3. SEC! SEC!
I don’t know how, exactly, that Georgia managed to beat Auburn last weekend to win the SEC Championship, other than the Dawgs just seemed to play with a confidence they lacked during their first meeting. I was nervous all day, and it seemed like every call was going against UGA. But UGA’s suffocating defense showed up to play, jumping on those wide receiver screens, and if we’re being honest here, UGA caught a lucky break with Kerryon Johnson clearly being less than one-hundred percent.
Now, thanks to the mysterious college football playoff cabal, the SEC somehow not only has two teams in the Final Four, but thanks to the way it’s set up, if Alabama beats Clemson and UGA beats Oklahoma, the SEC could have two teams playing against each other in the championship game.
But sure, the SEC is overrated.
4. Digital Escape
Creating the time in my life to play video games is something that is increasingly difficult. I have a job and a wife and a kid and a house and a life and other things I enjoy doing with my free time, which makes carving out gaming time not an easy task.
If I am going to really go in on a video game and fully invest myself, it has to be something I find truly compelling, a game that strikes a strong enough chord with me that it makes me want to keep coming back. I also usually choose a game with a story mode, which promises a beginning as well as a fixed ending point. So I know at some point I’ll be able to move on from this game.
All of this should explain why I have spent any and all available bits of my recent free time exploring ancient Egypt, as Bayek, the crusading medjay at the center of the new Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I played the first few Assassin’s Creed games years ago and loved them; the one set in Italy was particularly instructive, and when my wife and I happened to visit Florence just after I finished the game, I stepped off the train and immediately had a solid grasp of the real city’s geography thanks to time spent in a virtual but accurate version of the same city.
I eventually drifted from the franchise, but made my triumphant return this year once I saw the trailer, which showed how you could slide down the outside of the Great Pyramids.
As it turns out, sliding down the Pyramids is about the least of the fun stuff you can do in the game. The other day, I was sneaking through an enemy’s headquarters when I was presented the opportunity to unlock a cage. I did, and a freakin’ lion jumped out and took a bite at me! I managed to quickly jump atop the cage to escape and regroup. I have slid down the pyramids, climbed atop the Sphinx, raced a camel through the streets of Alexandria and engaged in marine warfare with the Roman navy.
I have played this game for hours and hours and I still don’t think I’m close to being finished. And when I do finally get to the finish, I’ve got Call of Duty and Star Wars on deck.
5. Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away
For many years, I prided myself on my ability to read. I don’t mean that in a literal sense; I mean that I could pick up any piece of paper and read it without needing amplification via reading glasses. Among people I knew, it seemed like I was becoming more and more of an anomaly, like a cyborg with perfect vision.
And then life caught up with me. A few weeks ago, as I was preparing dinner, I went to check the nutritional information on the side of a bottle and realized I could not read the writing. The only way to bring it into some sort of blurred focus was to do something counter-intuitive, which was to hold the bottle further away from my eyes, like I’d seen countless people with poor vision do when their reading glasses were not at hand.
My optometrist declined to switch me over to bifocals — “I wouldn’t do that to you…yet,” she noted sadistically—and instead suggested I pick up a pair of reading glasses from a drug store, just something simple purchased over the counter to help make life easier. I am not one of those people who constantly have a spare set of glasses around their necks or perched atop their head. But I’m guessing eventually I will be. If there’s anything I’ve learned during this, it is that Father Time is undefeated. And he’s eventually coming for us all.
6. Dive Bomb
Sometimes the worst parts of the internet are also the best parts. On any given day as I scroll through Twitter, you are likely to see a video clip or animated GIF of someone experiencing some brutal, yet hilarious mishap. Humor and pain are rarely mutually exclusive. But I also fear schadenfreude, so I try not to allow myself to enjoy those videos that revel in the misfortune of others, lest it one day happen to me.
Which makes the GIF that went viral this week on Twitter all the better. As the original poster notes, the erstwhile star of the video was not injured in the making of this epic fail. But man, when that right leg gives out on the plant, she ends up executing one of the greatest dives of all-time IMHO...
7. Local Ads
I love local NBA commercials, those ad clips created in markets where they are able to be more specific and quirky than nationally-aired commercials, which are usually made to be broad and appeal to a wide range of people.
So, shoutout to Portland’s Stumptown Coffee for this ad with Blazers guard Shabazz Napier, who buys in and participates without shame in this bizarre but great commercial that may or may not also be a sequence from “Portlandia”...
8. Game On
ICYMI, some news was released this week about what it will take to be part of the new NBA 2K League. If you want to make the cut, start blocking off time for January 1 so you collect those wins…
A new dinosaur was discovered recently, one that could swim and eat meat. And while I have no reason to doubt that this dinosaur is/was real, the artist’s image that they came up with really made me ask some questions…
I am no paleontologist, although I have watched all the Jurassic Park movies. But this is clearly just a duck’s upper body on a raptor’s lower body, right? Did someone make this with MS Paint or something? If this is anything close to real, this is both a terrible and a terrifying dinosaur.
10. Go Forth With Song
I love the day after Thanksgiving, because while everyone else wakes up and goes sprinting for the stores, I get up and feel as though I have permission to finally start listening to Christmas music. When I am writing, I usually like to listen to jazz music, or anything without lyrics, so the music doesn’t distract me from the words bouncing around in my head. Since we’re squarely in the middle of the Christmas season, here’s the entire Charlie Brown Christmas album from the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
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