Jeff Pearlman

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Author Archives: Jeff Pearlman

I liked Bohemian Rhapsody. But …

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Finally saw “Bohemian Rhapsody” today. Liked it a lot. Thought the musical scenes will brilliant. Got chills re-living one of the pivotal moment of my childhood, “Live Aid.” Would not be even slightly disappointed to see Rami Malek win an Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury.

However …

There is a liberty that bothers me. Like, really bothers me. In the film, Mercury is diagnosed with AIDS just before Live Aid, and tells his three bandmates in the leadup to the gig. This, of course, adds loads of drama; makes each song all the more impactful; causes the moviegoer to observe Mercury belting out note after note and imagine what, inside, he must have been thinking.

Well, that was bullshit.

Freddie Mercury was diagnosed in 1987—two years after Live Aid. And this drives me to drink, because it’s actually a legitimately important timeline, destroyed because some screen writer or producer or director thought presenting a jarring mis-truth was more important than honesty, integrity.

I know … I know. It’s just a movie. I get it.

But it irks me.

I got paid $250 for a 1,500-word story by The Athletic. And they’re 100% right.

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So I was debating whether to write this post, because it might sound bitter, or slightly bitter. And it’s actually the exact opposite.

I’m gonna give it a try …

Last week The Athletic ran a piece I wrote on UC Irvine star Max Hazzard. I handed in the story at about 1,500 words, and—because I’d written for the site many times, and sorta thought I knew what to expect—didn’t ask ahead of time about pay. (Note: Inexplicable rookie mistake).

After the piece ran, I e-mailed my editor to inquire about the return. I was due to receive $250.

Now, that’s awful money. Not for a kid in college freelancing, maybe not for a small newspaper asking a stringer to cover Iona-Army men’s hoops. But 1,500 words for less than $500 is a very, very, very, very poor freelance rate. It’s the sorta coin Slam was giving as an upstart in the early-1990s, when Slam paid dog-shit yet you felt part of something cool and unique.

But …

But …

But …

The Athletic is (I hate to admit) 100-percent correct.

Here’s why: The name “Jeff Pearlman” doesn’t sell subscriptions. Fuck, v-e-r-y few national names (if any) sell subscriptions. Or at least enough subscriptions to justify the cost. In its brief history, The Athletic has shuffled through a ton of writers with national cache—from Joe Posnanski and Phil Taylor to Rick Reilly and Lisa Olson. And the truth is, I don’t think (with rare expert exception: ie Ken Rosenthal, Seth Davis) readers care. They want information. And if it’s well-done information by a veteran—fantastic. But if it’s well-done information by a 22-year-old recent college grad who busts his/her ass named Joe Schmoe … eh, that’s dandy, too.  It’s not that way in books (praise Jesus), and I do think I’ve established something of a reputation in the sports biography genre. But here, on the Internet and there, on theathletic.com … no. Makes no difference. It’d be sorta foolish to pay more for a bigger-name byline. It just would. I actually spent about a year writing columns for the site. I received $750 a pop, had a terrific time, can’t speak higher about any editor than the terrific George Dohrmann. But did my work help The Athletic grow and expand? Eh, probably not. Hate to admit it. But, hey.

I’ll actually take this to the next level: I think The Athletic is onto something smart. They’re doing what Patch did (hyper local), only far, far, far, far better. The individual location coverage is dazzling, and they’re plucking the most plugged-in scribes from various areas and making them their own (They’re also paying these men and women very competitive salaries, with full benefits). This idea that you need name writers, or that you need to pay big bucks for established quality and 5,000-word pieces—well, I wish it were true. I do. But I don’t see it.

I actually often think back to my later days at Sports Illustrated, when Rick was hired away by ESPN. At the magazine, everyone thought the sky was falling. But it wasn’t. We moved on. We continued. People sorta shrugged, nodded, kept reading. It is what it is. Within the business, we hype one another; refer to people as “stars” and “superstars.”

Truth be told, we’re just names atop stories.

Valuable.

But not that valuable.

For my $250, The Athletic is the first sports pub to come along and fully understand this. And while it doesn’t help me, it’s probably better for the long-term survival of a much-needed journalism outlet.

It’s why, I’m not merely accepting of the dough.

I understand it.

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Jeffrey Mora

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I love chefs.

Like, I love, love, love chefs.

Why? Because they’re food magicians, taking two apples, some coconut, yesterday’s chicken and a box of napkins and turning it all into edible gold. To watch a master at work is to observe the greatest of craftsmen. The master chef makes people happy. The master chef makes people crave. You can love someone’s music or hate someone’s music. You can see art and cry and see art and curse. But when something tastes good—man, it’s bliss.

That’s my long way of saying that today’s Quaz, the 393rd in this wackadoo series, is a king of kings. Jeffrey Mora is the CEO of Food Fleet, as well as the former Los Angeles Lakers chef and the man who set up and oversaw food service at the Burbank Airport. He knows everything about the business—from banana chicken to dirty bathrooms to making the perfect meal.

And now he’s the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jeffrey—you’re a superstar chef who has cooked for everyone, everywhere. And I wonder this: Can anyone be a quality chef? Like, are some people born with the gift and others not? Or, with studying, love, etc, is yours a profession anyone can master?

JEFFREY MORA: I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question. Like with many things some people just have the gift. In my profession I would say that holds true with pastry chefs more than chefs. We say they have the touch, some have skills that no matter how long you are doing it you won’t get to that level. The difference between pastry chefs and chefs, is that pastry is more precise more exacting and involves more artistry on the level that we are talking about. You can look up the Coupe De Monde as an example of world class pastry chefs, and for chefs the Bocuse D’or. I think with anything, your love and passion for what your doing will help you become great. When teaching or lecturing, I always ask this seaming simple question: “We have all had good and bad hamburgers, what is the main difference between the two?” I always get the same answers—the meat, the bun etc. The real answer is the person cooking it—do they care enough about what they are doing to make it great? Do they toast the bun properly? How do they layer the lettuce and tomato? Do they put it on top or on the bottom of the bun? It does make a difference on how it eats.

This profession is a very difficult one with long hours, lots of manual labor, stress etc. People always tend to look at the glamour side of what we do, the celebrity chef side. The reality is a lot different. You really have to have a love and passion for it. Its hard work. that being said it can be very rewarding. There is no better feeling in the world than making something that people love to eat.

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J.P.: You’re the owner chef of Food Fleet, a food truck booking company. And, as weird as this might sound, I’ve always wondered why, exactly, humans in the 2010s seem to just love eating from a truck. It’s weird, right—this phenomenon. So how to explain it?

J.M.: Eating street food has always been a phenomenon globally. I think Anthony Bourdain helped bring it more to the forefront in the states with his shows, and his passion for it. People like the eating from a truck for the same reasons people like eating from hawker stalls in other countries. You can find one person making one great dish, and doing the same thing every day. This makes them become a master of it. That is one reason, the other is more variety, and convenience. Most of the time when you go out to eat from a truck there are a number of them so as a group you tend to have more choices.

J.P.: You were in charge of the Los Angeles Lakers food service for eight years. So what’s unique about the way professional athletes eat? And how would you say diet directly impacts performance at that level?

J.M.: I would say what is unique is the fact that food and nutrition is directly related to performance and recovery on that level. Most athletes these days have their own chef and nutritionist . Each individual is unique in his own way. What one body needs is not the same as another. Caloric intake on a daily basis changes from day to day. Game day as opposed to training days. The real key and what makes it unique for me, and what the real challenge was, was to incorporate their needs into foods that they liked and wanted to eat.

Otherwise it was pointless. For the Lakers the challenge was putting out 15-to-20 different dishes every day that each one could pick and choose from that was best for them.

J.P.: Specifically, what was it like feeding Kobe Bryant? Was he as intense about nutrition as he was work? What do you recall?

J.M.: Kobe was very regimented in everything he did. He had a routine that didn’t deviate. Most of the time he only ate breakfast at the facility.

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J.P.: How did this happen for you? What I mean is—when did you know you’d dedicate your life to food? When were you first aware you had legit talent?

J.M.: My mother was and is a great cook. Growing up she made dinner every night. My father and mother worked side by side growing up with another family, both of them immigrants. My family is from both eastern Europe and Italy. They would come for dinner and my mom would cook and most Sundays we be at their house for the big Sunday meal. I was fortunate that I grew up around great food and knew what that tasted like.

When I was in my teens working, they would do a pot luck once a week, and the others always complemented me on what I made. They began to look forward to what I would bring. I worked in some small little quick-serve places as well.

When I was 19, I told my dad I think this is what I want to do. My dad was a barber and one of his customers was the GM of Old Country Bakery. He was involved with the local chefs association. He made an introduction for me to a chef who was running a small little six-month program. Once I got in it, I couldn’t learn fast enough. I would spend all my time there. When I was ready to graduate, the Century Plaza Hotel was opening its new wing, and the chef got me an interview for an entry level position. This would hopefully allow me to be taken on as an apprentice in six months. Once at the hotel, I began to excel and grow. About one year in, the chef had me enter a contest for Westin Hotel chefs. We were not chefs but he required us to all enter. I ended up winning one of the categories—the first apprentice to ever do so.

I always felt like I was behind and needed to make up for lost time. The chefs, sous chefs and cooks at the hotel were mostly from Europe, so they began their careers at 14. I was 20. I felt like I had lost six years. I put in an average of 100 hours a week back then. I spent time learning from anyone who would teach me. The hotel—being so large with so many outlets and kitchens—was the perfect place to grow.

J.P.: How do you feel about the Food Network, and the 8,000 shows about people becoming chefs, trying to become chefs, proving their mettle as chefs? Does it cheapen your craft? Does it do the opposite?

J.M.: This question is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Food Network has had a huge positive impact on our industry. The general public has a better knowledge and understanding of food overall. They seek out good food more than ever before. They have become better at knowing what good food is.

On the other hand it gives people a false sense of what it takes to be a chef. Everyone today uses that term as a generality: Chef, Master Chef. It lowers our standards. First and foremost you want to be a good cook, a great cook. Chef means a great deal of things but not everyone who is a cook is a chef. The show “Master Chef “is an example, There are only 70 Master Chefs in the United States. It’s a grueling 10-day test and if you fail one part your out. The success rate for passing is 1 in 12. To become a certified executive chef takes at least seven years after becoming a certified cook.

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J.P.: What’s the absolutely weirdest experience from your cooking career?

J.M.: It is hard to pick just one thing, I have cooked in over 20 countries. I fed President Clinton right after the Northridge quake, I participated in the cook’s tour for world hunger in South Africa, I went on an expedition in the Amazon with Cousteau. Being on that expedition was quite the experience.

J.P.: You set up and oversaw food service at the Burbank Airport. I never, ever, ever think about airport grub. So what are the complications and difficulties of such a task? And how do you think airport food options compare now to when you started at Burbank?

J.M.: Feeding 5,000 people a day for one. I would say when I started back in 1990, overall, people’s expectations were low. Quality food service at the airport wasn’t as much of a priority. Most of the time back then you got a meal on the plane whether you flew first class or coach. For me, I approached it in a different manner. Most other operators treated the customer like a captive audience. I never did. Burbank was a business airport, with regular customers. I wanted them to realize that they could get a good meal before they flew out. We made everything from scratch from the pizzas to the hot dogs. I remember having to change the way I made hot dogs . Coming from New York I wanted a great dog with the casing on it. The first day I had to refund $500 because people were peeling the casing off the dog. I had to make skinless dogs. It’s still true today—skin on hot dogs is only on done on the east coast.

In the beginning, the restaurant made the least amount of money. After the first year it was one of the highest grossing locations. We had a great group of regulars.

We received an award for the healthiest airport food service in the country back in 1992.

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J.P.: Is there a factually such thing as great food v. shit food? What I mean is—if a guy loves the Whopper and hates what he had at Per Se, is the Whopper good and Per Se shit? Is that person simply wrong, or incapabale of knowing good food?

J.M.: I think this question all comes down to perceived value. There is nothing wrong with the Whopper or Per Se. The main difference is did you get your money’s worth from both.

People will complain about a $5 meal as much as a $500 meal. You will be more pissed off at the $500 one. We all have our likes and dislikes. How and where we grew up and with what influences and exposure to different types of food helps.

I was asked once to go up and help a chef friend of mine who was struggling to understand the new restaurant he was working in. It was a very well-established place with a long history. They had abalone on the menu for $80 a portion. It came breaded with mashed potatoes and vegetables and a simple sauce. They would sell 5-to-8 orders a night. He changed it to a pickled ginger sauce with other garnishes. It went down to two orders per night and he couldn’t figure out why. It was white truffle season at the time, and a lot of places in New York were selling white truffle risotto or white truffle baked potato for $80. While they both go well with the truffle, I asked him why they paired the potato with the truffle. He didn’t have an answer. I told him, well, If I am going to take a risk and spend $80 on a dish like that, there better be something on there that I will eat if I don’t like the truffle.

He finally got it.

J.P.: Is there a way to look at food or a restaurant and know whether it was prepared in a clean and sanity kitchen? If so … what?

J.M.: The best answer to this question is when you go into a place, go directly into the restroom. If it is clean and well maintained the likelihood that the kitchen is will be a lot higher. If its dirty, you can see they don’t care at all, the chances are the kitchen isn’t clean either. I always look at the little details. Are the ceiling vents clean?

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFFREY MORA:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Brandon Rush, Melvin Mora, Mario Batali, Paul Stanley, Taco Bell bean burritos, scissors, a new roll of paper towels, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Capone: I would have to start with Melvin Mora, we have the same last name and he played for the Mets. Paul Stanley, Brandon Rush, scissors, paper towel. Taco Bell. The last three in no particular order, I would rather have to eat the Taco Bell then spend time with any of them .

• What are three foods you loathe?: Bad Chinese food, bad Mexican food , bad Italian food.

• What are three foods you cherish?: Celery root, truffles, chestnuts.

• I threaten my kids with the idea of “banana chicken.” Is there a way one could make banana chicken and have it taste OK?: I would say there are a few—one is make sure you dip it in coconut milk before breading, and use Panko. Second is to make a dipping sauce the kids like.

• The 46th president of the United States will be?: Leon Panetta

• Worst kitchen injury you’ve ever suffered?: I spliced off a piece of my index finger on a meat slicer and got 14 stitches

• In exactly 14 words, make an argument for Olive Garden: 14 words—the first is why, the second is why and the third is why. They are consistent. You will get the same meal at everyone of them.

• Who would you rather hang out with—Daryl Hall or Johnny Gill?: I think I would have more fun with Johnny Gill.

• Four memories from your first-ever date?: All I remember is she had bad breath when I went to kiss her.

• Who was the absolutely kindest athlete you’ve ever worked with?: There are many who stand out—Metta World Peace, Shaq, Lamar Odom to name a few.

The Can’t Win Kid

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Emmett, No. 27, collapses on defense as his new teammate seeks and destroys.

My son, Emmett Pearlman, is the Can’t Win Kid.

I mean this as literally as one can. Tonight, his Lakers youth basketball team fell to the Heat by a 28-point margin, dropping their record to 0-8 on the season and my child’s lifetime hoops record to 0-37.

Oh.

And.

Thirty.

Seven.

That’s probably not an all-time record, but only because the planet has spun for thousands of years and the world has seen plenty of awful basketball. But … here’s the wacky thing: It could be a record. It is theoretically possibly no other child has dropped 37-straight games over four seasons of rec-league hoops.

Anyhow, we’ve seen close games and we’ve seen blowouts. We’ve seen awful coaches and great coaches. We’ve seen technical fouls and ball hog galore and all sorts of wild, wacky, fucked-up shit on the basketball court.

But tonight … well, tonight was something new.

The Lakers were playing the 4-3 Heat, and six players showed up. Now, the roster is, ahem, really bad, and can explained thusly: Our most talented player is actually our point guard, who is also the youngest (a sixth grader in a league that—inexplicably—allows kids from sixth grade thru 10th grade). The problem is, well, he’s small. Really small. So it’s hard for a small sixth grader to make much of a dent against people that much older. Our next two most skilled players are these brothers who, well … eh … um … never fucking pass the ball to anyone but one another. It’s maddening and infuriating and v-e-r-y hard to watch. They bark at the refs, they bark at each other. Their dad sits in the stands and barks at them. Off the court, they’re actually quite lovely. But, as Andy Van Slyke once said of Barry Bonds, “You’d rather lose without him than win with him.”

The Laker bench

The Laker bench

Emmett, my son, is all about perimeter defense. He plays it very well, but doesn’t rebound or block shots, and he’ll give you zero, one or two baskets per game. But—and this is a big butt—he never, ever, ever complains, gripes, whines, berates. Never. I’m biased, because I’m his dad. But even the coach tells me how well-mannered and decent he is. Which warms my heart far more than 30 ppg ever would.

The other kids on the team are fine. Nice, sorta basketball lite. But fine. Friendly lads.

Anyhow, the game against the Heat was set to begin. And then—something unexpected took place. At the very last minute, the league decided to give us another player. Some kid who was unfamiliar and enormous. By enormous, I mean probably around 5-foot-11 and maybe 170 pounds (by comparison, Emmett is 5-feet tall and maybe 105 pounds). So the coach played Mt. Rushmore, and it was soooooooooooooo … something. I’m not sure what. It’d not be an exaggeration to suggest he brought the ball up 90 percent of the time, passed two percent of the time, bricked on 75 percent of his attempts. It was one bad possession after another after another. And the kid was … well, not cool. He talked trash. He slammed into people. He ignored the coach’s instructions. As he played, members of the Lakers who came every week sat on the bench, sorta bewildered. I felt as if, in a way, this giant of a boy intimidated the league into letting him play and the coach into keeping him in.

Anyhow, I was irate. Just irate. Not by the losing, but by the whole scene. The giant. The parents. The scoreboard.

And when the game ended Emmett approached.

“What’d you think of that?” I asked. I was expecting negativity. I was expecting a reflection of my angst. I was expecting …

“That was really fun,” he said. “I’m hungry.”

We’ve done something right.

Marta and Curt

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This photograph hangs on the wall of my office, a Polaroid suspended by two little pieces of tape. On the left is my grandfather, Curt Herz. On the right is his wife, Marta Herz. They escaped Nazi Germany in the late-1930s, came to America, spoke almost no English, took first jobs sweeping the lobby of a New York City movie theater, settled into an apartment on 181st Street in Washington Heights, had my mother, lived, lived some more, lived some more, died.

The photo is actually a pretty accurate take on two disparate personas. My grandma was as warm and loving as a grandma could be. She made these amazing cakes with two dozen eggs. She always brought my brother, my father and I chocolate bars. When we stayed over with my grandparents in New York City, she was always taking us places. The circus. The local diner. To a neighbor’s apartment, where treats awaited. She died 20 years ago, and I still miss her.

My grandpa, on the other hand, was stern and rigid. He always thought he was sick. His hands shook. He smoked cigarillos and played classical records and would sternly reprimand my brother or I if we accidentally kicked him under the table. I can’t say i was afraid of Grandpa, but I was never relaxed around him. When he died in 1990, right before I left for college, I wasn’t overly heartbroken. Sad? Probably. But crushed? No.

Now, though, looking back, I wish I knew Curt Herz as an adult. What you learn though living, and certainly through journalism, is that people are complex. And who we are is only slightly a choice we make. My grandpa was raised comfortably. He left his home, left his life of some luxury, left the vast majority of his possessions behind. He came to an unfamiliar land, with unfamiliar customs. He arrived at a time when America was changing; was relaxing. And Curt Herz was anything but relaxed. It was square peg into round hole.

I’m thinking, in hindsight, the cigarillos, the classical music, the health anxiety—those were crutches for a man who surely needed a crutch.

It breaks my heart.

I was too young to understand.

Really, I was just looking to hear a song I sorta like

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So last night I was at the gym, and I had a hankering for an old Jefferson Starship song called “Layin’ it on the Line.” The tune came out in 1988, and while it’s commercial and poppy and all the reasons Jefferson Airplane burned to ash, I actually really dig it. Here’s what it sounds like. You can see why it works as workout fare.

Anyhow, YouTube takes you strange places—and I wound up here. It’s 2015, and I’m in a club called Sweetwater Music Hall in (thanks, Google) Mill Valley, California. Apparently people have paid to hear Craig Chaquico and his band cover the shitty years of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starhsip/Starship. And when I mean shitty—I mean shitty, shitty, shitty. This is “We Built This City” territory.

So I’m listening, watching, wondering why this guy Craig is standing front and center, behaving as if he’s the Eddie Van Halen of Jefferson Starship. Then, again thanks to Google, I learn he actually is the Eddie Van Halen of Jefferson Starship. As the band morphed and changed and crumbled and returned and crumbled again and returned again and lost members and gained members, ol’ Craig was the one consistent. He was there from beginning to end. The guy who rode the Airplane to the Starship.

However … I dunno. The blonde singer is reading lyrics off an iPad. The songs are not exactly guitar classics. The club probably has a capacity of 200. Craig looks bored, not unlike a man trapped in an eternal loop of terrible riffs, wondering whether he once really played Woodstock (he did). I just checked his website—and on March 2 he’s booked a gig called Grooves at the Westin. Then, on April 27, it’s down to Melbourne, Florida. Which is all fine and dandy, and a guy’s making an honest and legit living.

But there’s nothing pretty about the aging rocker. Nothing.

Sigh.

We went to the Olive Garden

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“In Hell all Italian food is from the Olive Garden”

— Patton Oswalt

We went to the Olive Garden to eat tonight. There were five of us. It was my idea.

I deserve to suffer.

It’d been a long time. Truth be told, I can’t recall the last time I stepped foot into an Olive Garden. Maybe Nashville in the mid-1990s. And I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking, save for that I recall the salad and breadsticks being strong.

So … we went.

And we waited for a table.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It’s a quirky thing, waiting for your table inside an Olive Garden. First, you notice that the restaurant has a carpet the color of vomit. And second, you notice the smell. Which isn’t the scent of garlic or sauce or fresh-baked bread. Nope, it’s the smell of … nothingness. You’re literally sitting inside an Italian restaurant, and there’s nary a scent.

So we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Then, after 40 minutes, we were shown our table. My menu was sticky. Our waiter mo-v-e-d a-t t-h-i-s p-a-c-e. The salad and breadsticks were OK. Not exceptional, not awful. Just … salty and meh. I ordered soup that seemed as if it were fresh from a can. My father in law’s shrimp scampi lacked taste and smell. His girlfriend’s eggplant parm also lacked scent and smell, and the sauce was burned onto the plate—almost certainly because of a poorly adjusted heat lamp. By the time we were prepared to pay, the waiter had vanished. Never saw him.

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There was nothing good about the experience. And Olive Garden is shockingly expensive—about $19, $20 bucks per entre. Which might be OK were the food fresh; were the service decent; were the ambiance charming; were the scents inviting.

But it’s just a crap chain restaurant—no different than I remember.

Thank goodness for the free mints …

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The origin of a lede

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So I wrote a piece for The Athletic on Max Hazzard, UC Irvine’s wonderful redshirt junior guard. Here’s the link.

The story exists because, back on Dec. 15, my son Emmett and I attended a game between Denver and Hazzard’s Anteaters on the UCI campus. Max had a career day, scoring 32 points and hitting 10 of 17 from three-point land. During the action, Emmett decided that “Maz Hazzard” was a particularly cool name. Afterward, as we walked to the car, I decided I should try writing a piece on the kid, who—a Google search revealed—is the grandson of the legendary Walt Hazzard.

Anyhow, I’d like to take a moment to explain the lede. Here it is:

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OK. So, first, it’s all about Emmett Pearlman loving the name Max Hazzard. I’m not sure I would have rated it with the all-time legendary sports names. The I.M. Hipp, the Dick Pole, the Alvaro Espinoza. But the kid is right—”Maz Hazzard” sounds pretty sweet. So I wanted to play with that. Mess around.

I attended college with Spencer Dunkley at the University of Delaware, and that play has come in handy endless times. But I felt as if the rhythm needed another cool basketball name—so I started Googling around random names. Looking for people like “Joe Buckets” and “John Score” and “Ed Shoot” who happened to play/have played the game. Well, that didn’t work out—until I Googled “James Shooter.” And here he is. I knew nothing of James Shooter. Still don’t. But he filled a gap. So, thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Shooter.

Now, to be honest, Max wasn’t the world’s most dazzling interview. Tremendous guy, great player, outstanding family. But he’s just not a LOOK AT ME sorta person. So I didn’t feel as if I were armed with absolutely amazing material to kick this thing off. Plus, the Hazzard family has been busy of late, and I was unable to connect with two people I desperately wanted to speak with. So, when in doubt, find a different way.

That’s why I went to newspapers.com (a tremendous online database of newspapers that stretches back into the 1800s) and did searches for “maximum hazard” and “max hazard.” I was shocked by the bountiful returns—including a 1961 John F. Kennedy speech and a Wisconsin wildfire gone terribly wrong in 1947.

Throughout the process, “Max Hazzard” come to reflect a certain perception to me. And what was interesting is that the person doesn’t match that image. Max Hazzard isn’t a ball hog who need to score 30. Max Hazzard isn’t bombastic or obnoxious. He’s actually rather quiet and contemplative. So after building it all up (MAX HAZZARD!) I went in reverse with this depiction of a quiet, sleepy-eyed kid.

I don’t know if it worked or not. But I enjoyed the process.

And Maz Hazzard can straight-up play.

Why are people shocked by KISS lip-syncing?

So a big story in rock music of late involves Paul Stanley, KISS lead singer and guitarist, lip-syncing a bunch of the band’s songs on their farewell tour. And the proof—well, it’s pretty thick. Just watch here. And here. And here. Clearly, as he approaches 70, Stanley can’t do what he once did. Which is fair. We all fade with time.

What actually surprises me is, well, the level of surprise of such behavior. Say what you want about KISS—the band has never been particularly honest about its music.

Perfect example: “Psycho Circus,” KISS’ highly anticipated 1998 album, which reunited the four original members (Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss for the first time in 18 years). That was the ENTIRE hook of the release. “Look, they’re back together! The old crew, making music again!”

Only, it was nonsense. Little did we know at the time, the original four recorded one song on the album together. One. Otherwise, Stanley and Simmons handled most of the work, and Kevin Valentine did the drumming while Bruce Kulick (the band’s replaced guitarist) and Tommy Thayer (the band’s current guitarist) pretended to be Ace.

And I remember finding this out and thinking, “Wait. What?” I mean, the only reason folks bought an otherwise mediocre collection of songs was to see if KISS could recapture the magic of yesteryear. So to learn it was all a hoax; all bullshit—that sorta sucked.

Alas, KISS is KISS. Turns out they’ve been pulling this stuff forever.

Simply dishonest.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life