I’ve been wished a “happy belated Thanksgiving” several times today, and it makes no sense.
“Happy belated Thanksgiving?” What does that even mean? Can I wish someone a safe flight six hours after landing? A “Merry Christmas” after Christmas has already passed.
Hey, have a belated happy New Year!
“Um, it’s Jan. 7.”
Humans are strange. Odd. Quirky. We say things because we’re supposed to say things, without really caring about the words or replies. “So, how was your Thanksgiving?” is presented with the requisite, “Oh, nice. How about yours?” reply. Same with Christmas. Birthday. Easter.
“Did you have lots of candy?”
I sure did—you?
I wanna lead a revolution, beginning now. Here’s my chart of the proper responses to inane wishes …
Have a belated happy Thanskgiving!
My uncle died.
How was your Christmas?
My uncle died.
Did you get lots of candy from the Easter Bunny?
My uncle died.
I’m sorry I missed your birthday party. How’d it go?
OK, perhaps not all. But, at the minimum, 80 percent of professional athletes cheat on their wives.
Why? For myriad reasons. It’s there—everywhere. The hottest women, coming after you, waiting for you, dressing for you, salivating for you. It’s exciting. You’re on the road. You’re sorta bored. Another movie? Meh. Trip to the zoo? No thanks. Fine dining with teammates? B-o-r-i-n-g. Sex with a groupie? Hell, yes.
I’ve covered sports for 20 years, and I know far more athletes who cheat than don’t. And then, inevitably, the questions come. “OK, but [FILL IN THE NAME] doesn’t cheat, right?”
What makes you ask about him?
“Well, he seems like a really good guy.”
Really good guys can cheat.
“No, you can’t be a really good guy and cheat on your wife.”
Yes, you can. Temptation is a bitch. Loneliness is a bitch. It makes you an awful husband and crap role model as a father, but a charitable man, a soft-natured man, a caring man can also dabble in infidelity. I wouldn’t have said that years ago, but—again—I know so many athletes who have had affairs, and some of them I’ve genuinely liked.
That being said, if you have an idol, and you want to know whether he’s faithful, well, you’re best not asking.
But loving a movie doesn’t mean it’s a great film. For example, I love The Cable Guy. Laugh 1,000 times per viewing. But is it great? No.
Creed, which opened yesterday, is great.
My judging of good film v. great film usually comes down to a simple measure: Did I think about it after leaving the theater? Did it stick in my head? Did I play out the scenarios, review the actors, consider the relationships and what was v. what could have been? In short, did the film hang within my cranium far beyond the final credits?
First, some background: As a guy raised on the Rocky films, I was somewhat horrified what became of a once-glorious franchise. Rocky I was terrific. Rocky II was a necessary sequel. Rocky III was brought to life by the marvelous Mr. T as Clubber Lang. But then—shit. Rocky IV, featuring the illogical death of Apollo Creed, is a terrible film; one of those Independence Day-type movies where, with every viewing, you become increasingly attuned to its awfulness. Rocky V (Rocky Balboa as a brain-damaged shell, mentoring the wooden Tommy Morrison) is unbearable—even Sylvester Stallone admits regretting it. And Rocky Balboa, which came out nine years ago, is passable popcorn entertainment, but forgettable and, bluntly, dumb.
Which brings us to Creed. Without giving away too much, Michael B. Jordan, a tremendous young actor, stars as Adonis Johnson, the out-of-wedlock son of Creed, the former heavyweight champ who died in the ring during a bout with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He never knew his father, had a weird upbringing, does some fighting in Tijuana and ultimately winds up in Philadelphia, where he tracks down a worn-yet-endearing Balboa and begs him to train him.
The ensuing 1 1/2 hours are magical. Stallone is terrific. Through all the highs and lows of a strange cinematic career, Rocky is the character that fits him best, and his portrayal of an aged Rocky trumps his portrayal of an in-his-prime Rocky. Here, as a restaurant owner without many friends or much of a life, he oozes … the mehs of life. Nothing bad, nothing great. Just a guy getting along, aches and pains and grunts and all.
Then Johnson arrives, and a spark ignites. Jordan hates being Apollo Creed’s son and loves being Apollo Creed’s son. He wears the crown with shame and glory, and Jordan—a magnificent young actor—captures the dichotomy perfectly. The scenes with Jordan and Stallone are special, and they go far beyond boxing. It’s about youthful hopefulness and energy vs. aged weariness and boredom. Adonis desperately wants what Balboa had. Balboa knows it’s not entirely what it’s cracked up to be. Riveting.
One of the greatest things about this film: The fighting, and the ring choreography. Go back and look at the first four Rocky films. The boxing is surprisingly awful. I actually often wonder what Stallone was thinking. There’s nearly zero defense. One guy throws 10 punches, the other guy absorbs each blow then fires back with 10 more. It’s silliness, and it’s also the reason so many boxing experts cringed at those films. They weren’t lifelike. They were cartoons.
Creed, though, is lifelike. Following Johnson (who changes his name to Creed) through a tunnel and into the ring is breathtaking shit. No exaggeration—my palms were sweating, my heart was racing. The final fight is the best boxing sequence you’ll ever seen on the big screen. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s intense, it sticks with you.
Yesterday afternoon we visited the Irvine Spectrum, a huge outdoor mall about 25 minutes away from our home. It was me, my kids, my brother, my mom and my dad. We did what families do when they roam outdoor malls on the day before Thanksgiving. We ate, shopped, looked at stuff, passed the time between then and now.
Anyhow, at one point we split up. My folks and brother went to the Barnes & Noble, my kids wrapped up playing some video games at Dave and Busters. Ultimately we met at the book store. I entered, walked toward the sports section in the rear and spotted the above event unfolding.
It was my dad, and he was taking a copy of “Boys Will Be Boys,” my ’90s Dallas Cowboys biography, and moving it from a low shelf to a top shelf. I actually caught him on video, and I think he was a tiny bit embarrassed.
He shouldn’t have been.
It was one of the most loving gestures I’ve had directed my way in a long time. There was no gain for him and, probably, no gain for me. There’s a 95.6 percent chance a book store clerk walked by within the next few hours and placed the book back at its rightful spot on the bottom.
So much has been said and written of late about Kobe Bryant, old and feeble and struggling to score over players who, not long ago, wouldn’t be allowed near him on the court.
People say Kobe Bryant has lost a step. Two steps. They say he can’t create his own shot, or defend, or jump, or help young players improve. They say, best-case scenario, he’ll average 17 points on 32 percent shooting for a team that goes 20-62. They say he’s a faded version of his own self, even worse than Michael Jordan, Washington Wizard, and Hakeen Olajuwon, Toronto Raptor.
And they’re right.
Kobe Bryant is a shell of a shell of a shell of what he once was. He looks like Kobe Bryant, and talks like Kobe Bryant, but he’s living that scene in Superman II, where the Man of Steel steps into that machine as a powerful being and leaves as a mere human, flaws and warts and weaknesses and all.
And yet … who cares? Seriously, who the fuck cares? We humans are as predictable as the Florida humidity, and this is no exception. Whenever a great athletes nears the end, we bemoan his final days and question whether his legacy will forever be tarnished. Pick a legend—any legend—and it happened: Ken Griffey, Jr.’s final run in Seattle. Sugar Ray Leonard’s last few fights. Jim Palmer coming back in spring training. Emmitt Smith as a Cardinal, Shaq as a Celtic, Brett Favre as a Viking, Ichiro as a Marlin, Wayne Gretzky as a Ranger, Roy Jones now, fighting in Russia. Hell, I vividly recall Patrick Ewing spending his final two NBA seasons in Seattle and Orlando, and New York newspaper columnists suggesting the odd uniforms and foreign cities would forever scar his legend.
Truth is, Kobe has a right to do this, and we shouldn’t mind. An athlete is a human being who, as the old saying goes, dies twice—once when he literally leaves the earth, the other when his career ends. It’s a process; a coming to grips with the realization that you are not now—and will never be—who you were.
Plus, why shouldn’t he hang on as long as possible? Kobe’s making $25 million this season, flying on a private plane, staying in first-class hotels. Once it’s over, it’s over. So why rush out, simply because a bunch of people feel uncomfortable watching you struggle to dunk? Why rush toward the inevitably dull-yet-necessary career as a (fill in the blank) [commentator/coach/celebrity speaker/automotive dealership owner]?
Andrew’s answers are sorta short, but his words (and rides) carry some serious heft.
Andrew Cotton, take a ride on the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Andrew, since I’m a land-loving 42-year-old wuss, I’ll start with a basic one, and beg you to be as descriptive as possible. What does it feel like, in the moment, to be riding a huge-ass wave?
ANDREW COTTON: It’s an eclectic mix of pleasure, fear, excitement, calm and focus.
J.P.:My son plays baseball, and one of the early tricks is getting him over the fear of being hit by a ball. It’s sorta hard—young kids tend to flinch, duck, shuffle backward. All in the name of avoidance. Andrew, how does one learn not to be afraid of wiping out, slamming his head into a rock, drowning? How did you?
A.C.: Breathing techniques and training gives me a lot of confidence. I simulate the demands of potential stressful situations in all my training with Bay Fitness. I always make sure I feel ready and I always try to relax and stay calm when I fall or get caught out by a big set.
J.P.:What does it feel like to be drowning? I’m sure you’ve had moments. Is it panic? Chaos? What?
A.C.: Panicking is the worst thing you can do. I’ve trained to hold my breath for up to five minutes. I’ve trained to remain calm even when exhausted. I don’t panic. I have full confidence in my safety team. If I did panic that’s when I could get into trouble.
J.P.:Womb to now, how did this happen for you? I mean, you’re from Plymouth, you grew up on the North Devon Coast. But how did this happen?
A.C.: I felt so comfortable in the womb I knew I was destined for the water. I moved to Barnstaple when I was eight and immediately spent as much time as I could in the ocean. When I started traveling I realized I was comfortable in big waves. Then I just got really fortunate to get the opportunities I got and I’ll always be grateful to be able to do what I love and not fix broken toilets.
J.P.: Do you fear death? Like, does it worry you at all? Because it seems, in your profession, one either must have a horrible fear of death or zero? So, which? And why?
A.C.: Yes. No one wants to die. I often get asked this type of question as I have a family, etc. However, I don’t think anybody realizes the lengths we go to to make sure we are as safe as we can be. The Patagonia inflatable vest, and my custom Tiki Impact vest are amazing, as is my team—Garret, Hugo, and our trainer, Blakey. And his team at Bay Fitness, who do breathing, yoga, therapy, training psychology.
J.P.:This might be a dumb question, but how have devices like GoPros impacted your world? For the better? For the worst? Because, while it’d seem to be all wonderful, I find the increased need to document absolutely everything in the world sort of annoying.
A.C.: It’s great. I love using them but my wife gets so annoyed when I still have it strapped to my head when we’re being romantic. I by no means feel the need to walk around with a GoPro strapped to my head 24/7. When I free surf I just surf. I don’t usually need documentation.
J.P.:How do you survive, financially? I mean, I know you have sponsors. But how lucrative is surfing sponsorship? How hard is is it to attain backing?
A.C.: It’s never been easy. It’s a belief and a passion which have led me to where I am. If I were just doing it for money I’d be a plumber. I’ve been so lucky with the Crowdfunder and the Red Bull sponsorship. Now my profile is growing and growing and I love putting Britain on the world surfing stage.
J.P.:You live your life around oceans. You chart waves, search for conditions. Have you seen climate change having noticeable impacts on the ocean? Has it affected your world/life?
A.C.: I think storms have definitely got bigger over the last couple of years, especially in the Atlantic. Coastal erosion is a worry but you just have to do your bit and help whenever you can. Croyde put Christmas trees in the dunes this year to try and prevent us losing the dunes.
A.C.: In Nazare Portugal I was driving the ski. I towed Garrett into the current world record for the biggest wave ever surfed.
J.P.: Can anyone surf? Can anyone—with work—be good at it? What does it take? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?
A.C.: I like the old favorite saying: “The best surfer is the one who’s having the most fun.” I don’t like seeing miserable or angry people in the sea. Why don’t they go and watch some reality TV?
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ANDREW COTTON:
• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $100 million to move to Las Vegas and spend the next 365-straight days as her surf coach. The conditions: You have to sleep under her table, only wear T-shirts that read EMMANUEL LEWIS FARTS TOO MUCH and can only eat oatmeal and papaya. You in?: Yes.
• Rank in order, favorite to least—Bethany Hamilton, Dikembe Mutombo, Liam Neeson, Diana Ross, French fried potatoes, the third toe on your left foot, Bell Biv Devoe, Kay Jewelers, Nicki Chapman, California: I don’t really know a lot of those people but Bethany Hamilton is very inspirational. I don’t eat French fried potatoes I’m an athlete. I must be honest, I’ve really been neglecting and taking the third toe on my left foot for granted. I’m going to give it some attention while we finish this interview. I think I’m flexible enough to put in in my mouth. PS: California is alright.
• How many days of the year are you home with your family?: Still most of them. Some people may be at home 365 days a year but are they present? Are they giving as much love as I do? Ha—my wife might not agree
• Sometimes when no one’s looking I pick my nose and stare at it for a while. Does this make me more unusual or normal?: Don’t worry. I do a lot worse.
• I’m frustrated by Carrie Underwood’s refusal to go more classic country. Your thoughts?: I am a lesbian trapped inside a man’s body and my father hugged me more than my mother as a boy.
• One question you would ask Duke Kahanamoku were he here right now?: If he had to would he rather administer oral gratification to a man or receive a sausage in the bottom.
• Would it be significantly easier to teach a world-class athlete like Usain Bolt to surf than, say, David Pearlman, my 45-year-old brother?: Depends but usually world-class athletes are good at everything. I’m happy to try with both then let you know. Is David up for a big one?
• The Miami Marlins are bringing back Ichiro. Dude’s 42 with a slow bat. Think he can help?: Age is just a number. Look at surfing. Slater, Parko, Fanning, Dorian, Garret McNamara are still in their peaks. Let’s give Ichiro a chance. Don’t write him off just because he’s bald and fat. Is he?
As a guy who loves Nirvana, I have to say—what the hell?
Can Justin Bieber even name a Nirvana song? Besides “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Does he understand what Kurt Cobain stood for? What his music did? How it felt? Does he realize that Nirvana ushered in a new way of thinking about song construction? Does he know how tortured Cobain was? How much pain he felt? Does he realize that songs, to the three Nirvana members, weren’t merely things you sang. They were things you bled.
Does he realize any of that?
Or was this just a $300 T-shirt?
One that goes against everything Cobain would have appreciated.
I’d never participated in fantasy football before, but the wife suggested (rightly) it’d be a cool thing to do with Emmett, our 9-year-old son. So, OK, we signed up at NFL.com, joined a league. Emmett picked our name (the Mahopac Gatorsaurs—Mahopac for my boyhood home, Gatorsaurs for the merging of an alligator and a dinosaur), and the draft was fun and frantic and genuinely fantastic. We landed some terrific players (Odell Beckham, Jamal Charles, Peyton Manning) and anticipated fun, fun fun.
Which, eh, it sorta has been. We check the stats, make adjustments, bemoan the fall of some (Peyton didn’t last long) and the rise of others (we were fortunate to have drafted Cam Newton and signed Carson Palmer). But, as the weeks pass, our fantasy experience has grown a bit dull. And tedious. I’m tired of caring whether Michael Crabtree had a good game, or how healthy Chris Ivory looks heading into a week. Nobody ever bites on trades, and the free agent market … well, who gives a shit? They’re not real free agents. It’s all just a joke. A game. We’re not even playing for money.
I don’t know if we’ll do it next season. As I write this, the Gatorsaurs are 8-2, but about to fall to 8-3. I’m guessing the playoffs might be exciting, and a championship could inspire another dip.
Truthfully, though, I prefer tossing the ball around outside our house.
Earlier today, the wife, son and I took a walk through a nature preserve in Irvine, California. It was truly lovely—there were ducks and pelicans and 100 other types of birds. Ponds to the left, ponds to the right. Trails. Grass. Trees. A bright sun and a soft breeze. Really, just spectacular, and another solid affirmation of our move from New York to California last year. We wanted to have new experiences. Here was a new experience.
Anyhow, there were benches along some of the paths, and after a lot of walking my son Emmett came to a stop. He sat down on one, which was directly across from a breathtaking view. I looked at the bench. Looked closer. Closer. There was a small plaque. Here, take a gander …
I love names and I love plaques, and I love Googling names on plaques. I also happen to be eternally haunted by premature deaths, and seeing the 1979-2014 lifespan immediately caused my heart to sink. I took a minute to search “Greg Ashe”—and there he was. All over the place.
Greg died last June in a car accident. To say he sounds like a wonderful guy is no exaggeration. Heck, just grab a few moments and read this tribute, written by a friend. Or see all the tributes posted here, including a particularly stirring one from his parents, Mike and Kathy Ashe …
His dream was to make video games, and he proudly referred to himself as “a gamer.” He was kind-hearted and soft of nature. He was ambitious, but loving and empathetic. “Greg just would connect with everyone so quickly,” wrote Lucia Suarez. “Truly inspirational. And lots of fun.” When he died, many people were crushed.
This might sound dumb, or corny, or … whatever, but we have an obligation to do more than stare at names for a second, then move on with our lives. They’re on benches and walls and statues and buildings for a reason. Somebody wants us to remember, or at least to acknowledge, a life and an existence. A bench can’t bring Greg Ashe back. But, earlier today, I came across someone I never met, and devoted a few minutes to learning more.
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.