An audio-visual geography of Chavez Ravine

This fall I started a Master’s program in Planning at USC. This project is part of a semester-long treatment of the Dodger Stadium site. 

It’s important to remember, as an offramp lifts you from the 110 and guides you onto a newly repaved incline, which will take you to a parking lot, where you will begin your hike up the tarmac toward the Stadium and finally your seats, that these asphalt sensibilities are not native to Chavez Ravine. The roads were dirt until the Mexicans got pushed out, to say nothing of the myriad flora both planted and growing wildly many years before any O’Malley got a taste of Cali. Also, remember that you are in a lowkey sweat when you finally sit down only because someone actually engineered this ravine to be a hill. Although, partly thanks to a Dodger Stadium arborist, the vast gray plains are now dotted with greenery. The Dodger Stadium campus is home to hundreds of different plant and tree varieties, many of the plants filling the same concrete planters and “champagne bowls” that have lined the stadium for over fifty years. The trees are mostly palms, but not entirely. A wreath of deciduous trees beyond the bleachers provides more shade cover, though you’re not expected to spend much time underneath them.

It’s important to remember, as an offramp lifts you from the 110 and guides you onto a newly repaved incline, which will take you to a parking lot, where you will begin your hike up the tarmac toward the Stadium and finally your seats, that these asphalt sensibilities are not native to Chavez Ravine. The roads were dirt until the Mexicans got pushed out, to say nothing of the myriad flora both planted and growing wildly many years before any O’Malley got a taste of Cali. Also, remember that you are in a lowkey sweat when you finally sit down only because someone actually engineered this ravine to be a hill. Although, partly thanks to a Dodger Stadium arborist hired in 2009, the vast gray plains are now dotted with greenery. The Dodger Stadium campus is home to hundreds of different plant and tree varieties, many of the plants filling the same concrete planters and “champagne bowls” that have lined the stadium for over fifty years. The trees are mostly palm, but not entirely. There a wreath of deciduous trees beyond the bleachers that provide more shade cover.

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A Mexican fan palm in a champagne bowl. The potted plants at Dodger Stadium are drought-tolerant warriors. Via Tree Services Magazine.

Geography also varies around the field of play. Where you sit matters at Dodger Stadium. A fan sitting twenty rows behind home plate and a fan sitting twenty rows up in the left field bleachers are watching the same event unfold, but they may remember completely different things about the game. Likewise, a visiting left-fielder will tell you about the fans, but the shortstop wouldn’t be able to corroborate his story.

This reflection will examine two aspects of Chavez Ravine geography. I will begin by briefly discussing the placement and integration of natural features throughout the Dodger Stadium site; then, shifting focus to within the stadium’s confines, I will share audio and video from different seating sections, with some commentary on how what you see and hear changes as one moves around.

Dodger Stadium in the wild

There are competing geographies here: the greater Chavez Ravine area as a park, and Dodger Stadium as an entertainment site. Though the municipal territory surrounding the stadium grounds is a shapeless amoeba, at 617 acres it is comparable in scale to Central Park in New York and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. But its hilly and often rocky terrain—millions of cubic feet of dirt were pushed around to set the stadium in a crater-on-a-hill— has made it mostly untenable for building anything else. That inherent resilience to construction has protected much of Elysian Park through decades of booming development Downtown as a rare nature preserve within Los Angeles, even if a fair amount of that terrain is currently inaccessible to people.

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A map of Elysian Park, with the L.A. River licking it to the north and the 110 freeway slicing through it. (via utopiad.org)

One ascending the hill to go to the ballgame will at some point be beset on one side by trees or chaparral on an even steeper incline.

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I am once again arriving late to Dodger Stadium via the Sunset Gate. An hour earlier, this would have been packed with cars. The cones create a lane for cars leaving the stadium, not for pedestrians, who are confined to this four-foot walkway on the left. The road here is flanked by vegetated hills.

But these green margins are almost always fenced off to protect pedestrians from landslides and falling rocks, and, perhaps, to discourage wildlife making the park their home.

Not so tempting, unless you have a body to bury, which I do not.

Take me out!

As alluded to above, where you sit in the stadium matters. If nothing else, it determines your view of the action. A more expensive ticket generally gets you closer to the batter. The worst view won’t be more than 500 feet away.

Even as people of all colors and creeds sit alongside each other in every section, where you sit can still say something about you. In the spirit of class division, a highly judgmental but nonetheless EMPIRICAL overview of what your stadium geography says about you in 2017:

TOP DECK (usually around $8-$15 per ticket): Gravity, like the price of your ticket, is reduced at this elevation. You wanted to see the game in person, which is commendable. Noble, even. As long as you’re up in the clouds, you might as well dream of a foul ball making it up here. You tell your friends that the view “actually is secretly very good, considering,” but they can’t hear you from down there. And they don’t think you’re their friend.

LEFT FIELD BLEACHERS ($15-$30): You’re under 40 years old, you’re saving money on food so you can spend more on liquor, and you don’t mind yelling at strangers. You’re here for the right reasons.

RIGHT FIELD BLEACHERS ($35-$45, all-you-can-eat): You’re capable of scarfing down mass quantities of hot dogs, nachos, and peanuts. It’s okay, though, because you’re washing it down with Coke Zero.

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RESERVE ($10-$30): You are a man or woman of the people who cares about personal space. You’re not the first person to realize that the best seats in this section strike the perfect balance of affordability and enjoyment. There is also a very clean pair of bathrooms in the right field corner. It’s clean because only true baseball fans know of its existence.

LOGE ($28-$75): This section is for foul-ball chasers and bourgeoisie trying to flex. It’s sort of dismal in the corners.

FIELD ($45-$400): You’re rich, you know someone who’s rich, or you like feeling rich.

CLUB/DUGOUT CLUB ($500+): You’re wealthy, which is not the same as being rich, and consider yourself elite. You haven’t gotten this low in life’s grand tiered seating arrangement without making a fair number of people really hate you. That, or you’re Magic Johnson. The chances you give a shit about the game are highly diminished here, trending in the opposite direction of the likelihood that you’re wearing a suit.

GRASS: You are a jock, you serve the jocks, or you are currently being chased by security. Run!

You don’t have to be on the stadium grounds to consume Dodger baseball—the vast majority of fans watch the game at home or listen on the radio. Until this season, Vin Scully, the inimitable, irreplaceable aural accompaniment to Dodger home games, called the games on television with the first three innings simulcasted to radio. (Different radio announcers would take over the rest of the game.) Scully had done this for 67 years. His skill, his uncanny ability to pluck humorous or thoughtful anecdotes out of the distant past to color the game, and his warmth on air made his voice a fixture not just on Los Angeles televisions, but also at the stadium on fans’ transistor radios. Since Scully retired in 2016, you won’t find any portable radios in the stands. But you can still catch the game on AM 570, which at 5,000 watts covers most of the L.A. area. The radio frequency determines one important geographic range—and somewhere within its reach is where gameday begins for me, as I’m once again running late. I’m listening to 93.5 KDAY, then I’m eastbound on the 10 freeway with the windows down, then I’m in my Subaru sound studio. The recorder doesn’t catch my deep sigh.

A baseball game’s broad strokes—the home run, the injured player, the organ, the last out of every inning—sound mostly the same regardless of where you sit. It’s one wave of sound, or in the case of an injury, all noise is momentarily doused.

It’s the liminal sound, the 20-30 seconds between each pitch, that varies from section to section, and from ballpark to ballpark. But those in-betweens define the game’s sonic experience. Wrigley Field in Chicago, with two long, shallow concourses, is a steady drum of ambient discourse—the sound carries straight ahead. There’s excellent sound at Wrigley. You can go there to talk or just to listen. It’s somehow loud and yet you never have to raise your voice in conversation.

Dodger Stadium varies more across the four terraces and bleachers. The Reserve section, first-base side, where I’m sitting today, doesn’t carry its own weight in sound, mostly because the seating is so steep that talking just moves over the head of the person sitting in front of you. There is an ambient stadium sound that bounces off our section, which in the acoustical sense is the biggest wall panel in the stadium.

The reserve section is also ideal for actual spectating. Bring a pair of binoculars, and you can gaze into the dugout on the opposite of the field for minutes at a time, to see which players are chatty and which keep to themselves, which guys spit down and which spit straight. Remember to blink.

The Loge level is the best place to catch foul balls, and it feels nice and snug over the action, too. Loge is a good blanket. When dad told you he was springing for seats in Loge, that’s a solid fist pump. These days, the Loge level also has these little nooks where you can stand over a table and drink. They’re fine. The ambient sound in Loge is a little louder than Reserve; the sound is trapped under the overhang.

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Loge.

The Field level is overrated in Dodger Stadium. You’re so used to being above the action that when you’re adjacent to it, you can feel small and unable to comprehend the game’s scale.

IMG_4132Someone in the Top Deck is yelling down at us. “WE’RE STARTING THE WAVE!” Some of us look up, but this is no place to start the wave. What do they do up there, in the Top Deck? I guess, this.

At the end of the Reserve tier, in the upper corner, are the Worst Seats. No one is sitting there tonight.

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My knees are at the neck of the person in front of me. I don’t mind these folks. But whatever I say goes over their head.

It’s different in the left-field bleachers. It’s a younger crowd, a self-selecting group of people who privilege good company over good time. The outfield seats don’t hang over the players like they do in some other stadiums. The soft murmur of the Reserve section is replaced with a chattering babble. The bleachers sound like the outdoor tables at a happy hour. That’s basically what they are.

The bleachers are in the outfield, far from home plate. But that puts them very close to the outfielders. Jabari Blash, the Padres’ left fielder, knows this. Over the course of nine innings he will hear “Number 32! You suck!” become a rallying cry for Michelada-sipping Dodger bums. But he’s a good sport—it’s the last Dodger home game of the season—and plays along, teasing the implacable fans by faking throws into the seats, and holding a finger up to his lips when the joke gets old: sshhh.  At the end of a long, losing series, Blash deserves some fun. And why shouldn’t the players get some R&R?

Fans in the bleachers want to cheer. They want to hear their own voices. When a churro salesman says “Churro…churro…” walking up the aisle, the section starts chanting, “Chur-ro! Chur-ro! Chur-ro! Chur-ro!” When someone in the section yells, “NUMBER THIRTY-TWO!” the rest of the section obliges: “YOU SUCK!”

One more thing: crucially, the bleachers is where doing the wave starts. The wave begins when some fans—it could be anyone—get their section to stand, throw their hands up, and immediately sit back down, triggering a domino effect of the section to their right doing the same, and on and on, all the way around and around the stadium and it only stops when something happens. It takes about 45 seconds for the wave to do a full lap around the stadium.

It’s easiest to start the wave in the bleachers, because the bleachers are visible to the rest of the crowd (they’re not above or below anyone), and everyone in the bleachers is in the same “tier,” so an entire section acting means the entire structure is acting. With enough momentum, everyone in the stadium participates. Even the people in suits, probably. Those who don’t, don’t matter—they’re outnumbered, and they’re sitting down.

[Also, everyone in the bleachers is willing to do stuff. If they’re not starting the wave (which happens maybe 1-3 times per game, with a few false starts mixed in), they’re batting around a beach ball until it lands on the field and play has to stop.]

Polarizing for its aesthetics as well as its practicality (it occurs irrespective of game events), it says here that the wave is a meaningful diversion—organic social action bubbling up and driving top-down, democratic participation. I love the wave, and I wrote that sentence to explain it. The wave is stupid, and it’s fun, and it’s a Dodger Stadium thing. And it starts in the bleachers.

The Dodgers win this, their last home game of the regular season.  Time to go home. I walk back to the car past a gorgeous terrace, out through acres of parking lot and down the Sunset Gate entrance. There’s a man at the corner of Sunset and Stadium Way selling Dodgers t shirts for ten dollars. Another man, in the middle of the street directing traffic, wants one. They start yelling at each other over the sound of cars racing by in between them. All around us are mysterious, uncharted hills. There are no places to walk that aren’t paved.

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A chat with Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets rookie guard

Jamal Murray has been one of if not the most promising rookie from the 2016 draft class. Drafted seventh overall by the Denver Nuggets, Murray has seen his minutes fluctuate on one of the NBA’s deepest and most decentralized teams (the Nuggets’ 107.5 points per game places them 7th in the league, but their leading scorer averages only 17). But in the minutes he’s gotten, the 6’4″ Canadian darts around rather gleefully—seriously, he’s always smiling—and shows off the range and intelligence that made him a lottery pick. He’s putting in 8.7 ppg in 21 minutes off the bench and took home Rookie of the Month honors for November.

One thing I love about Murray’s game is he always seems to know where he should be on the court. This play starts with Murray’s drive towards the middle getting cut off. After he kicks it out to Jameer Nelson, he shuttles back behind the arc and gets ready to receive a pass. This isn’t some massive breakthrough—it’s just a little thing that shows that someone knows how to play. A rookie who gets it, gets minutes.

The crazy thing is he’s been playing out of position most of this time. Though Murray considers himself a point guard—and he’s certainly better sized to defend that position, Coach Mike Malone has slotted him mostly as a 2 in their lineups. That’s partly to get Murray on the court—they’re still developing Emmanuel Mudiay, who was last year’s first-rounder, and veteran Jameer Nelson has probably been their most reliable option at the position. And it may also be to stave off the inevitable tension over which young floor general will lead the team in the long term.

“I’m used to playing the point—still learning at the 2,” Murray told me. “It’s not the same. But it’s definitely helping me as a point guard, learning from Jameer, telling me where he needs me to be on the floor. Whenever I do go back to point guard, hopefully in the future, I can be able to say that to my 2 guard.”

He’s not a pass-first point guard by any means, but those aren’t in vogue anymore anyway; what teams need at the position is someone who can space the floor and, ideally, create his own shot. But also defend. That’s why a player like Patrick Beverley is more valuable than his numbers indicate: he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective and he is an absolute hyena defensively. (In a good way.)  Murray acknowledged that’s one thing he’s committed to improving as the year goes on.

Caught in a shooting slump and playing out of position hasn’t been nearly enough to dampen Murray’s joie de vivre.

“Basketball is the reason I started playing—because I liked it,” he said. “I just try to be serious but at the same time give a smile wherever I can and just know that I’m playing the game because I love it, and not because it’s work.

“There’s only how many players in the NBA? 450? I’m just happy to be one of those. So I try to go out there and have fun, and take advantage of every opportunity.”

Sports venture capital and WSC

Ever since the 76ers purchased an esports team I’ve been following venture capital in sports more closely. I got to do some background work on it in the course of researching a profile of an Israeli startup called WSC, which I did for the Jewish Journal. WSC automates highlight production for the NBA, Champions League, and for sports channels around the world–a lucrative endeavor that has merited investments from the Dodgers, the Vikings, and Dan Gilbert.

Two new things.

For VICE Sports, I wrote about the complex and changing hoop ecosystem at the Drew League. What responsibility does a pro-am league that meets in South Central LA have to stay local as business takes off?

And for the Jewish Journal, I considered one aspect of coaching bar mitzvah-aged kids at the JCC Maccabi Games. When does a Modern Orthodox baseball coach say when the Reform and Conservative boys on his team start talking to each other about religion? (Not much.)

For more of my work, go to the Writing page on this site.

Superman, Looking For Work: On Dwight Howard’s 2016 Free Agency

For VICE Sports, I wrote about rehoming Dwight Howard, who has plenty of basketball left.

I couldn’t fit this anywhere in the article, but Dwight has my favorite dunk contest dunk of the last ten years. I like it because it’s relatively obscure, but also because it’s one of the most original prop-free dunks — with no use of the free throw line and no through the legs or behind the back tricks — and one that effortlessly deployed his unique, staggering athletic abilities. I also like it because I feel choosing a Dwight Howard dunk as my favorite is important because Dwight Howard was made for the dunk contest.

Pleasing everyone is hard enough when being larger than life makes you physically unrelatable; it’s even harder when your entire appeal comes from your immense destructive power and a joke index from Captain Underpants. The only forum where both of those play is the slam dunk contest, and Howard can’t do those anymore. It’s taken him this long to outgrow it, and there’s the sense he’s still working on it.

Railing against a tradition of dunk contest remixes, callbacks, and tributes, this Howard dunk was ahistorical. It resembled nothing that came before it, and has never been attempted (at least in a contest) since. He nailed it on his first attempt; it was his 3rd dunk out of 4.

 

A conversation with Josh Jackson, who’s ready to break out at Kansas

I was never hyped up as the best high school basketball player in the country, and I also didn’t play high school basketball beyond our intramural leagues, so a disproportionate amount of what I’ve gleaned about life as a top recruit comes from watching He Got Game. I asked Josh Jackson how far off I was, and some other stuff, while I reported this story on his rise for SB Nation. An extended interview transcript with this extremely high character dude with an extremely bright basketball future is below (the interview took place in May):

Louis Keene: How’s high school?

Josh Jackson: It’s good. I’ve been doing the same thing for a pretty long time, as far as sticking to the same schedule, like just going to school and playing basketball and going to practice. I’m pretty used to it.

Are you still practicing now that the season is over?

Yeah.

Are you still in finals right now? How much longer are you going to be in California?

We don’t have Finals for another two and a half weeks, so I got maybe another 3 weeks out here.

Nice. Are your summer plans set yet?

Well I graduate high school on June 2, and I have to be on campus at Kansas on June 7, so I’m pretty much gonna graduate here, stay here a couple more days, and then go straight to school.

Cool. Do you know who your roommates are going to be or what your living situation is gonna be there?

I think Carlton and Lagerald are going to be there.

Do you know them already?

Oh yeah. I’ve known both of them for a while already, even before they were in college.

So- you’re in the National Honor Society- congratulations on that! What’s your favorite subject?

Math. I really love math.

Do you want to major in math?

Probably won’t major in it – I think I’m going to major in communications.

Your mom mentioned that you’re interested in broadcasting.

I am – probably something I’ll do after basketball.

Is that what you’d be doing if you weren’t playing basketball?

Maybe not. I don’t really know what I would be doing.

Fortunately you don’t have to think too much about that.

Yeah.

So you’ve been to two high schools now – starting at Detroit Consortium and now at Justin-Siena. What’s the difference been between them?

Well, one was a lot smaller than the other, and the places that they’re in, are two completely different places, so obviously the people at the schools are gonna be different. But, the difference between them, I think the kids at this school are a lot more friendly than the people at the last school were.

What about the basketball?

Oh, yeah, the basketball here is not good at all. [laughing] Nah, this school? No. The basketball at this school? No. I don’t mean — wait, wait, that sounds bad. Cuz – Prolific Prep isn’t a school, it’s just a team, so the school that I go to has a team but they’re not good at all, and we all go to the school, but we don’t play for the team.

As far as the basketball program – what’s the difference between the coaching experience been like?

I think playing here, I have a lot more talent playing on my team than I’d ever had on any high school team that I’d ever played on, and I think the coaching was phenomenal in both places. I think more, back to when I played in Detroit, my coaches fathered me more, they treated me more as a son, and these coaches I have now, although I know that they care, it’s more just basketball. You know? Both good places, I mean obviously I had a winning season every year I’ve been in high school, and that’s had a lot to do with my coaching.

Is it weird to play so far from home and away from family?

Umm — not really. I mean, I’ve been doing it pretty much my whole life, with AAU, traveling and playing basketball, so I’ve felt like this season and last season playing at Prolific Prep, it’s just pretty much year-round AAU basketball, so I’m pretty used to it.

Was there any adjustment period – moving out to California, getting accustomed to making your own schedule, stuff like that?

Really just getting adjusted to the time zone. Like I said before, when I was in Detroit, I did pretty much the same thing that i do here now, just go to school, practice, play basketball, play games — I really don’t do too much outside of it. Being here, obviously the weather’s a lot nicer out here. Napa’s really – it’s kinda, not much here. Not many people, a lot of empty space, you get time to yourself. It’s not just too many people here. A place like New York, I could never live there — it’s too many people.

Is that why you wanted to go to Kansas? Kind of in the middle of nowhere, in the midwest?

Not really, but I guess that’s a plus.

Why did you end up switching high schools to Prolific? I saw somewhere that your mom had said she didn’t want you to go the prep route. So, what did you see in Prolific that you liked, and she liked?

I knew the coaching staff really well, they were all really good people, I get pro workouts pretty much every day. The education at this school that I’m in now is a lot better than the education I received at my last school, and as far as basketball, I felt like in Michigan, each year that I went up, the competition went down a little, so I really came out here to play against the best competition.

Like your high school schedule in Michigan wasn’t difficult enough because you were getting better?

Yeah.

Do you read the rankings? Do you have any idea of, kind of the hype, and stuff like that?

Yeah, I do. In the beginning, when I started off, young, coming up, I was never like really the best player on my team. I wouldn’t say I really started getting good until about 8th grade, and ever since then I’ve just kept working and trying to add to my game.

Is 8th grade when you started growing? What changed?

I grew a little bit. I grew probably 2 inches that summer – I was probably 6’2, 6’3 in 8th grade.

Were you playing point guard then? Did you get sized up to be a forward or a center because you were the tallest guy around?

Sometimes, a little bit. But my coaches – every team I’ve ever played on, my coaches have allowed me to play every position.

What do you miss most about being away from home for a lot of the year?

Really just my family, friends. Couple places I like to eat, like White Castle. I miss White Castle.

You have In N Out.

I don’t really like In N Out.

Interesting…so you would take White Castle over it?

I would.

Interesting…we can agree to disagree on that.

Alright.

You’re a Tupac guy, right? What’s your favorite Tupac album?

Probably Makaveli.

Would Tupac be your ideal background music on your hoop mixtape?

Nah…

What would be the ideal track?

I’m not sure. Probably some Future.

Why did you decide to leave the dorms? I talked to [your host parents] and they told me the story about you taking up their offer to move in with them. What was wrong with the dorms?

Nothing was wrong with the dorms, I just felt like, you know, living with [them], I would be able to experience being out here more, being able to go more places and do more things. Just for a better experience.

Do you think of them as, like, almost like surrogate parents, or adopted parents?

Oh, I definitely look at them as parents. They are.

Describe them to me as parents – what are they like as parents, or as roommates?

They’re really cool. They’re some of the coolest parents you could ever have. They give you a lot of freedom, a lot of leeway, they’re real straight up. They don’t really ask for much, just for you to be honest with them. They really care about everybody. They have a lot of people over all the time, they meet a lot of new people. I noticed that whenever they meet new people they treat everyone the same. They like everybody, they’re real friendly.

They sound friendly on the phone. They told me they made you a lot of food, and you ate all of it.

Yeah. I got sick.

What’s the story there?

I just didn’t want to make anyone feel bad, like ohhh I didn’t want to eat their food. It was pretty good, but I ate it, and they just gave me more, so I just kept eating it.

Well I guess if you’re trying to put on weight for the next level of competition, that could be a pretty good game plan.

It is.

So what are you going to miss about high school?

What am I going to miss…friends, really. A couple teachers I’ll really miss. That’s really about it. I’ll miss playing high school basketball, for sure.

What do you like about the high school circuit?

The high school circuit, I felt like for me, hopefully a lot of the players I’ve been playing with in the McDonald’s game, and in USA Basketball, those guys I’ve come to have a real relationship with, a real friendship, and hopefully later down the road we could all meet up again, and I just think that would be real cool. To play each other, and to play on the same team.

So, since I was not a highly touted basketball player back when I was in high school, I don’t know what it’s like, so my only understanding of it is from He Got Game. Is the experience that wild? I mean, not in the wild parts of that movie if you’ve seen it – but just in the amount of attention, and you know, the people around you, is it like that at all?

It is. Yeah, sometimes it can be. Not all the time though. Sometimes you can control it, and sometimes you can’t.

Control which parts?

Control the amount of attention you get, or how much access people get to you. I think back then, when the movie was made at that time, I don’t really think people could really get access to players like that as easily as they can now.

Interesting. I think also back then, you had a lot of agents and stuff who were trying to get players to go professional. And that’s one thing that the rule change, that you can’t go straight from HS to the NBA, that’s kind of gotten agents out of it.

Yeah.

But is it weird to have colleges calling and all that? What’s been the most surprising thing about the whole experience been for you?

The most surprising thing…pretty much, I think being here, just being in this position is the most surprising thing to me. Looking back as a kid, I watched players who were in my position before, and I just looked up to them. I never thought I’d be able to be where they are, or where they once were.

Do you solicit any of them for advice?

Oh yeah, a couple of them.

Like who?

Draymond Green, James Young, Andrew Wiggins, Gerald Green.

How have you been connected with them? I know Draymond and Wiggins went to schools that were recruiting you. But how do you get in touch with someone like Gerald Green?

Gerald Green, we have mutual friends, and he just heard about me, heard that I was a pretty good player, and we’ve actually worked out together before.

He’s another incredible athlete. Has he given you any tips on becoming more athletic or something? Does he have Michael’s secret stuff?

Nah, he hasn’t given me the secret yet.

What does Draymond tell you, or what does Wiggins tell you?

Both of them, I can say this about them honestly. Although people may think this, neither of them ever tried to persuade me to go to either of their schools. I think the relationship I have with those two is more like a big brother little brother relationship. They’re just phenomenal at giving me guidance, things to look out for, what to do, what not to do, when I get to where they are, if I ever do. Who knows.

What’s one piece of advice they’ve given you?

One, Draymond gave me, it was, keep my circle small. Can’t have too many people around, can’t trust too many people. And Andrew told me, that I will always have days where I question myself, like can I do this? Why am I doing this? Do I really want to do this? But he told me in those times, making sure I work hard is important.

That’s awesome. I’ll try to remember that for myself. And I say that because I have my first intramural game tonight.

Good luck.

Thanks. Okay, so, I’ve been watching some of your highlights while researching this. Do you watch your highlights at all?

Sometimes, like when they first come out I do.

Does it like, pump you up? Do you look at it as film study?

Sometimes I do. I try to notice little things I did, or even for things that worked out for me, to see other options or things I could have done different.

I’m assuming you’re a big NBA fan?

Yeah.

Are you a Pistons fan? Or you root for the whole league?

I root for the whole league. I just want to see great players be great, good teams playing together. That’s all.

Did you see Game 5 [of Spurs and Thunder] last night?

Yeah.

I think that’s going to be one of the biggest games of the whole playoffs. Just the future of those two teams, of Westbrook, Durant, all that stuff.

I think the playoffs are going to get better.

Really? You think the Western Conference Finals are going to be better?

Oh yeah. And the championship.

Can anyone beat the Warriors?

Yeah…they can, I think Oklahoma or the Spurs, whoever wins that series, one of those teams can beat the Warriors. If anyone beats the Warriors, it’s going to be one of those teams.

OK, now let’s say you’re thrown on Portland, and you’re assigned to guard Curry tonight. How are you going to stop him?

Uh, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way you can really stop Curry, you just try to contain him. Just try to keep a close guard on him.

Who’s been the best at guarding you so far?

Best at guarding me…hmm…man. …Josh Langford. I’d give it to Josh Langford.

What context have you played against him?

USA Basketball practices–the Hoop Summit, McDonalds practices. I think those two, he guarded me almost every practice, and I think he did a real good job.

You’re known as kind of an introvert off the court, but then on the court, you suddenly go off and start talking trash to Gary Payton. What about basketball brings out the beast in Josh Jackson?

I don’t know. It’s just, competition. I just wanna win, so, I don’t know. The beast comes out.

What kind of teammate are you?

I’m a great teammate. I’m always cheering my teammates on. Everybody on my team knows I don’t really care about scoring, or about being the star of the team. I really just wanna win. As long as we’re winning, I will always be happy.

What about as a leader of the team? You’re one of the only upper classmen on Prolific. What kind of leader, I guess, are you? Are you vocal? What’s your style?

I’m pretty vocal. I’m kind of, more of a coach on the court, like sometimes when my teammates make mistakes –well, these teammates, the ones that I have now — some of them are lower classmen. They’re really coming up and they’re still learning a lot, so you really gotta teach em, and I think that was real helpful, for me this year, becoming more of a leader. I try to teach em when they make mistakes, tell them what they could have done different, or what they were supposed to do. Sometimes they don’t see a guy open, and nobody ever says anything, but even plays later, you still gotta tell em, like hey, that guy was open in the corner, so they won’t miss it again.

Is that something you think will be expected of you from day 1 at Kansas?

Probably – I think so.

Why did you end up choosing them, if I may ask?

I felt like it was the best combination of both worlds, academically, and as far as basketball. You mentioned the broadcast thing, I want to get into that, I can get a media internship when I go there, I can start with the local radio station, and broadcasting over radio sometimes. And you know obviously, they have a phenomenal history with the team, and Coach Self is a great coach, I think he produces some really great players, teaches them, and I like how when he gets the great ones, he really coaches them, coaches em tough, still tries to teach em. I felt like that’s why I chose Kansas.

And of course, Coach Hudy, she’s a great strength and conditioning coach, I feel like she would be the best to get my body to where it needs to be.  

Tell me more about her – how do you know about her and what’s your relationship with her been?

Well, when I went on my official visit, she showed me and my mom around the weight training facility, and every player there, she just — one thing I always noticed about Kansas players is that, I always think that they’re the biggest and the strongest, I think like wow, these guys are huge when I see them. And then when I get there, and they’re like yeah, we got the best strength and conditioning coach in the country! And she comes out and she’s a woman, and I’m like what? She’s a woman?! And she’s a tough lady too. She gets on em, she’s really strong, I’ve seen her pick up weights that guys on the team can’t pick up.

So is that — would you say that getting stronger is number one priority?

Getting stronger, more flexible, just being overall healthy, I think.

What about shooting? When I read scouting reports, that’s the one thing that I see people say maybe could get a little bit better. But also, your shot is also very personal, it’s hard to just say, do this different.

I guess it’s just shooting more shots, working on my shot more, I plan on doing that a lot. I don’t feel like I’m a bad shooter, but I feel like I could get a lot better, and Coach Self is explaining to me and my mom how he’s going to get that better.

I was gonna ask – when they’re recruiting you, do they say “These are what we think you need to do better, and here’s how we’re going to help do it”, is that generally how it works?

Little bit. Not too much explaining, really. As far as my shooting and how they’ll push me, he did explain that a lot, he said within our dorms, where we live we have a gym downstairs where you walk in, and I can go down there wherever I want and put up as many shots as I want, whatever time. And just having the access to be able to do things like that, will really help.

I think some people want to know what took so long for you to decide where you were going to commit. Was there a delay, or did you just want to wait until after the season?

I just felt like it was a tough decision. Honestly, going through it, I felt like, you know ultimately, either decision that I made, I felt like I would be okay, that things would work out fine. But I just wanted to really think about which would be the best and where I would have the best experience of all three. And I just felt like it was a really important decision, and I didn’t want to have any regrets after making it.

I can’t anticipate you having regrets about it. Kansas is awesome.

I think so.

Chris and Wynne said you love cartoons. What’s your favorite to watch?

Phineas and Ferb.

Are cartoons your main non-sports cartoon watching? Do you watch any Netflix?

I don’t really watch a lot of Netflix – I do watch Walking Dead when it’s on, that’s my favorite TV show. Outside of that, I’m probably watching sports.

What about challenges? What’s been your toughest moment on the floor as a player?

Couple games where we were close to winning, but in the end, with a couple seconds on the clock, when you know you’re about to lose.

Was there a particular loss that was hard?

This year, oh yeah. One game, back in Detroit we played this year against Thon Maker’s team. We were down two, and we had the ball, and I had the ball coming down the court. There were 5 seconds left, I drove to the basket, got an And 1, laid the ball up. The ref called the foul, but he said it was before the shot, so we had to take the ball out, we just threw up a shot and then we lost.

Wow. Classic high school basketball refereeing.

I think that was the toughest loss this year, especially because it was back in my hometown, I hadn’t played there in a long time.

You’ve also dealt with personal loss in your high school career — your coach passed away after your freshman year. Tell me about Coach Anderson and what you learned from him.

I learned a lot from him – like i said before, coaches in Detroit that I had were more like father figures to me. He was really one of them. I think playing for him my freshman year was the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt like I was playing to make him proud, I was playing for him, and to be able to play under him, to have a great relationship with him off the court and to make him proud, it was real special for me. I would always try hard and try my best every play.

Coach Tuomi — what do you like about him as a coach?

He came into a tough situation ,the year after our last coach had passed away. The guys and I were a little skeptical about him in the beginning, coming in as a new coach that we didn’t know, and especially having the type of relationship that we did with our last coach, didn’t help him much. But he stuck with us. We made it a little hard for him in the beginning, we didn’t listen to him a little bit, we gave him a tough time, but he stuck with us, and he disciplined us, made us run, do bear crawls all the time.

I remember this one time, the rule was, if you missed a practice no matter what, you had to do bear crawls the whole practice. That’s where like, you get on your hands and feet and crawl up and down, back and forth, the whole practice. And one kid on our team, his name was Rudy, he had stomach flu, and he had been in the hospital the night before, so he didn’t come to school or practice, and when he finally got better, he came to practice and Coach was like all right, now start doing your bear crawls for all the practices that you missed.

That’s how you win their trust.

But yeah, we knew he was a good guy. We really trusted him. I think he was a really good defensive coach – his main thing was defense, and that’s why we won that year, because we had really good defense.

Defense is known kind of as your signature skill, along with transition slam dunks. Why do you pride yourself on defense?

I just wanna win so bad, and I know you got to do it to win, so I’m trying.

Tell me about your mom, because she deflects any credit for how you’ve turned out — and I sense that you think she has a bigger deal to do with that than she does.

She does, she definitely does. She deserves a lot of credit, but my mom’s always been there for me. Always had my back. I’ll never be able to thank her for all she’s done for me. I just hope that one day — well I feel like I have made her proud, and I just hope to continue to make her proud.

You mentioned during the McDonald’s game that she helped you stay focused when you were thinking about quitting. What’s the story behind that?

There was a point in time where I felt like basketball wasn’t fun for me anymore, and it just started to feel like more of a job.

When was that?

This was the beginning of my junior year – right before my junior year started. And I would do a lot of thinking, my mom would talk to me all the time, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to play. But I just remembered to have fun — it has to be fun, that’s the most important thing, and as long as you’re having fun, you’ll love the game.

What did she tell you to get your mind in that place?

Just to have more alone time to myself and think about it. She was supporting me the whole way through, and she told me that — she knew that I didn’t really want to quit. She told me to think about it, and just continue to work hard.

She said that part of that had to do with you getting a cell phone and seeing what people were doing, and wanting to be more part of it. Can you confirm/deny?

Deny. Not at all.

She also mentioned you had to sit out at one point with growing aches and pains — was that around the same time?

That was way earlier – that was before my freshman year.

Also: your dad passed away – how has that affected your outlook?

Having him pass away was real tough on me. Especially being the second close person to me to have pass away. But, just try to remember that he’s never really gone if I always have him in my heart, and think about him. He’s always here with me. And just try to remember things that he’s taught me, and just that if i keep doing what I’m doing and working hard, that I’ll continue to to make him proud.

What kind of impact did he have on you as a basketball player?

He’s the reason I’m as tough as I am on the court. I remember he bought me my first basketball hoop, and we put it up in the backyard and I used to play against him. He didn’t take it easy on me, like ever. He would block my shot into the trees, and he would foul me sometimes, hard, and I really felt like i could beat him, and I used to just always try, and I’d get so mad sometimes and I would cry because he would always beat me. But he was just always tough on me.

When you have a son or daughter one day, will you play them the same way?

Oh yeah. For sure.

Your mom said you could improve your time management. What’s that about?

I kind of procrastinate a bit, when it comes to things I don’t want to do. Just procrastinating.

Have you made it a goal to be the 1st pick in next year’s draft?

I haven’t really made it a goal. My goals for next year are to become the best possible player that I can be in that timeframe, and to help my team win as many games as we can. I think those are my two goals.

Last couple of questions: How good are you at basketball?

Honestly I don’t think I’m that good. I think I’m an okay player. I think what separates me from everyone else is that I think I think the game a little more than everyone else. I think my basketball IQ is a lot higher than a lot of other players.

And how good are you going to be?

I think I’ll get better once I develop a little bit, get a little stronger, work on my shot a little more. I think in the next year, I’ll have more time to work on my game. I think I’ll make a huge jump and be way better than people have ever seen me.

Nice. Are you looking forward to your first national TV game with KU?

Oh yeah. Can’t wait.

They haven’t released the schedule yet, have they?

They don’t have the complete schedule yet, but I believe our first game is against Duke at Madison Square Garden.

Oooh, that’s awesome. Have you played at the Garden before?

I have not.

That’s awesome. They have Giles…

And Frank Jackson, and Jason —

Are you worried?

Am I worried?

Yeah.

A little bit.

Yeah?

A little bit. Rightfully so though. I respect their games and how good they are. But they should be more worried than I am.

Is there anything else you want to say, or that I haven’t asked about but should be asking?

Not that I can think of.

OK – here’s one last question. Your mom talks about it taking a village. What are your thoughts on that idea, and how it’s applied to you?

110% agree with it, and I am an example of that. I’ve met a lot of people in my life who have all contributed to me being who I am, and having the amount of success that I’ve been having with basketball. A really long list of people. I think meeting — I think the most important thing in life for humans is to just have relationships with other people. It’s all about who you know, what type of relationships you have with them – it can go a long way.

How will you pay it all back?

Do it for the next kid.  Do it for my kid, or any of his friends. Any kid that I meet and needs my help, I’ll help him.

What do you want to do with basketball? It’s gonna be your career – do you have any bigger picture hopes, what you want to accomplish with it?

I really just want to be the best player that I can be. I want to see how good that I can actually be, if I work really hard. I want to always win every game that I play in, even though it’s not going to happen. I just hope to have an outstanding career. I don’t know — I don’t know how to define an outstanding career. I don’t know.

The Cavs’ Championship Parade Was Also a Celebration of Black Bodies

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1.3 million people showed up at the biggest party the state of Ohio has ever seen to celebrate LeBron James and his band of Cavaliers, who together brought Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. It looked like fun: Kevin Love had WWE title belts slung over both shoulders, Kyrie Irving flung his strapback into the crowd as it roared in adulation, and James got to let loose in public for probably the first time in his thirteen-year career. The spoils of victory aren’t limited to whooping as loud as you want, but achieving that freedom–of burden, of narrative, from basketball thinktankery and its smuggish progenitors –might be the best part. It was certainly hard-fought.

One storyline everyone enjoyed was the ongoing shirtlessness of J.R. Smith, the Cavaliers’ delightfully capricious but embattled shooting guard. After playing a key role in their Game 7 victory (I think he scored 10 of the Cavaliers’ first 12 points after halftime), J.R. was not seen wearing a shirt for like, the first 72 hours after the final buzzer sounded on Game 7. This was entertaining because it was J.R. doing him, in a winning way–acting silly, in other words, without “acting out.” Supposedly, we got to enjoy J.R.’s foibles without compromising on our overly moralizing ideas of what “winning” behavior looks like–ideas which when put into words are often racially coded, and which have been used to antagonize Smith pretty much from the moment he entered the draft out of high school. Here’s a quote from a story about Smith being benched by Denver Nuggets coach George Karl in the 2006 playoffs.

According to the newspaper, Smith’s mistakes throughout the series have bothered Karl, leading to his decision to bench him for Game 5. Karl seemed perturbed by Smith’s 3-pointer with 25.7 seconds left in Game 4 on Monday night with Denver trailing 93-89.

“I have no idea what planet that came from,” Karl told The Associated Press. Karl said he had drawn up a play to get the ball to Iverson or Anthony.

“And then, of course the one with eight seconds to go, from 50 feet,” Karl said. “I just love the dignity of the game being insulted right in front of me.”

Despite his refusal to suppress his stylistic inclinations at the dour altar of George Karl (and by the way, when you’re down 4 with 25 seconds left you should definitely be shooting three pointers), J.R. Smith now has one more championship ring than his old coach, who’s currently unemployed. There still may be something troubling about J.R. infatuation subsisting on a typecast of him as a fool, but to quote LeBron, Imma let that go. Let’s conclude here: J.R.’s celebration can be instructive about winning behavior and doesn’t need to be dissonant.

I’m really digressing. Here’s what I came to say: J.R. marauding around town without a shirt was important(!) because it was a black man proudly showing his body in public, in a place where black bodies have always (and in the news only recently) been under attack. Violence against blacks in Cleveland is pervasive and debilitating. Many people know the story of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old African American child shot dead by police while playing with a toy gun; know, too, that Cleveland is among the most segregated cities in America (possibly #1 in that category):

The white poverty rate in Cleveland is 9.3 percent, and the white unemployment rate is 5.4 percent while black people in the city have a poverty rate of 33.6 percent and an unemployment rate of 20.2 percent.

When LeBron James says he’s doing it for Cleveland, for Akron, for the state of Ohio, he’s not just talking about ending a title drought. There’s more suffering in Cleveland than 50 or even 500 losing seasons could hold, and Cleveland’s historical trauma cuts more deeply than Craig Ehlo. Almost none of that goes away because the Cavaliers won an NBA Finals; that’s what the bread and circus is all about. Still, the feelings of unbridled joy that come from celebrating a championship may resonate more deeply in Cleveland when the team is led almost entirely by black men. LeBron is not just a hero for The Land, he is a black hero, and that can’t be skirted on this occasion.

J.R. Smith, perhaps the most heavily tattooed NBA player (which only makes him more of a lightning rod for criticism), was comfortable parading his black skin through Cleveland. In doing so, he helped us celebrate race as a central feature of the Cavaliers’ coronation: he is black, he is a champion, he is free. And so was Iman Shumpert, sans shirt at the parade and also rocking a super-high top fade. They are basketball players–the body is the locus of their labor. If a divided city is going to unite in the town center, let them cheer their deliverers as they are.

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Being black in public, unmolested, shouldn’t be a privilege only afforded NBA champions. But in Cleveland, it has been.

 

 

 

“The corner three is the most sickening shot in basketball”: Talking to Jimmy Goldstein, NBA Godfather

The first basketball game I ever went to was an otherwise meaningless January tilt between the Seattle Supersonics and the Los Angeles Clippers. Of that game, I remember two things: a buzzer-beating Gary Payton dunk sending the game to overtime (it was almost definitely Desmond Mason who actually did this, but Payton is what I remember), and a fan sitting courtside behind the basket who from the nosebleeds looked like a scarecrow. I figured with some disappointment that I would likely never find out who that person was.

That fan, of course, turned out to be Jimmy Goldstein, the incomparable culture mogul who’s developed a minor cult following in the past few years as an NBA superfan and high fashion aficionado. Watch enough high-stakes NBA games and you will inevitably spot Jimmy mingling with players in pregame layup lines, seated contentedly with an Eastern Bloc supermodel or just standing in silent observation of the athletic marvels before him. He goes to over 100 games a year, which includes a rigorous travel schedule during the NBA playoffs. He’s a fan’s fan, and a player’s fan. He’s not doing it for the ‘gram, and he’s not complaining about back-to-backs.

It’s not just that he’s the Forrest Gump of Hardwood Classics, it’s that he knows everybody, from max-contract guys to rookies, from head coaches to color commentators. I’ve seen more than one fringe D-Leaguer find Jimmy during warmups and give him a hug. He’s loved by everyone who makes a living or once made a living in the NBA. I’ve long wondered what’s made Jimmy so popular, if he was some sort of Worldwide Wes-ian éminence grise. I didn’t ask him that, but I did get a clear answer about why everyone takes to the guy: he’s good people, plain and simple, and he loves basketball.

My first time on the court reporting at an NBA game, it seemed appropriate to go see Jimmy. He was willing to pause his enjoyment of the shootaround before Game 5 of the Clippers/Blazers series to talk to me for a piece about the Clippers playing through injuries, which you can read at VICE Sports.

Below is the transcript of our interview, edited and condensed a touch.

::

Louis Keene: The Clippers are playing without Blake and Chris Paul. Do you feel like you’re seeing an inferior product without them?

Jimmy Goldstein: It’d be a real upset if they pull through the series now, but I’ve seen the second unit play really well this season. [They beat] Utah — well, they rested the whole first team — but I don’t see how they can win two more games.

Do you think Golden State can make it through without Curry?

Curry will be back before they have any must-win games, so I don’t think that will affect them at all. It’s not a very serious issue, from what I’ve read. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came back earlier than 2 weeks.

What designer are you wearing right now?

Saint Laurent.

What about the hat?

The hat I had custom-made in Paris, I designed it myself.

That’s pretty legit. How am I doing as far as my dress for the game?

A little too conservative for me.

What can I say…it’s Nordstrom. Who did you bring to the game tonight?

Actually, I was down in Houston over the weekend for two games, and a friend from Houston treated me to two courtside seats, so I have to reciprocate tonight, so he’s coming. No girl tonight.

You’re donating your house to LACMA. What caused you to do that, and where are you going to live?

Well, it doesn’t take effect until I’m not around, so nothing is going to change for me at all. I wanted to see the house preserved, I wanted to see the house continue as being a landmark house in LA, with architectural tours and photoshoots and all the things I’ve been doing, I want that to continue.

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Do you remember Jon Buscemi, the shoe designer?

Yes.

I used to work in an office with him, and he told me this great story about when he went to your house. He said your house is all silver and gray…

Well, everything in the house is concrete and glass. That’s the way it is.

And he said on top of the ceiling, you have a picture of Kate Moss wearing a Jimmy Goldstein t-shirt. 

Well, it’s not on my ceiling, but it’s on my countertop. 

He said that you walked in, while he was preparing for the photoshoot, and you said something, and it was this great line, and I don’t remember what it was.

(laughs)…It’s amazing what he’s accomplished. 

Yeah. His shoes are fabulous. Do you own any?

Yeah, he came over and did a photoshoot of me wearing the shoes. I didn’t know what it was all about. I just went along with it. (laughs) At that time, he was just starting. 

Yeah, he had a desk in the office I was working in, and he had a bunch of cool fabrics on it, and I just started talking to him, and he’s a great guy. I like him. How did you get in touch with him?

I don’t know…someone else set it up. He asked if I would pose for some photos for the shoot.

Have you ever had any great basketball games on the very cool basketball hoop you have at your house?

No, that’s one thing that hasn’t happened.

You gotta get a 3 on 3 tournament or something!

It’s not in the greatest condition because the driveway is sloping. I’ve got this amazing new tennis court, and I was originally going to have a hoop on the tennis court.

Do you play?

I stopped playing basketball. I’ve always been a tennis player since I got my own court a few years ago, so now I just play tennis. So I’ve stopped shooting hoops. But I used to be a good shooter.

You’re originally a Milwaukee guy, right? I lived in Madison the last few years ago, and I love Wisconsin and I love the Bucks. Do you think they have a chance at taking the East next year?

Taking the East?

Yeah! …I mean it! I think they can!

Well that’s…a little too much. But I haven’t watched them very much.

Do you ever get consulted on rule changes?

I wish I would. Adam Silver, for example, last year, asked me about the intentional foul rule. He wanted my opinion. But in general, they haven’t.

What did you say?

I’ve got some mixed feelings about it, but on balance I said they should change the rule. It looks like he will.

You could have altered Clipper history if you had said, we have to change this. The whole NBA was in your palm! I think the rule they should add is let people goaltend on the rim.

I don’t like that rule.

That’s how they can get the athletes back in the game.

One thing I’d like to see, which no one ever talks about, is to get rid of this [points to the corner three]. Let the line just continue its normal course.

Ohh, so that there’s no corner three.

The corner three is the most sickening shot in basketball.

Why?

Because the guy’s always wide open, it’s almost like a free throw.

That’s true. But why sickening?

Because I like a shot that’s…talent. I don’t like an easy shot.

I think that’s a really cool idea. That could change the NBA too – offenses are designed around this shot.

Yeah — a guy is standing here almost every possession.

Do you think the Clippers have any advantage tonight, with an underdog profile?

The advantage they have is psychological, because I noticed in game 4, they were more uptight than I’ve ever seen them. From Doc Rivers on down. I watched them in warmups, there wasn’t one smile anyplace. And they showed it in the first quarter, when no one except Chris Paul could hit a shot. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers were loose because no one expected them to win. Now, they’re expected to win, so we’ll see how that affects them.

That’s interesting – we saw that in game 3, when the Clippers gave away a late lead. That was it for them.

I think they’ll play playground style tonight.

Do you think Jamal can go for 50?

I would love that.