The Thizzle Dance.

5474778084_187004a68d_b

Here I am, almost a decade removed from this dance having any kind of national relevance, and I’m still putting on a just-smelled-piss face and popping mine and others’ collars at the club.

It’s actually become a calling card of mine whenever there’s loud music and enough space to dance, which should tell you a little about the company I keep. If I was hanging out in the remaining inner-city communities across the Bay, the thizzle dance is just another dance. It’s something that’s within expectation when someone rolls by in a six-nine Impala, 15″ kickers in the trunk, blasting The Jacka (R.I.P.) for the whole block to hear. But no, I mostly hang out with upwardly-mobile professionals, many of whom have moved on from the phase when the thizzle dance was relevant, when Keak da Sneak was getting national airplay, and when hyphy was a movement.

To do the thizz dance, you just scrunch up your face into the stankest frown you can fathom (called the thizz face), and you wave your limbs and body with abandon and without concern for those around you. It’s an aggressive dance, borne from Vallejo by one of our heroes in Mac Dre (R.I.P.).

Of course, I could try to keep up with the times and dance whatever new dance is being made up in Memphis or Atlanta. Or, I could embrace my adulthood and abandon all kinds of dance for the good ol’ reliable two-step. To keep making the thizz face at the club belies a different kind of immaturity. Too old to keep up with the times, too immature to throw away something that’s so obviously uncouth.

I’m the kind of person who holds onto the past. Not in the Uncle Rico way, mostly because my high school’s football team would’ve gotten killed if Coach put me in at State1. I just draw a lot of my identity from my upbringing. My parents were relatively laid-back as Korean parents go, so I’m pretty laid-back relative to most Korean-American males. My friends and I were wannabe thugs and drank 40s in the parking lot, so I talk like I’m from the streets when I drink2. My values were mostly drawn from the Catholic Church and hip-hop music, so I subscribe to the golden rule, I believe everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect, and any sort of disrespect should be returned with violence or a diss track.

Another thing that provides a tentpole for my identity is my upbringing in the Bay Area. I’ve spent my entire childhood and teenage years in San Jose, and now most of my 20s in San Francisco. I became a man at college house parties in Berkeley and Davis, and the various Korean sool-jjibs that wouldn’t bother carding before serving. The person I am is very closely tied to how the Bay Area was in the 90s and early 2000s. And the best way for me to express that is the thizzle dance. It’s the most tangible artifact to carry with me as I drunkenly navigate this newfangled thing called being a grown-up. Most people hold onto childhood diaries or old photos. I break into an archaic dance whenever something with remotely heavy bass comes on.

And man, the Bay Area was different back then. I came of age as the first tech boom burst into waves of ruined fortunes. Apple just rehired Steve Jobs after floundering around and letting Microsoft eat up most of the market. Google was just a search engine. Facebook was only available to college students. Friendster and MySpace were still things. But perhaps most importantly, the communities weren’t changing. The Mission was still a place where arts and Latino culture lived in relative harmony. Berkeley was still a hub for progressive movements so far to the left that it would have knocked out anyone taking an orthodox stance. Histories were maintained. Culture was maintained. Identity was easier to mold, even in the suburban sleepiness of the South Bay.

I’m not used to the Bay Area being this economic powerhouse, this mecca of technology and dreams of a better future. To me, the Bay has always been about the community, which is underpinned by a bitterness of being overlooked. The Warriors weren’t the juggernauts that they are now, and the Giants were being held up by a well-known cheater. Silicon Valley was known for being the hub of the tech industry, but working in tech wasn’t the gold rush that it is now. E-40’s slang was being cribbed relentlessly by other rappers. San Francisco was in the shadow of L.A. and New York. The Bay was just known as a pleasant place to visit, with amazing weather and a big fucking red bridge. To most outsiders, Oakland was where the Raiders played and where you might get stabbed. San Francisco was where you eat sourdough bread and see a lot of gay people. And what the fuck is a San Jose?

That’s the Bay I remember. Truly an amazing place that hadn’t been discovered yet, a place that produced underdogs, something that I took to heart when I was living in L.A. for school. Fuck yeah I’m from the Bay. I dance like I smell piss on the floor and I talk like a turfie speaking in ghetto Clockwork Orange. I rep the same Warriors who picked Todd Fuller over Kobe Bryant. The best burritos in America are in the Mission District, the best tacos in America are on International, and the best pho in America is in the fuckin’ East Side of San Jo-fucking-zay3. Oakland has the most swagger of any city in Cali. San Francisco is the favorite city of your favorite city’s residents. San Jo is responsible for your iPods and Google and shit. I grew up in the best place in the fuckin’ world. Y’all just don’t fuckin’ know what I know.

But now, y’all do. The Bay has been discovered. It’s a destination for young professionals to spark their careers, to hopefully get on the ground-floor of the next big startup to blow up. And while SF rents were always expensive, it was never this pants-on-head ridiculous. Even Oakland is becoming a staggeringly expensive place to live, which would have confused the shit out of everyone a decade ago. Wide swaths of San Francisco have been painted over, with the dark corners of Western Addition and Vis Valley being illuminated by the latest Cajun-Chinese fusion restaurant from some alum of The French Laundry. The many-colored faces you see on the Muni are being replaced by the White and Asian army of young tech workers being used as kindling to incite hockey stick growth. The Mission has become a completely different neighborhood almost overnight. Where there once was pupuserias, there are now speakeasies.

All those communities that were here before, the ones that gifted us Hieroglyphics, the thizzle dance, the Mission-style burrito, the Black Panthers, the counter-culture of the 60s, Dirty Harry, Beast Mode, the City Lights bookstore, the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam, they’re all being irrevocably changed.

And here’s the thing, everyone is complaining about the loss of culture and the takeover of our cities by tech transplants who don’t respect what was here before. I’m part of that camp, but I can’t ignore the other side of gentrification. The Western Addition used to be the Wild West, and certain parts still are. Oakland was once the murder capital of the U.S., not the neon light that attracts hipsters from all over the country. The Mission, beyond being a traditional haven for Latinos and starving artists, was also a gang neighborhood that cultivated a lot of Nortenos and crime. There is tangible improvement here, and I’m in a unique position to benefit from this improvement instead of being pushed out by it. But as a native son of the Bay, it’s hard for me to accept the costs of it.

A couple of days ago, I was taking an Uberpool back home from REI4. I was sharing the car with a white guy and an Asian girl. They were talking loudly about whatever closed-off personal things that only matter them. But then I caught a snippet from the white guy that made me want to turn around and punch him in the face.

“Nobody in San Francisco is even from California anymore.”

I wanted to punch him in his bearded face. I wanted to represent, yell out “I’m from the Bay, bitch!” before punching him in his bearded face. I wanted E-40 and Mac Dre to join me in stomping the arrogance and entitlement from this fucking transplant with the bearded face for ruining my home.

But he was right. Unless you hang out with the few native communities that are clinging onto this city, you probably won’t meet a native San Franciscan, native Bay Arean, or even a native Californian. We’re a destination now, and we have to deal with sharing our home with outsiders.

There’s what’s idealized and what I want, and there’s the reality. What I want is a more egalitarian Bay, one that maintained the rich culture and swagger that informed so much of my own spirit. I want a working class that can live in comfort here, because it’s usually the working class that provides much of the flavor of any city. I want my home to stay the way it was when I was 15, when people didn’t have to work at the Salesforce Tower to afford living in the same city they work in. I want these transplants to understand and respect the place they’re living in, instead of remaking it in their own image.

But the reality is that our tech economy doesn’t account for the people who were here before, it only accounts for the people that can keep it going. And the people that keep it going are willing to pay higher for housing stock that’s getting smaller. These people are the consumers that define the economy here, an economy that’s driven by unicorn startups and shiny new bars that push out long-standing dives and mom and pop stores. It doesn’t matter if it’s some tone-deaf tech CEO complaining about the homeless problem, that tone-deaf CEO is part of the new economy here. And economy is what drives decisions these days.

And my own reality, one that’s been coldly splashed on me time and time again, is that I have to be able to make a living here. I have to provide for my family here. I have to play by these new rules. It doesn’t matter if I’m a native, nobody gets a pass for being a native these days. I’m the one that has to adapt. I’m the one that has to sell out.

So I go to work. I try to get the best paycheck I can. I punch in. I pay 12 dollars for a salad. I try to hit on recent transplants from Ohio and teach them what the Bay used to be like. I go down to the Tenderloin and hope my favorite places don’t get evicted soon. I visit Oakland and wonder where MC Zumbi lives now that he’s been priced out of his home. I feign interest in the latest multi-billion dollar acquisition. I dress the way my contemporaries dress. I grow with more maturity without trying to grow more jaded. I’m sad about what’s disappearing. I accept what’s here now.

But god damn it, do I put on the stankest of thizz faces whenever I find a dance floor.

—-

1Which would’ve also required for our football team to go to State, or for me to even be on the football team. ^

2Funny story, a few years back I was hitting on one of my friend’s friend at 330 Ritch (R.I.P.). The conversation was going well until I asked her for her number, to which she responded “I can’t,” and walked away. It wasn’t until recently that I figured out where I went wrong. My friend told me: “She said you looked kind of cute, then you opened your mouth and talked all ghetto.” ^

3Which is objectively untrue, San Diego has the best burritos and tacos in America, but nobody said representing had to be rational. San Jo still got that pho game on lock though. ^

4Bitching about tech gentrification and all these damn transplants reinventing the city, and here I am taking an Uberpool from a hiking goods store. The irony of this is not lost on me. ^

Advertisements

The Art of Taking L’s.

541552856.0

Shout out to Linn Huang for his original thoughts on Game 7. Pretty much gave me the spine of this short essay.

So ends the 2015-2016 NBA Season, with the Cleveland Cavaliers finally bringing a championship to a city starved of celebration.

The Golden State Warriors become the first team to lose a 7-game series after being up 3 games to 1. LeBron James truly belongs in the conversation of determining the best basketball player of all time. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love found redemption in this do-or-die scenario in ways that Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes could not. Stephen Curry could not replicate his regular season heroics, Klay Thompson could not replicate his Western Conference Final heroics, and the pure determination of Draymond Green was not enough to clinch victory in the final minutes.

In life, we will all take L’s. The enduring lesson here is to gain something from it. Never lose for free, so to speak. And the assumption here is that the Golden State Warriors will go into the offseason wondering what could have been. They’ll deconstruct their extremely subpar performances in Games 5 and 6. They’ll question their execution and ponder how they couldn’t get a basket with 5 minutes to go in Game 7.

Of course, we always aim to win. That’s what life is about, right? We don’t celebrate losers, nor should we. To the victor goes the spoils. And to the loser? A platitude on growth mindstates.

What makes this so devastating is everyone with an inkling of basketball intelligence knew that Game 7 could’ve swung either way. During that stretch of cold shooting by both Cleveland and Golden State, it was really up to one player to make a critical basket. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green have all demonstrate their chops for the big basket. But what’s so heartbreaking is that despite all the talent and mental strength in the world, the ball just won’t go in sometimes. This is a make-or-miss league, and the Cavs made it when it counted. We didn’t.

And as I take my sabbatical from sports news and r/nba for a few weeks, I know full well that there are a lot of people who’ve been looking forward to this moment. The unstoppable Warriors regular season juggernaut being derailed by a Cavs team that was once pilloried for being put together by a player instead of a GM. They deserve their moment in the sun, to laugh and point in one big wave as Steph and Ayesha Curry sit under all the shade being thrown at them.

Let the haters drink deeply from the schadenfreude. Let the Cavaliers enjoy their fully deserved ring. Let all the commentators and media personalities bask in what was essentially a choke job by one of the greatest regular season teams of all time.

Let them all celebrate in our loss. They deserve this moment. We were their villain, and we took the L.

But here’s the thing about taking L’s: losses are never permanent, even if they come in decade-long stretches. I know both fanbases should understand that. Losses happen, and the only way to shorten the possibility of them happening in the future is to take something, anything, from the loss.

Never lose for free.

And I have full confidence that we didn’t. Come see us next season. We’ll be coming to collect.

TL;DR – We lost, but keep talking that shit, we’ll be coming next year.

Han.

buzz_1406139832_af_org

“The feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong — all these combined.”
– Han, Wikipedia

Han is described to me as our heritage. It’s what describes the low smoking point of our blood, the way it seethes in our veins, behind our skin, away from others’ eyes. It makes you understand why so many drunk Korean guys on 8th and New Hampshire burst into flames and throw hands at each other at the slightest sign of disrespect.

Before Ta-Nehisi Coates established the plunder of African-American bodies as American heritage, Koreans had a word for the subjugation they’ve been submerged under for centuries. It goes back to the deference paid to the Chinese in the 1400s. It crested in the Japanese annexation of Korea. Throughout Korean history, bodies weren’t just burned as fuel for the economy like the Transatlantic Slaves, they were broken for sport and impaled for comfort. You can see our Han manifest in the ham-fisted way our parents discipline us, the kimchi-slapstick of our melodramas, or the high-octave heartbreak in our ballads. It feeds into the common joke among Koreans to never date another Korean, because we’re all fucking crazy.

As I’ve read into Han, I’ve concluded that it isn’t a uniquely Korean experience. Like I mentioned before, there’s ample evidence of the African-American experience being much the same. Han is a theorization of bloody heritage rising from the ground to grasp onto its living children. It’s not exclusive to the boiling sanguinity of Korea’s continued survival despite its history. It’s not exclusive to the long dark night of slavery and the grey twilight of redlining and Jim Crow. It’s not exclusive to the smoldering genocide of Europe’s Jews in the name of purity. This historical rage is not exclusive to a singular people. We all bleed the same blood, the only difference is the shade of the skin from our split foreheads.

Ultimately, that’s what piqued my interest in Han. Within its fluid definition lies a statement on history, that it has the power to follow us like a curse.

The shitty thing about history is that people think it’s malleable. You’re all familiar with people mushing historical facts and narrative into the holes of their arguments. Established history is as ironclad as law, but there are those who crop and cut established history to buttress their own narratives. This is not exclusive to any one ethnic group, every group does this. There are those who try to present a bucket of broken facts as historical evidence, and they come in all colors and stripes. But it’s a disservice to ignore crucial elements of history if we are to gain any value from it.

It’s easy to believe that historical events that fall outside of our lifespan have minimal effects on us today. It’s why a common racist argument that’s lobbied against African-Americans is: slavery was centuries ago, and you people still haven’t gotten your shit together since.

But I believe that the biggest issue with all this racial tension is the idea that one history has merit over another. The history of an African-American and an Anglo-American is markedly different, yet African-Americans cite the injustices of their history to ears deafened to the sound. It’s not my history. I can’t understand and empathize with something I don’t know, even if it was taught in half-awake stares in high school history class. So why is it a surprise that some Americans don’t empathize with the African-American struggle? They don’t understand or believe in their history, and they can’t justify their Han…which is the luxury of someone who doesn’t feel any burden from that history.

And for those whose present is still tangibly weighed by that history, like African-Americans or Turkish Kurds or Korean War veterans with long memories, Han makes a ton of sense.

“Han is sorrow caused by heavy suffering, injustice or persecution, a dull lingering ache in the soul. It is a blend of lifelong sorrow and resentment, neither more powerful than the other. Han is imbued with resignation, bitter acceptance and a grim determination to wait until vengeance can at last be achieved.”
– Han, Wikipedia

I used to chafe at the idea that I’m saddled with Han because I have Korean blood. I’ve always said that being Korean affects me the way any ethnicity affects a person. It’s from the outside-in, not the other way around. I don’t want to justify stark irrationality with an easy label or excuse. Han is more than a word used to explain emotion, it can also be an ill-fitted justification for selfish and wild behaviors. I refuse to believe that my destiny is to be an irrational, cynical, and disillusioned asshole because my ancestors were getting pegged by their geopolitical rivals.

I try not to attune an emotional profile to an ethnic group, because it’s that kind of thinking that breeds racist thought. I try to treat everyone on an equal plane, regardless of race or gender. The deeper, underlying core principle of that egalitarian thinking is that we are all human beings, and thus, we are all equal and deserving of respect and dignity. We are all subject to the same primal needs and desires to live, breathe, eat, drink, piss, shit, and succeed by our own individualized terms. We all want to find happiness, and we all want to avoid tragedy. There are things I am better at than other people, but that’s not evidence that makes me a better person than anybody on this Earth.

Maintaining this principle is tough, and it can be disproven in so many ways. There are so many different things that elevate ones over others. As a truth, it doesn’t survive. The evidence can be seen on a stroll through Market Street. You can see how some people are elevated over others, how they’re treated as superior or inferior to others.

Still, it’s my principle. It’s something that nourishes my ego, which helps it prevent the darker engines of my id. I am not better than you, and you are not better than me. I don’t care if you make more money, if you’ve lifted more weights, or if more people on this earth want to fuck you. We are equal, and if we’re on that level, it’s much easier to empathize and be compassionate to each other.

Another origin story for Han was the burdensome resentment of Korean peasants towards the caste system of the times. The yangban ran everything, while the peasants created everything. The daily oppression is bound to ferment the soul until its resultant gases push against the ribs. Again, this caste system and resultant Han is not something that’s unique to Korea. But if heritage has more power over me than I believe it does, it might go some way towards explaining why I have this principle of equality, and why I hate condescension so fucking much.

It feels like a stone is being suspended in your chest. It’s held up by wires that pulls upon your chestplate. It weighs and jiggles every time you take a step. You feel unnatural, like some alien body is inside you. When I have it, I want nothing else but to remove that stone, and it feels like the only way I can is to forcefully expel that stone at the people responsible for putting it there. But I can’t.

That’s what makes it deeper than a simple grudge. Han is specifically painful because of the underlying helplessness to take immediate action to resolve it. You resign yourself to it, you wake up with it, walk with it, feel it against every breath you take. Until one day, maybe one fateful day, it makes sense to unleash it to those responsible.

It’s based on the violation of that equality, that a human being who is subject to the same fragility of life as me, could treat me with such utter disrespect and condescension. And what better way to enforce the purity of that equality than to strike out and punish the person that stepped out of line?

Still, I’m reminded of a key truth before I take up arms against my “oppressors.” What’s fair and unfair to me is only true to me. Fairness and equality can be broadly defined, enough to the point where most of us can agree on what it is as a society. But fairness and equality will always be unique to the perception of the person who doles out the judgment. Think on why the cycle of urban violence is at once understandable yet illogical. Man avenges his friend by killing his killer. The killer’s friend kills the man or the man’s family to avenge the killer. On and on it goes. Each act made in faith towards “making things right.”

And so I have to resolve my Han, and remove my stone, in a way that doesn’t involve vengeance or balancing my personal scale of justice. To let go of this feeling, even as it seizes up my insides like an emotional cramp. To realize that a healthy, happy life is one that allows me to control my emotions regardless of whatever historical weight or cultural conditioning may be behind all this.

Heritage and history can go a long way towards explaining action. But action is the only thing that defines a person, not the heritage and history behind them.

 

The Last Year.

897059-613d05f0-2c8c-11e3-8800-e6347622c0aa

Shit. I’m almost 30.

It’s a popular age to gutcheck our expectations against our realities. 30 might represent different things to different people, but it generally marks the entryway into middle-age as we close out the eventful drownage of mistakes, booze, and uninhibited fun that is our 20s.

Am I doing what I set out to do when I graduated college?

Hell fucking no. I had delusions of grandeur. I remember telling my roommate Brian that I wanted write a version of Ulysses that was based around San Jose. Now, I can barely finish a chapter or a short story without throwing it into the digital recycle bin. I’m currently on the fast-track to become another marketing monkey who uses metrics to quantify why blog posts matter. I’m not even close to writing anything that resembles the next great American novel I strove to write in my college years.

But being a monkey pays the bills, and I realized that my passion for words doesn’t outweigh my passion for living independently and paying bills on time. It’s still a passion, which is why I update this blog sporadically, or poke dusty manuscripts with the brand new idea stick from time to time. My love of writing is deep, slow, passionate, sensual…wait, what? Anyways, I hate the idea of living with my parents more than I love to write. So that’s that.

Am I where I wanted to be after I graduated college?

Well, I expected to move to Seoul to teach English after college, since I graduated in ’09 and the job market was swirling in the shitter at that time. That fell through because there wasn’t much demand for Asian-American Males in those schools. It was a little insulting, knowing that my ethnic motherland was acting so much like a white girl on Tinder.

Then when I was around 22 or 23, I was steeling myself to move to Portland at a moment’s notice. Not much to say about that, except I was being a supremely naive idiot. Thankfully, life stepped to slap my head from the clouds back down to San Jose.

Then around 24 or 25, I fell in love with New York and tried desperately to find an excuse to live a torturous spartan life within its high rises. I wanted to eat chicken and rice, teach English in the hood, find a bohemian girl who reads more than I do. I wanted to live that varnished romance that’s sold wholesale over TV and movies, that New York was the mecca of all culture. To sleep in its tenements was to be blessed by the most exciting and interesting lives. But no, the school thought I wouldn’t made a good teacher. And in retrospect, I wouldn’t have. I probably would’ve hit a rowdy student out of frustration, and then gotten shot by his angry older brother or father.

Now, I’m in San Francisco. I didn’t expect to be here when I got my shiny new diploma, but I’m here now. And here is what I appreciate, because on varying levels of consciousness, I valued being home over being somewhere else.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to go find myself in Europe like white people do. But I’m like that Atmosphere song, the one that us emo-thug kids played in 2004 or 2005. No matter where I am, no matter what I do, I’m always coming back home to you. The Bay is an inextricable part of who I am, and that part will always nourish and strengthen me whenever I can feel its breeze. Of course, I don’t imagine I’ll live here for the rest of my life. Maybe I’ll meander back to Los Angeles, or uproot and move to Chicago, or finally grasp the brass ring of Manhattan. But I do know that wherever I go, wherever I end up, I’m coming back to settle down in the Bay. I wouldn’t want to shortchange my children by living somewhere else, because to me, this place is the best place on Earth.

Am I the person that I strove to be after I graduated college?

I don’t know. I like to think I’ve grown more confident. I like to think that I’m a good person who wants to be compassionate and funny. But I also know that I’ve failed to be those things in regrettable episodes. I’ve blown up at people who didn’t deserve it. I’ve rejected people in colder ways than I should have. For every moment that I know I’ve upheld my own standards, I can name another episode of complete selfishness that flattens them. I like to think I’m a good person, but I’m sure you can gather a big portfolio of evidence that proves me wrong. I can be narcissistic*, I can be wrathful, I can be prideful, envious, greedy, lustful, and I can most definitely be fucking lazy.

*Evidence: this blog post.

But I suppose as I cross this event horizon of manhood, when hangovers become harder, clubs become unwelcome, and youth becomes more annoying, it’s enough to be self-aware. To know limitations. To work on them. To improve. Treat every day like you’re getting a new dealer at the table. The cards might fall in your favor, or they might not. The point is to improve how we react to them, how we’re molded by them.

Sometimes, I feel like adulthood is defined by the moments we continuously look for. We search for these moments assuming that the adults before us experienced them, learned from them, galvanized their own adulthood through them. But it’s only by experiencing my own life that I realize, most of these moments never existed for anyone. There are no benchmarks or certificates to collect in order to finalize our adulthood. We wander into it like infants walking like drunks. We grab our own personal lessons and allow them to harden us into the stubborn adults that eventually vote Republican.

30, 30 is just a number. A number like any other. It can be a benchmark, or it can be another excuse to drink and be merry with friends.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself as I dreadfully get closer to this black hole when my back disintegrates, my memory disappears, I start sleeping at 9 PM, and I hate everything and anything that represents the wasteful youth I just lost.

Fuck man. I’m almost 30.

60 and 73.

download

I fucking love this game.

Of the things that have passed last night, you can see two opposite poles of basketball in its two brightest games:

  • Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors broke the Bulls’ record of most wins in the regular season at 73 wins by beating the Grizzlies in Oracle.
  • Kobe Bryant capped off a 20-year career by winning one last time in the most Kobe Bryant fashion ever, by going 22-50 from the field and 10-12 from the line to drop 60 in his final game in Staples, for the Lakers, for his career.

Basketball is not the ultimate team game. It’s not like football, where every player is dependent on his teammate to stop an opposing force from winning. In football, the quarterback will get mauled if his offensive line does not protect him. The middle linebacker will get eaten alive by the offensive line if his defensive line does not engage them. It’s impossible to play football without the team. But in basketball, there’s a tiny sliver of room for one player, one transcendent player, to raise above his teammates and carry his team to victory on his own.

Growing up, that player was Michael Jordan. Then it became Kobe Bryant.

However, let’s not give the wrong impression. In a season of 82 games between 30 teams, with a playoff structure of 4 rounds with five to seven games a piece, a team needs to have chemistry in order to win. Disparate talent, no matter how transcendent, will not win championships. Even Michael and Kobe needed Pippen and Shaq (and later, Pau Gasol) respectively. The Golden State Warriors can be considered to be the best regular season team of all time, not because Curry is the best shooter the game has ever seen, but because that team was built to maximize the strengths of each member. 73 wins is impossible for one player to achieve, it’s truly a team effort.

Stephen Curry might be the best shooter this game has ever seen, but the Golden State Warriors were built to be the best team in basketball. It’s not just Curry, it’s Draymond Green’s ability to guard every position on the floor, it’s Klay Thompson’s killer scoring, it’s Andre Iguodala’s ability to be a playmaker on the 2nd unit, it’s Bogut, it’s Barnes, Barbosa, Livingston, even our red-headed stepchild in Mo Speights played a key role in this historic season.

There’s only one player who can put the ball in the hole, so it stands that one extremely talented player can win games on his own. To see that player score despite the efforts of five men dedicated to stopping him, it’s the closest we can get to watching a Greek myth or a comic book hero in action. It’s a pinnacle of athleticism and talent that only a select few in history have ever achieved. It is the athlete in his finest form.

But when you see five players work together to put that ball in that hole, it’s almost synesthetic in how poetic and harmonic it is. You’re watching a beautiful symphony play itself out, with players cutting, screening, switching, and hitting that open jumper as a reward for completely bamboozling the best efforts of the defense. That’s basketball in its finest form.

And for one night to contain both ends of the pole – one player willing his team to win, and one team dominating the other as a collective – it truly exposes the unique beauty of basketball. One is not better than the other. Both sides won last night. Basketball won last night. To live through and see both extremes of its beauty – the invincible hero and the unstoppable team – reminds me why I fucking love this game.

usa-today-9249849.0 (1)

Requiem for a Laker: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned to Love the Mamba

maxresdefault

Let me start off by saying this.

I grew up hating the Lakers, and even now, I don’t like them much. I hated the Lakers the way any self-respecting American hates the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Red Wings, or any other egregiously successful franchise that dripped with arrogance. We fetishize the underdog in this country, and the Lakers were anything but when I was growing up. I hated the Lakers because of their bandwagon fans running wild in their heyday and making Oracle sound like a proxy for Staples. I hated hearing crowd noise for every Laker highlight during Warriors games. And because I hated the Lakers, I hated Kobe Bryant. I hated the way he chucked the ball with impunity. I hated the smug dominance he had over games. I hated his cockiness and the ease he drew whistles from refs who were clearly on the take. Kobe winning was like Megatron beating Optimus Prime. Every year during the Laker’s threepeat felt like the bad guy was winning and laughing at everyone’s face every fucking time.

The height of this hatred began to crest during those awesome Kings and Lakers battles when I was in high school. That Sacramento Kings team laid the blueprint for a lot of amazing teams that came after it. The Seven Seconds or Less Suns, the Weak Motion Spurs, and the Small Ball Warriors all drew from their concepts. More importantly, they were considered to be the scrappy upstarts that would challenge the establishment. A Rebel Alliance of Bibby, Peja, and Webber going against Emporer Shaq and Darth Kobe. For a moment, you felt that they would channel all of their collective talent to topple the Evil Empire of Basketball.

It took a Montreal Screwjob of a Game 6 to propel those Lakers into the NBA Finals, which only solidified my hatred of everything Purple and Gold. They were anointed because the game was tilted in their favor. Kobe is just a glorified chucker. Shaq is just a freak of nature. Fuck the Lakers. Fuck LA. Buncha bitches down in Socal. Fuck em all. Basketball is stupid anyway. My team sucks and the team I hate most is winning.

It wasn’t until I transferred into UCLA that my opinion of the Lakers began to shift. That year, the Lakers had a truly middling team outside of Kobe. Shaq was gone, Gary Payton was gone, Karl Malone was gone, and there was nobody to fill the talent void they left behind. I remember Vladimir Radmanovic and Sasha Vujacic playing meaningful minutes. I remember Smush Parker running the point. Memories of Kwame Brown and Luke Walton fill in there as well. This was when the Lakers were still making it to the playoffs, only to get bounced by the SSOL Suns in those years. I remember smiling as my friends were screaming at the TV because of another Smush boner on the court. This is the indisputable proof that Kobe was never good enough to carry his team to the promised land by himself. He was never as big of a star as he carried himself as.

Of course, with the Lakers being the Lakers in those years, Pau Gasol got traded for what looked like a half-eaten Filet-o-Fish and Marc Gasol. I can tell you with confidence that everyone felt the Grizzlies got absolutely fleeced on that trade when it went down. At the time, it was just further evidence that the bad guys would always win. The Lakers would always manage to draw some kind of talent to LA to keep their championship machine running. Kobe would win again. Life remained unfair.

But there was no way you could take a good, hard look at Kobe and feel like he was overrated. The more I watched the Lakers in college, the more I began to realize how dominant Kobe actually was, and how rare he was as a player. Keep in mind, I watched the Warriors when Derek Fisher was our franchise player. I knew what a shitty team looked like, and the Lakers without Kobe were undisputably a shitty team. The fact that he dragged a starting five of him, Smush Parker, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and a rookie Andrew Bynum to the playoffs one year is a testament to how good he actually is. Switch in any other superstar into that team, and you’d bet your house on the Lakers playing for a lottery pick. Of course Kobe would start winning rings when Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol came onto the Lakers. He made the fucking playoffs with Smush Parker as his point guard. You know damn well you ain’t gon’ win nothin’ with a dude named Smush.

As the years went by, and I watched more Laker games on TV, my distaste for the Lakers and Kobe began to subside. There’s a certain beauty in his killer instinct, in his ability to break down any defender and find a way to score. Not just once, but drive 10-0 runs by himself. There were countless instances of Kobe putting the team on his back and clawing the Lakers up from huge holes. The way Harden gets superstar calls on every drive to the basket, he probably got that from Kobe. The way Westbrook wants to demolish the rim on every play, that’s from Kobe. The way Curry pulls up a contested jumper off the dribble from 30 feet, vintage Kobe play.

I learned that to hate Kobe would be to hate on talent. You can only have a blind hatred towards Kobe Bryant if you don’t know much about basketball. Yes, he’s a volume shooter who can shoot his team out of games. He’s a selfish player who rarely gives up the ball in lieu of a contested turnaround jumper. He’ll elbow people in the face to prove a point to the NBA. He’s a documented cheater and was once accused of raping someone. To the casual basketball fan who loves the underdog, he’s such an easy fucking target.

But to someone who learned to love basketball for its manic poetry and amazing athleticism, Kobe is someone I don’t have to love, but he’s someone I have to respect. You have to respect his drive, his work ethic, his 81 points against Toronto, his vintage off-the-backboard-alley-oop-to-himself play in the low block, his once unstoppable turnaround, his loyalty to a single franchise. Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the most gifted scorers to ever lace them up. When you’re thinking of an all-time Laker squad, with all those championships, all those legends, and all those wins, it’s not even a debate on who to pencil in at the 2.

Because at the end of the day, no matter how much we fetishize the underdog and the lovable loser, sports exist for the victors. We don’t watch to further a narrative, we watch to see our heroes win. Kobe wasn’t my hero, but he definitely was a winner, and he’s undoubtedly one of the best to ever do it.

Farewell, Kobe Bryant. At the end of it all, it was a pleasure to watch you play.

When Life Gives You Lemons.

Life: Hey Daniel, you know what’s fun that you haven’t done in awhile? Teaching your parents how to use government websites.

Me: Actually, that’s not fun at all. It’s exasperating for everyone involved.

Life: Well lucky for you, the City of San Jose just put their entire bidding system onto a terribly built website and your father needs your help to navigate the entire thing!

Me: But…wait, that’s..

Life: As a bonus, we’ve added 15 more useless steps to the process that you’ll have to explain in detail, in Korean!

Me: What the f…

Life: You’re still terrible at Korean right?

Me: I mean…terrible is kinda harsh…

Life: And you’re still working in San Francisco so you’ll have to do everything over the phone, right?

Me: Umm…

Life: Oh my god, I can’t wait. I just have to make you do this RIGHT NOW. It’s just too much fun!

Me: But I have to go to wor-

Life: DO IT NOW BITCH.

I’ve Never Been Here Before.

warriors

I woke up this morning with a couple of war wounds on my wrist and a 20-pound dumbbell bouncing around my skull. There were drunk dials from the night before, because of course.

Last night was amazing. I was in the company of old and new friends, surrounded by a city who’d been waiting for this moment since 1975. It makes my 28-year long wait seem a little short. In the midst of high-fiving strangers and yelling out nonsensical obscenities, I managed to start bleeding from my wrist. C’est les champions.

My friend, who is a die-hard Laker fan, saw my joy in the middle of the 2nd quarter and grabbed my shoulder to calm me down.

“Hey man, act like you’ve been here before.”

“MOTHERFUCKER, I AIN’T BEEN HERE BEFORE.”

I’ve never been here before.

During the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, I was breathing the dead air of anticipation, waiting for an outcome that would reinforce my doubts or shed them forever. That point in time when you’re confident about the future, but there’s still a nagging voice deep inside. While the bar was going crazy around me, I was dead silent. I wouldn’t dare jinx my team by celebrating too early. They were so close to achieving something that hasn’t been achieved in my lifetime.

Then J.R. Smith hit a three. And another three. Hit an inbound pass away. Hustle was coming back. The Cavs came within 4 with a minute to go.

Then LeBron clanks a shot to keep the run going. I see Steph and Draymond beginning to celebrate. I start to release some of the tension in my shoulders.

The clock hits zeroes.

For the first time in my life, the team I loved the most won everything.

I want to say that I immediately lost my shit and started hugging strangers. I want to say that I broke down in tears as years of waiting were finally justified. In the moments after the game ended, I just stood there, hands to mouth, putting all my focus into breathing. With each passing breath, the truth of the moment began to pass into my lungs, radiating out to the rest of my body, finally making its way to my vocal chords.

We are championship.

As we walked to my friend’s car, we ran across a fellow fan who held out his hand for high fives and yelled:

“NOBODY CAN FUCKING TAKE THIS FROM ME. AIN’T NOBODY BREH.”

You damn right. We are championship, bruh.

Before the Precipice, I Stand.

2015-nba-finals-game-5-cavaliers-warriors

It’s common sense to avoid counting your chickens before they hatch, yet here I am, one day before Game 6 clutching onto a handful of eggs.

You’ve heard the narrative before, especially if you’ve lived in the Bay Area for the last few years. Every Bay Area native is a long-suffering Warriors fan who fuels themselves on blind loyalty and knowing more about basketball than your usual NBA front-runner. We know what a pick-and-roll defense is supposed to look like, because for the best part of the last two decades, we’ve seen how badly it can be executed.

“ROTATE, YOU FUCKS.”

It’s become a sort of badge of honor to remember the bad old days. Fanhood is only affirmed by continued loyalty through the rough patches, so it’s become a sort of a name game with fellow long-suffering drunkards at the bar, watching the same transcendent Warriors as I am.

I love playing the name game too. We’ve had some amazing names attached to mediocre basketball players, so tallying Vonteego Cummings and Adonal Foyle from my painfully funny memories is almost an exercise in poetry.

Bimbo has the ball.
He raises up with two hands.
Bimbo airballs. Shit.

At first, invoking Bimbo Coles was like showing your official ID of Warriors fandom, someone to separate you from the bandwagon fan who was rooting for the Heat just a year prior. But of course, if you drunkenly bellow esoteric names for too long, people won’t think of you as a part of a loyal vanguard that’s desperate to maintain the integrity of the Warriors spirit. They’ll just think of you as an overbearing and pretentious asshole, like the guy who wrote that last sentence.

“THE FUCK YOU KNOW ABOUT THE WARRIORS?! THE FUCK YOU KNOW ABOUT CHRIS GATLING BRUH?!”

You’ll have to excuse the way most Warriors fans will sell this though. We are used to seeing the Warriors in a humorous light than an awestruck one. Nobody knows what to make of this newfound juggernaut. It’s like we’re living out every nerd’s fantasy, where we get beat on for 10 years, go through puberty, hit the gym, and get fucking jacked. Now who’s giving out the noogies, you pricks?

But that opens up a narrative of “deserve” that I’m beginning to find problematic.

I’m not going to argue that Warriors fans deserve this more than Cavaliers fans. This isn’t a twice-told tale of the historical David going up against the established Goliath. Both teams have suffered long-running droughts of championship joy. There’s no reason to favor one or the other in terms of “deserve” or “dues paid.” If you want to discuss the depth of misery between the two fanbases, have at it with someone else. I’d rather not familiarize myself with the taste of a historical pissing contest. And in any case, “deserve” has nothing to do with the outcome of this series. Suffering and patience aren’t accepted tender for championship rings.

“OF COURSE WE FUCKING DESERVE THIS. YOU KNOW HOW LONG I HAD TO WATCH DEREK FISHER TRY TO BE A FRANCHISE PLAYER? YOU KNOW HOW LONG I HAD TO SUFF-”

This is no reparation for Bimbo Coles. I see this upcoming Game 6 as the penthouse in the casino of sports. This is the high-stakes table of Finals elimination games, where all who enter have to put down the chunks of themselves as the minimum.

In the past, when the stakes weren’t so high, every loss felt normal after awhile. Yeah, some were more painful than others, but losing at that cadence resembled normal manly wear-and-tear, the stuff that character and stoicism is made of. To me, losing was so far from the soul-wrenching rip that most athletes and sportswriters describe losing to be.

But as both the Warriors and Cavaliers have climbed to the pinnacle of the league, it’s occurred to me that my well-practiced rationalizations just don’t apply here. The gravity of the situation is so much heavier than it ever was. This is uncharted territory. This is outside my comfort zone. This is like looking down the cliff and seeing nothing but blackness.

Of course this is all overly dramatic. It’s just a game. It’s just sports.

I just don’t want to us to fall. Not here. Not this high up.

A Few Minutes for Baltimore.

2015-04-28t005951z1lynxmpeb3r00irtroptp4usa-police-baltimore

Affirmation is narcotic. Having your thoughts cosigned by like-minded people sparks a warmth inside that can’t be replicated. Not even with the cheapest bourbon on the shelf.

This must be why the majority of commentary on the Ferguson riots last year and the Baltimore riots this year sounds so uniform to me. It feels like I’m hearing two distinct voices coming from millions of people. All those beautiful snowflakes in the world, and they’re beginning to sound like each other.

The coverage on both Ferguson and Baltimore is more of an indictment against our mainstream media, especially our major news outlets that operate on 24-hour cycles and pander to the lowest common denominator. I can’t trust every alternative news outlet either, because who knows how drunk they are on their own personal agendas and beliefs. When it feels like both CNN and MSNBC are coming from one echo chamber, and Fox News and Breitbart are coming from the other, It’s extremely hard to get reliable information on the ground.

I’ve only found a few commentators who are coming from a place of sanity. David Simon is one. Ta-Nehisi Coates is another. They’re not prophets scribing down gospels, but they take more care to consider the other side and present honest arguments in an event where spitting passion sells more ad space than nuance.

Behind all the slapfighting and bar noise of the punditry on Baltimore, there are only a handful of truths I’ve managed to boil down*.

(*Disclaimer: I’m no more qualified to speak on this matter than anybody else. I’m a functioning alcoholic in San Francisco who’s never visited Baltimore and grew up in a middle class suburb in Silicon Valley.)

1. Freddie Gray died in police custody. He was arrested over a “humble,” which is Baltimore parlance for a minor charge that others would recognize as a citation. In this case, this “humble” was running from a police officer after he made eye contact with him*.

(*I know it’s natural to fall back on the argument of “But why did he run? Of course they’d chase him down and arrested him if he ran.” All Gray had on him was a pocketknife, and there isn’t a shred of evidence or testimony that says he was doing anything suspicious or illegal outside of running away from a cop. I think that says more about the current state of affairs between Baltimore’s inner city and the Baltimore Police Department.)

2. In the last few years, the Baltimore Police Department has paid out over $5.3 million dollars in settlements towards complainants of police brutality. Another truth is that this number is not definitive of the entire scope of police misconduct in Baltimore during the same period.

3. The BPD (and for that matter, the Ferguson and St. Louis County Police) is not wholly representative of every police department in this country. On the same note, the actions of the rioting minority are not representative of Baltimore’s inner city. You can paint with a broad brush in any color, but if you only use that broad brush, you’re going to come out with a shitty picture.

4. Despite all the documented injuries against Baltimore’s inner city by the BPD, there is absolutely no justification for angry protestors to devolve into looting rioters. It’s understandable that there is rage. I too have read MLK’s quote that’s being bandied around, where “riots are the language of the unheard.” But that doesn’t excuse ruining the lives of innocent people to get a message across. That also doesn’t excuse the damage being done in the name of their neighbors and their community. I understand why the riots have happened, but they’re still a crime that deserves investigation and prosecution, the same way that Freddie Gray’s death deserves*.

(*Spare me the cynicism of “Well Freddie Gray will never get justice.” Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that points to the contrary, justice is blind. If we accept the skewed rules of American justice that are currently in place, then we’ll never return to the actual standard of American justice we should be abiding by.)

I understand that the deep underlying issues behind this mess will require extremely dedicated and passionate people to fix. The riots were definitely unfortunate, at the same time they’re an unmistakeable signal that things have been broken for a very, very long time. Like every riot before this one*.

(*If Baltimore needs a template for reconstruction, look no further than LA’s Korean population. They just celebrated 23 years since the Rodney King riots leveled their neighborhood. Visit LA’s Koreatown now, and you’ll see that it’s become a hipster destination.)

We’re decades away from the kind of social progress that can end riots like these forever. But it’s my hope that Baltimore can rebuild itself and lead the way for the rest of us.

That’d be a story that I’d like to see on my Facebook feed.