Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Talentless Actors, The Horror of "Hulk", and HBO's Greatness!

Editor's Note: A few Facebook "notes" ago, I stated that I'd be "sporadically writing about certain memories that have influenced and encouraged my writing career". However, I decided against spending my next few Facebook "notes" writing about those influencial writing moments for two main reasons. First, who really wants to spend ten to fifteen minutes reading about my life? As we English majors discuss at length in our classes, Americans lack patience. Nowadays, when people attend events that contain pockets of time completely devoid of action (baseball games, church sermons), we immediately start getting antsy, sigh, and send a mass text on our cell phones to maximize entertainment value. ESPN's Bill Simmons would call this phenomenon the 150 Minute Rule (scroll to Number #1). To ask you, my faithful readers, to listen to my diatribes about writing would be an arduous task. At this moment, people are constantly vying for your attention. While you sit here to read this paragraph, I guarantee that you've received a text message, gained another Facebook friend, and hunted for the nearest dictionary/thesaurus to look up the word "diatribe" to see if I used it correctly. Honestly, I'd have an easier time asking Keanu Reeves to take classes at Juillard to become a better actor than convincing you guys to sit and read these postings. (Plus, I need to save those writing stories for dates and my future autobiography "The Audacity of Hope (Remix): A Barack Obama Michael Benjamin Story.")

Since I'm starting to get wistful about my time at college, I've decided to take some time to get nostalgic about the university experience in general. Since I waxed poetic about the 5th floor of Howard University's Drew Hall a few weeks back, I'll begin today by talking about the greatness of the Home Box Office channel. Enjoy.

Things I'll Miss About College #2: HBO
When a new movie comes out and hits the box office, I pride myself in being the last possible person to see the flick. My propensity for laziness in regards to watching movies stems from a terrible experience that occured back in the summer of 2003 that can be summarized in three words: The. Incredible. Hulk.

Honestly, I should have done my research before agreeing to venture to the movie theater with my friends that summer. First off, when a movie is headlined by a guy with no real acting experience other than a show that bears his name (Eric Bana) and can be tossed around in discussions as the "unknown actor" or the "I've never heard of that guy" actor, you can immediately color me nervous. I believe that every actor/actress has to go through the gauntlet of accompanying roles and TV appearances before landing a leading role in any feature-length film. This allows the actor/actress an opportunity to foster their acting potential, experiment with a bevy of different styles (due to the variety of storylines within a sitcom), which helps them to gain necessary experience and curry favor with the viewing audience. Most importantly, the actor doesn't get overexposed. Allowing an actor/actress to get overexposed before they've honed their acting talent is like allowing an one-dimensional basketball player to become the face of your NBA franchise. That's just a recipe for disaster. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Gilbert Arenas (owner of an egregiously large salary) and the ownership group of the Washington Wizards.)

Let's look at Cuba Gooding's acting career, for example. In the meaning-making 1991 film Boys N the Hood, John Singleton did a great job of surrounding the talented but raw Cuba Gooding, Jr., an actor fresh off of a minor role in the classic Eddie Murphy comedy "Coming to America" with a solid foundation of actors to learn from (Lawrence Fishburne and Angela Bassett), other young emerging actors (Nia Long, Morris Chestnut) and characters that were destined to become typecast as soon as the movie hit the cineplex (Regina King). In many ways, this movie was dually a life-training course for young Tre in the 'hood of Compton, LA and an opportunity for young Cuba Gooding to experience the Hollywood limelight in a significant role. After nailing the role of Rod Tidwell in the chick flick (ahem, sports film) Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding expanded his motion picture catalogue (Men of Honor, Boat Trip, Radio) with the understanding that he can act in any movie without concern for his reputation because the audience has already embraced his abilities and acting candor.

To me, putting together a spectacular movie cast is similar to the process of creating a solid basketball team. You need your franchise guys to bring the pain (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) and your supporting, one-dimensional guys to compliment your superstars and fill your team's needs (Ray Allen, James Posey, Kendrick Perkins). That's why last year's Kevin Garnett trade to Boston was so pivotal. The Celtics lacked an inspiring superstar, and KG lacked a solid supporting cast, because, well...a superstar can't do everything.

When Crash came out and won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2004, it laid out the ultimate blueprint for success in Hollywood. If a group of talented actors can merge their skills (a la Captain Planet and the Planeteers) and agree to put aside top billing in order to forward a common goal (money and an overarching message), then ultimate success can be achieved. The 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers tried this strategy, which ultimately backfired. Gary Payton lacked the maturity to concede his superstar status to Kobe and Shaq (and the understanding to realize that his best days were behind him), Shaquille's earning potential was in doubt (Kobe Bryant had just resigned for a huge deal) and hung over the team throughout the entire season, Kobe didn't fully buy into the system (as he was trying to stay out of jail), and Karl Malone was injured and couldn't fulfill his obligatory one-dimensional duty - court toughness. To win a championship, players must set aside their individual concerns for the benefit of the team, which, in the case of the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers, wasn't possible.

That's why the Wilson Brothers, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, and Jack Black are the hottest collection of comedy actors in the movies right now. These guys (along with director/writer Judd Apatow) hold the components and understand the formula for on-screen success. Plus, all of these guys (minus Luke Wilson) are living in their prime, but don't overexpose themselves too much. The "Frat Pack" all act in one another's movies, bring the perfect amount of physical/sarcastic/slapstick humor to the table, and incorporate other pieces (Seth Rogen) to their team in order to reciprocate their talents. The reason guys like Robin Williams eventually fell out of favor with America was because we saw Robin in every movie with a comedic twist for a 4 to 6 year stretch (Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumaji, Jack). Plus, Robin's attempt at true acting (see: the Final Cut) rather than the "comedic faciliator" role that most SNL frontmen enjoy probably slid his career from A-list to B-list. Sure, he's still putting out quality films (Night at the Museum), but the "Frat Pack" has officially usurped his status as comedy film king.

Of course, as a 16 year-old kid, I payed cursory attention to detail. I felt (Mistake #1) that "Hulk" HAD to be good, only thinking about the simple equation of (cartoon hero + action + accompanying girls = awesome). Without considering the proper research, my companions and I hustled to the movie theater and waited for three hours to see Hollywood's first attempt at "The Incredible Hulk". If you haven't seen it, don't even consider putting yourself through this inhumane torture. You'll probably start sobbing uncontrollably and yelling "WHY!!!!" by the end of the third scene.

Nowadays, I always wait for some stooge (usually a buddy trying to hook up with a girl) to spend his cash on a half-decent movie and report back his findings. If the movie's bad, I can save my cash (or buy a rack of Nabisco's Nutter Butter cookies), chill out, and commence to beating the crap out of Glass Joe in Mike Tyson's Punch Out!. If the movie's good, I then stroll in the following weekend at my convenience (right before the trailers begin), own up the best possible seat (middle-top, mid row), stretch my body across the entire row, and laugh aloud to my heart's content.

After receiving the HBO network after our school decided to upgrade our network package in 2007 - an underrated but spectacular move by HU's administration, by the way - was dually a blessing and a curse. Although the student body's GPA was destined to free fall like Tom Petty, HBO gave me an opportunity to see all the movies that I deemed unworthy to receive my movie dollar. Last week, I watched "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" twice and laughed equally hard both times as Wanda Sykes stated her insignificant lines. Plus, I caught a replay of "Transformers" (with Louis from "Even Stevens") and decided to add Shia LeBeouf next to Deon Richmond to my mental canon of "actors I must watch an episode of Dragonball Z with someday". (By the way, does anybody know what the heck happened to Ren?) The only problem with HBO's programming is their unprecedented bad timing in regards to the "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" broadcast. This show is an awesome sports program, but needs to be couched in a back-to-back time slot with "Costas Now" to assuage the pain and call it a day. HBO executives, when I expect to see a mediocre movie in the middle of a dull weekday afternoon, there's no worse feeling than flipping to your channel and seeing reruns of a "Real Sports" episode from mid-July. If you're going to call your channel the Home Box Office network, let's stick to the script and show some movies. Or, at least an Entourage marathon. Now, the ball's in your court. Do the right thing. Thanks.

Since I'll probably just start a Netflix account once I get my own pad, this will be the last time in my life that I watch this heavy of a dose of HBO before graduating. I love the channel, but not enough to warrant tossing down that $10-a-month subscription fee.

Well, unless HBO starts showing films that fall under my earlier characteristics. Then...we'll see.

Michael Benjamin, II

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wait, What Just Happened?

As Flavor Flav would say...WOW. Honestly, I really don't know how to react.

If you didn't hear about the trades, here's the story from ESPN.com,
The Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks have received league approval to complete a trade that will swap disgruntled Warriors forward Al Harrington for Knicks guard Jamal Crawford.

ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher confirmed the league's sign-off after reporting early Friday morning that the teams were nearing completion on a deal featuring Harrington and Crawford.

The Knicks announced the deal in a news release later Friday afternoon.

Less than two hours later, the Knicks completed another deal, sending Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins to the Los Angeles Clippers for Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley, according the The New York Daily News.

So, there you go. We sold our shoot-first, dribble-always shooting guard (Crawford) and our hefty big man with an even hefter contract (Randolph) for what amounts to the pu-pu platter, as well as contracts that will be expiring in 2010. Though I wasn't ready to write this season off just yet (I mean, we are 6-5), I feel confident that we can grab one of the superstar chips that will be on the free agent market in two years. Check out the some of the names real quick:
Potential Free Agents in the Summer of 2010
Lebron James (maybe, probably not)
Dwayne Wade ( very possible)
Chris Bosh (a mortal lock, especially since he's trapped in Canada right now)
Amare Stoudemire (big contract, old coach, very probable...won't have to play any defense)
Steve Nash (36 years old, relive MVP days)
Dirk Nowitzki (shoot-first big)
Michael Redd (shoot-first SG)
Richard Jefferson (athletic wing player)
Josh "I Smoke Weed Everyday" Howard
Yao Ming (marketing ploy to Asian population of NY)
Tracy McGrady (don't really want either Rocket for D'Antoni's system, but hey, they'll be here)

So that's where we stand. If you live in New York, get used to seeing "The Hunt for Lebron Continues, Knicks Routed by Magic" headlines in the Daily News and the New York Post for the next two seasons.

In other news, Marbury is active for tonight's game against the Bucks.

(I'm just saying.)

-Michael "TTK" Benjamin

Monday, November 17, 2008

How My Life Got Real Busy...

Hello Loyal Readers,

Sorry for not checking it at all over the last two weeks. I've been writing columns for the sports section at my school's newspaper, the Hilltop. I've pretty much had a personal mission to make our sports section the awesomeist location for sports news in campus news outlets, and we're well on our way. (Big ups to Howard for beating a Pac-10 team last week!)

Secondly, my computer definitely crashed last week. I love the internets more than a fat kid loves cake, but since I've been computer-less for the last week, I've started to lose my connections with the blogosphere and (gasp!) rely solely on local news and ESPN for my sports information. ESPN is cool and all, but in order to be a good journalist, you need to break out of the ordinary and reach for new ideas and new thoughts to cultivate good writing. Well, for that and more McNabb jokes.

My work has been starting to pick up, and I'm also getting noticed by other bloggers. So, check my stuff out at The Hilltop Online, Infinite Gen (started by some other HU students), and my sister's blog, Forever Chasing After You.

Keep checking by periodically, and I'll try to finish the monster post that I've had waiting for the blog by Thanksgiving.

Until then...peace. (New York Knicks 6-4!)

-Michael "TTK" Benjamin

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Redskins: Good Indicator Of Election Winner?

Hail to the Redskins!

Well, maybe not in every game, but tonight’s anyway.

According to Forbes magazine’s report in 2007, the Washington Redskins are the second-most valuable franchise in the NFL, trailing only the Jerry Jones-led Dallas Cowboys. The fiscal success of this Washington-based franchise is predicated on their preservation of a number of great traditions. Those traditions include the adoration of the famous (or infamous) “Hogs” offensive line established during Joe Gibbs’ first tenure with the team and their live marching band, a throng of musicians the owners continue to squeeze into their 91,000-capacity stadium.

Every Sunday, Washingtonians attach team flags to their radio antennas and jerseys to their backs, waiting for their team to trounce an unsuspecting foe and praying for the Redskins’ ascension to the pinnacle of the NFL. While living as an observant college student in the D.C. area over the past four years, I definitely regard the Redskins’ fan base as one of the most united and dedicated groups that exists in the NFL today.

However, before this edition of “Monday Night Football” (Redskins vs. Steelers), some of these diehard Redskins patrons will have to make a tough decision. During the game, you may see fans that normally bang their fist on their chest and yell violently after a big Clinton Portis resort to giving their star running back a simple round of applause. Instead of standing to witness Santana Moss potentially run a punt back to the house, some fans will probably resign to crossing their legs and watching the return from the big screen.

On Monday night, loyalties will be tested, friendships lost and fans divided. Why?

Well, according to the stats, the Redskins have the ability to predict the White House.

Over the last 17 presidential elections, the Redskins have been the most accurate barometer of success for either the Democratic or Republican Party.

Here’s how it goes: If the Redskins win the game prior to Election Day, the incumbent political party will retain power and regain leadership over the United States. However, if the ’Skins lose before the election, the rival party will defeat the controlling party in the White House, and party power will switch hands.

In other words ... if the ’Skins win, McCain wins. If the ’Skins lose, Obama wins.

The Redskins’ prognostication prowess began in 1936, when the Boston Redskins downed the Chicago Cardinals 13-10, signaling a win for FDR and the incumbent Democratic Party. During the heated presidential race of 1992, Redskins fans already knew Bill Clinton would be our next leader after witnessing their defending Super Bowl champs fall to the New York Giants in a rout at home.

Don’t worry, Washingtonians. Since George W. Bush trounced John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election (even though the Packers had defeated the Redskins on the Sunday prior to voting day), the reliability of the ’Skins’ election barometer has been questioned. Heck, you might just be able to pencil in your vote for Barack Obama and still cheer valiantly for your beloved burgundy and gold. As for me ... well, let’s just say that I’ll be starting Ben Roethlisberger in my fantasy league this week.

So football fans, don’t be afraid to yell “Let’s Go Redskins!” on Monday night.

Or, you can just hold your cheers in until next week. We’ll understand.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let's Shift Our Attention to the Round Ball!

(Editor's Note: This first appeared in the sports section of Howard University's daily newspaper, The Hilltop, on October 27, 2008. However, here...well, it appears unedited (*full length too long to fit in paper*). Enjoy!)

Greetings, my fellow Americans.

In less than two weeks, we will embark on an historic journey. The road will be filled with a myriad of twists and turns, some anticipating showdowns, and even a few highlights. Heck, history's about to take place in 2008, and I'm glad to be one of many writers detailing this year's significance.

And I'm not just talking about the race between Barack Obama and John McCain for the White House.

Sure, on the night of November 4th, both presidential nominees will be squirming in their seats, waiting as the final ballots are counted in hotly contested battleground states like Ohio and Florida. However, days before either man graces the podium to accept the presidency and lead America for the next four years, I'll be watching an jealous Stephon Marbury stare at the Garden hardwood with a towel draped over his shoulders as Chris Duhon runs an improved New York Knicks offense, waiting for his opportunity to throttle Mike DiAntoni as he paces the sidelines. I can't wait to see Ernie Grunfeld, general manager of the Washington Wizards, watch his inept offense from the executive suite while downing cases of Amstel Light, refusing to believe that his 120 million dollar man - Gilbert Arenas - is slowly becoming this generation's version of Allan Houston.

Ready or not....the NBA season is upon us.

Trust me, you're not the only one that forgot about the NBA season. Somehow, I got blindsided worse than Nancy Kerrigan's knee at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1994. Honestly, I have no excuse. I was too busy trying to come to terms with the idea that Chicago's Kyle Orton (1,669 passing yards, 10 TD) is having a statisically better season than Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts (1,531 yards, 8 TD's). Seriously, I'm not quite ready to live in a football world devoid of an operational Tom Brady, or a world that has watched Marvin Harrison make his 'return to normalcy', or a world that has been forced to see Chad Ocho Cinco continue to play with the name 'Johnson' still affixed to the back of his jersey. I was tricked into believing that this NFL season would continue exactly where the Super Bowl ended in February, giving its fans even greater epic feats and broken records. Instead, fans have been seduced into watching the mediocre Kerry Collins lead a undefeated but boring Titans team and wince as Emmitt Smith continues to get 'debacled' and trip over multi-syllabic words. (Emmitt, let's not dance around it any longer...you're just not cut out for work as an NFL analyst. We'll see you in Canton in about two years, buddy.) Let's just hope that some NBA action can ultimately save sports fans from watching this dreadful football season.

Since I'm already convinced that this season's going to be fan-tastic, I've decided to hand out a few awards in advance to some NBA personnel so you can avoid watching them during this upcoming season. Let's just agree to get rid of these nuisances before they ruin our enjoyment of basketball. Plus, now I can avoid giving irrational predictions in this column, like suggesting a Knicks/Warriors final. I'm just saying...

LVP (Least Valuable Player): Vince 'Wince' Carter
Did you know that Vince Carter posted a 24-5-4 clip last year? Wow. Well, now that the Nets are officially gathering funds for the Lebron James sweepstakes in 2010, you can guarantee that Vince (now 30 years old) will shut it down, sign his paychecks, and take fadeaway jumpers for the entire season. He's definitely a guy that I can see in another uniform by February's trade deadline.
Worst Coach of the Year: Larry Brown
I love the fact that GM Michael Jordan decided to pair Larry Brown, a coach known to hate using young players, with a team completely filled with young talent. If you even get the crazy notion that watching the Charlotte Bobcats play this year might be enjoyable, don't be afraid to walk to the health clinic to ask for help. Remember, denial is the first step that people take to overcome tragedy.

Psuedo-Rookie of the Year: Russell Westbrook
Honestly, I think that Westbrook can be a solid player once he understands that being a point guard in the NBA means that he can't take every available jumper on the floor. I'm not convinced that he got the opportunity to gain much point guard experience in college. (By the way, Clay Bennett, those NBA fans you hear outside your window aren't booing, they're saying...no wait, they're booing. Thanks for stealing Seattle's team.)

Least Improved Player: Eddy Curry
When I heard that Eddy Curry snapped the training staff's medicine ball during a workout this offseason, I immediately doubled over with laughter. This is the guy that we expect to benefit from the implementation of the fastbreak offense? Great.

Before casting your ballot in this historic election, get ready for some basketball history to be made.

We're talking about the NBA, where amazing happens.
-Mike "TTK" Benjamin

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Watching Football With the "Yard Family" at Homecoming

(Editor's Note: This article was first written in Howard University's daily black college newspaper, The Hilltop. You can check out this and more of my writings for the Hilltop, at www.thehilltoponline.com. Now, onto the article. Enjoy.)

We’ve got to stop scheduling Morgan State for homecoming.

I saw it go up.

Coach Carey Bailey had just called a great play-action pass for the Bison, leading to an awesome bootleg and toss from QB Floyd Haigler to his running back who scampered into the end zone for six. However, nothing is guaranteed in college football, and our kicker’s extra point attempt sailed wide right.

Final Score: Morgan State 31, Howard 30. And I saw it all from WHUT’s big screen TV on the Yard.

To me, watching the football game from the Yard is one of the most underrated experiences of Homecoming weekend at Howard. Every year a collection of folks from diverse backgrounds and different eras to trek across this country and return to HU.

Though our American economy screams for reform and our wallets cry for attention, the students and alumni refuse to allow this sacred tradition to die.

This multitude of globetrotters and world-changers take a collective break from their lives and muster the resources to gather annually at the Hilltop for their Howard University Homecoming.

For that collection of hours, Howard is more than a simple getaway weekend.

Howard is home.

Every year, the Yard eagerly awaits the return of this huddled mass. Shop owners fight to claim their space along the economic triangle in front of the Carnegie Building, knowing that legions of alumni will walk through to bargain for extravagant paintings and creative Obama T-shirts.

During the football game these shop owners are even busier than they were during Yardfest. Further down towards Douglass Hall, the smell of food circulates the air and draw hour-long lines filled with people who clamor for the taste of home cooking. Though Howard’s fashion show ends on the Thursday night before game day, a stream of new designs and unique threads continue to travel throughout the crowd, voicing the individuality of its wearers.

On the Yard, Homecoming IS football. To the appreciative Yard crowd, the unknown defensive linebacker before the game that later drilled a Morgan State running back during the game will forever be known by the nickname of “Coop.”

The reserve kicker that boots the football through the uprights on only his second career field goal attempt receives genuine cheers because of his resiliency. To these fans, Howard football brings back pleasant memories and toothy smiles.

While the final score on this day may signal another Howard loss, these fans will always remember this team played with intensity and character, attributes that they also strive to exhibit in their daily lives.

Sure, Yard football fans know that overtime action may bring a huge amount of stadium fans that left the stands too quickly in order to beat the traffic or prepare for their future activities after the game. However, the additional fans that join the group add the right amount of nervous excitement and energy to the crowd, wincing and holding their breath along with the Yard fans after every extra snap in overtime.

However different, the constant thread that ties all Homecoming game fans together will still remain the same. We all take joy in watching our players don those blue and white uniforms on that Saturday afternoon.

For those four hours, watching the Homecoming game on the projection screen with folks on the Yard is like piling into a family member’s living room on Thanksgiving to watch football before scarfing down the pot roast and greens. On this Saturday, millions of people around the globe treasure this experience because Howard represents that family. Heck, Howard University is family.

I’m just happy to have a seat at the table. And a spot on the Yard, too.

Michael A. Benjamin II

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Nod to My Writing Past: My Life as a Freshman Dorm Resident

Editor's Note: Over the next few months, I'll be sporadically writing about certain memories that have influenced and encouraged my writing career. Don't worry, sports fans. I'm currently writing a sports column every Monday over at Howard University's daily college newspaper, The Hilltop. You can check out those articles online at The Hilltop Online.com. I'm also co-hosting my sports talk radio program "Instant Replay" every Monday night from 6-8pm on WHBC radio, the number #1 college station in the nation. Check out the show every week by streaming online at www.whbc830am.com. Lastly, I'll still be writing here, but will probably focus on more open topics. For examples, check out my notes about A Different World, or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You'll see what I mean.

Anyway, today's moment: Drew Hall. Enjoy.

Who told me that Senior Year was going to be easy?

I thought I had the perfect Senior Year planned out. First, I made sure to take the bulk of my core classes in my early years at Howard to avoid the heavy course loads that sideline most Seniors from graduation. I took "Beginning Swimming" while I lived in Drew Hall (freshman dorm) so that I didn't have to drag the hospital-clean smell of chlorine around on my body for the entire day. Second, I made sure that those AP credits and college level courses from high school (another time that I could have completely slacked off and enjoyed the year to the fullest) actually got processed by Howard University. I almost got bamboozled, especially with Ms. Han my old graduation scheme advisor deciding to throw up the deuces and leave HU as soon as her pension kicked in. After a long flight back from Beijing that easily left me jetlagged for about two weeks, I had to force myself to wake up early, grab an appointment with my new advisor, and make sure that I was in line with HU regarding my expected departure date, May 2009. Lastly, I wrote a Junior Thesis so that I could merely expand the old thesis into a full length assignment, graduate, and still have to time to write the occasional Facebook "note." Boy, was I ever wrong.

I really miss Freshman Year.

Back during Freshman Year, before I found my niche as a sports guy and all-around creative writer, I was a History major. I loved memorizing random facts, such as the fact that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain thinking that he was slowing down Adolf Hitler's desire to control Europe by deciding to hand over Czechoslovakia in a treaty. Honestly, was that really going to work? To me, that's the equivalent of giving the neighborhood bully your lunch money for the day, but telling him, "Well, I'm not giving you my money tomorrow, okay?" Do you think he's going to listen? Of course not! He'll probably just wait and then jack you for your loot tomorrow on your way to the bus stop, which is precisely what Hitler did when he entered Poland to force the Second World War in 1939.

(Wow, we're way off topic...let's get back to reminiscing about Freshman year. Sorry.)

Many of the references and ideas that have shaped my writing style were developed during my time in Howard University's Drew Hall. Candidly, Drew Hall was a year-round sweatbox designed in a U-shaped specifically to raise the heat index, and that's putting it nicely. However, Drew Hall was a place that a young frosh could develop into a successful Howard student, to become aware of his surroundings, to understand what it meant to be a college student.

Of course, I'm glad that the elevators in the Towers apartments don't get stuck during Move-In week. I'm also glad that I don't share a shower (ONE single shower) with 40+ dudes and live across from the floor's garbage bin that was filled to the brim daily with old Domino's pizza boxes (gotta respect the 5-5-5 deal) and the famous Ho-Chi scent that disseminated through the halls (along with the caked-up smell of marijuana). However, behind those prison walls and living in the dreary greenish paint that donned the walls of the hated menace, a group of exceptional guys existed. Everyday, behind the doors of Drew's solitary "Penthouse" triple, a displaced genius from New Orleans, an excited optimist from Queens Village, and three great guys from Raleigh, North Carolina joked, laughed, created theories, played video games, and became great friends.

To me, that's what college life is all about. There, in Drew 539, we could chronicle the now-late Sean Taylor's devastating blows through YouTube, wonder aloud at the idea that Will Smith must have had mononucleosis during his run on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and hold Madden '06 tournaments while arguing for Laveranues Coles' inclusion into a discussion of the Top-25 wide receivers in the league, among other things. The "Raleigh Three" (Brenden, Ellis, and James) along with Jamin helped this young writer cultivate creative new ways to approach writing. While getting to know these guys helped bolster my knowledge of sports and trivia which eventually brandished me as the "Throwback" guy around campus, the friendship that grew over the course of those ten months was important in helping me develop a strong sense of confidence with myself. Simply put, Drew 539 was pure awesomeness.

Nowadays, as I look at life's odometer and realize that my college career has just about run its course, I recognize that my residency in that sweatbox on Gresham Place was key in my development as a writer, a student, and a person. I thank God (first for providing me with awesome ceiling and floor fans) and secondly for allowing us to grow together as students and men. Granted, I never again want to share five washing machines with 300+ guys or lose my visitation privileges because some idiot decides to make the broom closet his personal bathroom stall. However, Drew was a place where you could shout in the hallway after a clutch World Series home run or cackle like Eddie Murphy after defeating your opponent in NBA Live and any guy walking by would cackle along with you.

Drew Hall, thanks for the memories.

-Mike Benjamin, II

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Article at the Hilltop!

Don't know if I mentioned it before, but I wrote an article about the Jeremy Shockey trade for my school's newspaper, the Hilltop.

Here's the link: http://media.www.thehilltoponline.com/media/storage/paper590/news/2008/07/28/Perspectives/Loyal.N.y.Giants.Fan.Vents.Frustrations.To.General.Manager.CoOwner-3394913.shtml

So, check it out, and lemme know what you think.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hey, What's the Deal With The "New" Facebook?

Last weekend (September 12-14, 2008), while most some of Howard University drove down to Virginia to see the battle of the Real HU (Howard!), I got a chance to travel to North Carolina for a college Christian retreat with a great group of students from both Howard and Georgetown University. Unfortunately for me, it was the weekend right after the Georgetown/HU football battle at Greene Stadium for the DC Cup, and I prepared myself for a ride that was sure to include a myriad of jokes, Dikembe Mutombo-esque finger waving, and a generous demonstration of Hoya school spirit (they won the game, 12-7). I had gotten to know or meet most of the Georgetown folks prior to the trip because we all attend Grace Covenant Church over at the Chinatown Theater, and I knew that I had to either freshen up my joke game or reload my I-Pod with some new song material. Fortunately for me, the Hoya students stayed on their leashes, only unleashing jokes equipped with the necessary Zing! when the moment was perfect. (Honestly, that’s probably another reason why the average SAT score over there is like a 1200.) All in all, I got a chance to hang with new folks from other campus ministries, play in a basketball tourney (and not get dunked on), and destroy so many S’mores that I was comatose from sugar overload the next morning. Yup, it was a great weekend that helped me to cap off my summer blessed and refreshed.

However, while I searched the smog-free skies for the eclectic assortment of stars that make up the “Big Dipper”,
other minds were feverishly at work during that weekend. A certain pimple-faced Harvard gentleman teetered across the cold hallways of his building in Palo Alto, wondering if the world would be ready to experience the dramatic change he was ready to unfold. As the lights dimmed (literally) in Hampton, VA on another Howard Bison football experience, piston engines and internet service providers listened intently for the furious clicks stemming from the individual’s corner office keyboard. Minutes before USC began to throttle the Buckeyes in dramatic fashion on primetime television, the change had already taken effect.

I was oblivious, however. I had checked my Facebook hours before my departure that Friday on my laptop, making sure that any last minute “notifications” had been viewed. My status has been altered, my Inbox depleted, and my weekend cleared. Unfortunately, as I closed and locked my suite for the weekend, I had no idea that I was seeing the last of the old Facebook. As Louis XV said before the French Revolution, “after this, the deluge.”

When I dragged my bags into my room at 5:30PM that fateful Sunday afternoon, I was floored. What’s up with this new setup? Who broke into my room to modify my Facebook profile? For the love of God, WHO’S BIRTHDAY IS IT TODAY?

In an instant, Facebook had changed.

Of course, I immediately checked to see if the Facebook "legions" had finally allowed me to tag more than 25 people to a Facebook “note” so I can finally end my insane tagging method. And, obviously, I was still limited. Despondent, I turned to football hoping that the Jets would be beating the snot out of the Patriots so that I could find joy in the midst of my disgust. Alas, it was not to be…as the score read “PATRIOTS 6, JETS 3” at the half.

Yup, I was as shocked as ever. How dare “they” (Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, Inc.) show us their best corporate smile and convince me that Facebook is “connecting me with the world around me.” To that I ask, what world? The new design has made it even more challenging to connect with old friends and find new ones. Just as MySpace slowly became TheirSpace (corporate America’s, that is), Facebook has become little more than a yearbook in which the pages of advertisements and self-aggrandizement far outweigh the emotional and memorable experiences from that school year. Mark Zuckerberg has sold out in order to gain access to more of those men – Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Benjamin. The tragedy of Dr. Faustus has befallen yet another corporate entity that too eagerly pursues a more beneficial profit margin over the cheers of an abused populace. Yup, it looks like yet another company has completely sold out for the wads of cash nestled in the wallets of corporate America, wallets that are currently filled with borrowed Chinese currency.

I’ve looked past those “I’m so over him/her” annoying status updates. I’ve created Facebook “groups” and added Facebook “photo albums”. I’ve argued for the benefit of the Facebook “notes.” I’ve turned my head and coughed while invaders impersonated my friends to raid my profile wall with “Find Your Crush Now!” ads. But can I, the self-proclaimed Facebook writer, find solace in a terrifying new Facebook world?

Well, I’ve personally never attempting to find solace in Facebook. To me, the “New” Facebook has only reiterated the importance of not putting my faith in the constantly changing things of this world, like the stock market or political scene. I’m so glad I put my faith in a cool guy that will never pull the wool over my eyes and only looks out for my best interests and the interests of his Father. I’m so glad that I’m not attached to the fleeting gimmacks that occupy this world. I’m so glad Jesus gave me a new heart so that I can win at the game of life. And I so glad that Facebook doesn’t run my world.

I bid adieu to this final weekend of summer.
However, now is the winter of our discontent with Facebook.

I’m so glad I’m living the good life.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Back to Life, Back to Reality...But First, Beijing 2008!

Mike, I can’t believe you were in China?

So, Mike, how was Beijing?

You’ve got to tell me all about it!

Coming back to Howard University after a tremendous summer that took me to Cancun, Philadelphia, Delaware and of course, Beijing, I realized that I’d have to answer that question. With everyone awaiting my return with baited breath, I knew that I’d have to come prepared with exceptional stories, tons of free Olympic swag, and possibly, a Chinese girlfriend.

But honestly, how can any person briefly regale stories that characterize the full impact of any life-changing trip? I mean, this is China. This is the 2008 Summer Olympics. As my friend Phil casually referenced during the trip, this is the place that our parents jokingly told us we’d end up living if we sat in our bathtubs while the water drained or if we kept digging downward in our sandlots and McDonald’s play areas. Day after day, history was literally being recorded, and I, a writer from Queens, NY, became its paupous witness. How could I give my roommate, family member, or college friend a 30 second synopsis of a trip that was mind-blowing every minute of the day? With every casual trip answer I tossed to my listeners, I felt like the Al Capone during his historic run, or an unrelenting professor that hands out a B when your class average is an 89, or even Jimmy Conway from GoodFellas.

I was robbing my friends of the experience.

But, as any terrified witness of history is prone to do, I continued stating the obvious. China? Yea, it was cool. The Olympics? Truly amazing. Did I get to see any events? You betcha. How was the Great Wall? Well, it was…great.

As your sugarcoated NBC memories of the Beijing 2008 Olympics start to erode due to schoolwork, fantasy football, and life, I realized that I had to do the right thing. Besides delivering that pizza for Mookie and completely killing the joke from the previous sentence (see what I did there?), I had to tell my stories. Yes, I know that my first Facebook “note” after a long layoff looks like the written form of Elephantitis than real writing. Yes, I know that writing about the Olympics after the first week of NFL football is the author’s equivalent to getting kissed by Rogue from X-Men (or having to listen to Jadakiss’s “Kiss of Death” from cover to cover). Yes, I know that any modicum of humor I write into this text is destined to be more lame than a D.L. Hughley standup in which he, uhh, actually tells jokes.

But, I need to write. Even though I’ve got a worse case of writer’s block than J.R. Writer, I can’t call myself a writer unless I’m actually writing. Well, unless my name is Stephen A. Smith. (Zing!)

So, while you’ve enjoyed outstanding articles from guys like Adrian Mood, Johnathan Tillman, and others, it’s time for me to re-enter my “notes” into the Facebook world. I won’t come off sounding like Toni Morrison, Tony Medina, or Michael Wilbon in this “note”, but at least I’ll do a better job of telling you about my experiences in Beijing. If you want to hear more about Beijing, let’s schedule a one-on-one conversation.

So, here we go…my first Beijing story is out of the can. Enjoy.

Hanging Near the Today Show(written on August 8, 2008)

Hi All,

After three days of jetlag, an cold that has my voice sounding worse than Macy Gray, and a serious case of the runs, I am now ready to start my job as a logger for NBC. Tonight, we'll be starting our coverage of the Games with the beginning of the Opening Ceremony happening tonight here in Beijing.

Okay, so what does a logger do? Well, we watch sports and write about what's happening. Wait, wha? Yes, we loggers are called upon by NBC to give a detailed play-by-play analysis of the match or event that we are scheduled to watch. I'll give you a better idea of what it is as I go along working these 12 hour shifts here at NBC.

Last night (morning in the United States), I was on the Today Show. And by "on the Today Show", I mean that I was flailing my arms in the background of Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer while wearing a bright orange Texas Longhorns cap (to stand out on camera). Plus, being one of the three black folks in the crowd left me looking like a vanilla bean speck in a half-gallon container of Breyers. Awesome times, that's for sure.

About halfway into the show, Ann Curry joined Matt and Meredith on stage. I've always enjoyed Ann Curry's presence on NBC. From her cameos on "To Catch A Predator" to her mistakes on camera being recorded as fodder for Joel McHale's "The Soup" on VH1, my experiences with Ann Curry are nothing short of priceless. Today was no different. Unfortunately for her, someone forgot to tell her that she had smeared bright red lipstick all over the top row of her teeth.

During the commercial break, she decided to saunter over to greet the crowd. Bad idea. Of course, I happened to be licking my lips like a madman to make sure that I didn't leave any goodies in the roof rack. Plus, I thought that I would be throwing her a hint. Heck, maybe she'd lick her top row and taste some acrylic paint.

Obviously, being an complete retard and an inept lip licker (unlike this guy), I accidentally made the teeth sucking noise right before Ann and the crew were ready to go back on-air. Yes, it was REALLY LOUD. Let's just say that if I were in church, I'd probably get the stink eye from an old church mother sitting in an adjacent pew and a fierce poke in the ribs from my mom.

While everyone in my area turned around to scold me, Ann was incredibly oblivious to the noise. Perhaps she wasn't concerned with an intern wearing a hat that barely matched the rest of his clothes. Maybe because she was too rich and famous to be bothered. (Perhaps she was still trying to find the state of Illinois on a map.) Heck, I didn't know.

I ignored the scorn of the crowd and decided to slide away from the fracas. Just then, my colleague pointed out some of the members of the USA Diving Team (Jevon Tarantino and Chris Colwill, to be exact) were also present in the crowd (a clear indication of their importance to NBC). Since my Dad was a former trainer of Olympic level swimmers, divers, and triathlon athletes, I coolly strolled over to make some small talk.

Me:"Hey guys!"
USA Divers: "Hey.
"Me:"Congratulations on making it to the Olympics! How's the experience been?"
Divers:"Pretty good. Went over to the Great Wall today."
Me: "Really? (Mental yawn...) Cool! I was over there yesterday."
Divers:"Yeah, we rode on the toboggan ride down the side of the mountain."
Me: (Now feigning interest) "Oh really, that's what's up! awesome!"

We posed for some pictures, and I kept walking around the perimeter. This time, Rowdy Gaines (former Olympic swimmer and color commentator for NBC's Michael Phelps swimming coverage) spotted my Longhorns' hat from the back of the growing crowd and yelled.

"Horns!" he shouted, right before he was preparing to speak with Matt Lauer.

"Yeah!" I yelled back, praying that no one from Howard saw me cheering a random Division I school on national TV.

Yup, Beijing is awesome.

Michael Benjamin II is an English major from Queens Village, NY.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Draft '08: I've Gotta Get You Outta My System...Seriously.

David Stern:"And with the 6th pick in the NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select..(dramatic pause)...Danilo Gallinari..."

(Chorus of boos ensues)

Stern:"...of Italy."

Danilo, what did you expect? Two weeks ago, no one knew who the heck you were in the Big Apple. Like most New Yorkers, I was still praying that Donnie Walsh (no Isiah, YES!) could pull a trade that could get us one (or more) of these four things:

1. Cap relief in preparation of Lebron's inevitable leap to Madison Avenue in 2010.
2. Derrick Rose.
3. A good point guard/player to run in D'Antoni's system this Fall.
4. Did I already mention getting some money off of the salary cap?

Yeah, it might be tough of New York to boo the Italian, especially since most of us didn't know that Italy had a basketball league until Marbury famously vowed to play there once his contract expired. Really, you can't make this stuff up. Ladies and gentlemen, Isiah Thomas' New York Knicks!

Secondly, the Knicks have had a bad track record with Euros. I mean, the last European player we remember suffering over was Frederick Weis. You know, the guy that will have the stench of Vince Carter's cojones resting squarely on his forehead for the remainder of his life. Yeah, you really can't make this stuff up.

Honestly, once I heard David Stern start talking, I wasn't even surprised to see us take Danilo with the 6th pick. Think about it...we have the blackest team in the NBA. Since Isiah's now out as GM (YES!), we now have a white GM that looks like he's been working alongside Lt. Murtaugh from Family Matters for the past 40 years and has probably decorated his basement floor with empty Marlboro Light cartons, and an Italian coach who roomed and played alongside Danilo's dad on the Italian national team. Did you really think that we were going to pass on Danilo if he was still available at the 6th spot? Didn't think so.

By the way, I hate it when ESPN shows the same three clips of a foreign player once he's drafted. Sometimes, I feel like the folks in Bristol would like to intentionally twist the knife into the backs of every Knicks fan in the United States by showing of clips Danilo laying the ball into the basket as a 6'8'' player. Hey, set it to a track of Stephen A. Smith dissing Kwame Brown in historic fashion. As Bucks fans must know, I don't want to see Yi Jianlian backing down a folding chair in a solo workout or Danilo making offensive moves eerily similar to Ty Hansbrough's array at North Carolina. I want to see my draft pick catching alley-oops like Shawn Kemp in NBA Jam, or dribbling through defenders like "The Pharmacist" at the Rucker. Basically, I don't want my Entertainment and sports programming network to intentionally give me a reason to lay in a empty bathtub with my wrists slit. ESPN, I'm in Delaware, bored out of my mind...so throw me a bone, will ya?

(Side "Note": Delaware is dreadfully boring. Yep, I'm living in Delaware for the summer to work at my internship with CN8, the Comcast Network, and all of the rumors are true. Gas prices are cheap...but where the heck do you want to drive, anyway? My life right now is like an episode of NBC's Scrubs. I'm like J.D., the eager young professional trying to make a mark on the industry, my best friend and his wife are like Turk and Carla (newly married and ready to conquer the world together). Is there an Elliot in the picture? Who's the Dr. Cox of my work world? Okay, I'll stop babbling...)

I fully expect this draft day to be revisited five years from now on an hour-long episode of "You Can't Blame..." on ESPN Classic, right after Bob Ley chronicles Kwame Brown's newfound success as a high school janitor on "Outside the Lines." But for now, I've just gotta be like Lil' Bow Wow and get this incorrigible NBA Draft '08 outta my system. And since I don't stand at a paltry three feet and live in the Buckeye State (Ohio), the pain and disappointment of the draft will be a much longer cleansing process.

Oh well, let's just move on and rate this draft, shall we?

Best Draft Day: New Jersey Nets. What makes this year's draft even harder to bear is seeing our soon-to-be crosstown rivals (Brooklyn in 2010) setting themselves up for Lebron's eventual sprint from his home state to Jay-Z's side in New York in 2010. Not only were they able to rid themselves of Richard Jefferson's salary, but will now be able to market themselves to N.Y.'s Asian community (Chairman Yi) and add talented, cheap depth to the roster (Brook Lopez and Ryan Anderson). Plus, once V.C. decides to sulk and go into full-fledged tank city (watch for the Paul Pierce-esque "injury"), the Nets will be able to start a Devin Harris-Maurice Ager backcourt and grab a high draft pick next year. Lebron, this is all for you.

Worst Draft Day: Charlotte Bobcats. Great. Folks, let's all agree to never allow M.J. run another franchise, okay? Isn't one Kwame Brown mistake a decade good enough for the NBA? Now, we've got to see Adam Morrison hobble around while getting zero elevation on his jumpshot for the next five years, and a perfect college point guard (D.J. Augustin) get ruined by the point guard hater, Larry Brown. The NBA has already done what I'm starting to do on the New Jersey Turnpike...passed old, gray haired do-the-right-thing coaches like Larry Brown Athens by in favor of alley-oops, run and gun basketball (Mike D'Antoni, Vinny Del Negro). Unfortunately for Bobcat fans, your part-owner fails to see that the league has already left his vision in the dust. M.J., I know you like to gamble, but this is ridiculous.

Best Quote: "He's got a lot of tools, he just needs to find the key to the toolbox," Jay Bilas knocking Donte Greene's maturity level. Seriously, how can Mel Kiper, Jr. even compare to this?

Unintentional Comedic Moment: Yup, the guy that got left in the green room unceremionally this year was in fact Darrell Arthur. Okay, who told this guy that he was getting drafted in the first round? It's great when the talking heads start scratching their head and shooting the breeze about what could possibly be wrong with the last green room guy. Bad kidneys? Drug problems? Hmm...it was almost as bad as when Bilas was rehashing Marcus Williams laptop incident in '06 while he pretended to be texting his agent and looking at the floor simultaneously. You've gotta love the NBA Draft!

Guys We'll Still Be Talking About 10 Years From Now: Michael Beasley (sitting next to Rae Carruth in the state penn), Derrick Rose (Top 10 PG), Robin Lopez (best fro-hawk), OJ Mayo (biggest nickname mistake), and Mario Chalmers (about how underrated he is, thereby eventually making him overrated).

Guys You'll See as Greeters in Your Neighborhood Walmart: Joey Dorsey, Alexis Ajinca, Anthony Randolph, Mearty Leunen...basically, these guys plus everyone after the 50th pick. And you thought Simon Cowell was harsh.

GM that probably lost his job due to Draft 2008: Chris Mullin. Yup, you drafted a tall, skinny athletic player when you have three such guys already camped out on your roster (Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Brenden Wright) and decided to be cheap when it comes to giving your superstar guard a respectable salary. Now, your star attractions are Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins and you've lost the respect of your entire fanbase. I think getting your resume and cover letter together would be appropriate right about now.

If you need me, I'll be burning my mock draft notes to roast marshmallows, practicing the revolutionary Urkel Dance, and praying that gas prices can climb back to the $2.99 range. I'll be in Beijing starting August 2nd, but you can check either here or my blog, Points Off Turnovers (pointsoffturnovers.blogspot.com), for updates and information about my China experience! (I'll try to leave the cheesy smiles in the states.)

Enjoy the summer folks. Adios!


Monday, June 23, 2008

Jackson Has His Phil as Allen Burns Sas-usage in Kobe's Kitchen

"Dagger!" my dad yelled at the TV while my kid brother and I sat staring at the increasingly annoying Yukon Denali commercial in disbelief.

"Ray Allen just put the Vu-Ya-Shake on Sasha Vujacic."

Indeed, after Kobe had taken the ball to the rack and gotten fouled, after Derek Fisher had drained another clutch jumper to cut the Celtic lead down to 3, we saw what I can only classify as the Sa-sha Shake.

"Ray Allen did a tappity-tap, shake-and-back on Sasha from SLOW-venia!" my dad exclaimed as I watched Eddie House sink two dagger free throws to end the Lakers' hopes for a comeback.

And that pretty much ends the Lakers' chances at grabbing the championship this year. Wow, and wow.

Folks, you have just missed the "wow" game of this year's NBA playoffs.

For those of you on the East Coast that decided to hit the sack last night after seeing the Lake Show jump out to a 24 point lead in the second quarter, you probably made the biggest mistake of your NBA lives. Two hours ago, I was pumping my fist harder than O.J. was after he got the "not-guilty" call from the jury in his murder trial back in 1995. After the Jewish sensation that is Jordan Farmar hit a NBA JAM three-pointer to stretch the lead at the buzzer ending the first-half, I was certain that the Lakers were on their way to tying up the series.

But then, Pierce hit an unusual jumper. Then KG...POSTED UP...and scored. Eddie House (the guy who ESPN's Bill Simmons' has been screaming should get playing time) knocks down a shot, P.J. Brown caps off the run with a ferocious dunk and suddenly...Boston is only down 2 at the end of the third quarter.

It's game time.

From that point at the end of the third quarter, the Lakers just looked nervous. Though Phil coolly responded that Lady Momentum was going to swing back in his team's favor in his mid-half interview with Michelle Tafoya, I wasn't sold. I could already see the backs of some chairs in the Staples Center, probably left vacant by some fair-weather actor trying to promote his new movie (Hancock), or some well-versed white singer. Justin, in the NBA Finals...that just isn't justified.

Meanwhile on the court, the Lakers began to panic. The rhythmic sounds of swishing nets in the forum was replaced by a chorus of clangs, gasps, and my absolute favorite, doinks. The artistic five-on-five display that I'd grown accustomed to seeing from the Lakers was usurped by an anarchist rebel (Kobe) that attempted to snatch victory from the rejuvenated Celtic bunch. Unfortunately for the city of Los Angeles, Fake M.J. was unable to avoid becoming a footnote in the Celtics' greatest comeback performance in NBA history.

(Shhh...that sound you hear is the plethora of bandwagon fans jumping ship)

Uh, Sasha...you left your ankles at the free-throw line.
Might want to go pick 'em up patna.

Mike Benjamin, II

Can I Kick It?: Obama, 21, Swat Kats, and the NBA Finals Preview

I used to always knock people who would use the creative space of the Facebook "blog" to proclaim one of the most annoying phrases ever:


That is, until my birthday came and went last Monday, May 26th. Yup, I've become one of those people. It's just easier to use the "note" space to thank everyone, especially with my tagging technique, than to write on everyone's wall like I did last year. (My internship had started by then, lol).

Thanks to everyone that flooded my inbox, called me, and straight up usurped my wall to wish me the best 21st year ever! I really appreciate the love pushed my way, and I hope that God blesses each and every one of you!

On to business...

As most of you already know, I've been slacking on my Facebook "note" writing as of late. Why? Initially, I was burned out from the painfully long Junior year. I'd been writing a ton of papers, getting last-minute assignments, and taking finals...pretty much like most of you. Plus, I was gearing up for my trip to Cancun with my uncle, and I was making sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. (By the way, the sunscreen backfired. Oh well, as Tupac says, "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.")

Don't worry, I heard about the Knicks getting shafted by David Stern (probably pissed because of the Ewing speculation from '85) and getting the #6 pick in this year's NBA Draft. Yup, like an idiot, I immediately turned around and punched the concrete column in our hotel room, thinking it was hollow. It wasn't. Ouch.

On cue, all of the folks from Chicago got hyped up and sent me messages celebrating Derrick Rose and mocking the five true Knick fans that still exist on Facebook. Of course, I pointed to the fact that they could have had Kobe for 80 cents on the dollar at the beginning of this season. In the meantime, all of you Bulls fans can watch Kobe lead his team to the NBA Finals while your squad wallows in mediocrity. Just make sure to toss me Kirk Hinrich after you draft D-Rose. Thanks.

After the embarrassment of the draft lottery coupled with the Yankees deciding to take a seat in the cellar of the AL East, I decided to lay low. I played my self-created "Mutual Friends" game on Facebook (I'll explain in another Facebook "note"), watched reruns of Swat Kats and Justice League on Boomerang, and ate party leftovers for about a week. Plus, with the NBA Conference Finals being downright atrocious, it bought me some time and hopefully allowed everyone to forget about how bad the Knicks truly were this season. (Yup, if you're wincing while reading, please forgive me. I'm a little rusty at this writing thing.)

Yes, I just said that the Conference Finals were terrible. Why? Well, with Obama finally securing the nomination, let's check out the Conference Finals...in a political style.

To me, the Lakers/Spurs series was similar to the Obama/Clinton fight for the Democratic nomination. Just like Hilary, the Spurs are the least favorite team to watch due to their incessant crying and wining (Parker), underhanded maneuvers and dirty play (Bruce Bowen), and flopping to generate an unfair advantage (Ginobili). Similarly to Hilary, the Spurs are a team that refuses to lay down, and is honestly a great team that doesn't get enough credit for being such a dominant force in the NBA for the last decade. NBA fans and media personnel hate the Spurs so much that the referee's no-call on Fisher's no-brainer foul on Brent Barry - who was a member of the HOME TEAM in San Antonio no less - drew praise from the basketball world. We all wanted to see Celtics vs. Lakers, and the refs made sure that it would happen that way. Granted, I believe that the Lake Show would have taken out the Spurs regardless (just as Obama eventually ended up beating Hilary out for the nomination), but it would have just taken longer.

(Side Note: I'm convinced that David Stern rigs the NBA Finals for the team that will get the highest ratings. Joey Crawford was officiating Game 4! What?! To explain, Joey Crawford has a personal vendetta against the Spurs, stemming from a Tim Duncan ejection in a Dallas/San Antonio game last season. How the heck does this guy get the chance to ref a game involving the EXACT SAME TEAM HE HATES in the conference finals! Has anyone even pointed this out yet! WHAT!!! I'm not trying to say that I wanted the Spurs to win this series, but come on David...you can't be rigging games with crooked refs.)

Tomorrow night, the 2008 NBA Finals will begin, featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Let's take a closer look at each team as they fight for the Larry O'Brien trophy to add to their respective illustrious rosters.

Los Angeles Lakers (#1 seed in West, 57-25 record in reg. sesason)

Best Player: Kobe Bryant.
After watching the highlights (skipped Game 5) of Kobe's romp in the Staples Center last week, I firmly believe that Kobe is ready to snatch his first title during the post-Shaq Laker era and cement his status as one of the greatest NBA players ever. Right now, Kobe is playing at a clip similar to (gulp) M.J., showcasing his ability to defer to his teammates when the team is on all cylinders and proving that he can single-handedly win a game or two when required (See: Games 1,5 of Conference Finals). It's hard to fathom Paul Pierce/James Posey stopping Kobe right now, and it looks like he's got a legit shot at the 'ship right now.

Secondary Scorer: Pau Gasol.In one of the biggest one-sided robberies that this league has even seen, the Lakers received an young, athletic big man with a innate ability to score - IN HIS PRIME - for the scraps on the end of their bench (Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittendon, late-round picks). Pau is the perfect compliment to Kobe for two main reasons - he plays a totally different position than Kobe (PF/C), and Pau can create his own baskets without needing Kobe to feed him the basketball in a prime scoring position. Why can't the Knicks ever get sweet deals like that? Oh yeah, Isiah was running the team last year. Damn.

Key Role Players: Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf. L.A. received a gift during the last offseason when Derek Fisher was forced to return to the Lake Show due to his daughter's ongoing battle with a rare form of eye cancer. With Fish, Kobe now had a guy who he could depend on in the clutch to knock down shots and play a tough PG position. Vujacic has emerged as the two-guard down the stretch due to his outside shooting prowess. This allows Kobe to play SF, which is a terrible matchup for most teams. Since the glaring deficiency for the Lakers resides in the low-post, Turiaf will be counted on to bring a wealth of hustle, grit, and determination during those times when it will become necessary to rest the starting big men (Odom, Gasol).

The Guy That We'll See Cheering From the Bench Before ABC Goes to a Commercial Break: Luke Walton.

Here's my "Towel Waving Guy" checklist:
Is the player a white guy? Check.
Is said player possibly nerd of team? Check.
Is the player easy for fans to remember quickly and point at derisively? Check.

I mean, who else could it be in a Lakers/Celtics NBA Finals?

X-Factor: Lamar Odom. In the Lakers' second round series against the Jazz, Odom's play was the major reason why the Lakers were able to handle the onslaught of the Jazz in six games. Odom's ability to get to the basket around Carlos Boozer proved important during that stretch because of the fact that Andrei Kirilenko was stuck guarding Kobe for most of the series. If Odom can give the Lakers another proven scorer during this series, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to stop the Lakers from snatching another NBA title.

Boston Celtics (#1 seed in East, 66-16 reg.season record)

Best Player: Kevin Garnett. KG has always been an interesting player to watch during the course of his career. He openly scowls at opposing players and fan bases, grabs shots off the rim once a foul is called, and even hits himself with the ball when angry with himself. Though we have countless hours of footage to prove that KG is certifiably insane, I have never seen KG completely place his stamp on a series and dominate it from start-to-finish. Over the years, KG has shied away from the big moment. While in Minnesota during their run to the Conference Finals, KG constantly deferred to second-tier guys like Cassell and Sprewell. What?! Even this year, KG has allowed Ray Allen to continue chucking up bricks throughout the postseason without calling for the ball and making his presence known on the offensive end. If the Celtics even have a chance of carrying the trophy back to the Boston Garden T.D. Waterhouse Center, KG better bring his A game.

Secondary Scorer: Paul Pierce. During this playoff run for the Celtics, Paul Pierce has been the defining member of this team. Pierce has played defense on the other team's best player (even though James Posey is chilling on the bench) in every series this postseason while also scoring 20ppg. It's hard to believe that KG is being outshined by a guy whose team couldn't even win 35 games last season.

Key Role Players: James Posey, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins.
Simply put, these young guys can't get nervous now that they find themselves playing on the world's biggest stage for the NBA title. Plus, Doc Rivers can't be an idiot and leave James Posey on the bench AGAIN.

The "Towel Waving Guy" for the ABC Cameras: Brian Scalabrine.
It's funny that a town that has a bad history of hatred towards black people (Boston) has a championship-caliber team that lacks a significant amount of white players. Especially since Boston's championship teams have always had a huge amount of white talent (McHale, Bird, Ainge, Cousy, Walton). Actually, I think that Jordan Farmar might be the closest white guy we'll see on the floor for any extension of time during the entire NBA Finals. Yeah, I know that Brian Scalabrine is currently non-active and almost always in street clothes, but can Doc play him just once? Please?

The X-Factor: Ray Allen. If Jesus Shuttlesworth can come alive in the Finals, these games will be a lot more entertaining. Plus, Ray Allen and Kobe have always hated each other. Why? I don't know...probably over a girl or something. Anyway, look for Ray to find his jimmy during the games in Boston...or we'll see a quick end to this series.

The Pick: Lakers in 5. Kobe's worth two games by himself in any playoff series, and I don't see the Celts' showing up at all in the Staples Center once the Lakers steal one up in Boston this weekend. Phil Jackson completely dominates the coaching matchup. (Honestly, does Doc Rivers really deserve to be here?) Plus, the Lake Show just looks too strong right now coming off of a solid week of rest after their brutal ride through the West. As long as no Clipper fans jump onto the bandwagon during the Finals (cough, Marley!), Laker victory is all but assured.

The NBA audience is ready for a change, and the Los Angeles Lakers, as champions of the NBA, will bring just that.

Man, that sounds similar to that Obama fellow, doesn't it?
Mike Benjamin, II

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk: See You In New York, Derrick Rose!

I'm so glad that the Kansas Jaykawks won the NCAA Championship.

You can make fun of me for hopping on their bandwagon after my bracket went down in flames (I had picked UCLA to win it all), or after reading my Facebook "ballad" to Stephen Curry after watching him torch the Georgetown Hoyas, or after hearing me predict a team that shot 59% from the charity stripe (Memphis Tigers) to win the championship on my radio show Real Talk: Sports Talk last week. Yes, go ahead and toss the laughter at the comment box below.

(Side Note: My boy Obi even caught me yelling out an audible "we won!" during the post game fracas. Ouch.)

While I was walking to watch the game on Monday in a packed KU alumni bar in downtown DC (we'll get to that later), I realized two important facts. First, if Memphis wins, then everyone in America (including all those draftniks and hyped-up websites...yes, I'm talking to you NBADraft.net) would undoubtedly be yammering on about Derrick Rose and his legendary performance in the title game. He'll immediately be catapulted above Michael Beasley to the top spot in the June draft, destined to ride on 24's in Miami while playing for the Heat.

If you haven't noticed, the NBA's has completely transformed into a league of extraordinary point guards. When Commissioner David Stern implemented his "new rules" back in 2002 due to the extremely agonizing '99 Finals (Knicks-Spurs) that had an extremely unfair amount of unwatchable games for the casual NBA fan. In the new rules, Stern made sure that NBA teams hoisted up a significantly greater number of three-point field goals, that fast break basketball became the standard, and defiantly established the "Defensive 3 Seconds" rule - a rule that prevented coaches from parking their big men in the paint to contain the proverbial "super-athlete" ('07 Lebron, '06 Kobe, '03 T-Mac) keeping them from running to the rim and dunking/getting fouled every single possession.

The use of a hand-check? Over. Guys like the legendary Charles Oakley policing the paint with body blows to the sternum? Done. Simply put, perimeter players now get the benefit of all calls. That's why players like Ben Wallace and the Pistons of '04 - a team without a recognizable superstar - were able to hang onto Shaq's arms during the entire NBA Finals without fear of fouling out. That's why a guy like Tim Duncan (who averages 20-10-3 blocks every year) will never again win the League MVP. That's why Steve Nash (an superior offensive PG but a utter liability on D) is winning MVP awards well into his 30's.

That's why "His Airness", MJ, will always be the G.O.A.T.

To test this PG theory, let's just look at the current NBA Playoff teams and their point guards, shall we?

Western Conference
1. New Orleans Hornets:
MVP-candidate Chris Paul. He's averaging more than Steve Nash did in his two MVP campaigns. Between his season and all those New Orleans' vacation commercials he's shooting, it almost makes you forget that he's the college player that punched a guy directly in the balls. Almost.

2. San Antonio Spurs: Tony Longoria Parker. Even though Tony only missed two weeks earlier this season, the Spurs panicked and picked up a half-dead Damon Stoudemire for 20 cents on the dollar. When the Spurs hit the panic button - you know a PG is important.

3. Los Angeles Lakers: Derek Fisher. He serves as the coach on the floor (comparable to Ron Harper/B.J. Armstrong role during the Bulls three-peats), and is the only guy that Kobe truly respects.

4. Utah Jazz: Deron Williams. And they though this guy lacked speed and talent after college. Jerry Sloan's laughing from his office.

5. Houston Rockets: Rafer Alston. During Houston's 22 game winning streak last month Alston posted season-high stats. "Skip to My Lou" dropped 18ppg, stroking 38% from three, stepping up in Yao's absence. If he can keep this up, Houston's a real contender.

6. Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash.

7. Dallas Mavericks: Jason Kidd. Mark Cuban DESPERATELY wanted to hit RESET on his video game ownership season once he saw that an unstable PG (Devin Harris) was leading the Mavs down the road to disaster. Well, why not roll the dice with an aging J-Kidd to pair with your team MVP, Dirk? (Easy, because Jason's going to be 36 years old next year, that's why...yikes.)

8. Denver Nuggets: Allen Iverson...still the best pound-for-pound player at his size ever to play in the NBA. He was the first to really, REALLY exploit Stern's new rules. (See: '01 Sixers and the NBA Finals)

With a healthy but overused Baron Davis (40+ minutes in Don Nelson's system) leading the Warriors into playoff contention, we see that the league is top-heavy with PG talent. That's why the Celtics - a team that has led the league in victories since Day 1 - drooled over the prospects of snatching an aging Sam Cassell from the lottery-bound Clips. (You know that Sam-I-Am is due for a clutch dagger in at least one playoff game this year.)That's why I wanted Derrick Rose and "Los Tigres para Memphis" to go down in flames once I got to the KU bar in downtown DC. Well, plus the fact (Reason #2 if you were paying attention to my 3rd paragraph) that I was drowning in a sea of drunken Jayhawk diehards that piled into the tiny (but well-vented) establishment near Dupont Circle. It's never fun watching a huge fan base get denied on a national scale. That's why I immediately flip the channel when ESPN Classic decides to show "the bloody sock game" and Kevin Brown's historic Game 7 meltdown to cap off the debacle of October '04. Every fan bases deserves to enjoy some semblance of hope and joy, right?

Derrick, we've already set aside the #23 (take the jersey off, Quentin) for you. As Spike Lee would echo, do the right thing and come to the Big Apple.

David Stern, get to work on fixing the draft lottery. Thanks.