Below, the 53 Republican senators who voted not to see witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, even though some of them openly came out and agreed that he was guilty. In effect they just acquitted him.
Lamar Alexander, Tennessee
Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee
John Barrasso, Wyoming, Senate Republican Conference Chairman
Roy Blunt, Missouri, Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman
*The judges have also accepted “Death To America!”
How did we get here, to the end of democracy? Been thinking about this all week. About how at a certain point Americans stopped doing what was right and began doing what feels good in the moment. I’m sure it extends back before this, but for me it begins with the Rodney King verdict…which led to the O.J. verdict… which led to then-president Bill Clinton saying, “That depends what your definition of ‘is’ is.”
Continue on to the hanging chad election… and then the “weapons of mass destruction” ruse… the TARP bailout, when suddenly Wall Street, for one brief moment, embraced socialism and welfare and tried to tell the rest of us that we just don’t understand, i.e. TOO BIG TO FAIL. Time after time Americans in position to DO THE RIGHT THING have instead done the palliative thing in the moment.
And so here we are. The U.S. Senate cannot be bothered to adhere to the same strict standards as My Cousin Vinny. They don’t want witnesses, they don’t want evidence, they just want to acquit. And America is supposed to believe that November’s election will be fair?
This institutional practice of “If It Feels Good, Do It” was abetted by a few very intelligent and cunning outside actors, chief among them Vladimir Putin and Osama bin Laden, who decided that geopolitical jujitsu was the best way to take down the USA: In other words, you can’t topple the USA head-on. The only way to do so is to inveigle it to use its own power against itself. America must be destroyed from within. Bravo, gentlemen. You’ve succeeded.
The MAGA types don’t see it yet. They’re too happy celebrating the stock market or the death of an Iranian general, etc. But the core of this country—the rule of law—has been sacrificed, Perhaps for good. The rot is deep within. Now it’s just a matter of time until the tree dies.
Every great empire falls. You get the advantage of being able to tell your children and grandchildren that you were there when it did.
Is This The End?
If this is how Tom Brady goes out, that’s cool. Honestly cannot see him playing anywhere else next season. Also wondering if the death of Kobe Bryant last Sunday in any way impacted whatever decision he’s about to make. Or has made. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Kobe’s untimely and tragic demise (he was one year younger than Brady) is about the NBA equivalent to if this had happened to Brady.
Two notable snubs for next month’s All-Star Game. Both players are guards for teams who haven’t been to the postseason much if at all: Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns.
Beal: sixth in the NBA in scoring at 28.7 ppg.
Booker: eighth in the NBA in scoring at 27.1 ppg.
The only other player among the top 15 in scoring who failed to make the team is in the same class as these two: Zach LaVine of the Bulls.
Meanwhile, Chris Paul, who is not among the Top 50 in scoring or even among the Top 15 in Assists, was named as a reserve. It’s hardly the most egregious voting decision America has seen this week; just sports’ worst.
Hackman Turner Overdrive
Actor Gene Hackman celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday. He’s sort of been a middle-aged man forever in our minds. But man, one of the all-time greats as a character actor.
Films of Hackman’s that you absolutely must see if you haven’t already (I’m assuming you’ve seen Superman and Hoosiers):
—The French Connection (1971)
—Night Moves (1975)
—Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
—The Conversation (1974)
And if you think Hoosiers is his best performance, you’ll get no argument here. He plays against his type, and convincingly. He is the consummate pro’s pro.
Hackman was born in San Bernardino in 1930, but grew up in Danville, Illinois. From Hackman’s Wikipedia page:
In 1956 he began pursuing an acting career; he joined the Pasadena Playhouse in California. It was there that he forged a friendship with another aspiring actor, Dustin Hoffman. Already seen as outsiders by their classmates, they were later voted “The Least Likely To Succeed”. Furthermore, Hackman got the all time lowest score at the Pasadena Playhouse at the time.
Five Films: 2006
I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of films of this decade. For some reason I had my “OK, Boomer” hat on and thought everything after Saving Private Ryan was godawful. I was wrong. Again.
Pan’s Labyrinth: Easily the most pleasant surprise of the decade in terms of walking into a theater and being blown away by what was on the screen. Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy revolving around the Spanish Civil War is gripping and magical, tragic and sublime. Should have at least won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. Was only nominated.
Once: Glen Hansard’s musical triumph about a busker in Dublin who finds a kindred spirit and a muse, if not romance. What a soundtrack. Passed Hansard as I was running along the Hudson in 2009 and he was on a bike. Gave him a smile and a thumbs up. He replied with a knowing nod and a smile.
The Last King of Scotland: Powerful performance by Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin (is this the same guy who went apesh*t against the rival high school after Spicoli crashed his car?) and James Macavoy as the young and slowly corrupted doc.
The Departed: Okay, maybe there’s a little too much of guys stealing glances at their cell phones, but too many good performances to ignore: Leo, Damon, Sheen, Nicholson, Baldwin and of course, Wahlberg: “I’m the guy doing his job. You must be the other guy.”
Borat: Verrrrrry niiiice!
Worthy but did not crack Top 5: “The Lives of Others,” “Children Of Men,” “Blood Diamond,” “Casino Royale,” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Two perfect metaphors for the Trump presidency. Number one, above, is the wasteland of detritus left behind after the president’s rally in Wildwood, N.J. Monday night… giving new meaning to “Dump Trump.” The Deplorables all get together and celebrate themselves and what’s left behind in the aftermath is a trillion-dollar deficit and an environment badly in need of oversight. “Don’t worry about it—the Democrats will clean up after us, they always do!”
Next up, in Calexico, Calif., 30 m.p.h. wind gusts blow over new paneling on the president’s “big, beautiful wall.” It wasn’t MS-13 that took it down. It was air. Some forces you just cannot see but they are implacable. Like wind. Or the future.
And Then What?
Even if we get John Bolton‘s testimony, I still don’t expect this Senate impeachment trial to have a Frank Capra ending. Jefferson Smith himself could pass out on the Senate floor and and the Moscow Mitch mice would still vote to acquit. So, even with transparency, don’t expect justice.
Which brings us to November. And the tweet above.
And even if by some miracle we do get fair elections, Bill Maher asks a very simple question. Who thinks Trump will leave office willingly?
As Dershowitz argues here, if the president does something he feels is in the public interest, no matter what it is, then it cannot be wrong. So if the president refuses to leave office because he states it is in the public interest, who will be able to prevent the next betrayal of the Constitution?
Answer: it would take a few military leaders and a loyal battalion. And hopefully the Secret Service would comply. But you might get plenty of armed Virginia militia ready to fight that. They don’t want democracy; they want a white monarchy.
But before we leave, I do have a question for Mr. Dershowitz: Based on his argument, any action that is taken in the public interest, as the person taking it deigns it to be, is immune to prosecution. So if someone were to off the president because he or she deems it to be in the public interest, that is not a crime?
In Melbourne, Novak Djokovic tops Roger Federer in straight sets to reach the Australian Open men’s singles final. Djokovic could win his 8th Aussie Open and his 17th Grand Slam overall, putting him two behind Rafael Nadal (19; knocked out previous round) and three behind Roger (20).
You have to go back to September 2016 to find the last time a male other than the three above won a Grand Slam singles title. Answer: Stan Wawrinka, U.S. Open.
And people were crying about Clemson-Alabama hegemony.
Well, I got that one wrong. Given the stock price’s run-up this month alone (about 30%) and then yesterday (an additional 2.49%) I figured Tesla stock would take a mild dive after earnings were reported after the bell. Not poorly, but enough to stay out of the game and wait until today’s opening at 9:30 a.m.
Instead, Tesla hit it out of the park and shares soared $46 (7.9%) to $626 after hours. It’s bizarre. Tesla is now the second-largest car company in the world behind only Toyota in market cap. The third-largest company, Volkswagen, sold THIRTY TIMES AS MANY cars last year as Tesla.
So, much of this price is all about investors’ giddiness about Tesla’s future. Is it the next Apple? Will people (now including me) keep being wrong about its eventual downturn and keep revising their conservative price estimates higher? It was funny: CNBC had a “Tesla bear” on this morning who put his bearish price target at $440, which is higher than what Tesla’s price was when this month/year began.
We’ll see. Me? I’m buying 5 shares of TSLA at some point today just to be back in the game.
Five Films: 2005
If the previous year was the equivalent of putting your hand under your armpit in gym class to make that farting sound, this year movies returned to the grownups. It was, in fact, a very good year.
Grizzly Man: My favorite film of this millennium. Full stop. No movie has affected me as much. Timothy Treadwell was somewhat delusional, and yet he was also heroic. He understood the beauty and the miracle of nature and that it was worth everything to preserve it. Yes, he ultimately died. But who among us could ever have lasted as long as he did? The final minutes of Werner Herzog’s film, with the song “Coyotes”, is an elegy for the natural world. Heartbreaking. 2. Syriana: The problem with this film is that it may have been just a little bit too smart and a little bit too soon. I find myself thinking about scenes from it often, or quoting Matt Damon’s character. George Clooney’s least glamorous role and one of his top performances. Excellent. 3. Match Point: The darkest Woody Allen film out there is, I think, his best since Hannah And Her Sisters. Disturbing. Another excellent effort. 4. Cinderella Man: One of the all-time, If he fights again, I’m taking the kids to my sisters” films. 5. Cache: Brilliant French cinematic effort of lies and adultery.*
*In 2005 on a Saturday afternoon I was on the phone with our friend, Moose, who lived in L.A. She spoke of wanting to go see a film that night. I told her I’d read a glowing review in The New York Times about a film called Cache. I think they may have even written that it was the best film of the year. I told her that I was going to see it. So later that afternoon, I did. By the time I exited the theater in New York City, not quite knowing what I’d just seen but knowing full well I hadn’t liked any of it, Moose had already entered the theater in L.A. There was no way to warn her. It was 2005. I don’t even think I had a cellphone yet. Anyway, I sat at home waiting for the holy hell that would soon visit me in the form of Moose’s phone call. And it did.
She has never let me forget it. And so I have to fight back. Whenever talk of a movie arises, I’ll say something like, “Well, it’s no Cache.” Two years ago, for her birthday, I bought her the Cache film poster.
So the real No. 5 is Brokeback Mountain. Which, agreed, is no Cache.
Last night I was wondering, When’s the last time a trial of such momentous import took place without any witnesses. Then I thought, Oh yeah! How did that turn out?
Last night TNT did something wonderful. It gathered its cast of NBA on TNT regulars (Ernie, Charles, Kenny and Shaq) inside an empty Staples Center and put on its studio show from on the court that Kobe Bryant made famous. Guests included Jerry West, Dwyane Wade, Rick Fox, Candace Parker, Derek Fisher, Reggie Miller and Steve Nash. Just people sitting in director’s chairs in an empty arena—last night’s Clippers-Lakers game was postponed—tossing out memories.
If you’re interested, visit @nbaontnt on Twitter to see most of the clips. Three of our favorites were from Shaq, Nash and West, so we’ve included them here.
Apple Soars, Tesla On Deck
It’s earnings season.
Apple (AAPL) reported quarterly earnings after the bell yesterday and beat on the top and the bottom line and while I don’t know what that means, it sure sounds good. Anyway, shares of the stock were down to $309 at Monday’s close but should open today around $324. That’s about a 5% gain for arguably the most successful major stock of the past 20 years.
Tesla (TSLA), which has had an even more bullish past six months or so that Apple, reports after the bell today. Is it time to dive in (again)?
Some figures. Apple: On May 31st it was trading at $175. The stock is up nearly 90% in the past 8 months. Since January of 2010 (opened at $27) Apple is up about 11x in the past 10 years.
Tesla. On May 31st it sold at $185 per share. The stock is up almost exactly 200% in the past eight months. You could have bought shares on the first day of 2011 for $24, meaning that it’s up roughly 23x in the past nine years.
FWIW: I own Apple. I’ve owned Tesla for months but I sold it all yesterday. Maybe my error. Feels as if the stock is waiting to be whacked over the head and it feels a little bit like that’ll happen after earnings today. You may want to jump back in tomorrow if there’s a dramatic drop. Related: I may be wrong. I’ve been wrong before.
The Best Basketball Player You Don’t Know
Who’s that dude in the white jersey? That’s Eric Demers, a 6’1″ senior guard at Gordon (Mass.) College. The reason we are featuring him isn’t because he’s married (he is), or because the Scots are so awesome (they’re 9-9) but because he’s averaging 4 more points per game than any male or female in college basketball, Divisions I, II and III.
Demers, an outstanding three-point shooter (42.5%), is averaging 34.1 points per game for Gordon. By comparison Markus Howard of Marquette, the leading scorer in men’s Division I, is averaging 28.3 ppg.
Pitt and The Pendulum of Stardom
Here’s Brad Pitt at yesterday’s Oscars lunch wearing a name tag. Giggles. He’s going to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year (he had plenty of practice being Angelina’s hubby for those years) and the room is going to erupt. He’s not just a handsome dude, he’s a good egg, it turns out.
Five Films: 2004
Ladies and gentleman, can I please have your attention…. Cannonball!(What makes this gold is the Friends of Distinction’s “Grazin’ In The Grass” kicking in as he leaps)
Napoleon Dynamite: Of the two highly quotable comedies of this year, this one’s is more genuine and has a better story arc. Uncle Rico absolutely steals the film and I bet he can still throw it over those mountains. Gol! 2. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: See, you lose me with stuff like “whale’s vagina” and then you win me back the local news team gang war and “I like lamp!” 3. Sideways: Paul Giamatti was on quite a roll in these years. And it was satisfying to see Thomas Haden-Church get a role in a major film. Always wondered why he never got more. 4. The Incredibles: Only saw it once but loved how smart and self-aware it was. 5. Collateral: Tom Cruise playing entirely against type is very good. As is Jamie Foxx.
Never saw but would definitely like to: “Before Sunset,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Mean Girls,” “Shaun of The Dead,” “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “Man On Fire.”
As I contemplate this afternoon’s third and final installment of the White House/Republican defense of President Donald John Trump, I distill it to a simple question: Do the right thing or Do the white thing (or, if you prefer, Do the Alt-Right thing)?
The question of whether Donald Trump did what the House alleges has never been in much question and John Bolton’s book galleys are the final nail in the coffin. Moreover, the latest item, the fact that former White House chief of staff John Kelly has come out and said that he believes Bolton, is just another nail.
At least the O.J. jurors were given an out by Chris Darden: the glove didn’t fit. The glove not only fits here, but Trump has been wearing it throughout the proceedings.
So, 53 Republican senators. And most, if not all of them, appear to have a very myopic sense of historical perspective. They are worried about a nasty tweet from Trump; or a threat from Mitch McConnell; or an angry “base” who may not reelect them.
There’s no need to complicate it. Most of them are lawyers. Many of them have litigated in court. They have been on the side that asks a jury to study the evidence and follow the law. But now they’re conflicted—maybe there’s something more important than the law? Like unborn fetuses? Or their 401-Ks?
It’s so much simpler than that. Any person of character—good character—knows that you make decisions based on principles, not consequences. Because once you forfeit your principles for a short term gain, you are no longer a person worthy of being followed. Or listened to. No longer a person worthy to lead, or to represent others.
Do the right thing. It’ll be liberating. Suddenly you won’t be so hair-trigger angry any more. You won’t be defensive. You won’t ask people to repeat questions because you need time to think up a good lie or at least misleading response. You may even smile.
A vote for impeachment is not a vote against Donald Trump because you hate him. It’s a vote against a president who betrayed his oath of office. Nothing more, nothing less.
One final note: Imagine a black man is on trial for murder. Now, there are multiple witnesses who said he did it. The suspect even wrote a note claiming he did it. His defense team has no alibi. All they do is 1) quash any proposed witness from testifying and 2) make long-winded orations about how unfairly black people have been treated in America, bringing up slavery and Jim Crow laws and segregation and anything else they think will stick.
That’s their defense. You’re a Republican on that jury. Is that an adequate defense for you to declare him not guilty? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Of the Oscar-nominated Best Picture films this year, 1917 is by far our favorite. Is it the best? Everyone has their own tastes. For me it’s the one I’d most want to see once again. A few thoughts, not a review:
–Notice how much better the German trenches were dug than the Allied trenches. More professional, better engineering. With cement and wooden planks used. That’s not an accident that director Sam Mendes showed that.
–Notice the first and last shots of the film. Mendes gives us a brief glimpse of nature undisturbed. Beautiful. Bucolic. Serene. Then we plunge into human nature for nearly the next two hours before a final scene that, in the closing 30 seconds, is as close to heaven on earth as you’ll find. Again, no accident.
–Considering the glut of popular British actors who make a cameo in this film, I’m surprised I didn’t see Olivia Colman playing a soldier. And who knows—maybe she did? Three of the best things about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch—all have cameos, as does the sexy priest from Fleabag (Andrew Scott).
–I’ve heard complaints that it feels like a video game. Of course! But maybe it’s that video games were made to mirror war. There’s definitely a little Saving Private Ryan crossed with Raiders Of The Lost Ark going on here, but it works for us. At the end of an interminably long and arduous and deadly day, we get the outcome we get. And someone’s going to have to wake up and go through it all again tomorrow—and hope to survive. That’s infantry life.
Fantastic film. It should stay with you. And it’s our Best Picture favorite.
Orwell That Ends Well
From 1917 to 1984….
I was just thinking about how easy the Trump administration has made it for English teachers to hold spell-binding discussion groups on George Orwell’s 1984.
It does so via “newspeak” (e.g. “Fake news” or “alternative facts”) or via “doublethink” (e.g. Ken Starr standing up in the U.S. Senate yesterday and decrying the notion that we are in an “impeachment era.” No single human being did more to get us to this era, if you want to call it that, than Ken Starr. Honestly, the balls on this guy).
The greatest weapon we have against all of these lies and gas lighting is free speech, which manifests itself in a free press (which is the only reason you know about John Bolton’s revelations that Trump knew exactly what he was doing, to give just one of countless examples of how the NYT and WaPo have helped save the Union the past couple of years). And that is why there are no more White House press conferences. That is why Mike Pompeo is spreading lies about an NPR reporter, Mary Louise Kelly, and also insinuating that she was unable to find Ukraine on a map (“It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine”) when she in fact has a masters in European Studies from Cambridge.
Let’s be clear here: it is Pompeo’s boss who could not find Ukraine on a map.
*We have something we wanted to include today, but we saved it for the end of the blog so as to not disrupt flow (too late there, JW).
Published posthumously in 1980, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Toole had written it in 1963, while living in Puerto Rico, at the age of 26. Toole, who was never able to find a publisher willing to purchase his novel, committed suicide in 1969.
After years of languishing on my bookshelf, this book was finally picked up and read by me in the past month. What had I been waiting for? It is funny and genius and really, at least for me, right up there with Catch-22 in terms of humor and a little bit of satire in fiction. Our protagonist, Ignatius Reilly, ranks up there as one of the most memorable characters you’ll ever meet.
A quick aside about Ignatius: he’s hyper-educated, paranoid, self-righteous, acutely judgmental, a little bit mischievous, has delusions of grandeur and genius, a hypochondriac, and has an aversion both to work and accountability (I have a very good friend who’s almost a carbon copy, minus the girth). But his personality lends itself to some very funny misadventures.
In his foreword to the novel, esteemed New Orleans-based novelist Walker Percy recounts how he was teaching a course at Tulane and how this persistent woman pushed this manuscript into his hands. She begged him to read it, saying how her dead son had written it, and that it was really quite good. She returned more than once to implore him to pick up the manuscript.
Why would I want to do that (read it)?, Percy asked.
Because it is a great novel, she said.
Percy writes, “My only fear was that this [manuscript] might not be bad enough, or might be just good enough, so that I would have to keep reading. In this case I read on [after the first paragraph]. First with the sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good.”
Give Percy credit. It was mainly through his efforts that the manuscript was published. Instead of being jealous and petty, he was instead gracious and heroic.
We though a lot about John Kennedy Toole as we read his book. A young writer who believed in himself enough to devote hundreds of hours to a tightly written, comic triumph of a novel, and yet in life never received an ounce of approbation for his efforts (imagine going through life as a writer without a Susie B. in the stands… I shudder to think). It’s tragic, really. Because Toole’s manuscript was more than just simply good enough to be published: it won the Pulitzer, and deservedly so. What does that tell you?
And yet, as I approached the novel’s conclusion, it felt as if Toole, who fashioned his anti-hero partly on himself, was prescient enough to appreciate how all of this would go down. Here is Ignatius Reilly, just six pages from the novel’s conclusion. He is staging a getaway from his home with his partner in anarchy, Myrna Minkoff, hoping to make his exodus before the ambulance from the looney bin arrives. On the floor of his bedroom are scores of his rambling prose, all set down in Big Chief tablets. Myrna asks Ignatius if he wants to pack anything before they depart.
“Oh, of course. There are all of my notes and jottings. We must never let them fall into the hands of my mother. She may make a fortune from them. It would be too ironic.”
I’m trying to imagine the look on Toole’s mom’s face, and Percy’s, when they first read that line. Oh, Fortuna!
Kobe And Copters
A couple more thoughts on Kobe…
–I thought Geno Auriemma put it succinctly here: “He’s a guy that the world is gonna miss.”
–I’d like to see a Venn diagram of the people who were in a rush to call out Kobe’s sexual allegation and the people who voted for our current president. Not excusing what allegedly happened in Colorado, just noting.
–Finally, and this may be too soon, but I’m just pointing out the irony. I remember the first time I read about Kobe commuting by helicopter. It might have been in a profile of him in Sports Illustrated, perhaps by Rick Reilly or Richard Hoffer. I’m not sure. I remember thinking, That saves time but it’s a little like picking a card from a deck where there’s one black card of the 52 (or maybe of the 520) and if you happen to pick that card, well…
The tragic irony here is that Kobe commuted by helicopter hundreds of times, if not thousands, in order to save time. And of course it was due to a helicopter crash that he left us at the age of 41. Of course, he would’ve been more statistically likely, I’m guessing, to perish in an auto accident if he’d driven instead of flying every time. Fate is what it is. But Rule No. 1 is always Rule No. 1.
Five Films: 2003
Lost In Translation: What’s it all about, really? I’ve always thought of it as embracing the wonder of finding a soulmate on this giant planet of ours no matter where or who you are in life. Those encounters don’t come around very often.
Love, Actually: I truly wanted to despise this film and resisted seeing it in the theaters. But when I finally sat down to watch, it met its desired goal of manipulating me emotionally. And there’s always a chance that the single mom at your child’s school will be Claudia Schiffer. It could happen!
American Splendor: Like the man whose life it is based upon, Harvey Pekar, this is a quirky sometimes melancholy sometimes cranky film, but with a lot of love at the center. Love this one.
The Station Agent: What a trio: Patty Clarkson, Bobby Canavale and Peter Dinklage hanging out at a deserted railway depot in New Jersey. Doesn’t sound like much, but it is.
Seabiscuit: Movies cannot do justice to Laura Hillenbrand books, but this one did a better job than the other one would.
Leftovers: I’ve never seen Elf. I know. Some day. Old School wasn’t my comedic cup of tea.
Here are the names of all 53 of the Republican senators. If they vote to refuse to hear John Bolton’s testimony, they belong on the same trash heap of history as the Trumps, Mike Pompeo, William Barr, et al…
Just two of the terms on constant refrain since mid-afternoon here in New York City yesterday. Kobe Bryant, 41, along with eight others including his 13 year-old daughter, Gianna (“GiGi”), is dead. All perished in a helicopter crash along a hillside in Calabasas, Calif., at roughly 9:52 a.m.
Those are some of the words that described the young man when he entered the league and for much of his career.
Warm. Generous. Content. Open. Interested. Gracious. Brilliant. Charismatic. At peace.
That’s the Kobe we saw on television in his final NBA season and in his post-NBA life, a life that was beginning to blossom into him becoming the type of black business magnate that Magic Johnson had become, only with a more global tinge due in part to his being multilingual.
That is the biggest tragedy here. You could just see from his interviews lately, from the moments that you saw him with his daughter, that that angry young man, that fierce warrior, had transformed himself into a joyful and engaged elder statesman. Kobe understood what he meant to basketball, what he meant to Los Angeles and he basked in it. He wanted to learn more, to do more, to give more. It was all ahead of him: 41 years old, hundreds of millions to his name, a wife and four young daughters. These next 40 or so years were supposed to be his beautiful reward. There’s no mitigating this—it’s just a massive loss.
I jotted down a few ideas yesterday afternoon. It’s not a cohesive, even coherent column, just a few random Kobe-related thoughts strung together:
—There’s an age dividing line, I’d say it runs somewhere between 45 and 50 years old, that will likely determine if you think of Michael Jordan first or Kobe Bryant first in terms of the greatest one-on-one ballers in NBA history (I say it that way because Wilt Chamberlain was simply on another planet in terms of dominance but since most fans cannot relate to a giant who rarely dribbled, they don’t think of Wilt that way). I think of Jordan first. When I think of Kobe, I think of the one player since Jordan who matched MJ’s talent, his determination and his give-it-to-me-when-the-game-is-on-the-line fearlessness. They were even roughly the same size, with Jordan just a bit thicker, especially in the later years. It would be wrong to call Kobe, who was passed on Saturday night by LeBron James on the all-time scoring list to “fall” down to 4th on it, as a slightly less version of Michael Jordan. He was simply a slightly later iteration of the perfect NBA small forward.
–When Kobe first appeared, profile stories of him would include the aside that “Kobe” came from a type of beef that was very expensive and originated with a herd in Japan. Almost nobody knew what kobe beef was then. Everyone knows what it is now.
–Singular. In case you do not recall, Kobe made the All-Star Game at age 19. It was held at Madison Square Garden. During one infamous play, he had the ball out on the wing and Karl Malone, on his West squad, did what Karl Malone did better than anyone in NBA history: he moved out to set a pick for him. Karl Malone, who at the time was in the midst of winning two league MVP awards in three seasons (Kobe would only win one during his career) and who to this day is one of only three humans who ranks higher on the NBA’s all-time points list than Kobe. And what did Kobe do? He shooed Malone away. He wanted to break down his defender one-on-one.
That play defined Kobe, for better and for worse, for the first half of his career. At the same time, his artistry and athleticism were from another galaxy. By that point Jordan was in his mid-thirties and it was clear that Kobe was the heir to a throne that MJ had inherited from Julius Erving 14 years earlier and had himself taken to previously unexplored orbits.
–There has been no greater NBA odd couple on one team than Shaq and Kobe. The ultimate Extrovert paired with the ultimate Introvert. Clown and Samurai. And that might have worked if one of them was much older than the other, as it had when Magic and Kareem shared the floor for the Lakers nearly two decades earlier. Magic, the Shaq of his times in terms of being gregarious, was always, ALWAYS, deferential to Kareem, who was a shell of his former self in the Eighties but remains to this day the league’s all-time leading scorer.
Shaq and Kobe could not play that way. They were too close in age, two alpha males staking out their territory, They won three titles with Phil Jackson at the helm, but it couldn’t last. And the Lakers parted with Shaq, not Kobe.
–Kobe would win two more NBA championships with a bunch of teammates who were good, not great. That he could lead the Lakers to titles having to get past the San Antonio Spurs in their prime is a testament to his singular greatness. On the court, he was an assassin. There was no mercy. The 81-point game versus the Raptors. The 61-point game at Madison Square Garden, still the venue record. When Kobe had it flowing, forget about it. Watch out and step back. Only Michael Jordan in his prime ever touched the heavens that way.
–He was not easy. Or often, back then, likable. He had problems with Shaq. Then with Karl Malone. Then with Dwight Howard. And he spent most of his career being compared to Michael. The focus was on whether or not he was superior to MJ (“Temecula!”) when it should have been on, How many players get compared to MJ (answer: one)? That comparison drove him, but it also scarred him to a degree during his playing days. Because too many fans saw him as derivative, as honing in on their god’s legacy. The truth is: he was right there with him, a veritable equal.
No one worked harder than Kobe behind the scenes, and no one had less empathy for teammates (or opponents) who did not match that standard. You rarely saw him smile. Happy was not a word you thought of when you saw Kobe play. Fierce was. The nickname “Mamba” fit. He was fast, sleek, lethal. He struck quickly. He was cold. Reptilian.
–And then a funny thing happened. Kobe stuck around, his teams were no longer great, he experienced a few injuries, and he looked around and saw that even he was going to have to admit defeat to Father Time. He smiled more. He smiled back. He accepted the love, not just from fans but from the younger players who had grown up idolizing him. He became gracious. When the famous “Temecula” incident took place (two NBA fans arguing online over whether Kobe was the GOAT with one challenging the other to meet in Temecula, about 50 miles north of San Diego, and then one of them actually driving there to make the showdown), Kobe smiled about it. He loved that fans were that passionate about him. And he was self-aware enough to see the humor in it.
In short, as someone said on TV last night, “He got it.” He had gone from assassin to ambassador over the course of his legendary career.
–The 60-point career finale. I watched all of it on TV. What people forget is that he started slow and that the Lakers, who would not make the playoffs, trailed Utah most of the contest. Kobe did not make a bucket in the game’s first six minutes, missing his first five shots. Then, with LA trailing by 10 points with 2:36 left, Kobe embarked on a career-defining rampage, scoring 13 unanswered points on his own to both reach 60 and give LA the victory.
It was right out of a movie. With that 60-point night, Kobe’s career scoring average stands at 24.99 ppg. If you want to round it up this morning, feel free.
–I met Kobe when he was 18. I was doing a story on NBA sideline reporter Jim Gray and met him in Salt Lake City before Game 1 of the 1998 Western Conference finals (Utah would blow out LA, 112-77). We were walking onto an empty court in an empty Delta Center 3-plus hours before the game and one player was on the court shooting: Kobe.
Gray took me over to introduce me to Kobe when he finished his shoot around. He was poised, quiet, respectful, professional. Serious. Nothing stands out more than that. Later that day after the game Gray introduced me, at his hotel, to Bill Walton. Now, 1998 Bill Walton was a somewhat surly character. Not like the guy you see/hear on ESPN today. It struck me yesterday that here are two of the greatest legends in LA hoops history and how much they had transformed themselves, in terms of finding that joie de vivre and sharing it with the world, in the past 20-plus years. That was both of their triumphs’.
–I remember covering the 2008 NBA Finals in Los Angeles and watching Kobe walk through the tunnel. By this point in his career he had shaved his head and added muscle without really adding any girth. I remember thinking of him as almost alien. If not from another planet, then, at least from another species. A superior species. He was also incredibly composed on the podium, highly intelligent. Almost like a king.
–The news will do what it must do, which is to investigate the crash and the causes behind it. That’s fine. It seems to me that it will in many ways mirror the JFK, Jr., crash: flying in poor weather with extremely poor visibility and making a few poor choices at the most inopportune time. And that is what it is.
What I’ll think about is how from the time that Larry Bird and Magic entered the NBA until today, the sport went from No. 3 in popularity in the USA (finals games were aired on tape delay) to No. 2 but in some ways No. 1 in terms of the athletes themselves being the most popular. Kobe was one of a handful of dudes, along with the aforementioned two, plus MJ and LeBron, who took the NBA to this plateau. He was as fierce and gifted a competitor as any sport has ever seen, right up alongside peak MJ and Tiger and Serena. He was a one-word entity, known and revered all over the globe.
These decades were supposed to be his beautiful reward. On a Sunday morning in a fog-shrouded canyon northwest of Los Angeles, he was robbed of them. Unspeakably sad.
Five Films: 2002
This year is more about my failing to see plenty of possibly top five-worthy films (below) than the year not being very good. Perhaps a little of both.
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers: Easily the best film in the trilogy, which is of course why the third and final film, and not this, would later win Best Picture. Smeagol/Gollum is one of the top ten film characters of this century and Andy Serkis deserved a Best Supporting Actor nom (denied here). 2. Chicago: Best picture winner based on the Broadway musical. Sometimes good-looking people singing catchy tunes is enough. 3. The Ring: A proper horror flick with a clutch-your-seatrest final scene. 4. The Bourne Identity: A James Bond-gone-rogue (or has he?) film starring Matt Damon. Satisfying to say the least. 5. Catch Me If You Can: Leo and T. Hanks play cat-and-mouse in the early Sixties.
Have never seen but would be willing to: 24-Hour Party People, City Of God, Talk To Her, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Pianist, 28 Days Later, Minority Report, Whale Rider, About Schmidt, Dogtown and Z-Boys.
Check the time stamp. We wrote that just before the market opened on January 7, when one share of Tesla (TSLA) cost $461. Today shares of Tesla will open at around $575. That’s about a 25% jump in two weeks.
Everybody Wang Qiang Tonight
In Melbourne, the greatest women’s singles player arguably ever, Serena Williams, loses in three sets at the Australian Open to Wang Qiang. Much later that same day, Roger Federer, the greatest men’s player in terms of grand slam singles titles, overcomes a 4-point deficit in a fifth-set tiebreak that went past midnight to defeat John Millman and advance.
Serena, age 38, remains stuck on 23 women’s Grand Slam singles titles all-time. The record belongs to Margaret Court, an Aussie, who had 24. Federer, also 38, has the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles, 20. The Swiss Mister trailed 8-4 in the fifth set—fifth set tiebreakers were just extended from first to 7 to first to 10 this year at the Aussie Open—before banging out six consecutive points to take down the Aussie Millman.
That’s going to leave a mark.
This is the historical moment of the impeachment trial. Adam Schiff went out over the past three days and etched his name in political history. Well done.
All Of Fame
Another pretty good but not unbelievably good athlete (Eli Manning) retires, and another outbreak of arguments on Twitter as to whether or not he is Hall Of Fame-worthy. Augggh!
It occurred to me how much more palatable Twitter, or at least Sports Twitter, would be if we could eliminate any usage of three terms: “Mount Rushmore,” “GOAT”, and “Hall of Fame.”
As to the first, I’d require that anyone wishing to use it first know who the four people on the actual Mount Rushmore are and that maybe they know what state it is in. Also, you can make an argument that these may not even be the four greatest presidents. They may be, I think two of them definitely belong, but you can argue that FDR and Harry Truman might at least replace one of the other two (of course, the mountain face had already been carved out by then).
So, okay, “Mount Rushmore” is just another way of saying “four best.” What makes GOAT so obnoxious is that is someone is using that term, and using it on Twitter, their concept of “Of All Time” almost never extends beyond the end of the Reagan presidency…. and that’s being kind. Most GOAT names do not pre-date LeBron’s first dribble. So that’s just historical ignorance on display.
As for HOF, who cares? For a few reasons: first, if you need to debate whether someone belongs in an HOF or not, then they don’t. Second, no one can tell you that an athlete or artist is less than superb if you believe they are—regardless if their legacy is formally institutionalized. Finally, HOF debates seem to be subjective as to lean toward the totality of one’s career. That’s just wrong.
For example, anyone who witnessed Mark Fidrych’s rookie season would probably agree that he belongs somewhere in Cooperstown, even if it’s just a “One-Hit Wonders” wing. As for Eli, his escape and throw to David Tyree in Super Bowl 46 or whatever it was, well, that’s the greatest play in Super Bowl history. Regardless of what analytics tell you about both of their careers, that PLAY belongs in Canton.
Hall of Fame arguments are always apples to oranges debates. Anyway, peoples seem to prefer arguing anyway. I guess I’m even doing that here. But I remember a time when people didn’t throw these terms around so much, and those were better times. And…better people.
And Now A Word About Climate Change To Brighten Your Day
Here’s a lawyer friend of ours making a legal, step-by-step argument about climate change and its effects. It’s worth your time although I believe 1) he buried the lede by not mentioning near the top that “humans are releasing too much carbon” and 2) when he warns that “billions will die” he’s missing the larger point that mass extinctions are just another brilliant way that the earth self-regulates.
Just as there’s a carbon cycle, there’s also a species cycle. It’s like a subway car. When there are too many people in a subway car, you move to another one or you wait for the next train. The earth, ultimately, will survive. Many of us won’t, but that’s the price that has to be paid for the planet’s survival. And it will be written that we were the one species that possessed the intellect to understand what was taking place and the capacity to do something about it, but we did not. Why not? Because man is a competitive and selfish animal, and ultimately the powerful chose money over the welfare of all because money ensures survival, short-term, for those who have it. And I’m not just talking about being able to afford a home, but in terms of being able to pick the most suitable mate, all of it. So those who had the power to stop it lectured those who attempted to make a change by telling them to “take a course in economics.” Which is ironic because economics is not the study of money or wealth but rather of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. And if you don’t have oxygen, or land, or water, well, those are pretty fundamental goods and services.
Five Films: 2001
Here comes the long and almost unbroken string of years, continuing to this day, where I’m going to have to do some mental gymnastics to find five films that I really, really like. Your mileage may vary. Feel free to differ. Now playing: “They don’t make ’em like they used to…”
Training Day: The only film from this year that I honestly enjoy watching again. I’ve missed most of Denzel Washington’s major films, but if he’s better in any of those than he is in this one, I need to see them. “My n*gg**!” And yes, that’s Tuco from Breaking Bad in the barrio casa. 2. A Beautiful Mind: Yeah, it’s more than a little annoying. And how many movies from this era (The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense) feature a character who’s only a figment of someone’s imagination? The bar pickup scene in the beginning of the film is what stays with me. 3. Mulholland Drive: As soon as someone explains to me what this is about, I’m sure I’ll love it even more. 4. The Others: A unique ghost story starring Nicole Kidman, with a hard twist at the end. 5. Moulin Rouge: Never saw it but Katie M. will never talk to me again if I don’t include it.
A deadly virus breaks out in China, as officials there do their best to contain information surrounding the epidemic. Then it spreads across the planet. Is this current events or the first chapter of Max Brooks’ zombie pandemic thriller World War Z?
Turns out, both. I’m rooting for the coronavirus, by the way. Wuhan, incidentally, is a cozy city about 200 miles inland from Shanghai that you’ve never heard of (perhaps) and never visited (definitely) and yet it has a larger population than that of New York City.
Number-one overall draft pick Zion Williamson at last made his NBA debut for the Pelican West last night. The game tipped off at 9:30 and then Zion sputtered through the first three quarters with five total points. Then, after 11 p.m. local time, long after many had gone to bed, lightning struck.
In a brief window, Zion scored 17 consecutive points for the gulls, including going 4-for-4 from beyond the arc (something he’s not particularly renowned for). Zion finishes with 22 in his NBA debut as the Birds fall to San Antonio.
When The Schiff Hits The Fan
It’s going to require a 2/3 vote in the Senate to remove Donald Trump from office. That means at least half the Republicans in the chamber will have to vote to impeach.
That ain’t happening.
But with every minute of time Adam Schiff gets at the podium, the congressman from California is laying bare just how open-and-shut this case against the president is. He’s concise, he’s direct and he’s even-tempered. But he’s also candid: a vote against impeachment is a vote against the Constitution. You’re voting for power, not for integrity.
Here’s The Washington Post on Schiff. Two lines stand out in case you’re not in the mood to click on the link. One…
“… that is what the trial is about. It’s about making clear to the entire country that Trump did exactly what he is accused of, but that his own party, suffering from political cowardice and intellectual corruption, do not have the nerve to stop him.”
“If abuse of power isn’t impeachable, then the president is king.”
There’s still an unbeaten in men’s Division I basketball. Did you know that? I did not know that. Moreover, this 20-0 squad is not one of the seven schools that has at one point this season occupied the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
All hail San Diego State.
Granted, the fourth-ranked Aztecs have not played a ranked opponent. It will be interesting to see if they can somehow land a No. 1 seed if they never meet a ranked foe and go through the regular season undefeated. No opponent has come within 9 points of them since early December.
Yanni Wetzell, the team’s leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer, is a 6’10” Kiwi grad transfer with previous stops at Vanderbilt and a D-2 school in San Antonio. He’s a former world-ranked junior tennis player.
Five Films: 2000
Almost Famous: How could we put this one any lower when it inspired the name of this daily exercise in pedantry? The only fast note for me was when Bill Miller rips Russell a new one over Penny Lane’s near-suicide. But the final scene redeems it. “To begin with… everything.” 2. Gladiator: Were we not entertained? We were. The opening battle scene was Braveheart in a wintry Bavarian forest. Awesome. 3. Sexy Beast: Ben Kingsley won an Oscar for portraying Gandhi. He deserved one here even more for portraying a character that couldn’t be any further from that one. Love this film. If you’ve never seen it, change that. Ian McShane is also excellent. 4. You CanCount On Me: Sweet little film about adult siblings played by Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. 5. Traffic: Muy depressing, but in terms of vehicular-related one-word titles, way less pretentious than Crash.
Finding it odd that I spotted this on Twitter and not YouTube.
Mr. Schiff Goes To Washington
The Democrats don’t stand much of a chance of winning this Senate impeachment trial, but thanks to forthright representatives such as Adam Schiff, they do stand a decent chance of exposing the Republicans in both the Senate and the White House for the corrupt individuals they are. In the wee hours of the morning Mr. Schiff proposed an amendment whereby Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate trial and who himself was appointed to the bench by a Republican president (Bush II), would have the final say over whether or not a proposed witness is relevant and would be heard from. The Republicans struck even that measure down.
Tells you all that you need to know.
That what is taking place right now in this same chamber mirrors so closely what happened in a film that came out 81 years ago is sad. But it’s true.
The Worst And The Whitest
Read this tweet to compare what’s going down right now with what went down during then President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. And remember, the “crime” Clinton committed was lying about having oral sex in the Oval Office with a member of his staff (yes, Beavis, I wrote both “member” and “staff”).
Here’s an easy analogy to explain how the White House and its lawyers are behaving: Say they’re the school yard bully holding your glasses high above your head and demanding you read a note. And you’ve told them you want to read the note and will do so if you can just have your glasses back. And they say, “If you can read the note, why do you need your glasses?” And this keeps going round and round.
That’s what’s happening in our “venerable” Senate right now. Please note: I was never the bully or the bespectacled kid. I was probably eating a sloppy joe.
The Kid’s In The Hall
Twenty seasons. Five World Series rings. Sixth all-time in base hits and most games played by a Yankee. Derek Jeter (“Number 2, Derek Jeter”) came up one vote shy of being the second player ever elected unanimously (teammate Mariano Rivera is the only one) to the Baseball Hall of Fame. So now No. 2 is No. 2 all-time in terms of percentage of voters who put them on their ballot (99.7%). We don’t yet know who the outlier was but you might guess he lives in New England.
Uh, Larry Walker was also elected, just barely, eh.
“The Cincinnati Bengals Are On The Dock”
At some point in the 1990s at Sports Illustrated our beloved writer Jack McCallum (that dude who managed to get along with EVERYONE) was put in charge of Scorecard, and I’m pretty sure it was he who came up with the weekly segment “This Week’s Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us.” The “Apocalypse” note was a way of winking at the absurdity of American sports, or our values, without sounding like a shrew week in and week out.
A brilliant idea. The world’s going down in flames. You can either get mad about it each week or you can go Kurt Vonnegut. So it goes…
So here’s the NFL, earnestly informing us that the 2020 NFL Draft will take place outside at the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. And that players picked will be whisked by boat up to the stage (P.J. Fleck has to love that). And let there be show girls. Plenty of show girls.
Every draftee should also shake the hand of Wayne Newton upon reaching the stage, no? And let’s hope next month’s NFL combine includes a swim test, or are you prepared to jump in and save Derrick Brown if his boat capsizes?
Five Films: 1999*
The Matrix: Never mind the revolutionary filming techniques or the slick costumes. The story is something right out of a Ray Bradbury novel and looking back 20-plus years, unbelievably prescient. The matrix IS real, Neo. But the line I’ve also never forgotten? Man is a virus. 2. The Sixth Sense: It was a few scenes in, when Bruce Willis was talking to Haley Joel Osment’s mom in the living room, that I began to figure out the conceit. You? 3. Galaxy Quest: Tim Allen’s other space man character is more likeable than Buzz Lightyear. With an incredible supporting cast that included Tony Shalhoub, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell and Alan Rickman. By Grapthar’s hammer… 4) The Blair Witch Project: I’ve never seen it a second time, but the first time I saw it I did not fall asleep at all that night. That’s the mark of a great horror film. 5) Office Space: What makes it both funny and sad is that it’s all so accurate.
*We left out one film because the first rule of that film is that it does not exist.