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Podcast from 2010 Boston Book Festival

Here is the podcast from the panel at the Boston Book Festival on October 16, 2010 entitled “Baseball: Writing About America’s Favorite Pastime.”  It featured authors Howard Bryant, James Hirsch, and Andy Wasif, and was moderated by NPR’s Bill Littlefield. 

http://www.bostonbookfest.org/archives_2010#audio

 

 

[featured image by: digitalart]

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God and Sports: What Effect Does HE Have?

Stevie Johnson won the game for the Buffalo Bills.  That’s what Geoff Hangartner thought when he turned his back the moment the ball landed perfectly in Johnson’s hands and he rushed to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to celebrate.  “Perhaps a little dance, perhaps I’ll throw the signal caller on my back and gallop around for a little bit; maybe just a simple helmet bump,” the Bills center thought. 

Fitzpatrick, by that time, had already gone from celebration to mourning, clutching his helmet in disbelief.  The Harvard-educated quarterback knew the degree of the ball’s trajectory, the force with which he threw it, and the speed of the wide receiver all came together to make the perfect throw.  He also knew the odds that such a perfect throw would be dropped were low, yet still feasible.  And he knew the likelihood that what he was seeing was real and not a philosophical manifestation or existential occurrence. 

Steve Johnson was not so cerebral about it.  He just knew that he had [bleeped] up.  He did catch the ball perfectly on the bounce though, so he had that going for him.  But that didn’t count and someone was to blame.  Who would have thought that it was the Lord?

After the game, the wide receiver tweeted, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!” YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO”

Is God even on Twitter?  Not that HE couldn’t figure it out, but HE may have deemed it as a waste of time.  I mean, after all, if HE was spending time on the site, do you think HE would’ve finished the world in only six days?  HE’s very into time management.  

But that’s besides that point.  One thing we do know is that God has a sense of humor.  It’s why some men have hair on their backs, but not their heads.  It’s why we still need orthodonture work done throughout our adulthood after getting a half dozen teeth pulled and wearing braces for two years during adolescence. 

Have you ever lost your keys and looked in your coat pocket without finding them.  Then you’re back to your coat pocket later in the day and the object reappears?  That’s God.  You can thank him for replacing your keys.  Of course, you could also blame him for taking them in the first place.  

Though an omniscient being, do you think God gets the sarcasm at the end?  “Thx tho.”  Or was Johnson being sincere?  “Oh, yeah, thanks for those times you didn’t screw me.  I wouldn’t want to see ungrateful.  But for this particular time, you’re on my list, buddy.” 

Players frequently thank the Lord when they win the game or make a great play.  This would be the first time in recorded history where the “Big G” was publicly thrown under the Crosstown Heavenly Express Bus (the #8 for those with a heavenly bus schedule). 

But what hand does God actually have in the game?  There’s this old gem from a couple of years ago:

God was giving Yankees manager Joe Torre a tour of heaven. He showed him a little run-down 2-room house with a faded Yankees banner hanging from the front porch. God said, “This is your new home, Skip. Most people don’t get their own house up here.”

Joe looked at the house then turned to see the house on the top of the hill; a huge 2-story mansion with white marble columns and plush patios under each window. Boston Red Sox flags lined the sidewalks and windows and a huge Red Sox banner hung between the marble columns.

 “God, with all due respect, let me ask you a question: How come I get this little house with a torn Yankees banner that proclaims our 26 World Series titles while Terry Francona gets a huge mansion with Red Sox banners and flags flying all over the place?”

God smiles for a moment then replies, “That’s not Terry’s house, that’s mine.”

And you can replace the Yankees with the Patriots or Duke Blue Devils, whatever you want.  The truth is God doesn’t have a favorite.  HE just has a sense of humor.  HE loves that joke.  HE loves when you tell it to make your team feel like they are chosen.  HE also loves when your team screws up.  It’s funny.  Ever see those blooper reels on the lighter side of sports?  God’s got them all (on Blueray, of course).

He’s certainly not biased toward one team or another . . . (although there is significant evidence to indicate he’s not a fan of Cleveland).  But scholars spend so much time focusing on the existence of God and his effect on games that they neglect his most significant nemesis, the Devil. 

Remember, the Hades resident exists as much as he’d have you forgot about him.  “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”  That’s from “The Usual Suspects” and doesn’t give away the ending, though if you still haven’t seen it by now, I should ruin it for you just based on principle.  

I find it strange that El Diablo doesn’t get more due.  He’s behind lots of things.  But winners praise God, who is probably amused by the attention, while the Devil is ignored.  It would make just as much sense, if not more. 

Take the 1990 NY Giants after the kick by Buffalo’s Scott Norwood’s sailed wide right sealing his team’s fate – why don’t players get into the locker room after the game and say to the reporters, “Phew!  The Bills played tough out there tonight, but we had Lucifer on our side.  Thank the Devil.  Super Bowl Champs, Baby!!!”

God, quite frankly, is not a sports fan.  Do you know how trying that would be on HIM?  “Have you ever seen a World Series baseball game on tv?”  Of course, you haven’t, few people have.  Sorry.  Stupid question.  Any sport will do, really.

If you had, you’d see all these people sitting in the stands, hands clasped deep in prayer.  Most of them swear their butts off and are probably cheating on their spouses, so they’re not really very religious.  During these times, God gets deluged with requests much like a city’s septic system does during commercials of a Super Bowl broadcast. 

Philosophers have struggled over this for centuries, back when the first rock slipped through the first caveman’s hands or a sword fell out of a Gladiator’s hand just as the lion was about to pounce, or the sun got into a knight’s eyes enough to obscure the angle of the attacking knight’s lance. 

The issue has haunted the likes of such great minds as Kirkegaard, Newton, and Vegas bookmaker Joey “Muffintop” D’Angelo who theorized that God was a fan of Rollie Massimino’s animated coaching style and thus made a fortune on the 1985 CAA Finals. 

Nope, Lucifer just knew a good opportunity to screw a lot of bettors.  “#8 seeds never win.”  Heh heh.  Yeah, we’ll see about that. 

The Devil is the sports fan.  He loves messing with things.  God has better things to do.  If God cared, do you think the Yankees would really have 27 championships?  Would a team named the Blue Devils win so much?  How would that look?  (Actually, that’s exactly the kind of humor God goes for.  He’s an ironic dude.)  

Of course, there is the less-publicized theory that a couple of guys at Buffalo Wild Wings who weren’t ready to head home to their wives used their connections to the Rich Stadium grounds crew to keep the game going.  But like I said, it’s only a theory.

What do I know anyway?  Until now, I thought Newton spent all his time creating a delectable snack cookie made from figs.

 

 

[featured image by: Danilo Rizzuti]

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Postcards From the Hedge

Postcards from the Hedge

April 29th

Dearest Penelope,

We arrived today in Chesterfield and are staying at a delightful bed & breakfast.  Winston is so romantic.  He had my favorite flowers, lilacs and petunias, waiting for me in our room.  Though he realized he’s allergic to lilacs, he insisted that we keep them in the room while he sleep outside.  What a gentleman!  We have an early morning in front of us so I’m off to bed without any further delay.

Sincerely yours,

Annabelle
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April 30th

My dearest Penelope,

I must tell you our nature walk was extraordinary.  When we set out down the path this morning, I expected only to see ants, mosquitoes, and ladybugs, but was overwhelmed by a variety of creatures including a stag beetle and a red-spotted purple butterfly.  And the things I am learning from Winston.  He mistakenly captured a regal fritillary in his net thinking it was a checkerspots fritillary before realizing the latter is indigenous to northern Spain and Central Asia.  I have never been more attracted to him as I am now.  I’m extremely tired now so I’ll continue my correspondence with you tomorrow.

Yours,

Annabelle
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May 2nd

Dear Penelope,

I believe that I am in love with Winston.  Today, as we were seated on a rotting log alongside the trail, he put his arm around me.  (Oh, Penelope, I know what you’re thinking and you do have the wildest imagination.)  No, he was simply brushing a Japanese beetle off my shoulder.  The chivalry never ceases with him.  Then he went on to describe the larvae stage of the beetle.  Fascinating!  He is so smart.  We went back to our room expecting to have a romantic evening last night, but Winston had a sneezing attack as the lilacs are still in the room.  So I went to bed alone and awoke well-rested for another day on the trail.

Annabelle
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May 2nd (p.m.)

Penelope,

This has been the most incredible day.  Winston proposed!  It was so romantic, like something out of a novel.  Instead of a ring, he presented me with a firefly.  That original Dickens!  Without me suspecting anything, he captured it on the trail with the intention of jarring it until evening when it might illuminate for me.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be a striped blister beetle (the look quite similar to the firefly) that bit Winston on the hand.  My silly little Romeo has iced his hand and is now resting as he’s had his fill for one day.  I’m all flushed with excitement so I’ve ordered a hot toddy and it’s straight to bed.

Regards,

Annabelle
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May 3rd

Penny,

It seems my poor Winston had a slight reaction with that beetle yesterday.  He looks so cute puffed up like a float entered in the Rose Parade.  He hasn’t lost his nobility, though.  Not wanting to put a damper on my walk, he gave me his binoculars and sent me out by myself.  I missed him terribly, though I did encounter a pack of Monarch butterflies flying past me.  They must have been returning from their winter migration.  How lucky I was!  Absolutely breathtaking.

Anna
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May 4th

Dear Penelope,

Winston is dead.  The physician said the bite on his hand coupled with his allergy to lilacs weakened his immune system.  Given the news, I opted not to stray from my room today.  Perhaps I will write more later, but for now I am emotionally drained.

In deep sadness,

Annabelle
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May 7th

P,

As you can see by the front of the card, I’ve decided to finish my vacation in the Caribbean as I’ve never been.  It’s absolute paradise.  Plus, I’ve met the most wonderful man named Fernando who’s going to teach me how to “bodyboard.”  I look forward to telling you all about it when I return next week.

Hugs,

A

 

 

 

[featured image by: tharkul]

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Thor’s Exploration

Thor stood at the bow of the massive vessel.  He was tired.  It had been months since he constructed the ship, years since he first dreamed of setting out to discover new territory, and almost a decade since he and Fjorgyn Karsefni had spoken after one sordid night he deemed to be true destiny and she chalked up to too much mead.

In one hundred days at sea, they’d lost two ships and countless men.  Thor wondered if he’d ever see his family again.  He longed for the simple life of pillaging and plundering he’d left behind (though he could never remember which was which).

Their only amusement was a chessboard brought on board by Thorfinn Sturluson.  But the crew lost interest quickly when they realized Thorfinn cheated terribly.  He would swear, “The horsie can move anywhere!  If you don’t believe me, ask the Eastern Slavs.”  But if there were any Eastern Slavs on board, they weren’t talking.

The men were destitute:  want of spirit, want of affection, want of life.  Their meager diet consisted of porridge, boiled fish, and  crème de menthe brulee with wild berries and caramelized sugar garnished with a mint sprig.  They could take no more.

As they rowed, the crew glared at Thor with contempt, a far cry from the trust and admiration they felt towards him when the journey began.  But Thor was filled with resentment as well—mostly towards his longtime friend Thorvald Herjolfsson, who, in a moment of frustration, pushed Thor’s Runic monument to his father overboard saying it disrupted the energy of the boat.  Thor retaliated by throwing Thorvald’s book on Feng Shui overboard.  Petty as it was, neither man was going to present the other with an olive branch of peace.  Thorvald had thrown that off two days earlier.

There was not much time left as the supply of grain was running low.  Thor was not going to look at the endless horizon anymore.  He lowered his head and prayed silently to the Gods.

In a moment one could only call divine intervention, a speck appeared on the horizon.  Leif Thorrson cried, “Land!” but no one paid him any heed mainly because he had a bad habit of yelling “Land!” every hour, a habit that earned him the nickname, “The Timekeeper.”  This time, however, it was land.  All at once, the crew exploded in elation.  But lest they suffer from premature celebration, each man returned his focus to reaching the shore.  With the strength and power of a hundred ships, they stroked and stroked as the oak planks glided through the water.  The tide lent a hand and propelled the boat onto the beach lurching the crew to the sand.

Standing slowly on dry land for the first time in months, they looked around, gazing in stunned silence at the natural beauty that lay in front of them:  forests of willow and birch, magnificent fjords, rolling hills.

After what seemed an eternity, Thorvald approached Thor and handed him the flag.  Thor accepted it as the two men shared a moment of unspoken reconciliation.

With a tear in his eye, he jabbed the stick into the sand.  The crew cheered.  Then, with his voice cracking both from pride and exhaustion, Thor spoke.  “My friends,” he began, “it has been a long and arduous journey, but our labors have been rewarded.  We started out mere boys, but ended up men who have made history.  After a myriad of sunrises and sunsets, storms, the loss of our brothers at sea, we accomplished the impossible.  Now we must get word to our families and neighbors that we’re alive and well and about to settle in a new world.”  He sighed.  “Everyone back in the boat.”

*excerpted from “Will Beg For Dignity” (OhSchnappa Publishing, 2001)

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Legendary Athletes Come Together for a Cause

Imagine a political conference with all the great leaders of the world.  Now imagine that very same gathering with a selection of record-setting athletes and Hall of Famers.  Where politics has the G8 summit, sports has the Harold Pump Foundation Dinner.

The 11th star-studded event took place inCentury City,California this past week and featured the very demographic, along with stars of entertainment, the world of business, and politics.  Going into this year, twins Dana and David Pump have raised $4.6 million to help fight cancer, the disease to which their father lost his fight in 1999.  Each year, they honor inspirational people and their accomplishments.

This year was no different as Marcus Allen, Jerry West, and Oscar de la Hoya received Lifetime Achievement Awards, along with current Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn.

Being on the red carpet and interacting with these all-time greats is a fun and educational experience.  Just getting to take a moment to slip inside the minds of these legends and see what makes them tick.  Plus, you never know who is going to show up at this particular gala.

Larry, in Los Angeles, you’re on with Wasif’s World, hello.”

Larry King, ambles down, suspenders and all, with his wife, Shawn.  He’s been almost as visible in retirement as he was when he was hosting CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

What has he been up to?  “I do Conan a lot,” says Larry, leading his wife to chime in, “Are you kidding me?!”  She’s turns to her husband, with the mind of a public relations rep, “What are getting ready to do?”  Then she turns back to me.  “He’s getting ready to make a huge announcement.  He’s been very busy.”

Larry then adds the outlet that may be involved before his wife scolds him not to reveal anything.  I promise to keep it in the vault and simply clarify, “You’re getting ready to not be as. . . leisurely?”

“Correct,” he says succinctly.  So we can expect more from him soon.

Seeing talk’s elder statesman is impressive, but nothing compared to a sighting of former president of Mexico Vicente Fox y Marta, su esposa hermosa.  Señor Presidente, you are connected with the Foundation?

“I’ll be supporting and coming anytime “double D,” Dana and David, call me and they will be coming toMexico.  We’re also developing this kind of programs inMexicofor the Fox Center of Studies, which is the presidential library of which I am president.”

From news to politics to entertainment, we see 30-year show biz Alfonso Ribiero.  Best known as Carlton Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” now you can see him as host of GSN’s “Catch-21” and he currently directs episodes of TBS’s “Are We There Yet?”

He has a little athlete in him as well.  “I played a lot of baseball as a kid.  I loved the sport.  I was too short for basketball.  And football was a little rough for me.

For me now, golf is really my sport.  I’m a 2-handicap; it’s one of those things that I can kind of get it done.”

But it’s the professional athletes that mainly draw the fans hovering around the carpet.  Ozzie Smith is the first.  You almost expect him to do a backflip as if leading the other guests out of the dugout.

There have been better shortstops, but no one more unique.  “I wasn’t blessed with size and stuff,” the Wizard of Oz begins, “but the things that I was blessed with, I never took for granted.  I continued to work hard and strive to be the very best that I could be over a nineteen-year period that allowed me to stand here and say I made it to the Hall of Fame.”

Oh, great and powerful Wizard, why have you honored us with your presence here this evening?

“They need you to use your name to bring awareness to certain causes.  I feel very fortunate that I get the opportunity to walk the red carpet and things like that,” says the current educational ambassador to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gale Sayers mirrors the sentiment on how he can continue to use his celebrity for good.  “I had the funds to go out there and give some money to charities and people who play athletics, many of them have the funds to do that as well.”  He says he tries to spend as much time as he can with his charity, the Gale Sayers Foundation that helps underprivileged kids.  “And my wife has more charities that I spend time with.”

The string of memorable retired players doesn’t slow up from there.  One-of-a-kind NBA player Jamaal Wilkes came next.  How did he come up with that unorthodox shot?  “My start and ending were very fundamental.  I don’t really know how I started shooting that way.  I didn’t realize I was shooting any different until I got to college.”

And why stick with it?  “Survival.  It was a technique to survive.  Playing as a young boy with older men.”

He certainly wasn’t the only retired hoopster.  Eulogizing Shaq upon his recent retirement frequently referred to him as the most athletic center to ever play the game.  Those people seem to be forgetting about Ralph Sampson.  He’s one of only two players to ever win the Naismith Award three consecutive times as the nation’s best college player.  [Who is the other? Answer below.]  Talking to Ralph is like watching a movie from the front row of the movie theatre.

Ralph responds to that particular praise for Shaq with a smile.  “Take a look at the video tapes.  Look at Sports Illustrated.  How many covers did it say, ‘He can dribble, he can shoot, he can bring the ball up the court’?”

At 51, could the former Houston Rocket star still dribble and shoot and take the ball up the court?  “If I was in great shape, I could probably do it about ten minutes a game.  I’d have to be in awesome shape though.”  He moves on, giving my neck and posture a chance to readjust.

Perhaps new head coach Brian Shaw would take a chance on him.  He’s just happy he’s “being reacquainted with my old teammate Larry Bird, now that I’m heading toIndiana. Indiana’s a hot bed of basketball; the fans are very knowledgeable of the game there.  So I’m looking forward to it.”

With the NBA the latest professional league to endure a lockout, when that day will come is anyone’s guess.  Mike Dunleavy has some thoughts about it.  “It’ll probably get to about September before anyone does anything in real earnest.  Maybe there’ll be a surprise.”

So when the NBA does reconvene, what does the talented hyphenate – coach/general manager/broadcaster – see in his future?  “Y’know, it depends.  I’m interested in all of the above.  Right now, I’m getting ready to coach the USA Team, a high school team, the Adidas nations, a team where they bring in high school kids all over the world to play in LA, so I’m looking forward to that. It should be a lot of fun.”

There’s a wave of celebrities on the carpet at this point.  I’m busy talking to some and miss out on others.  Eddie Murray, Jeremy Piven, and Mike Tyson, for instance, walk by.  “Iron Mike” is accompanied by Jim Gray.  I’m not sure of the connection, though I wonder if this is by design as Pete Rose makes his way down the carpet a few minutes later.

In a tweet to Sports Illustrated writer Phil Taylor, he responded, “Gray’s lucky.  Even at 70, I think Pete could crush him.”

Speaking of Pete Rose, his name comes up in a conversation with Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rollie Fingers.  I ask him to talk about the time he was asked to shave his moustache.

“It wasCincinnatiin 1986.  Pete Rose asked me to come to spring training and I said fine.  I talked to the general manager who welcomed me to come to spring training.  He said, ‘There’s only one thing you have to do, shave your moustache.’  I said now what difference does it make?  He said, ‘Well that’s our rule.’  I told the general manager to tell Marge Schott to shave her Saint Bernard and I’d shave my moustache. So I quit.”  Rollie shrugs, “At that point, I’d had it for 17 years.  I wasn’t going to shave it off for her, so I just decided to stop playing ball.”

Yes, youngsters, before “Fear the Beard,” there was “wax the ‘stache.”  (At least, there should have been in deference to the handlebar masterpiece.)  And Fingers still has the best piece of facial furniture out there, though El Presidente Fox sported an impressive one as well.

Throughout the evening, you notice that the fans aren’t the only ones who are clamoring to speak with the athletes.  Other athletes admire them as well, such as Wilkes talking to Celtics and Lakers legend Bill Sharman.  There is a mutual respect.

One of the evening’s honorees, Marcus Allen, summed it up nicely.  “To grow up, to have ambition and to admire guys, then to meet those guys, to become friends with those guys – all the guys that walk the red carpet, you know personally – and have those guys be the fabric of your success regardless of what sport they play, that’s an amazing thing.”

Then he smiles and gets a glint in his eyes as he says, “But at the risk of sounding crazy, I knew it was going to happen though.”

Julius Erving, Dr. J to many, agrees.  “We’re here on the red carpet; some people are treating us differently than if we’re on the other side.  You need to go on the other side to have some sanity.”

I offer to switch places with him.  “Yeah, I could start asking you the questions,” he says.

Without following through on that, he continues, “Y’know the celebrity hat is sort of a byproduct of whatever I was able to do on the basketball court and maybe what I’m able to do to inspire other people.  But more importantly is to have meaningful relationships and to have a meaningful mission in life.  I want to be the best person that I can possibly be.”  Spoken like a true non-medical doctor.  He then commiserates with his friend, former NBA star Marques Johnson.

Recent addition to the NFL Hall of Fame Marshall Faulk stands at the end of the carpet waiting to talk to Jim Brown.  After a brief discussion and some photographs, Jim turns to a fellow Syracuse Orangeman, though one with considerably fewer varsity letters than the former lacrosse, football, and track star.  Of course, we talk acting as he had an even more prolificHollywoodcareer than he did as an athlete.

“Acting is a wonderful profession, it’s an art and if you get into it, you can truly enjoy it.  It’s totally different than sports.  In acting, you have a director, a cutting room, and a cutting room floor.  Your best scenes can be cut out of the movie.  But I enjoyed acting because I had a chance to be exposed to a lot of great actors.  Al Pacino was a wonderful teacher and friend so I’m just happy to enjoy all of these things.”

Jim left the gridiron for a new career, opening himself up to a new set of fans.  Jerry Rice, of “Dancing with the Stars” fame, has just realized that for himself.  Regarding the reality show, he says, “It gave me a chance to reach a whole new demographic of people and it’s like, people might not know me from football, but they know me from the show.”

Just don’t remind the ultra-competitive all-time great that he came in second place.  He bristles, “Well thank you so much for reminding me of that bad memory and I get this all the time from Nick Lachey.  He rubs it in my face, now you’re doing the same thing.  But that’s okay.”  (It’s not every day, I am compared to the former 98 degrees member.)  Jerry smiles to show me he’s okay with it.  Knowing him, he’s going to work harder and win a dance off in the future.

Author Ingrid Katal describes to me how we can take our own goals and dreams to the next level by discussing her book, “What is Your Honor Code: The Missing Link to Managing Your Mind.”  She says, “I believe that we need to have policies and boundaries for ourselves and anyone else in our lives.  There isn’t any reason to get angry, frustrated, or stressed out and we actually let in a lot more stuff that doesn’t need to be added in.”

This motivational advice could help us learn some of the habits that brings success to these athletes, such as Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker, who explains her practice.  “I try to add 25% each year, try to add something new to my game each year.”

To her, it’s not just about scoring.  “It’s getting your teammates involved, knocking down your free throws – what percentage are you shooting from the three point line? – things like that, that aren’t necessarily evident on the stat sheet, but they’re proving that you’re improving your game.”

And Rosie Grier, former formidable Fearsome Foursome lineman of the Los Angeles Rams, now a minister, preaches that we all have to play our role, to fulfill our missions since we’re only around for a short time.

Their involvement is best summed up in Marcus Allen’s acceptance speech later that night.  He said, “We are rich by what we give and poor by what we keep.”

And though the undertones were serious, the festivities were hosted by comedian Cedric the Entertainer. However, he was not the funniest one there.  That distinction went to former Dodger skipper (and “Dugout Wizard” to fans of the 80’s tv show “The Baseball Bunch”), Tommy Lasorda.  Alluding to the length of the ceremony, when it became his turn to speak, he said, “I’m glad I got up here.  I thought I was going to miss tomorrow night’s game.  I want to congratulate all of you for sticking around.  It takes a lot of heart.”

All in all, it was a great night for a great cause.  No, Bill Walton, the only other person to ever collect three consecutive Naismith trophies, was not there, but Magic Johnson was, among still more legends.  To find out more about the cause and the even, go to www.doublepump.com.  Maybe you can join in the fight and inspire others like these athletes inspire you.