Mola Ram
Trust'll make sense once you read the story.

Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

For me, Christmas break was a time to stock up on some much-needed sleep and juvenation...two areas in which my supplies were running very -- perhaps even dangerously -- low. And yeah, we still called it "Christmas break" back then, not "Holiday break," "Winter break," "Semester break," "Festivus" or whatever else they're trying to pass it off as these days. And honestly, I'm not trying to be culturally ignorant or insensitive here. I'm not a God person or anything like that. But the reality is, American colleges arrange their first semester breaks and holiday vacations around Christmas. Based on the fact that my local Walgreens is already selling little ceramic Santas, I'd say Christmas is probably the most widely acknowledged and celebrated holiday in the United States. (Yes, my scientific method in this case centers around the sale of Santa Clause-themed merchandise at Chicago-area drug stores. Remember, I'm a writer.) I'm just saying, if Europeans won't let us call the NBA Finals a "World Championship" because it doesn't involve the entire world, we should call Christmas break what it actually is: Christmas break.

The best part about Christmas break was, without question, having three consecutive weeks to spend with Aimee. Having a bedroom to myself, however, was a very close second. There was no Heineken light on St. Louis Dr. in Kokomo, Indiana. I was able to sleep in near-to-complete darkness (the "near" being due to my strangely luminescent alarm clock). It was like someone had filled a bucket with awesome and dunked my head in it. The only hard part was getting used to falling asleep on the sloshy and undulating surface of my water bed. Oh yes, I owned one of those strange relics of the 1980s. I still can't believe somebody came up with that idea, let alone managed to sell it to thousands, maybe millions of idiots like me. I mean...a bed filled with water? The more time that passes, the less sense that makes.

Anyway, sleeping in a room without Mat was great. Spending almost all my free time with Aimee was really great, even if it kind of pissed off my friends and really annoyed my mom (who saw those three weeks as a chance to spend time with her son, who had been in absentia for most of the past four months). The time flew by, the way the best times usually do. But there were a few notable happenings.

My grade report arrived during the break. I had gotten five A's and one Medieval History. I was stunned, because I was sure I'd kicked that course's ass. I had gotten a perfect grade on every exam and paper, and the final had been (for me) a piece of cake. I'm talking chocolate with chocolate icing. I was sure a mistake had been made.

See, I couldn't accept anything less than an A in history. History is the easiest subject, right? I mean, history never changes. Well, you know, except for that whole "Christopher Columbus didn't really discover America" thing. But in general, history is about memorizing events and dates and then vomiting them back up for fun and fabulous prizes. I could screw up a math problem or fail to correctly interpret gender construction in Fatal Attraction, but every history question had one historical answer. At least, that's how I looked at it.

Because I am the King of Dorkus, I immediately tracked down my history professor. And even though I'm fairly certain he would have preferred a Christmas break free of annoying students, he took my call. He explained that my B was due to a low grade on my final exam.

"That's impossible," I said. "There wasn't anything on that exam I didn't know."

"Really?" he said, chucking. "Remember the essay question that asked you to summarize the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire?"

I did indeed remember it. I had left the lecture hall convinced that my answer to that essay question had been my shining moment of the exam. The Roman Empire was (and in many ways still is) a source of intense interest for me. So much so that, during the semester, I read books about it that hadn't even been assigned for the course. So, for that essay question, I had written probably four times what had been asked for. I couldn't see the problem, and I told the professor so.

"I agree that it was probably the best essay about the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire I've seen written by a freshman," he said. "But it appears you didn't read the question very closely. The question didn't ask you to summarize the Rise and Fall of the Roman asked you to Summarize the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire chapter from your text book."

I was speechless.

"And since you didn't do that," he continued, "you received zero points for that section, which was worth one-third of the total points for the exam."

And so I learned another lesson of college: make sure you finish reading a question before you answer it.

That wasn't the only lesson I learned during my three weeks off. I had been saving up to buy Aimee something special for Christmas, which had meant several extra hours of slave labor at the dorm's food service. But even though I had successfully replaced my first layer of skin with a layer of nasty cooking grease, I hadn't quite earned what I needed for the gift I had chosen. Fortunately, I realized there would be a shortfall ahead of time, so I was able to take the necessary measure. That is, I sold my plasma.

My college town, like many other college towns across the country, had a business called The Plasma Alliance. It was a place where college students and homeless people could "donate" their blood plasma for cash money. I won't pretend to completely understand the process, but here's how it was explained to me. A small portion of a donor's blood is drained out of their body by a machine that separates the plasma from the red blood cells. The machine then mixes the red blood cells with saline solution and pumps it back into the donor's body. The plasma is later removed from the machine and used for scientific research Sounds simple, and for the most part it is.

What's complicated is the rest of the process. Before being allowed to donate plasma, the doctors on site give you an abbreviated physical. They draw blood to test for diseases. They ask you a bajillion questions regarding your health and sexual history. The first two things only happen the first time you donate (or once a year if you continue to donate). However, the questions are asked every single time you go. After the physical and screening, you have to sit in a waiting room with all the other donors. This can take up to an hour. Then the nurses take you into a large room with several rows of beds, each of which is occupied by a person hooked up to a creepy-looking plasma-draining machine. The donors usually look pale and tired...because, after all, it is a draining experience. (Yes, that bad pun was totally intentional.) However, the nurses won't let you fall asleep. If you start to nod off, they'll come by and yell at you. If that doesn't work, they'll shake you awake.

At any rate, the whole scene looks stunningly Matrix-like. In fact, if the human race is ever taken over by robots that run entirely off of donated blood plasma, I won't be the least bit surprised.

And that, my friends, is how many college students come by extra beer money. For me, it was a way to buy Aimee a fancy schmancy Christmas gift. Of course, I had already picked it out during Thanksgiving break: a gold ring with a light blue amethyst stone. Blue amethyst was really popular at the time, and my Guy Brain translated "popular" into "girls likey-likey."

But that wasn't the only way that my Guy Brain misled me. It also said that the stone should be shaped in such a way as to symbolize my love. So, of course, I chose a heart-shaped rock. Otherwise known as The Ultimate Cliche.

So, while walking in the moonlight during a light snow shower, I pulled the ring out of my pocket and -- with very sweaty hands -- presented it to Aimee. In typically girlie fashion, she hugged me and cried and put it on to admire it. However, later that evening after showering me with some well-deserved appreciation, she lowered little bit of a boom on me.

"Next time you're buying me a piece of jewelry," she said in a soft tone, "could you consult me first?"


"It's just that, you know, I don't really like blue amethyst all that much," she said. "And, well, heart-shaped stones are kind of cheesy."

All I could do was stare at her.

"I mean, it was soooo sweet of you to buy it for me," she said, "but if you're going to spend the money, wouldn't you rather get me something I really wanted?"

I swear if there had been a rock nearby, I would have crawled under it. Either that or beaten her to death with it. One or the other.

In terms of ripping the still-beating heart out of a man's chest, Mola Ram had nothing on Aimee. But it was another lesson learned, the lesson being: just because women like jewelry doesn't mean you can throw any piece of jewelry at them and expect them to like it. And I'll tell you this much: I haven't bought a piece of heart-shaped jewelry since.

During the break, I also saw my sister for the first time in five years. My mom arranged the trip and my grandparents drove. This resulted in me being trapped in a car with three chain smokers for four hours. And they all categorically refused to roll down a window. Oh, and did I mention my grandparents only listen to country music and I forgot to bring my Walkman? That was a hellish ride to Kentucky...and back.

The visit was okay. We got caught up on five years worth of life events in about an hour, and the rest of the time was spent rehashing old memories. I couldn't have been less interested. I'd already lived through all those memories, and I wanted to be home, making new memories with Aimee (despite the ring flap).

The one bright spot was meeting my adorable niece Shelby for the first time. That was pretty cool.

Random basketball aside: Christmas is always the day for basketball double-headers, and I got to watch the Chicago Bulls (behind 28 points by Scottie Pippen and another 17 each from B.J. Armstrong and Toni Kukoc) defeat the Orlando Magic (who got 24 points from Nick Anderson and 20/10 from Shaq). After that, the Phoenix Suns obliterated the Houston Rockets thanks to 38 points and 18 rebounds from Charles Barkley (not to mention 36 points and 9 assists from Kevin Johnson). At the time, the Rockets were a league-best 22-3, but the Suns (who themselves were 19-5) appeared ready to claim the championship the Bulls had denied them the previous summer. Of course, Charles Barkley always was at his best before the playoffs.

Despite some pitfalls -- the B in history, the ring faux pas, the against-my-will trip to Lexington -- I felt completely refreshed and renewed by Christmas break. As Han Solo might have said, I felt strong enough to rip the ears off a Gundar. (Speaking of which, Star Wars fans should watch this.) In fact, my mojo was so mojo-mazing that I honestly and without irony thought to myself: "I can do this. I can make it through another semester with Mat."

That was, of course, before I actually went back to school.

When I did return to the room on a chilly Saturday in early January, it was the same old, same old. Mat was there, but not a word was uttered. It seemed we weren't on speaking terms in light of the "bloody smear" incident. Then, on that first night back, Mat brought some young girl back to the room and started sexing her up while I was sorting through my second-semester schedule. It was a different girl the next night, after which he once again stayed up until the next morning watching MTV by the light of his Heineken sign.

And that's when I decided I was done living with way or another.

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By now, most people know about how American celebrities love to do silly commercials on Japanese television...with awesome results. Heck, I can't get through a day without saying "Vroom vroom, party starter!" and doing the robot. And although this Dunlop tire commercial starring Dennis Rodman (circa 1997) didn't make's list of the most ridiculous celebrity cameos in Japanese ads, it's still mildly to moderately amusing.

As an added bonus, here's a rather bizarre American commercial in which -- inexplicably -- Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon, William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Dennis Rodman argue over which one of them is the real...Diana Pearl? No, that's not a typo. After watching it, I'm going to have to name Rodman the winner. If any of them is Diana Pearl, it's definitely him.

Okay, okay. Last one, I swear. In this commercial, we discover that Dennis Rodman had MVP feet. Seriously.

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Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

Author's note: The end is near! Only two or three more Livin' Large stories left. Just in case you've been wondering. Also, sorry about accidentally including the Thanksgiving picture from Part 22. That's what cut-and-paste can do when you're not careful.

The last three weeks of the semester went by in extreme fast forward. There were papers to finish, homework to complete, pre-exams to take, and actual final exams to prepare for. In addition to the standard college student responsibilities, I had to fulfill extra class requirements for the Honors Program and select a professor to work with during the second semester as part of the Dean's Freshman Scholar program (which was a scholarship program that was paying part of my tuition). Oh, and of course there was work -- both at the food service and for the school paper -- and my final APO initiation.

Speaking of which: my pledge parents, Tiffany and Carolyn, invited my and Susan’s moms (our fathers were MIA) to attend the ceremony. Apparently, that was pretty standard procedure, even though parents didn't normally attend. And Susan's mom didn't...but mine did. She was the only parent there that night. As an adult, I can recognize her attendance for the sweet and loving gesture it was. As an 18-year-old guy hanging out with a girl he was crushing on, it was more than a wee bit embarrassing. And, in typical motherly fashion, she cheered just a little too enthusiastically when my name was called, bored everyone at our table with stories about my childhood, and pronounced afterward that every girl in the immediate vicinity obviously had a crush on me. Ah, moms. You’ve gotta love ‘em.

At the post-ceremony party -- which, fortunately, my mom did not attend -- Tiffany and Carolyn gave me a white, long-sleeved APO t-shirt. (They gave Susan one that was identical, except that it was dark blue.) Of course, someone spilled red punch on my new shirt during party, staining it beyond repair. (As a college freshman, my method of getting out a stain was to cram the stained item into a washing machine along with everything else that was dirty...which was pretty much everything else I owned. Not an effective method.)

I should also mention that I was covering ext shifts at the food service to boost my Christmas fund. After all, I had a girlfriend now, and I needed to buy her the official clichéd "first Christmas with a new girlfriend" gift. And that wasn't going to be cheap.

During those three weeks, Mat and I barely saw each other, and we rarely (if ever) spoke on those rare occasions when our paths crossed. There was no specific event I can point to, but we had crossed the friendship Rubicon. A quiet hostility had developed on both sides. My skin crawled when he was around, and based on his behavior, I'm guessing he felt the same way. When he wasn't home in the evening, I would hope with all my psychological might that he was getting drunk enough to walk in front of a bus on his way home. Or fall into giant wood chipper. Or whatever. I just couldn't stand the guy any longer. I wanted to be done with him.

However, it didn't look like that was going to happen. Even though we were ignoring each other to the best of our abilities, I still overheard enough of his phone conversations to discover he'd scored well enough on the SAT to regain his NCAA eligibility. So much for him getting kicked off the team and out of school. And since the dorm manager had been disinclined to acquiesce to my room change request, we were stuck together indefinitely.

In the meantime, there was a significant development in my family life. My mom and sister had been estranged for the past five years, which, by extension, meant that my sister and I had also been estranged. (It was one of those "you're either with me or against me" deals, and the tendency is to side with the person who provides somewhere to live.) During the half-decade separation, my sister had gotten married, moved to Kentucky and had a child. I knew these few facts only because my grandparents gave me occasional updates, probably in the hopes that the knowledge would lead to some sort of reconciliation.

Now, maybe it was empty nest syndrome, maybe it was the fact that my great grandmother had passed away earlier in the year, or maybe it was a little of both, but my mom decided it was time to mend fences with my sister. Which, naturally, meant I had to do it too. My mom kept bugging me to call my sister immediately (if not sooner) despite my insistence that I was too busy to deal with tearful reunions at the moment. This led to a phone conversation that went something like this:

Me: “Hey, Kristi.”

Her: “Hey.”

Me: "So, how have you been?"

Her: "Oh, you know. Fine."

Me: "Right. And, uh, what's up?"

Her: "Married, have a daughter, living in Lexington. You?"

Me: "Going to college."

Her: "That's...nice."

Me: "Yeah. So, uh, talk to you later?"

Her: "Sounds good. Bye."

Oh well. At least it was mercifully brief.

As the time for final exams crawled ever closer, I started to seriously stress out. I had a full 18 credit hour course load plus Honors requirements, which meant I had a lot to prepare for. Plus, since I was still pretty new to the whole college thing, I hadn't quite refined the art of selective studying. If I was given a 200-page reading assignment, I thought that meant I had to read and memorize those 200 pages. Ludicrous, I know, but that's just how I approached my studies at the time.

Mat, on the other hand, approached his studies by avoiding them. Once the SAT situation was behind him, he entered Full-time Party Mode. He was, as far as I could tell, drinking more and staying out later than ever. It was nothing for him to show up at three, four, or even five in the morning. It's possible, maybe even probable, that Mat was enjoying an extended celebration for passing the SAT. I mean, he really had dodged a bullet. Actually, he'd been dodging bullets all semester. I’m convinced that a non-athlete would have been shipped back home by that time, but Mat was still livin’ large. Hell, he probably felt invincible by that point.

So here were two roommates, one who was (needlessly) stressing beyond his pressure threshold and one who just didn’t give a shit. It wasn’t a good combination.

This situation came to a head the night before my first exam. I had spent several hours studying before finally going to bed sometime after 1 a.m. After a couple restless hours worth of sleep, I was awakened by Mat coming into the room with a couple of his football buddies. They were drunk and rowdy, which also meant loud and disruptive.

Obviously, there was no way I could sleep through the chaos. At first, I told myself I’d wait five minutes for them to do whatever they were doing and clear out. However, I didn’t last 30 seconds. After almost a full semester of putting up with Mat’s late-night shenanigans, I was ready to erupt…especially since I had an exam the next morning. I had worked too hard to have this ape and his idiot friends ruin my GPA with their irresponsible and careless behavior.

"That's it!" I screamed, jumping out of bed. "That's fucking it!"

The room fell dead silent. The three of them stared at me.

"I have an exam first thing tomorrow morning," I said. "So you guys either need to shut the hell up or leave!"

Mat took one menacing step forward and growled, "Do you wanna be a bloody smear on the wall?"

Now, I'm not a coward, but I am a realist. And given the circumstances -- my seven-foot, 300-pound, apparently untouchable roommate and two huge football players versus me -- I couldn't see any fight ending well for me. Sure, the ensuing lawsuit could make me rich (assuming I survived) and get him kicked out of school, but I didn't really feel like absorbing the brutal beating they looked ready to dish out.

So, to Mat's query, I said, "No."

Then I plopped back down on my bed, covered my head with a pillow, and tried to pretend I was somewhere else. Anywhere else.

On the bright side, my near-bloody-smear-on-the-wall experience must have killed the mood, because the three of them left a few minutes later. I guess, like Falstaff said, discretion really is the better part of valor.

The next four days passed. I kicked butt on all my exams. I saw Mat maybe two or three times after he'd threatened to bloody smearize me. We didn't speak or acknowledge each other. For my part, I never even looked at him directly. When the semester ended, I went home. I never found out how he spent his Christmas break.

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Cheers, Basketbawful fans! Recently I finally decided to get off my lazy ass and learn a bit more about audio and video as my duty as Chief of Internet Operations. So I added a tool to my already dangerous Internet arsenal, the animated gif, which will be used heavily in this post. Besides, some of us have the un-luxury of having YouTube blocked at work, so how else can we use up that precious bandwidth? In 90's Internet style, (I will, however, spare you from the embedded and unstoppable MIDI), may I present to you the 2008-09 NBA Animated Worsties Edition. And in true AnacondaHL stream of consciousness style, I will throw in some random facts about the season.


Brook Lopez had more regular season dunks than LeBron James.


The playoffs FG% leader of those qualified was Marcin Gortat.

I was inspired to slightly modify this next pic:
Lets see that again at another angle!

Shaq may be right saying he makes FTs when they count, as his 08-09 clutch FT% was 72%, compared to 59.5% overall and 52.8% for his career.


Candyman Lamar Odom was resigned for good reason: He produced the third most net points, ahead of Dwayne Wade and Kobe, and behind King Crab and Chris Paul.


Darius Songalia played better defence than Yao. Oddly, Jason Kidd also ranked high this year on Net defense on/off. The Vanilla Godzilla is still a beast.


Stephon Marbury's Hall of Fame probability is an uncanny 19.81%. Obviously, basketball-reference hasn't figured out a metric to adjust for career-ending crazy and Internet webcasts. Ron Artest's HoF probability is now 0.61%. Zach Randolph is at 0.49%.



turkey day

Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

Because I didn't keep close track of Mat's schedule and he rarely shared anything important with me, I have no idea when exactly he retook his SAT. All I kinda-sorta know is that it happened shortly before Thanksgiving break. To the best of my knowledge, he did nothing to mark the occasion. I had expected Mat to scream with with primal rage, party until a major organ failed, throw an orgy...something. But he "celebrated" by hanging around the room and sleeping a lot. In retrospect, it makes sense. Not only had he been forced to use more brain power than, well, maybe ever, but he also wouldn't know whether he'd actually passed until some time after the break. Ergo, there wasn't any cause for merriment just yet.

Meanwhile, I was very much in the mood to celebrate. I reached the end of November of the first semester of my freshman year. I had an "A" in every class. My professors were impressed by me. I was working for the school newspaper, and the adult advisor was likewise impressed. My basketball skills were being honed by the superior (compared to my hometown) competition at the Co-Rec. And, most importantly, Aimee and I had been a couple for almost a month. College wasn't all that. In the immortal words of Dr. Peter Venkman: I came, I saw, I kicked its ass.

So my upcoming trip home for the break seemed (to me anyway) like the return of a conquering hero. I was now a successful college student with his first serious girlfriend. Sad as it sounds, I couldn't wait to parade Aimee around in front of my old friends. My hometown buddies either weren't dating or weren't seeing someone as attractive as Aimee, so naturally I felt like The Man. (In fact, Gauvin had tried and failed to date Aimee in high school, so there was some unspoken oneupsmanship going on between us.) And speaking of Aimee, I was almost literally frothing at the mouth to see her. We hadn't had a face-to-face since she'd visited me on November 5th (and left the 6th). Two and a half weeks was waaaaaay too long to wait. My hormones were starting to eat each other. But such were the lives of the Young and the Car-less. (Or, in my case, the Car-less on Campus, since my school didn't let freshman have a car on campus.)

Officially, my school held classes until the day before Thanksgiving. However, my professors cancelled their Wednesday classes. Apparently, they weren't thrilled by the prospect of dealing with countless hyper freshmen who weren't going to retain anything they learned that day anyway. As a result, I had more goof-off time than normal. I used that time chatting online, watching old NBA games on VHS or just laying around daydreaming about Aimee.

My mom was picking me up on Wednesday afternoon. By 10 a.m., I was packed and ready to go. By 11 a.m., I was pacing the floor. By noon, I was ready to climb the walls. The wait seemed unbearable. I tried to kill a little time checking to make sure I had everything I needed for my four-day holiday. Four shirts and one pair of jeans? Check. Four pairs of underwear and a pile of (hopefully matching) socks? Check. One ginormous bag of dirty clothes for my mom to launder? Very check. Yep. That was everything.

Even in the midst of my irrational exuberance, I couldn't help but notice that Mat -- who, shockingly enough, was already awake -- was more subdued than usual. In fact, he looked downright bummed out. It suddenly occurred to me that Mat didn't have any family in the U.S. And while I was fairly certain the Dutch didn't celebrate American Thanksgiving, he still had to watch everyone around him leave to be with friends and loved ones. That made it a pretty a shitty time to be stuck by yourself in a stinky dorm on a deserted college campus.

I groaned inwardly. By this point, my pity cup should have been bone dry. I shouldn't have cared less about how Mat was spending Thanksgiving. But I've always been a sensitive, sympathetic idiot. It's caused me a lot of grief over the years. And it looked like it was going to happen again.

"So," I said, "what, uh, what are you doing for the break?" I didn't bother to ask whether he celebrated Thanksgiving to avoid the appearance of cultural ignorance.

"Dunno," he grunted. "Don't have any plans." He didn't take his eyes off the TV.

Damn it. Now I had to ask. "Are you...eating Thanksgiving dinner with anybody."

"Dunno," he said again.


"My mom always makes way more food than my family can eat," I said, mentally punching myself in the groin. "So if you don't have anything else to do, you could, you know, come to Kokomo and have Thanksgiving dinner for us."

Now he looked at me. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," I said, hoping my mom wouldn't freak too much...and also hoping that, if he did show up, Mat wouldn't wolf down so much food that there wouldn't be any leftovers.

"Hey, thanks," Mat said. "If I got nothing else goin' on, I'll come." He looked genuinely grateful.

"Uh, cool," I said. "I'll just leave my home phone number and some directions. Just call me if you think you're gonna show."

"Okay," he said. I had no idea how he was going to travel the 50-some miles to Kokomo if he chose to accept my invitation, and I didn't ask. I figured someone as worldly as Mat could figure it out. Besides, I didn't want him to ask me to come pick him up. I wasn't even sure if he'd fit in my car.

My mom finally showed up a little after 1 p.m. We had been on the road for maybe five minutes when I dropped the bombshell.

"Hey, Mat didn't have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving, so I invited him to our dinner," I said.

"Really? That was nice of you," she said, and she seemed to mean it.

"Is that cool?" I asked.

"It should be fine," she said. "You know I always make enough food to feed an army." Then she said, "Can you imagine what your grandparents will say when they see him?"

By the time we got back to stately McHale Manor in Kokomo, the phone was ringing off the hook. My closest high school buddies -- Greg, Gauvin, Dave D., Mikey (a.k.a. Statbuster), Hornbuckle -- all wanted to get together. And of course there was Aimee. I told my friends to me us at Pizza Hut. I got the feeling Aimee would have rather had me to herself -- the part where she said she'd rather have me to herself was the tipoff -- but she was a good sport about it. I think she liked the fact that I wanted to show her off to my friends.

Pizza Hut was a blast. When I first went away to college, it had been tough adjusting to life on a campus with 30,000-plus students where nobody knew you and all of your past accomplishments were meaningless. I had felt like a nameless, faceless number. But I had made it (or so I thought). I had survived and prospered. I felt big. Much bigger than my dinky little hometown. So during that meal of pizza and breadsticks, I acted like a king holding court. And it was good to be king.

Until the bill came, that is. It was something like $35. Or, put another way, $5 per person between seven poor college students. Nobody had any money except me and Hornbuckle. Now mind you, Hornbuckle was wealthy (at least by Kokomo's standards). In fact, he had over $100 in random bills wadded up in his pocket. But Hornbuckle was a cheap bastard, so he categorically refused to pay for any more than his share of the meal. That stuck me with the other $30 plus tip, which pretty much wiped me out, cash-wise. I really hoped Aimee enjoyed the "date," because there wasn't going to be another one on this trip home.

When we finally left Pizza Hut, Greg, Gauvin and Dave D. went home. Mikey and Hornbuckle followed me and Aimee back to her house, where we spent the next few hours goofing around with Mikey's video camera (he wanted to go into television production or somesuch). At one point, we used some of Aimee's hair products to style Hornbuckle's hair into a faux hawk, spikes, and various other weird shapes. Just another wild night in Kokomo, Indiana. But what more could you expect from a town where the night life often revolves around trips to Wal-Mart and Meier. And no, I'm not kidding.

When I woke up the next morning, my first thought was: Holy crap. What if Mat actually shows up to my Thanksgiving dinner?! But he never did, and he never called either. Apparently, he found better things to do...much to my secret relief.

As it happened, my mom was having Thanksgiving lunch and Aimee’s mom was having Thanksgiving dinner, so I was able to attend both. I probably consumed about 30,000 calories that day. Seriously, I suffered the Turkey Coma to end all Turkey Comas. I remain convinced to this day that it was nearly the first recorded Turkey Death. I had so much to eat that day I have never once been hungry since. True story.

Friday was spent munching halfheartedly on leftovers and chilling out with Aimee. I think the most ambitious thing we did that day was play a game of Scrabble.

Then Saturday came, and that was a day I was dreading. Even though I had done everything in my power to avoid it, I knew the time had come to tell Cindy I was dating Aimee. And by "the time had come" I actually mean "it was long overdue." But my plan had always been to tell Cindy in person, out of respect, and this was (more or less) the first chance I'd had to do that.

I called her. "Hey, Cindy. How was your Thanksgiving."

"Fine," was all she said, and I really should have known I was in trouble by the tone of her voice.

"Cool," I said. "So, uh, are you doing anything today? I figured maybe we could go out for a milkshake or something..."

"Wouldn't you rather go have a milkshake with Aimee?"

I was struck speechless.

"My sister ran into Melanie Z., who's friends with Aimee's sister, Lesley," Cindy said. "She said you guys have been dating for a month. Is that true?"

"Well, uh, the, erm..." I stammered out.


"I never intended to..." I began.


"...never intended to string you along, I just wanted to tell you in person..."


"...but I wasn't going to be home..."

"...SUCH A JERK..."

"...because I really care about you..."


"...things just sort of happened..."

"...HATE YOU..."

Yeah. At some point during all that I just blanked out. I wasn't really interested in being yelled at for an hour or whatever, but I had kind of screwed her over, so I figured the least I could do was let her vent her outrage. You know, get it out of her system. During the tongue-lashing, I was forcibly reminded of Mat being told off by Jennifer, and how he just sat and listened to it without really caring. It sent cold shivers up and down my spine. Was I really like Mat? Even just a little bit?! It wasn't a pleasant thought.

Suffice it to say, Cindy and I didn't talk for a while after that.

Getting blasted by Cindy had nearly singed my eyebrows off, but fortunately I had Aimee and her gentle kisses to make me forget. (Although my inner voice taunted me by saying, "That's such a Mat thing to do.") We spent the rest of the break holding hands, snuggling up and sneaking kisses whenever possible. What little time I didn't spend with Aimee was split between my friends and my mom...which succeeded in pleasing no one. My friends felt I was putting hoes before bros (even though that phrase hadn't been invented yet), and my mom felt like I was putting everybody ahead of family (and in this case, "family" meant her). For my part, I couldn't understand why people wouldn't just let me enjoy having a girlfriend for once.

When I returned to school on Sunday, my room was in a state of serious disarray: beer bottles, pizza boxes and random trash was all over the floor. But on the bright side, my stuff had been more or less left untouched (except for my case of Coke, which was now empty). All I really cared about was that nobody had been sleeping -- or doing anything else -- in my bed.

I briefly considered the pizza boxes and wondered of those has been Mat's Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered if maybe I should have offered to drive him to Kokomo. I quickly banished those thoughts, though. He was a big boy. A very, very big boy. He knew how to use the phone. (Although it only occurred to me as I was writing this that his long distance calling code might have been deactivated. Oops.)

Against my better judgement, I started clearing away the trash. Not to help my roommate, but because I hate messy rooms. During the cleanup, it occurred to me that there were only a few more weeks left in the semester. Then I'd get three weeks off. I couldn't wait. It also occurred to me that Mat might not pass his SAT, which would mean he might be gone by next semester. I almost danced a jig just thinking about it.

Of course, I couldn't get that lucky.

Part 23

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How good a pickup baller are you really? The answer may not
be obvious. It'll be even less obvious after you read this.

Since Basketbawful's tank is on Empty today (waiting for the season to start can be so very maddening), he asked me to expound on the pick-up basketball equations I introduced on Friday.

It's all very simple. You can't fudge physics or math, so just pay attention to these hard, fast rules and you too will be able dominate -- or at least understand why you're not dominating -- your next pick-up basketball game.

Basically, an average player in this system has a value of 1 and an everage team a value of 5.
A perfectly average team in this system is thus:

Team 1
1 + 1 + 1 + 1 +1 = 5

However, not all teams that equal 5 are treated equally:

Team 2
.6 + .6 + .8 + 1.5 + 1.5 = 5

This team equals 5, but it could be better, or it could be worse than Team 1. Specifically:

A. Will the .6's be able to distribute the ball to 1.5's?

B. Will their opponents play help defense and ultimately negate the 1.5's, who, for lack of a better offensive option, will have to attempt a bad shot in the face of a double team?

C. Are the 1.5's ball-handlers? If so, they can more easily minimize the number of times the .6's get the rock.

Result: Uncertain.

We must now consider other factors, such as the condition of the court. A badly swept court, which does not allow more talented players to make quick moves to the basket, may lower the quality of play more for better players. Now Team 2 above looks as follows:

.5 + .5 + .7 +1.1 + 1.1 = 3.9

Meanwhile, Team 1, comprised of average players who are equally affected by the poor conditions, looks like this:

.9 + .9 + .9 + .9 +.9 = 4.5

Result: Team 1 wins.

Now, playing outside can involve:

1. An uneven court, where (c) equals the number of cracks in the pavement

2. Wind, where (w) equals the wind gust mph and (z) equals wind shear.

3. Sunlight, where (s) equals the brightness of the sun as compared to (L) it's location in the sky as it relates to the backboard.

4. Distractions, where (B) equals the quality of babes watching from the sidelines.

The following equation should be self-explanatory:

3.9 - (c) * (w + z/2) / (s + L + B) = 4.5 - (c) - *(w + z/2) / (s + L + B)

Result: Obvious.

Also factor in the mental state of the players (m). For example, did Mr. 1.5 just have a fight with his wife? Did he lose his job? Are his kids driving him up a wall? This circumstance halves his ability in most cases:

1.5/2m = .75

Occasionally, however, a player uses pickup basketball as a glorious escape from the torture of his sorry life. This can actually improve his play marginally:

1.5 * m * kids' grade-point average / volume of wife's voice + (monthly salary - monthly mortgage payment) /result of on-the-side girlfriend's pregnancy test = 1.6

And, of course, even the best player can use bad judgement and have too much to eat for dinner (D) before basketball (Hey, I like lasagna. Sue me.), which can of course, adversely affect his speed and emotional state (yes, your emotions also take a hit when you constantly feel like you're going to vomit).

The equation that takes all of these factors into account is simple. Note that lesser players are not as adversely affected, because they already kinda suck:

((1.5/(D+m)) + (1.5/(D+m)) + (.8/(D+m-.75)) + (.6/(D+m-1)) + (.6/(D+m-1)))

And if they are playing outside:

((1.5/(D+m)) + (1.5/(D+m)) + (.8/(D+m-.75)) + (.6/(D+m-1)) + (.6/(D+m-1))) - (c) * (w + z/2) / (s + L +B)

Well, there you have it. Simple math. I hope I have managed to strip the essence of basketball down to a way that even Red Auerbach, the master of simplicity, never could.

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I got nothin' today. I started Livin' Large Part 22 (which will be published tomorrow) and another post about why I'm not worried about the LeBron-Shaq Cavaliers, but I couldn't finish either of 'em. So instead of fresh, new content, here's a video compilation of NBA Fail. I'm not saying I chose this one because it starts with Kobe boning a breakaway dunk...but that's totally why I chose it.

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talent redistribution

Talent Redistribution (tal'-uhnt re'-dis-trib'-yoo-shun') noun. When one or more players have to be switched from one team to another so that the level of competition will be (roughly) more equal.

Usage example: Damn. That team lost 21-4. Looks like they need some serious Talent Redistribution.

Word trivia: In my experience, most pickup leagues have anywhere from two to four teams competing on any given night. (The number of teams can be and often is greater than that during the prime times at local health clubs and open gyms.) Because teams are chosen by shooting free throws -- the first five to make it comprise team one, the second five team two, and so on -- the actual distribution of talent per team can vary greatly.

Generally speaking, the talent distribution is usually "top heavy," in that the better players tend to hit their free thows, and therefore the first one or two teams end up with better players than the other team or teams.

Of course, there are always situations that can alter this paradigm. For instance, a very good player who typically hits his free throw might miss on his first and even second attempt (assuming it takes that many rounds to shoot up the teams). Or, and this happens a lot in my league, either a very good or remarkably bad player will show up five minutes or so after the games have started. Most of the time, the honor system will kick in and the good player will go to the worst team and the bad player will go to the best team.

Now obviously all teams are not created equal. But sometimes a team sucks so badly that they can't even come close to competing. Like, they will lose every game by a minimum of 10 or more points no matter what they do (and this is using the traditional "1s and 2s" scoring system).

Once it has become clear that one team is going to be haplessly beaten time and again over the course of the night, someone will suggest Talent Redistribution. Sometimes this happens after their first game, but more often than not it happens after they have played at least twice to ensure that the first beating wasn't an aberration. It's standard procedure for members of the bad team to give members of a better team the opportunity to make a Talent Redistribution offer. However, if no offer is made, one or more members of the bad team will probably suggest or even demand it.

In leagues where most of the people know and like each other, Talent Redistribution is usually quick and fair. But nobody likes making their team worse, and Talent Redistribution can result in heated debate and bitter feelings in even the friendliest of leagues.

For instance, there's a player in my pickup league known as Super Mario (because he looks like Mario from the Super Mario Bros. video game). Several years back, Super Mario contracted a case of bacterial meningitis. It almost killed him. He survived, obviously, but the illness left him partially handicapped. Super Mario still plays basketball, but he's so physically limited that he's a liability on both offense and defense. For this reason, the team he's on almost always loses because they're forced to basically play four-on-five.

Some times, Talent Redistribution consists of switching Super Mario from team to team. This can be tricky, however, since he can transform a good team into an awful team. Not surprisingly, nobody wants to play with him, and some people (coughEvilTedcough) get really pissy when Super Mario is "gifted" to their team. This has caused many "day after" arguments. (You know, when you and your buddies discuss the events of the previous night's games over e-mail or in person.)

Talent Redistribution can hit a snag when nobody can agree on a fair and equal switch. In these cases, a trusted league "veteran" will usually step up and act as a sort of Talent Manager. In general, the Talent Manager must have the same basic attributes as a Points Negotiator.

One last note: pickup ballers get pretty upset when Talent Distribution upsets the balance so much that they are unable to win another game (and especially when they're beaten badly after the switchup). This inequity won't be forgotten and can be used in future Talent Distribution debates (e.g., "We got stuck with Super Mario last time and we sucked afterward. Give us Paul instead.")

Note from Evil Ted: Some players have a lack of talent so galling that it can actually eliminate the possibility of fair Talent Redistribution altogether. Instead of just being a "poor player," this person is actually a negative player (a.k.a. Nugatory, Minus Man, Captain Entropy, Anti-game, Boat Anchor, Vaporware). For example, a Super Mario has been known to take a dominant force of a team and turn it into a sad-sack loser. In such cases, said dominant team may actually need to have two players replaced in such a way as to actually strengthen the remaining four.

The Equation works thusly. The dominant team as it begins (with "1" being an average player):

1.2 + 1.3 +1.5 + 1.1 +1 = 6.1

The team with an overall strength of 6.1 can now be decimated by removing any one player and adding Captain Entropy, a fellow who plays no defense and pretty much can't run or do anything competant on the court:

1.2 + 1.3 + 1.5 + (-1) +1 = 4

Note how far the mighty have fallen. This team is getting it's ass kicked, not only because it's overall team strength is just 4, but additionally because the talent is no longer evenly distributed amongst the five players (A neg 1 is throwing the ball away, standing at half court on offense and defense, etc., where even a bunch of .8 guys are getting a hand in the face and the ball around the horn).

Ergo, we must actually bolster the supporting cast for the Minus Man by replacing the worst of the remaining group (Mr. 1) with someone better. The new team is as follows:

1.2 + 1.3 + 1.5 +(-1) + 1.4 = 4.4

This team is now competitive, and may become more so IF they force the Boat Anchor out of the offensive scheme and play help defense. If, however, the good players get dejected and lose their will, this team may still get it's collective ass handed to it repeatedly. This two-for-one paradigm shift may require the institution of a future word of the day: The Mario Rule.

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Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

Now that Mat had to retake the SAT to regain his NCAA eligibility, our room had undergone a drastic transformation. Instead of me studying while Mat goofed off, had sex and/or partied until all hours of the night, we were both spending quiet nights hitting the books. Of course, Mat's attention span being what it was, he could only hit them for minutes at a time, but his study breaks were fairly unobtrusive. The silence in the room had become almost eerie…but totally welcome. (By me, anyway.)

At times, though, our entire floor seemed to be holding its collective breath. There were still a fair number of people on the floor – not to mention in the dorm, at our school, at competing schools, etc. -- who thought Mat was going to be the next big thing on the men's basketball team. The hype was mostly an underground movement because even before he was declared ineligible, Mat hadn't decided whether he was going to redshirt his freshman year. And yet hundreds, maybe even thousands of people were intensely interested in Mat's immediate destiny.

Mat wasn't the only person affected. His situation and the corresponding interest it generated had an impact on me as well. Now, instead of being harassed with questions about whether he was going to play, I was getting bombarded by people asking whether I thought he could pass the SAT (that is, score the 820 points required for NCAA eligibility). The best I had to offer was an "I don't know." And I really didn't.

I mean, on the one hand, scoring an 820 should have been walk-across-the-street easy. But Mat could barely concentrate on a preparation manual for 10 minutes at a time. Did he have it in him to take an hours-long test that would probably give his underworked brain its greatest challenge? I had my doubts.

Speaking of doubts, it wasn't clear at that point whether my roommate could even play the game of basketball. However, the general consensus was that someone that tall should be an instant success on the court. It was all about the size. The lament of most pickup ballers I know is "If only I was taller...." It doesn't matter what a person's height is. If he's 5'8", he thinks being 5'10" would allow him to be a superstar. And 5'10" guys think the same would happen if only they were six feet tall. Six-footers want to be 6'3" or 6'4" or 6'5". The guys who are 6'5"-ish wish they were 6'8" or 6'9". So on and so forth.

The point is, most people -- even people who really should know better -- honestly believe that a few extra inches would be a magic elixir for their basketball abilities. After all, someone might suppose, if huge white stiffs like Greg Kite (and later Greg Ostertag) could have a decade-long career based mostly on height, why not them?

Of course, in most cases, basketball players would do well to spend less time wishing for added height and more time honing their actual basketball skills. Assuming they have any.

At any rate, the mass assumption seemed to be that at seven-plus feet and 300-ish pounds, Mat should be a white Shaq. Although, admittedly, some people had woken from that pipedream a few weeks earlier, when Mat had his official team debut at a "Midnight Madness" team practice. Midnight Madness was free and open to the student body. The intent was to get everybody hyped up for the upcoming season (which was set to begin at the end of the November). Mat's only noteworthy contributions to the event were throwing down a few awkward, barely-over-the-rim dunks and then acting as a prop in a little dunking exhibition put on by the Future NBA All-Star. As in, the Future NBA All-Star leapt into the air and dunked over him, much to the delight of the screaming crowd.

I attended Midnight Madness with Susan and her friends Jodi and Josh (who was crushing on Susan even harder than I was). "You're Mat's roommate," Josh said. "Can you, like, get us into the locker room to meet the team?"

"Uh, I don't think so," I said. The reality was I hadn't asked. In fact, it had never even crossed my mind. The last thing I wanted to do was ask Mat for any favors. He was the last person I wanted to owe anything to.

Since he didn't really do anything at Midnight Madness, no one (outside of the players and coaches, who weren't talking about it) knew anything about his game. Like, did he even have one? What could he do? Did he have post moves? Could he dominate the boards? Block shots?

I was actually pretty curious about all that myself. I had long wanted to see Mat play, and therefore had tried several times to lure him over to the Co-Rec for a little hoops action. He had repeatedly told me that he wasn't allowed to play pickup, that it could cost him his scholarship. And he seemed totally serious about it, so I had to assume he was telling the truth.

However, now that Mat was ineligible to play, the restriction on pickup ball had been lifted. He could play whenever or wherever he wanted. (Well, except for team practices and games.) He even announced his intention to play at the Co-Rec. So, naturally, I was bugging him about it every day. And every day he declined.

"Dude," I would say, "you're totally going to pass that test. You need to keep your skills sharp."

"I know," he'd say. "I'm gonna do it. Just not today."

This cat-and-mouse game went on for a week. Then, one night while I was preparing for a calculus exam that would take place the next morning, Mat returned from a study break and said, "I'm going over to the Co-Rec tonight. You wanna come?"

I cursed inwardly. I really needed to study for that exam. Or, at least, that's what I thought. As it turned out, I could have taken that test in my sleep. But it was my tendency to over-study back then. I groaned and said, "Dude, I don't think so. I really have to keep studying."

"Future NBA All-Star's gonna be there," he said.

"Wha...what? Really?" I said. "I thought you guys weren't allowed to play pickup ball. What, he doesn't have the same restriction you had?"

"Shit, he can do whatever he wants," Mat said.

That made sense. It would have been like the Bulls telling Michael Jordan he wasn't allowed to play pickup ball over the summer. They could scream and yell all they wanted, but MJ was going to do what MJ wanted. And it was the same with Future NBA All-Star. He was the basketball team's meal ticket. That gave him special dispensation to do as he pleased.

I might have been able to say "no" to seeing Mat play, but I wasn't going to miss the chance to hoop with Future NBA All-Star. As I was changing into my basketball gear, Mat walked up and down the hall collecting anybody else who wanted to play. He gathered five other guys, so the seven of us went across the street to the Co-Rec.

“So,” I said, “with Future NBA All-Star, there’s gonna be eight of us. We could totally run four-on-four.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Mat said. Totally noncommittal, I might add.

The Co-Rec was pretty busy. The two downstairs courts were full, but we went upstairs (where there were a few more courts) and managed to get a half-court to ourselves.

Everyone was gaping at Mat. Games were stopping just so people could stare at him. He seemed completely unaware of it. That or he didn’t care.

Things started the way they always do: with everybody chatting and half-heartedly shooting around. Mat flushed down a little mini-dunk, tossed in a clumsy looking half-hook, and then bricked a handful of free throws that would have made Ben Wallace (a career 41 percent foul shooter) cringe.

I was juiced to actually play, but nobody else seemed to be in any particular hurry to start. I was excited to see Mat play, and really excited to play with Future NBA All-Star (assuming he showed up), but I could also hear my mental clock ticking. It was already close to 10 p.m.

Then Future NBA All-Star arrived.

People had stopped to watch Mat walk by, but they openly gaped at Future NBA All-Star. He wasn’t just a celebrity on campus, he was The Celebrity. Somebody a couple courts a way yelled out his first name, and Future NBA All-Star just grinned and half-waved at the guy. Applause broke out.

Unlike everybody else in the gym, the people in our little group were trying to play it cool. Nobody wanted to embarrass himself in front of Future NBA All-Star by acting like a drooling fanboy. When he got to us, most of the guys just kept shooting around, although a couple guys said “hey” and shook his hand.

After shaking some hands and slapping palms with Mat, Future NBA All-Star grabbed a ball and started draining jumpers. He went about it so casually. It almost looked like he was moving in slow motion. He missed one or two at first, then he drained 10 or 12 in a row.

Then he started dribbling through his legs. Again, he made it look very casual. “So,” Future NBA All-Star said, “who’s gonna stop me?”

Everybody in our group just looked at him. Nobody wanted to step up.

“Awp,” he said (yes, he made an “awp” sound), looking at Mat, “they scared.” Mat laughed.

“Tell you what,” Future NBA All-Star said, “you can all guard me.”

We all kind of looked at each other, and a couple guys laughed nervously, but we arranged ourselves between Future NBA All-Star and the basket. I was right under the hoop, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best place to be.

Future NBA All-Star juked and spun and basically walked through all six of us (Mat was standing off to the side). Again, he looked like he was moving at one-quarter speed. Guys were reaching in and swiping at the ball, but nobody could get it.

Then he reached me. I decided I was going to stop him. For some reason, I wanted to prove myself, maybe even impress him. I set my feet. I threw all my weight into him. I pushed against his body with all my strength.

Future NBA All-Star turned ever-so-slightly, rose up, and dunked like I wasn’t even there. And, insult to injury, the ball banged off my head.

That was the first time I realized -- like, really, really realized -- that elite athletes are on another plane of existence. Their strength, speed and natural athletic ability are almost alien to mere mortals. Future NBA All-Star has barely expended a fraction of the effort he could have, yet he waltzed right through six reasonably fit and athletic guys who were genuinely trying to stop him. And of course he posterized me.

Sadly, that was it. Future NBA All-Star moseyed over to Mat and chatted for a few minutes, and then he left. Everybody in the group was bummed. We were really hoping he’d play a pickup game with us. Apparently, he had better things to do…which wasn’t all that surprising.

As it turned out, Mat didn’t want to play a full game. Instead, we played 21, which is an every-man-for-himself sort of game where the first person to reach 21 points wins. And so, at long last, I got to see my roommate play.

It wasn’t pretty. He had no handles. He couldn’t shoot. He had no moves around the basket, other than bat the ball around until it went in. Now, mind you, Mat wasn’t going all-out. In fact, he seemed to be making a point of behaving so that we would all understand he wasn’t going all-out. You know, we weren’t really worth his full effort. He was still able to dominate because he was a foot taller than most of us (and he had insisted on playing no take-backs).

That said, it was painfully obvious that Mat’s basketball skills were limited. To the point of near-nonexistence. Everything he did or tried to do was awkward and forced. Honestly, he looked like someone who had never played basketball before. He had no natural feel for the game. At least, that was my interpretation.

We ended up playing for only about 20 minutes before Mat got bored and wanted to leave. On the way back, I was walking behind the rest of the group. One of the guys dropped back to walk next to me and said, “Was it just me, or did he kinda suck?”

“It wasn’t just you,” I said.

“That’s crazy,” the guys said. “If I was that size, I’d be awesome.”

That was the first and last time Mat played pickup ball during his ineligibility.

Part 22

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first night superstar

First Night Superstar (furst nit soo'-puhr-stahr') noun. A pickup baller who plays extremely well during his first night at a pickup league, but whose performance drops off significantly on subsequent nights.

Usage example: Man, remember how good that guy was when he first showed up? Now he sucks. I guess he was a First Night Superstar.

Word history: I coined this term a few years ago at my weekly pickup league. I couldn't help but notice that many times a new guy would totally clean up on his first night and then quickly devolve into an average (or below average) player. I think this happens for a few reasons.

First off, players tend to try harder and focus more when they're unfamiliar with the court, their teammates and their defenders. Many new players desperately want to make a good impression, so they'll hustle, take good shots, avoid bad passes, crash the boards, and so on. However, comfort tends to lead to complacency (at best) and laziness (at worst). So after these guys become accustomed to their surroundings, they often stop hustling and rebounding and start forcing up junk shots and making careless passes.

Secondly, defenders sometimes take a "wait and see" approach with a new player. After all, you don't necessarily want to scare the dude off on his first night. Furthermore, it's impossible to tell whether someone is going to snap and start a fight the first time they take a hard foul or get caught by a blindside pick. Then too, it can be hard to stop a guy before you figure out how good he is and where he likes to shoot from.

But eventually the defense will catch up with the newbie. After people start to learn his game, they figure out how to slow him up or shut him down. This can happen pretty quickly since most pickup ballers have only one or two go-to moves and/or pet shots. I mean, if someone always jukes right, dribbles left twice and then pulls up for a 15-footer...well, the effectiveness diminishes pretty quickly.

If the new player is genuinely skilled, the league's top defender (or defenders) will be dispatched to break their spirit. And other people will step up to provide quick help, because nobody wants a new guy to show up the regulars. My buddy Mister P refers to this stop-the-noob phenomenon as "feeding them their rookie cookies." One Wednesday night, a new guy came out and torched everybody with long-range three-pointers. (By "long-range" I mean triples taken four or five feet beyond the arc.) At one point, I was on my way to the drinking fountain when I overheard him asking if there was any "real competition" in the league.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to play against him again that night. But the next Wednesday, I dropped the hammer on him. And so did everybody else. Defenders were up in his face, and everybody jumped out on him on picks. You could tell he hated it, and he became increasingly frustrated as the night went on. I don't think he hit a three all night. And he never came back.

It's worth noting that the increased defensive intensity usually slackens over time, usually after the new guy's focus and intensity returns to "normal" levels. Then he and the other players settle into a comfort zone that rarely changes. Until the next new guy shows up.

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Darko jersey

Previous installment: November.

LeBron James versus Charles Barkley: No, this has nothing to do with AnacondaHL's review of Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden.

With talk about the Great Free Agent Summer of 2010 reaching a fever pitch, it seemed as if half the teams across the league had begun shedding payroll in hopes of joining the LeBron Sweepstates. A few carefully chosen words from King James could have calmed the hornets nest. Instead, LeBron grabbed a nearby stick and started whacking the hornets next while screaming "nanny nanny boo boo!" Said James: "If you guys want to go to sleep right now and not wake up until July 1, 2010, then go ahead because it’s going to be a big day. It's probably going to be one of the biggest days in free-agent history in the NBA." Oh yes he most certainly did.

The majority of the media was content to, at most, give LeBron a tiny slap on the wrist for seemingly displaying a general lack of loyalty to his team and his team's city. Not Chuck Barkley. He took a jackhammer to the King's wrist. Said Sir Charles: "If I was LeBron James, I would shut the hell up. I'm a big LeBron fan. He's a stud. You gotta give him his props. I'm getting so annoyed he's talking about what he's going to do in two years. I think it's disrespectful to the game. I think it's disrespectful to the Cavaliers." Here, here, Chuck! I couldn't agree more.

LeBron responded with all the class you'd expect from someone who thinks slapping palms is for losers. Said the crownless King: "He's stupid. That's all I've got to say about that." Ooooooooooh, SNAP!

The elevator in Chris Bosh's condominium: Bosh made it to Air Canada Centre with less than an hour before the Raptors' game against the Hawks, but at least he had a good excuse: he spent 50 minutes trapped in an elevator at his downtown condo. Bosh said the car stopped, trapping him and two strangers, just after he got on at the 28th floor. Of his brief time in captivity, Bosh said: "I sat and reflected on life and just chilled." How very Zen-like. Note that Bosh said he tried to force the door open, but totally failed. "I tried my superhuman strength but it wasn't opening." Two words, Chris: weight room.

The Thunder's franchise-record losing streak: Mike Miller hit the game-winner with 0.1 seconds left as the Timberwolves sent the Thunder to a franchise record-tying 14th straight loss. That's some historic suck, right there. Said Kevin Durant: "It's definitely frustrating when you lose at the buzzer. It doesn't matter if you're not on a win streak. Any team would hate to lose like this." Yeah. But especially when the phrase "franchise-worst losing streak" is stamped on the loss, right Kevin?

Record-setting home cookin': During the Lakers 114-107 win over the Mavericks, L.A. recorded a mere eight fouls, the fewest by the franchise since it moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles for the 1960-61 season. The previous low was nine (which happened on March 28, 1973, at Golden State). The Mavericks became the second straight Lakers opponent that didn't attempt a free throw in the first quarter. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Knicks versus Warriors -- a.k.a. The Night Defense Died: The 138-125 shootout was everything you'd expect from two utterly defenseless teams. The Knicks set a Madison Square Garden record for most first-half points (82), Chris Duhon had a franchise-record for assists (22), and David Lee had career highs in points (37) and rebounds (21). It was the first 30-20 game in regulation for a member of the Knicks since Patrick Ewing had 36 points and 21 rebounds against Philadelphia on January 23, 1994. How bad was it? Well, at one point, Lee alley-ooped to himself on the fast break. No, really.

Said Golden State's Jamal Crawford: "They had 82 points at half, so that's a lot." Yes, Jamal, that really is a lot, isn't it?

Ramon Sessions, defensive poster boy: Por Ramon. He became one of he earliest recipients of LeBron's monster at-the-basket swats.

Andre Miller's broken ankles: This catastrophic injury took place at the hands of Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose. But it was a veteran fall. Or was it...a veteran fail?

The end of Starbury's wedded bliss with the Knicks: Stephon Marbury -- the 2007-08 runaway winner of my Least Valuable Player award -- stunned the world by announcing that his "marriage" with the New York Knicks is over. Yeah. That's like walking in on your father banging the maid on your mother's corpse and then having him calmly explain that daddy and mommy won't be living together anymore: you probably had that one figured out already. Here's some of the choice quotage from Starbury's exclusive interview with the New York Post. Better sit down with a big box of Kleenex. This one's a tear-jerker of epic proportions.

"I sat there for three weeks and didn't say one word. I didn't hear one of my teammates say, 'Why isn't Stephon Marbury playing? This is a good system for
him, even to play with the second unit and bring more firepower.'

"When things got bad and then worse, guys like Quentin Richardson say, 'I
don't consider him a teammate. He let his teammates out to dry.' He didn't care
I was his teammate when I was banished. They left me out for dead. It's like
we're in a foxhole and I'm facing the other way. If I got shot in the head, at
least you want to get shot by the enemy. I got shot in the head by my own guys
in my foxhole. And they didn't even give me an honorable death.

"Mike [D'Antoni] had no intentions of me playing basketball here. He gave
me straight disrespect. It was beyond disrespect. He put in (Danilo) Gallinari,
whose back is messed up and (who) didn't participate at all in training camp
ahead of me (in the season opener). That's saying, 'I'm letting you have it
right now.' He was sticking it to me. He knew I was in my contract year and did
everything they asked me to do. He's not trying to help me. He's trying to hurt

Ah. Only Stephon Marbury could invoke "shot in the head by my own guys" imagery only days after New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg at a nightclub. And if history has taught us anything, it's that Starbury should keep his mouth shut during any and all NFL-related controversies. As well as every day of the week that ends in "day."

Bob Delaney, David Guthrie, Gary Zielinski: Things got a little wacky in Boston when the Celtics hosted the Orlando Magic and the refs demanded that everyone respect their authori-tah. I'll let Basketbawful reader Garron take this one: "The officiating crew last night was weird. The calls were fine, but technicals were everywhere. Eight were called in total, four by referee Bob Delaney. In fact, during a timeout Delane called a double technical on Sam Cassell, who was just sitting at the end of the bench and had to be sent out. Then during the next timeout there was a technical called on the MIDDLE of a timeout while Rondo was in the huddle. Other weird technicals were called on Stan Van Gundy (for arguing a call) and Rashard lewis who, after making a very difficult behind the backboard circus shot, pumped his fist in the air."

When asked why he received his technical, Rondo said: "I don't know. Everyone got a technical." Added Doc Rivers: "This was one interesting game. A lot of technicals. I better be quiet before I get a technical." Now, regarding Same Cassell...

Sam Cassell amazing technical fouls: Sam I Am did not appear in a single game during the 2008-09 campaign, which means he finished the season with more technicals (2) and ejections (1) than minutes played (zero). During Boston's December 1st game against Orlando, he was bounced from the bench for complaining about a foul that David Guthrie called on Perkins. Said Rivers: "I told him he took a bullet for me, because I thought it was on me and I wasn't saying anything, so I was upset. I think they were trying to clean the game up. There was a lot of complaining going on. Unfortunately, when that's happening, the first guy who talks gets the tech. And Sam was that guy."

Ron Artest, video blog superstar: Anything involving Ron Artest really has to be seen to be believed. So, you know, watch this.

Kenyon Martin, word-eating machine: Owned. Owned. Owned. Let me say it again. Owned. As Basketbawful reader Raza put it: "Since K-Mart said after the Nuggets beat the injury-riddled Spurs the classic quote "I don't let Tim do what he wants to do. Never have and never will," I was hoping you guys would bring up Duncan's stat line tonight (21 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 blocks, and a steal) to go with that idiotic quote." Consider it done, Raza.

Miki Moore, awesome quote machine: Best quote ever: "Would you let someone go into your house, smack your wife around, make a sandwich and change the channel on your TV? We're disgusted with ourselves." If you need me, I'll be making love to this quote for the rest of the day. Thank you.

Big Crybaby: After Boston's starters had built a big lead at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Boston reserves sort of let the Blazers back into the game. During a timeout, Kevin Garnett grabbed Glen Davis by the arm and gave him a little ear candy, after which Davis sat on the bench with a towel over his head trying not to cry. Trying...and failing.

This is how Baby explained it: "I'm not embarrassed. I'm not embarrassed at all. I'm emotional about the game. That's one of my best features -- being emotional, playing out there with passion. Sometimes it's not always good passion. Sometimes it's bad, but that's just me being young. You have to learn how to funnel that emotion and keep it inside until you put it out. We had to call a timeout because of the lack of intensity we were bringing on the floor. And I was mad at myself that I had a big part (in that). I feel like I have a big part of funneling the defense and bringing the energy to the time. I held myself high and my teammates held me high and accountable for that. I'm just an emotional player, man. I kind of catch myself wanting to be perfect a lot, and I can't be perfect, so I kind of get upset with myself. I am an emotional guy. It's one of my upsides and my downfalls, you know?"

And this is what Doc Rivers had to say on the subject of crying: "If you took a charge in my career from (Charles) Barkley, you probably cried afterward." Awesome. Too bad Baby didn't take a charge from Sir Charles.

Al Harrington and Chris Duhon, last-second choke machines: The Knicks were down 3 points to the Hawks in Atlanta, but they had the ball and a chance to tie things up in the final seconds. Naturally, they failed in a typically embarrassing (read that: Knick-like) fashion: After a timeout, Harrington eschewed an open shot to drive and kick it out to Duhon, who himself passed up an open shot and shoveled it back to Harrington, who was had forced to rush up a last-second three that wasn't even close. It was a classic case of NBA hot potato, where nobody wanted to take the final shot. Check it (at the 1:57 mark):

Duhon admitted afterward that he should have taken the shot. "I just hesitated. I saw them coming at me real fast. For whatever reason, I just didn't shoot the ball. I should have shot the ball. It was a great play." Harrington also suffered some post-game non-shooter's remorse: "It was designed for me to catch and shoot. It was a great play, because I was open. I don't know, I just, when I turned and looked, I didn't feel comfortable enough so I tried to get it to somebody else." Fail.

Derrick Rose and the Apple of Doom: Rose was forced to miss a non-game-day practice after cutting himself under the elbow on his left forearm. In bed. From a knife he used to slice an apple. Said Rose: "Silly accident this morning. I went to get a bottle of water, forgot the knife was there and sat down and sliced my arm. I panicked when it first happened. I called [Bulls trainer Fred Tedeschi]. We got it stitched up about 8 [a.m.]. It was a large wound, but they healed it up. I'm good. I could have practiced, but they told me to wait until [today]. I can still dribble, shoot, do all that stuff. I'm hoping they'll let me play."

Of course, a lot of people wanted to know what "really" happened, since Rose's story sounds too bizarre to be true (kind of like the time I got run over by a horse while riding my bike). But, in my experience, it's the weird stories that totally ARE true. And Rose isn't worried about what other people think. "It's the truth, so I'm not worried about [people not believing him]. I called my mom, and she was like, what are you doing? It was just a freak accident. I was very scared. I'm going to get somebody else to cut [the apple]. I'm not cutting it no more." Ah, to live in a world where, after a freak apple-cutting accident, you can respond not by simply being more careful next time, but by hiring someone to peel apples for you for the rest of your life. Awesome.

For further reading, see my comprehensive list of stupid basketball player injuries.

The Incredible Darko: This was one of the truly great moments of the 2008-09 season. I'll let some Basketbawful readers set this up. First, Brian S. said: "One minute, 24 seconds into the game, WHILE THE ANNOUNCERS ARE SAYING HOW WELL HE GUARDS YAO, Darko has committed 2 fouls and is now out of the game. He can't even do well during the one minute and 24 seconds people are talking nicely about him." Then Quinton A. said: "DUDE!!!! MILICIC!!!! JERSEY!!!! Just coming out of halftime, Darko picked up his fourth foul gaurding Yao, which he responded to by promptly getting a tech then going to the bench and ripping his jersey straight down the middle, Serbian Superman style." Oh yes he most certainly did.

Darko finished with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 fouls, and two jersey halves in 10 minutes. Although Victor correctly pointed out that: "Poor Darko. That's 15 and 15 if you extrapolate to 30 minutes!" He only needed more time. Alas. Also, Trev provided the following graphic, which he found on The Incredible Darko. You wouldn't like him when he's angry. Or, frankly, any other time.

Darko Hulk

As a fun postscript to Darko's Hulk-out, the Grizzlies auctioned off his torn jersey. As always, I'm being completely serious.

I'm Gay (For Gilbert Arenas): How does something like this even happen?

Devin Harris and the Great Stat Curse of 2008: Devin Harris was so flipping happy about the Nets' 11-8 record that he uttered words that would soon become infamous on this site: "We knew we were going to be a playoff team." Oh was still early December and your team was only three games above .500. It might have been a little early to be talking about the postseason.

Vince Carter: Mr. "Stab 'Em In The Back" tormented his former team earlier in the season, only to completely fall apart the next time he faced them: 3 points on 0-for-13 shooting. It was the worst shooting performance of his career and the first time that he failed to make a shot from the field when playing at least 10 minutes. "Fail" doesn't quite do this event justice does it?

Vinsanity pouted his way out of the postgame press conference, leaving his coach and teammates to make his excuses for him. Said Lawrence Frank: "Unfortunately, you have nights like that. It's just one of those things where they have everyone in the paint, so they're giving you the jump shot. It's not just him. We couldn't buy a shot." Added Devin Harris: "He had a tough night. I know he probably takes this a little bit harder against his former team. We're all going to have those nights." Exactly. Everybody had a worst game of their career.

Elton Brand and the Philadelphia 76ers: When the Sixers spent ONE BEEEELION DOLLARS to acquire Elton Brand during the summer of 2008, they were supposed to challenge the Celtics for Eastern Conference supermacy. But by mid-December, the only "challenge" was their battle to reach .500. Then, as if to add more misfortune to the Sixers' season of woe, Elton Brand suffered a shoulder dislocation after attempting to block a shot by Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute Labia mud charm toucher. Brand went up, up, up and then fell down, down, down. Hard. The best part: he got whistled for the foul. Brand would play only six more games during the season. And, sadly, Philly ended up playing better WITHOUT him.

Toronto Raptors Bingo: Because their season really was this bad:


Mark Cuban: I just love when this guy suffers. His Mavericks fell victim to a classic "See what you lost" revenge game when Devin Harris exploded for for 41 points, 13 assists, and 3 steals. As a result, the Nets crushed Dallas 121-97. Here's video of the New Jersey fans chanting "Thank you Cuban!" when Harris was removed with 2:11 remaining.

And here, courtesy of Stephanie G, is a beautiful animated .gif of Mark's reaction:


Of course, in true Mark Cuban fashion, he had to try and get the last word: "I guess when you don't care about your own team you talk about someone on the other team, right? I guess that's what Nets fans are all about. I think the goal of everybody in New Jersey is to be a general manager. So I can understand why they want to share their expertise." Gee, Mark, that's pretty glib for a guy who ditched Steve Nash right before his back-to-back MVP seasons, then used the Nash money to give Erick Dampier a $73 million contract, traded Harris for the rapidly aging Jason Kidd, committed $32 million to DeSagana Diop in the summer of 2008, etc. I'm just sayin'...

Andrei Kirilenko: This was, by far, one of the most egregious flops of the season. I kinda hope his wife revoked that whole "once a year" deal based solely on this.

Kevin Fehr, Phil Robinson, Steve Javie: How is it that the three blind mice all missed this four-step travel by Thaddeus Young? HE TOOK FOUR FULL STEPS, GUYS. It wasn't even a close one. I mean, his first step was OUTSIDE the three-point arc. Don't take my word for it...

The New Jersey Nets: On December 29, the Nets dropped yet another home game, this time to the Chicago Bulls, a team that had lost seven straight on the road (and 14 of 17 this season) and hadn't won in New Jersey since 2001 (which totals 13 losses in a row there). The Nets -- who at that point were 5-12 at the Izod Center, the second-worst home record in the East behind Washington's 4-12 -- had then lost four in a row at home and seven of eight since Devin Harris' "We knew we were going to be a playoff team" proclamation. And they aren't dropping squeakers, either. During this stretch they've lost to the Wizards by 20, the Knicks by 12, the Raptors by 22, the Jazz by 11, the Rockets by 23, the Bobcats by 8 and now the Bulls by 13. You'll notice that four of those teams are sub-.500 (and three of them are VERY sub-.500). And the Bulls were without starters Drew Gooden and Luol Deng. Damn.

What does Vince Carter think about the New Jersey's home struggles" Said Vinsanity: "I try not to worry about it." Well, good. I'd hate for losing to be weighing on his mind or anything.

Celtics versus Blazers: One of the final games of 2008 had a circus-like quality to it. At one point, the Blazers had six players on the floor during the second quarter. They didn't notice it. The refs didn't notice it. KG sure noticed it, though. Didn't matter. Portland scored -- which'll happen when you have an extra-man advantage -- and was then assessed a technical foul. But, by rule, the basket they scored counted. Bizarre.

On top of that weirdness, we were treated to more superdickery from Garnett. First, he tried to elbow Travis Outlaw in the head after Outlaw flushed on him...

...then, a few plays later, he elbowed LaMarcus Aldridge. Twice.

That's a good way to end up on Santa's "Naughty List," KG.