Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good-bye, Conan

Oh, Conan.

You made me laugh and cry last night. And kudos to you for a wonderful final good-bye, and for a shout-out to David Letterman. You and Dave are my favorite nighttime companions. What would late night be without you?

Thank you so much, sir. New York misses you already. Good-bye and good luck.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

John Stockton

It is All-Star Weekend in the NBA, and with it came speculation about the next batch of Hall of Famers. John Stockton, one of the best point guards in the NBA, was among those eligible. And I am hoping he does get in. Here's my own little tribute to this amazing player. I wrote this a few days after his retirement ceremony with the Utah Jazz. It still resonates as strongly as it did when I first wrote it.

John Stockton was the very first basketball point guard I adored. And I still do.

I was a huge Celtics fan, and I am a Larry Bird worshipper above all else. But when it came to point guards, John was pretty much above everyone else. I grew up on the kind of basketball that was pure, intense, and full of grace. That was in the 80s, when the usual teams that met during the playoffs were Bird’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Isaiah’s Pistons, and Ralph's Rockets. I fell in love with the NBA during that era, an era that will never be replicated. It is as irreplaceable as Stockton himself.

The irony of it all was that I had to get a second glimpse of him before I was convinced of his greatness. I was originally drawn to that other high-profile Jazzman, Karl Malone. Malone was an easy player to admire. He was competitive, fiery, and often delivered (he wasn’t called The Mailman for nothing!). But I had to take a good long look at his teammate who often handed him the ball, who made it easier for him to shoot, and who set up plays for him perfectly.

John was the epitome of the point guard. He was a master of basic passing, eschewing flash for directness. As a matter of fact, of all the years I have watched John play (and mind you, I don’t regularly watch the NBA since we didn't have cable back then), I have only seen him do a behind-the-back pass TWICE. The rest, he did it by sheer mastery of ball-handling, accuracy, sharp eyesight, and instinct. Michael Jordan needed to dunk a ball to achieve greatness. John only needed to pass the ball to become legend.

I felt that no other point guard I knew came close to John. Save, probably for Magic. But the difference was that John had more charisma. Plus his personality and character was ultimately at a level Magic could not reach. At the moment, I am hard-pressed to name a guard that could fill John's shoes. Hardworking playmakers abound the NBA, but no one comes close to John's spirit and fire. Iverson is too cocky. Kidd is lackadaisacal at times. I have a crush on Jason Williams, but that's as far as I could go. Hamilton is so-so. Bibby is too inconsistent. Fisher is a Laker. Nash has zero likability. And don't get me started on Payton, that greedy schmuck. Edited to add: Rajon Rondo is fantastic, but even he couldn't fit into John's shoes.

That time when John made the game-winning triple during the NBA finals with the Bulls, he jumped so high and with so much joy that I jumped with him. He had this verve about him that was infectious. I can only aspire to so much enthusiasm. I realized then that I loved what he did. What he has done. In the past years, I was content to simply watch back and marvel at what he could do. It was only during that instance, after that buzzer-beating game-winner, that I felt his passion channel right through me. You truly felt his happiness. It was hard not to love him after that.

I also loved the fact that he never succumbed to the money. I read how Pat Riley offered John millions to play for the Heat back then. But John refused. It is through him and Malone that I’ve learned to love the Jazz, despite the fact that I was more a fan of the Eastern Conference teams (LA destroyed the West for me). He was humble, steadfast, and ferociously loyal and well-grounded. A far cry from the glitzy affairs and scandals that rock the NBA nowadays. His was a life that anyone would love to have. And he had a career that many envied. It was not about the money. It was simply about basketball. (Karl would emphasize that as well, when he moved to LA with a huge pay cut just so he could win a championship, a prize that continues to elude him to this day.)

The players loved him. Even Sir Charles, for all his bluster and gruff, could only put John on a pedestal higher than his. I got misty-eyed while watching a press conference after the Olympics in Athens, when Iverson, bemoaning the US' difficulty in winning games and commending their opponents' play, said "That's the game the way Karl Malone and John Stockton play it. It's good for kids to see how the game is supposed to be played." Hearing it from Iverson, the guy with flash and the controversy following him everywhere, who seemed to give himself more credit than anybody else (save, probably, for Tracy MacGrady), astounded me. Iverson embodied basketball selfishness. But he conceded that Stockton (and Malone) possessed the kind of skills that can only win basketball games. Hearing that from someone as young as he was just made my heart beat proudly. How true. How affirming.

Such was John’s greatness that he never did get tagged with a moniker. What else can you call a basketball player whose abilities defy description? (Edited to add: Instead, you get all these places named after him!) Nothing seemed right for him. What did sound right, in all his years of playing, was when courtside announcers, in describing a play, would say over and over again, “Stockton and Malone!” “Stockton to Malone!”... I miss hearing that.

To say that Stockton never won an NBA championship should not mean that his career lacked the greatness it deserves. HE WAS AS GREAT AS ALL THOSE WHO HAD WON RINGS. He had the awards and statistics to back him up. He was a legend. And I can never thank him enough for giving himself to the game as he had. I shed tears when Malone, obviously upset about John’s retirement announcement, said immediately after "there will never be anyone like him. I guarantee you that."


In another beautiful basketball story: Today, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that they will be giving the Finals MVP trophy a name, similar to the Lombardi and the Heismann. They're naming it after that venerable Celtic great, Bill Russell.

At the press conference, Bill was overcome and almost was at a loss for words. He had just lost his wife, to whom Stern had entrusted the news to and asked her to keep it secret from Bill. She must have been extremely proud - to have died knowing some beautiful news about her husband. And Bill... said the most beautiful thing at that press conference. He thanked his teammates. He emphasized that basketball was a team sport, and thanked his teammates.

That honor could never have happened to a better man and player. Congratulations to Bill Russell. All Celtics fans are immensely proud of you.


Happy Birthday to Me!!!

This has been a long time coming, but I wanted to write about my experience in the Comic Con in New York last weekend, as well as a surprise Broadway treat. I thought I could celebrate my birthday early, and treated myself to a weekend pass. It was my very first time to attend a Comic Con, and I was had a blast.

My first impression was that there were too many danged people in the place. To get an idea on the size of the crowd – I had to fall in line to get inside the exhibition area and it took me one hour to make it to the entrance. But the best part about being in a line in a Comic Con? The outrageously dressed people. Lots of anime characters, and the usual Star Wars and Star Trek people, although there were plenty of obscure characters. Well, obscure to me, of course. But I think the highlight of my day was probably standing next to a guy dressed as RORSCHACH in line. My gosh, Rorschach!! My favorite character in Watchmen. Complete with fedora, trench coat, and marked stocking on his head. It was very cool, but also kind of creepy, so I couldn’t bring myself to ask if I could take his picture.

Another consequence of having to wait almost an hour just to get in the main exhibition was almost missing out on the Warner Bros. panel, which everyone calls the Watchmen panel. Because I was late, the line for the panel got so long it already reached the food court area and I had to run to make it. As soon as I got to the end of the line, this Comic Con staffer plops a chair behind the very last guy and yells out "This is officially the end of the line!" I had to beg him, since I was only one person and I was content to just stand at the back. And his announcement didn’t even deter people from lining up behind me. He looked at me must have pitied me because he whispered “Just follow me” and so he let me (and the rest of the line) follow them inside anyway. It turns out that the theater was large enough, so there were still seats, but all the good ones were taken so I took a seat pretty far back. But I had a fantastic view of the theater screens, which was important since I was there for the advance screenings anyway.

So for Watchmen, Dave Gibbons - who was the artist on the novel - presented us with the FIRST 18 MINUTES OF THE MOVIE. 18! Actually the guy in front of me turned to his friend and said "Did he just say EIGHTY?" Hah, we wish. And it was way way way cool! The best part for me was the opening credits set to Dylan. It was really very faithful to the novel - frame by frame, with a few liberties here and there, which was to be expected. Loudest applause went to Rorschach when he first appeared - which made me proud, but I was hoping to see Patrick Wilson. Well, technically he appeared, but it wasn't much. Anyway, there was also a bonus scene afterwards. And I think everyone just about died when they figured out what scene it was. It was one of the scenes of Rorschach in jail – certainly a very wonderful surprise for the fans. And it was shot verbatim! Jackie Earle Haley was simply the best. I’m guessing he might do a Heath and get nominated in the awards season next year for being a comic character. He really was very memorable in the short scene we saw him in.

After the Watchmen session, it was time for the Friday the 13th session. A lot of people left, although a lot still stayed. Mostly because they were waiting for Terminator Salvation (me included), but most of the ladies I’m sure stayed because Jared Padalecki was part of the panel. He's cute - floppy hair is cute. Although I’m sure everyone was biding time until the Terminator Salvation session.

So when McG came out it was to a round of excited applause. He tried to justify making another Terminator movie to James Cameron (since this time around it was all about the war against Skynet). He was really so excited to show us some scenes from the movie, being pretty adorkable the whole time. He even tried calling Christian Bale on his cellphone but his wife answered instead, haha. Anyway, he showed us about 9 minutes of reel - a very rough copy. Very nice. And very rough – all green screen, wire work, and digital storyboards all there. But there were the finished stuff, too, like the explosions. As for the story... hmm, I wasn’t expecting two other guys in the story. I was expecting a John Connor-centric story. Anyway, I took off after that since that was the last of the Warner Bros panel, and also because I wanted to see the main floor.

As expected, LOTS of comics. I had a list my brother gave me for him to buy, so I kept that in mind while keeping my jaw in check as I browsed the aisles. I wasn't familiar with so much of the content there, but it was fascinating to see, nevertheless. There was a huge gaming section in one part of the floor. There's also a section on comic traders and golden/silver age comics. There was an autograph section, an Artists Alley, even booths dedicated to independent artists who want to show publishers/agents their art (and maybe get a job in comics). The biggest booths are reserved for Marvel and DC (of course). There were TV crews roaming the venue, getting interviews from the more interestingly-dressed people. While there were a lot of them, there were too many Storm Troopers there (their uniforms in varying degrees of wear and tear), a Boba Fett, and three Chewbaccas. Very tall, too. And they even had the whole Wookiee noises emanating from them, as well. Then while waiting for the shuttle to Grand Central, I had my first celebrity sighting of the day – Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl being ushered in for one of the panels. I could have stayed till evening and wait for the Astroboy panel, especially, but I was pretty tired and wanted to go home. But I really enjoyed myself. The whole experience was great!

Then on Sunday I went back again for the Chuck panel, my favorite TV show on Monday nights (until House changed their schedule to Monday, too, which sucks). The Chuck panel was actually the primary reason I went to the Comic Con in the first place, so I was really excited for this one. I had no problem giving up the Joss Whedon and Fringe panels to see Chuck. And I wasn’t disappointed. They showed a teaser for the second half of the season - very nice. Josh Schwartz was there, as was the female lead, Yvonne Strahovski. Very funny panel, loved it very much. When that was over, I went back upstairs for another last run through of the main floor. And then I left to go to Broadway.

For my birthday , my sisters treated me to a Broadway show – a ticket to the final show of Equus. While waiting in line, probably the biggest highlight of the day was seeing John Slattery also in line! I saw him with his wife, and the girl next to me said, "Mad Men!" out loud and we both looked at each other and grinned. He's so handsome - but also quite old. He really is. Makeup really does wonders for him. But he's a gorgeous older fella, and well-dressed.

Equus was just great - a bit sad, but that's to be expected since the main character is psychologically disturbed. Very dramatic. And the cast was excellent. Daniel Radcliffe was really impressive for his age and acting experience. His wasn’t very a very sympathetic character, and yet Dan was able to provoke me into feeling very disturbed and oddly sorry for him at the end. The main crime was quite dramatic, and was directed very nicely by Thea Sharrock. And of course, there was the main character of Martin Dysart himself. This was my second time to watch Richard Griffiths on stage, and he's just great. Of course, you can tell his health was pretty poor. He coughed three or four times while onstage (sometimes in the middle of his lines), but he's still fantastic.

Then they had a very long curtain call, where someone even threw a plush horse from the balcony on to the stage (and Dan was hilarious when he had to jump back in surprise). Afterwards Dan made everyone sit down first, and he and Richard gave a speech (well, Richard quoted Frost's Road Less Travelled). Very nice, and the female castmembers were teary-eyed in the background. Then Peter Schaffer, the playwright, came out and that was great, too, although he’s seemed to old and weak to even walk. Then when the cast left the stage and before the lights came on, there was a mad dash to the actors' entrance, mostly by the young females in the audience, to snag an autograph-seeking position outside the theater. I couldn't get close, but it would have been in vain since Dan just went through the line once, then straight into a waiting car. And then Richard didn't even stop to sign anything. But funny thing was, since Peter Schaffer was a slow walker, he got mobbed as soon as he left the theater. I kind of felt sorry for him, but also jealous that people got his autograph. But he was an easy catch anyway since he was going in the opposite direction (obviously, he wasn't attending the cast party). It was already past 7PM by then, and I had to go back to the train station to go home.

So there goes my birthday. It was a week early, but it was a fantastic day for me. Utterly fantastic. A happy birthday to me!!!