My Memories of Coach Jason Rabedeaux [Vietnam, Saigon Heat]

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Last week, I was surprised to see this long form article on ESPN: Former UTEP coach Jason Rabedeaux’s death remains a mystery.

I knew Coach Jason. He lived in my building in Vietnam, and we would either run into each other in the elevator, at the minimart on the ground floor, or during morning swimming sessions on the 25th floor at 7AM – a chat for a minute or two every few weeks. My wife Ha worked with him during the Saigon Heat’s first season, and both of our impressions of him were the same: he was a really friendly guy.

We heard about his death last fall, but I had no idea about the many internal demons haunting him.

Best wishes to Coach in the heavens.

Stephen Curry Team USA Jersey Review (AliExpress, Aimee Smith)

To reward myself for a recent 2nd place (but a cash prize!) finish at an innovation competition at Kellogg, I decided to buy myself a fake jersey. Normally I wouldn’t do this, at least not knowingly (damn you eBay!), but I wanted to look at the process of buying things from AliExpress (an Alibaba company), which helps Chinese vendors sell directly to international consumers. Prior to this, I had been curious about the quality of fake jerseys, and who made the best ones. You can find plenty of reviews of fake jerseys on YouTube, but sub-Reddits like http://www.reddit.com/r/sportsjerseys and http://www.reddit.com/r/basketballjerseys/ are also very useful.

I ended up deciding on a Stephen Curry Nike FIBA 2014 jersey, primarily because as far as I know, it was never sold to the public as Curry is signed to Under Armour. For the seller (there are a number of them), I chose “Aimee Smith”, who has great reviews both online and within the AliExpress storefront – as of my writing this post, she had received feedback from 10,299 people with 99.4% reporting positive transactions. This means about 10,237 people liked “her”, while just 62 people did not. I, for what it’s worth, also liked her.

Before going into the jersey , I’ll talk a bit more about the AliExpress experience:

https://i0.wp.com/style.aliunicorn.com/wimg/buyer/single/standard-definition-logo.png

  • Security: AliExpress is very easy to use – you do not need to worry about credit card security issues, or any other negative fears you may hold about buying from some “random” site in China. AliExpress (and Alibaba) is no random company – they have been doing this a long time, and you will see that in your shopping. AliExpress accepts all major credit cards (American Express, Visa, Mastercard) and also has a clear buyer protection policy. The website is no harder to use (and is likely easier) than any other American site that you like.
  • Responsiveness: It is very easy to ask sellers questions, and Aimee Smith in particular is very responsive. She answered all my questions in less than a day and often, within minutes (keep in mind the different time zones). On eBay, whether you get any responses at all is random based on seller. From my experience, eBay sellers response properly less than 50% of time.
  • Reviews: If you are fairly comfortable buying things on eBay or Amazon 3rd Party sellers, you will be fine on AliExpress. What I especially like about the service is that you can review the specific product from that seller. Thus, I could see what others felt about the specific Curry jersey I was buying from Aimee Smith. This makes sense for AliExpress since their products are not one-off goods (e.g. I only have one to sell, like my limited edition baseball card). This wouldn’t make as much sense for many small volume eBay sellers but it would for some and it would definitely make sense for many Amazon sellers.
  • Shipping / Tracking:  Assuming you get a good seller, AliExpress also does a great job of letting you know the status after you order. Even though you can check your order details on the site, however, the site never sends a detailed receipt via email

If you’re interested in AliExpress, I definitely say try it without fear, but do make sure you check for sellers with strong feedback before doing so, just as you would (I would hope) with purchases from eBay or Amazon 3rd party vendors.

On to the jersey!

I am happy with it. No complaints considering the price and fact that I cannot get (a major incentive to buy fake jerseys is when an authentic version is unavailable) a real one. The Curry jersey cost less than $22 shipped, and I received it in about 2.5 weeks (coming from China, after all) after ordering. If you are interested in fake jerseys, I would not hesitate to get one from Aimee Smith, and all the feedback online I have seen agree.

While I have not worn the jersey to play basketball in, the material is really soft. I am sure it does not have Dri-Fit or any other moisture-wicking technology built-in, but the jersey is light and I could see myself wearing it. In this sense, if you are normally someone who wears t-shirts for athletic wear, I would recommend this as an alternative. I bought a size small (I am 5’6, 140 lbs.) and I feel it was correctly sized.

To get into the details, let’s do a comparison of images from Getty Images,

455063814 455055924a Paul George authentic jersey auction on eBay,

and Nike Store images.clip_image0014clip_image001And for reference, my Stephen Curry Aimee Smith USA Jersey:

I imagine it might be tricky to compare all these images in this kind of vertical-line view, so I’ll summarize what I see as best as I can:

  1. For the USA lettering on the front, the authentic jerseys are flat (almost like a screen print integrated into the jersey material) and the borders around the letters are dark. On the Aimee Smith version, the borders are red, and the lettering is stitched.
  2. I believe the USA badge (on right chest of player above Nike symbol) on the authentics is printed on the jersey, while it is embroidered on the Aimee Smith.
  3. The placement and size of the “4” on the front match Getty images fairly well. There is no FIBA patch on the left clavicle, but some fake sellers have it.

Moving to the back and other components. This time, I will show Getty first, then the Aimee Smith and Paul George authentic alternating different parts.

455160982imageimageimageimageOther than the “4” on the back being too high relative to the Curry name, the back looks pretty good as well. While I could not tell how accurate the lettering was based on the Getty Images photo, comparing the Aimee Smith Curry to the Paul George authentic reveals that the “R” looks pretty close. Again, the Aimee Smith is more of a Swingman jersey in which all letters and numbers are stitched, which is not the case with the authentic. The jock tag at the bottom front of the jersey is much different between the two jerseys, which is also true of the collar tag. Nonetheless, if you had nothing to compare either with, it would be difficult to say that one of them appears fake.

As I mentioned before, the quality of the jersey is excellent – it probably looks no worse than an authentic Obsidian Warriors Swingman alternate jersey I bought from the NBA store a few months ago for 4 times the price. It could have easily sold as an authentic Nike USA swingman and it is likely better than an authentic replica Andre Iguodala Nike USA jersey that I own. I hope this helps, but feel free to ask me questions!

How Reggie Miller Cost Me an Autograph from Tim Hardaway (and Junior) [Funny Memories]

“I’m Tim Hardaway of the Miami Heat and blah blah blah…[redacted from memory]”

My sister went to the Warriors game versus the Knicks last week and she mentioned Tim Hardaway’s son, and this brought back my own memories of both son and father.

In the summer of 1995, I was 14 years old, waiting at the San Francisco International (SFO) Airport for my relatives (family of aunt, uncle, and two cousins) to arrive from Indianapolis. As they were my only other relatives in the United States, they were my favorite relatives, and Indianapolis was my adopted second favorite city. In addition, the Colts and Pacers were my second favorite professional sports teams in their respective leagues to the 49ers and Warriors (I stopped supporting the Colts after they fired Ted Marchibroda. Nearly 20 years later, I may be on the verge of ending my support for the 49ers because of their stupidity in letting Jim Harbaugh go. Harbaugh was also Marchibroda’s quarterback with the Colts and the Baltimore Ravens and was replaced with whom I fear to be the next Mike Singletary.)

Continuing the story:

“Hi Tim,” said the man behind the counter on the phone in between moments of talking to customers.

I was five feet away from Tim Hardaway and his three year old (had to look it up) son (the aforementioned Tim Hardaway, Jr.), wearing a Reggie Miller (my first jersey, shown below, still in pristine shape) Pacers jersey. Our family had come to SFO to pick up my cousins’ family and I had worn my jersey proudly to show that I love Indiana (please remember I was 14). And yes, I loved Reggie Miller, the Knick killer as well.

However, there was Tim Hardaway so close to me. I wanted an autograph (in 1995, it was not so common just to have cameras on one’s person) of course – it was Tim Hardaway, former all-star (and soon to be once again, sigh. WARRIORS!) and Run-TMC member who had just been traded from the Warrior a few months prior. But I was shy and of course, had branded Reggie Miller and the Pacers across my body. How could I do this, how ridiculous would it be? Plus, what if Tim was a super jerk or just too busy and rejected me. (By the way, Tim was either trying to rent a car at the time or claiming lost luggage at this moment)

Tim looked at me (I can only imagine what he was thinking), and I shied away. I was too ashamed (not of Reggie, but appearing like a bandwagon fan. Tim was never to know that I LOVE the Warriors and always have) and could not do it.

Today, I have kept my Reggie Miller jersey (another embarrassing note, I used to think I would grow into a size 48 jersey. While part of this was the era of baggy everything, I was clearly very optimistic. I am today 5’6, essentially the same height I was at in 1995, and can wear a size 36. NBA players wear size 48 and above.) Recently, I have also purchased a vintage Tim Hardaway jersey as well as a recent issue Chris Mullin (also of Run-TMC) one, shown below.

Revisiting Blue Chips 20 Years Later [Movie Review and Commentary]

I watched Blue Chips again recently for the first time in at least a decade. Essentially, Blue Chips is about corruption (paying players to join amateur teams) in college basketball, and I cannot understand why it isn’t more well regarded – its main arguments are true, focusing on the pressures of winning and generating revenues in major sport college athletics. There is the hypocrisy of asking young athletes to sacrifice their bodies for the equivalent of full time jobs, and then throwing those athletes aside when convenient, yet the “adults” reap huge financial benefits.

With books like The System, about the business of college football, and the most recent lawsuits regarding college “amateur” athletics (see Ed O’Bannon, Northwestern Unionization), if Blue Chips had been released today, perhaps it would have been more acclaimed as a scathing review of the amateur system, instead of “A deafness-inducing but otherwise ho-hum would-be expose of shady recruiting practices by college basketball programs.” (from Variety)

I rated the movie 7/10 on IMDB, with the following thoughts (tons of spoilers) on its oddities and how it could have been a lot better:

1) My guess at why Blue Chips isn’t considered more seriously is its simplified demonification of college boosters. Happy (the primary booster) clearly tells the audience why there is a need for boosters. Coach Pete and programs make a lot of money from winning (Coach Pete has a big contract and a six-figure TV show), while the players get nothing. It’s said (in the movie) that to successfully recruit a top player, one must buy him. Pete gets upset at this because paying “amateur” players is against college rules. He refuses to see his hypocriticalness until the end of the movie, when he quits coaching. Happy is portrayed as a villain, a rich and pompous douche. Yes, he obviously wants to win, and he sees giving players and their families what other schools are already offering an easy way (for him) to do so. The movie doesn’t get into how much these benefits mean to the players, however. In real life, it’s a big deal. If you (as Penny Hardway’s character Butch McRae could) could get your mom a new job and a new house by committing to a specific school at the age of 18, why is this a bad decision on your end?

I’m trying to get my parents a new house NOW, and I’m 33 years old! I would definitely take a way to get them more money.

If Happy had been portrayed as more of a normal non-douchey rich guy just trying to help the team win while helping kids, I think the audience could have empathized more with the players’ side. At the end of the movie, Ricky, who was seen as a greedy amateur athlete by Coach Pete, is shown to have injured his knee and returned home to run his dad’s farm. This is a perfect example of why Ricky (technically, his dad asked for a new tractor to do farm work) was in the right to accept (and even ask) for compensation – he got injured, and now has nothing. He’s in French Lick, fighting poverty for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the business of college athletics goes on.

2) Another reason the movie might not be so well-loved is that Blue Chips is not a great basketball action movie. The basketball scenes are not well shot. You would expect a movie with Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and other pros like Calbert Cheaney and Bobby Hurley would to be much more exciting. I do not think a non-basketball fan would enjoy the action. Compare it to Above the Rim, which I feel is a basketball movie with great action.

3) I do not understand how they got so many real players and coaches to be in this movie, when the movie clearly states that programs paying players was the norm in both college basketball and college football. It implies that everyone (in real life) in the movie was dirty, yet you still see Bobby Knight, George Raveling, and Rick Pitino in the movies with their real names. Jerry Tarkanian, a noted “cheater”, is in the movie as well! As a side note, what I remember most about Bobby Knight (I like Coach Knight) was that he said Calbert Cheaney rode a bicycle his four years in Bloomington.

4) Clearly, Coach Pete is supposed to be Bobby Knight – he kicks chairs, curses at everyone, was focused on a clean program, yet still cares for his students, making sure they graduate from school.

5) Champion made the jerseys for Western University but not for Indiana University (the Hoosiers have no branded jerseys). I thought this was a bit odd as they’re essentially identifying themselves with college cheating. Gatorade is featured in the movie as well. This makes me question how the movie was originally marketed. I get the feeling (watch the original trailer above) that Blue Chips was supposed to be a typical sports movie talking about “dirty” sports, but with more of a pop-entertainment tilt by showing off Shaquille O’Neal (this is how I thought of the movie as a kid). At the end of movie, I feel like the audience can just say, “oh well” and forget about things as if these problems are not that big of a deal, as if perhaps these issues are exaggerated for the movie. That is why I think the movie missed a big opportunity in its commentary on college athletics.

Lenny Cooke [Documentary Review]

Lenny Cooke Poster 01

If you are reading this, you probably already know about the subject of the film, Lenny Cooke, a one-time high school basketball superstar ranked with the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, he became a cautionary tale for future young athletes, and now the eponymous documentary answers many of the questions you might have about who Cooke was and what happened.

Lenny (or Leonard as his mom calls him) is generally shown to be a good guy. We may all point to him as a failure, but the decisions he made would probably mirror most of ours if we were put in the same situation (showered with money, fame, and adoration as a teen). The mental maturity wasn’t there for him, and I can’t claim that it would have been there for me. Years later, his mom says she never blamed him for anything that happened, and I agree. He was a kid, and he did what kids do. The environment led him astray.

He was never a criminal or a thug (as far as I know), just a kid. Cooke became a victim – instead of becoming the next NBA superstar, he hung out with Foxy Brown’s (remember her?) brother, and listened to fast money.

What surprises me about the film is how much footage there was of him as a teen – in fact, this confused me about the structure of the narrative. It seems like the directors’ originally tried making a documentary about him to later show off his path to fame. When that did not happen, the film also stopped, and then 6-10 years later, we skip ahead and see a fat, out of shape Lenny Cooke look back on his past. The current-day Cooke gets into a fight with friends, complaining they’ve abandoned him as he’s now a nobody, and this made me wonder about the directors as well. Why now come back and shoot new footage to show the sad story? For whose benefit?

Perhaps Cooke answers this himself at the very end of the documentary – it’s the first time he really discusses what happened and why he failed. I think the reason the documentary exists then is that this is Lenny Cooke’s attempt to help future players avoid his path, and it’s intimate enough to not just be “another” cautionary tale. Cooke is young enough in that he’s not just a legend of some bygone “old man” day. He played with Melo, Joakim Noah, LeBron; the lessons are still relevant.

I think a big question left unanswered is why didn’t Lenny Cooke make the NBA or continue to play basketball after a few years of struggles? Why was he fat by age 26? He feels he may have been blackballed by the NBA (he admits to being a bit of a jerk in his youth), but is that really enough to get blackballed? Kobe is a jerk too. Would anyone blackball him? Cooke was a great talent, and he wasn’t a criminal, yet no team would give him a try? Perhaps he continued being a jerk after not getting selected in the 2002 NBA Draft. After that letdown, Cooke played internationally and in the US, including the Philippines, USBL, and China. Cooke admits he didn’t have a true passion for the game, that he did it to keep getting paid, but if that’s really true, he still could be playing today to make money.

I would have liked to see people from the NBA or his professional teams talk about what he was like, or about his basketball skills during this time period. Otherwise, while there is some discussion of what’s happened between Cooke’s high school days and today, it’s limited. In this sense, I feel the documentary strives more to show who Lenny Cookie was as a phenom and what he is today to show the possibility of lost opportunity to a modern audience rather than discussing the story of Lenny Cooke and his overall struggle to reach the NBA over the years.

Rating: 7/10