(rolling up on you in my Magic Johnson Lakers jersey, some way too short shorts, and some Converse All-Stars…)
Hey little Roni…
It’s the weekend!
‘You know, we always called each other good fellas. Like you said to, uh, somebody, You’re gonna like this guy. He’s alright. He’s a good fella. He’s one of us. You understand?’
I know more than once I’ve publicly stated my somewhat ‘necessary evil’ attitude toward networking. Having said that, I just spent the night catching up/hanging out with three different friends from three completely separate chapters of my life, who in all likelihood would have never crossed paths with each other except for me being the common thread. And tonight wasn’t the first time in recent memory some of my ‘worlds collided’ to everyone’s benefit. As I say this ‘out loud’, I see now my aversion to the word ‘networking’: when I hear it, the image in my mind is ‘I have no reason to talk to you, hell I don’t really like you that much, but I do recognize I can use you as an avenue to get something.’ That definitely turns me off. I try not to do that to people.
On the other hand, I’m very much by nature a ‘point guard’. Yes, when someone needs to shoot the ‘game winner’, I want the ball. But for the majority of the game, I want everybody on the team involved and feeling like they’re an important part of the game. The first ‘A’ I ever got in school was writing a one page book report on my hero Magic Johnson after all (and yes it’s still sitting in a laminated book in my mama’s house.) I’m all about the ‘assists’. Look at the whole floor and see who has the wide open shot. It may be me, but if you’re open, why not pass the ball? And I don’t even hoop anymore, but I think that metaphor is simple enough for everyone to understand. I want to win the game and win championships; I’ll worry about my own stat line when I’m done playing.
Now obviously, I’m selfish enough to be protective of my own reputation when I’m making a ‘double introduction’. If you’re wide open for a jump shot because everyone knows you can’t make a jump shot, then yeah, going into Kobe mode might be the best play. But normally, when the question is ‘Do I know a guy (or girl)?’ The first answer is almost always yes, and the more important question, ‘Are they going to do a good job and be professional about it?’ and that answer is always yes, then hell, I love that. Helping friends out where more than one person I like can benefit? That’s one of the best parts of being ‘Malik Aziz.’
So it’s not ‘networking’ I hate. It’s overt, barely disguised political moves.
There are not enough words to express the jealous rage an elementary school aged Aziz had for Ralph the first time he saw this video.
WELL GUESS WHAT RALPH? I MOVED TO L.A. AND MET MAGIC AND HE SHOOK MY HAND AND THANKED ME FOR BEING A FAN MY WHOLE LIFE! HOW YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?!?
(No I don’t hold grudges, why do you ask?)
ESPN’s documentary ‘The Announcement’ didn’t have too many revelations, but was a bittersweet trip down memory road if you were any kind of Magic Johnson fan. So how big of a Magic Johnson fan am I? Well for the uninitiated…
After Michael Jackson, Magic was easily my second biggest childhood idol, and my favorite athlete by far. The first A I ever received in school was a book report about Magic, pro hoops was the sport my hometown didn’t have so like most black kids I gravitated toward the Lakers (and the lifelong bond was born). The most infamous childhood photo that hasn’t seen the light of day is me cheesing wearing a varsity jacket style Magic Johnson sweater I got for Christmas while holding my new Light Gun to play ‘Duck Hunt’ on. Simply stated, Magic was my guy.
So rewatching the press conference where he made his HIV positive announcement was chilling. I do remember without shame I was one of those who cried my eyes out that day. It’s hard to properly explain now that double whammy feeling: 1) my favorite athlete was retiring in his prime and 2) we were certain he was going to be dead in a couple of years. That’s the part we all lived through. Hearing Magic talk about how he doesn’t think he would have carried on if Cookie would have left him (I can’t imagine the personal stress of not knowing if you’ve also given your wife and unborn child this deadly disease) was nearly as heartbreaking. As we all know now, she and their son came back negative. Magic became the face of the AIDS education movement, and with his business endeavors, became the lifetime unofficial mayor of L.A. for life.
To the best of my knowledge, no one in my regular social circles is HIV positive. I can only confirm I get tested annually and in spite of my most trifling efforts in my younger days, I remain HIV negative. In terms of meeting the man himself, that was understandably memorable for me. Me and Magic worked out at the same gym for a few years, so we did the head nod everyday for months before I finally manned up and introduced myself. And I couldn’t front, I told the truth, “Magic, you were one of my idols growing up, and it just means the world to me to shake your hand.” Yeah I simped out completely, but he gave me a firm shake and said, “Thanks, that means a lot.” And the rest of the day I had a smile on my face like a 5 year old kid and had this playing in my head:
On a serious note Magic, if you’re reading this, thank you for EVERYTHING. You continue to make us proud!
One of my earliest memories as a sports fan was turning to the news and literally watching the Kings leave town on their way to Sacramento. I had my Chiefs and Royals, but I was an NBA free agent. Like so many other black folks of the early 80s though, it didn’t take long at all to find a team (and player) I naturally gravitated toward…
The first A I ever got in school, ever, was writing a book report on one of my heroes. And that hero was Magic Johnson. He was the centerpiece of the Showtime Lakers, he was a great player and he always had a smile for the camera. My first memory of yelling at the TV in celebration was Magic’s baby hook over that punk Larry Bird and those damn Boston Celtics. When I wasn’t practicing my moonwalk, I was down at the playground with my friends throwing weak ass behind the back passes. Even today, whenever I hear Hall & Oates’ “One on One” I think of Magic running the break and throwing a no look to Big Game James. I’m still debating how I feel about these pictures seeing the light of day at some point, but one of my best Christmas presents ever (at the time) was a hideous varsity jacket style purple and gold Magic Johnson sweater. If you would have told me at that age that the hands of Fate would not only guide me to this city, but that I would see Magic on a fairly regular basis and even get to exchange pleasantries with him, I probably would have been the first 8 year old to die from cardiac arrest. When he retired because of HIV, I was devastated as you can imagine. But I kept following the team. Even through the Nick Van Exel/Sedale Threatt/Cedric Ceballos years, the Lakers were still my team. There has only been one time I openly rooted against them…
My second year out here was 2001, the year the Sixers made the Finals. Magic is the player I grew up idolizing, but Iverson is my favorite player of my generation. Initially I wasn’t looking for trouble when I wore my Iverson jersey in the week leading up to the Finals. But boy you want to talk about hearing some noise! Everywhere I went that week, ‘Sweep, Sweep, Sweep!’ And I knew the Sixers weren’t winning the Finals, but I wanted my boy to at least take one game. The Lakers had won 19 in a row to that point; for those of you who hate the current version of the team, right now is NOTHING compared to the arrogance of those days trust me. Iverson’s 48 that night probably put him in the Hall of Fame and I was probably the only cat in L.A. cheering; seeing Iverson with his chest out with a humbled Byron Allen in the background is still one of my top 5 sports fan moments ever.
(And that wasn’t a joke, it’s at the 6:25 mark of this clip of the broadcast from that night: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKjmo3oiCd8)
That personal moment aside though, the Lakers represent everything people either love or hate about L.A. They’re glamorous, star driven, and (even an objective sports fan has to admit) the owner wants to win championships. I’ve heard stories of course, but to this point I’ve never crossed paths with Mr. Bryant. To watch him now, where he realizes his best individual days are probably behind him, but he also realizes another ring (or two) puts him undeniably into The Conversation, I have to admit it’s fun to watch. We’ll see how Tiger plays it, but once Kobe just said (essentially) “I’m a hyper-competitive basketball nerd and the more I get away from that, the less true to myself I’m being,” the better things have turned out for him. And when Kobe’s time has come and gone, I have little doubt the Lakers will trade, draft or sign as a free agent another of the top 5 players in the Association at that time. That’s just what the Lakers do.
While we all have different ‘favorite’ films in black cinema, it is my argument, using the criteria I’ve established (relevance to black culture, the legacy or shelf life of the project after the initial release, the actual craftmanship of the filmmaking, the degree to which the film was noticed/recognized by the mainstream, and the Apollo or ‘Wow’ moments that stand out from the project) one film stands as more important to black cinema than any other film made to this point. It probably comes as little surprise that I feel the most important film has been made by black cinema’s most important filmmaker, Spike Lee. After the production and response that came with the second most important black film, Do the Right Thing, Spike was well versed in the good and bad of controversy.
Because of that, there really wasn’t anyone more qualified than Spike to do a film about one of the most controversial and polarizing African-Americans in history. For those of us who admire and respect him, the film is a fitting tribute to his greatness. For those of you who ‘don’t get it’ or simply can’t stand him, you (as always) will find elements in Spike’s film to validate your point of view…
Kobe Doin’ Work is a 2009 Spike Lee documentary that shows us what a typical NBA game is like through the eyes of the best player of his generation, and one of the best ever, former MVP, four time NBA champion, and future first ballot Hall of Famer, Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bean Bryant.
Put down the cell phone. Delete that hostile text message, email, or comment you were about to send me. It’s called sarcasm people. GOTCHA!!!
OK, now I’ll ‘make it plain…’
Malcolm X is a 1992 Spike Lee film based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Anchored by an Oscar worthy performance by Denzel Washington, the film is a 210 minute epic that rode in on a new wave of black nationalism, and in large part it delivered on the hype that surrounded it.
On to the tale of the tape…
Fade in from the Warner Brothers logo. The introductory speaker hypes the crowd and introduces Malcolm. Malcolm (Denzel), also in voiceover, starts in with a vicous tirade, charging the white race with all the genocide that’s happened throughout history. The visual over this is two-fold: footage of the Rodney King beating that sparked the Los Angeles riots, and an American flag burning, until it forms an “X.”
If you want one reason why this is the most important black film made to this point, here is my argument: Spike always had it in mind to make a 3 hour epic. Warner Brothers had the money, they wanted a 2 hour movie tops. Spike shot everything he wanted to shoot, put most of his salary back in the movie, hoping WB would get on board after the film was nearly done. Nope. Spike ran out of money, the bond company (i.e. the insurance if you’re not familiar with film lingo) wasn’t chipping in. This project was dead. So Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Tracy Chapman, Prince, and Peggy Cooper-Cafritz gave Spike the money to finish the film. Read that last sentence as many times as you need to. Those were at the time, and continue to be some of the most wealthy and influential African-Americans of this or any other generation, and they all chipped in so Spike could finish his film. Warner Brothers eventually manned up and provided the financing, but with the possible exception of the election of the last President of the U.S., there may never be a better example of a harmony between a philosophy (blacks supporting/investing in our own) and seeing that philosophy carried out.
“You see, Islam is the only religion that gives both husband and wife a true understanding of what love is. The Western ‘love’ concept, you take it apart, it really is lust. But love transcends just the physical. Love is disposition, behavior, attitude, thoughts, likes, dislikes – these things make a beautiful woman, a beautiful wife. This is the beauty that never fades. You find in your Western civilization that when a man’s wife’s physical beauty fails, she loses her attraction. But Islam teaches us to look into the woman, and teaches her to look into us.”
– From the Autobiography
I’ll be the first to admit it often gets lost in the shuffle of the politics and messages of this film, but on repeated viewings, it’s harder to ignore how well written and acted the relationship between Malcolm and Betty (Angela Bassett) is played out. Although it’s obviously based on two real, high profile figures in black history, it still deserves to be mentioned among the best love stories in black film. Their courtship is sweet and very high-school sweetheart-ish, she’s devoted to him and him to her. When the people he’s representing stab him in the back, it’s his wife who calls him out on it and challenges him. As played in the film, she is truly his best friend. The revelation struck me so hard I asked a few of my happily married friends, “Is your wife your best friend?”, and they all answered without hesitation, “Absolutely.” I have friends who are looking for their Claire Huxtable or Michelle Obama (the woman who can be bad by herself and together they will be a power couple). And obviously, there is nothing wrong with that model in the least. Personally though, I’m looking for my Betty Shabazz (as played by Angela Bassett): loyal, nurturing, maternal, but who will challenge me without hesitation if I’m wrong or out of line. A true ‘partner in crime’, or as the young people say, a woman who will ‘Make Me Better.’
Absolutely; even today this might have been the most hyped black film made to date. They were rocking X baseball caps in the suburbs; it wasn’t even politics, it was fashionable. Denzel lost the Oscar to Pacino who won for ‘Scent of a Woman’. Definitely a career Oscar, similar to when Denzel did finally win Best Actor…for ‘Training Day.’ Spike was still in his prime pissing Hollywood off in general, so no little golden men for him. Still hasn’t gotten any; will be interesting to see if he gets the Scorsese treatment somewhere down the line.
The dead man walking sequence of Malcolm going to the Audobon. It was the first time I remember hearing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,”; in all of black cinema there may never be a more perfect use of music with images. But that’s just the beginning. You have the cross cutting of Betty and the kids, the assassins, and the ‘Agency’ all converging on the Ballroom. You have the signature Spike Lee ‘shot’ of Malcolm floating down the sidewalk. And the coup de gras is the nice bystander telling an exhausted Malcolm to keep ‘doing what he’s doing’, followed up with the line, “Jesus will protect you.” And yes, I’ll admit personal bias here and say that line and Malcolm’s (Denzel’s) reaction is my single favorite shot/reverse shot in any film.
So there you have it. Later this month, the most important black television show…
My earliest memories of the movies were from the summers in Salina. The local theatre would play these Sinbad serials as matinees, and we’d all ride our bikes home afterward and play out in the street. Pirates, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, what have you. E.T. was the first ‘Hollywood’ movie I remember seeing at the theatre; the Goonies was the first film I remember trying to imitate with my friends.
Fast forward to 1989 was the number, another summer. Even in Kansas City, you couldn’t escape hearing about it. One of the best movies of the year was a story about black people, written and directed by a young black guy…
I remember the first time I saw a picture of him: he was a little guy, he wore glasses. I was a little guy who wore glasses; he didn’t look much different than me. As much as I enjoyed movies, never in my wildest dreams, had I thought, “I can do that.” Until now.
A few times in my life, I’ve found myself in the middle of a perfect storm. This would be the first time for me a series of things all seemed to happen at just the right time. First, my generation was the first to grow up with VCRs in our home. (These preceded DVRs and DVD players for any young people who might be reading this.) So if we missed a movie in the theater, we now had the ability to wait a few months and watch it at home. This is how I came to see She’s Gotta Have It, and School Daze.
The other great blessing that fell in my lap was home video cameras becoming increasingly cheap. My father always gave me more than I deserved, but his greatest gift to me was giving me the chance to fail. As I’ve gotten older, I understand that for alot of people, when they’re told “You can’t do this,” “You’re not good enough for that,” that’s it. End of story. They don’t even try to do whatever it is they want to do. I idolized Michael Jackson first, so he hooked me up with the cassette, the poster, the glitter gloves and the socks. Yes, the socks. I’ve always loved dancing, but tragically I wasn’t even passable as a singer until my mid 20s. My first sports hero was Magic. When I was two feet tall, I had a toy hoop in the basement. When he moved up to having a home with a garage, we put a regulation hoop up, and the guys in the neighborhood would come play. I had the most hideous, purple and gold, half varsity letter jacket, half turtleneck, Magic Johnson sweater ever made.
But outside of my historic triple single against Northwest for my 7th grade team (2 pts, 1 assist, 1 steal, I still remember), genetics killed my hoop dreams. When I first showed interest in filmmaking, my father decided to buy ‘the family’ a video camera. I think he used that thing 10 times. Seriously, to this day, I have no idea what my father’s favorite movie is. I know he likes westerns, that’s about it. But somewhere down the line, he decided he was going to encourage me until I figured out what I was good at. And I’m eternally grateful.
The first videos were me, my sister and cousins singing and dancing in front of our grandfather’s house. There’s a pretty good one of me, baseball cap cocked to the side, dancing to ‘2 Legit 2 Quit.’ (That video will never see the light of day by the way). I did a little rapping when hip hop started taking off nationally; I started shooting the basketball games when the guys came over. Best Buy sold a little mixer, so I learned how to edit by putting the VCR and camera together and making music videos. I was getting better at it.
And could there have been a better time to be a fan of black cinema? Hollywood had jumped on the bandwagon and I was along for the ride. The main mall in Kansas City Kansas was Indian Springs; I was down there for three reasons: to get an Orange Julius, to see what dimepiece they had working in Harold Pener, and to go downstairs to catch a show. House Party, New Jack City, Juice: I saw all these on the big screen. And it was usually kids like us running the ticket counter so normally I didn’t have a problem getting in. There was one time though: my father had to take me to go see Boyz N Da Hood, which was written and directed by another little brother in glasses, who came from some school in California…
Like I said, it was a perfect storm for me personally. I found something I was passionate about and good at. I loved every minute of it.
And I still do.
The first time I recall scaring my mother I was still in elementary school. I was straight A student, running for class president, pegged as ‘one of the good ones’ by church and family. Anyway, I remember making a comment along the lines of “being on top of the world and still having nothing.” All of us experience loneliness, and we all learn to handle it and cope with it in different ways. James Toback’s new film Tyson isn’t a great documentary, a great sports movie, or a great biography. If you have had any interest in Mike Tyson in the past 20 years, I don’t think there’s anything here you haven’t seen or heard before. But what this movie does a GREAT job of doing is, through Mike’s telling of his own story, get you to understand that this man has always been lonely. Not just now that he’s broke, not just from his time in prison. When he was the Champ, when he was married, when he was running through God only knows how many women over the years, Mike has always been lonely. It’s something I picked up many years ago; being surrounded by people isn’t automatically the same thing as being part of a group.
Every sports fan definitely knows Mike’s story, but it’s hard for me to simplify what he symbolized to kids of my generation. We didn’t really grow up with Ali, so Mike was our Superman. To see him shadowbox at 19, it was still scary but exciting how fast and powerful he was. When Buster Douglas knocked him out, I relived the heartbreak I felt that night. As the movie went on, I was making a mental checklist of some of the young brothers I looked up to as a kid: Michael Jackson became Wacko Jacko, Magic got HIV and had to quit the NBA, 2Pac got killed, Biggie got killed, and Mike Tyson went to prison. As far as brothers my age goes, Kobe had his rape trial, Mike Vick went to prison…I’ve had other guys I looked up to of course, but I think you see my point. It’s the dirty little joke I have with some of my Hollywood buddies; if I become big-time, how are they going to destroy me? How will I destroy myself?
At the end of the film, reliving his own ups and downs, Mike comes off as spiritually happy as he’s ever been. At 40, there’s a decent chance he may not have lived half his life yet. Tyson will be the first one to tell you he’s not anybody’s hero, but he talks about looking forward to living the rest of his days as a decent father and human being.
We should all be so lucky.
A quick primer for those of you who are unfamiliar with where my loyalties lie…
College Basketball: the Jayhawks. Do I enjoy playing the ‘sellout’ role a little too much for my KU friends? Probably. My first sports event ever, my father took me to Kemper Arena to watch the Final Four practice in 1988. Before last year, that also happened to be the last time the Jayhawks won the title. Very good memory.
MLB: The Royals, with a little love for the Dodgers since they’re in the National League. The 1985 World Series I remember in bits and pieces; for better or worse my favorite Royals memory is still Hal McRae losing it, throwing a phone out of his office, then telling the cat he hit over the head ‘stick that in your pipe and smoke it!’ But they’re in first place right now so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
NBA: the Lakers. My first book report was on Magic Johnson. If Michael Jackson was my first idol, Magic was 1A. Magic was on that very, very short list of people who as I approached him I heard myself saying, “Please don’t be an a-hole, please don’t be an a-hole…” So when I told him he was one of my childhood idols, you know what he did? He shook my hand, thanked me, and said he was glad he made a positive influence on my life. And by the time I met Magic, I was a grown man. Note to all celebrities/public figures, THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE! I digress… As far as today’s Lakers go, they’ve definitely got a shot to bring another parade to downtown. I was at the last one; crazy. And we already have plans to be there again this June, if a freak of nature based out of Cleveland doesn’t get in our way.
College Football: the Trojans, naturally. Saturday evenings in the fall, you know where to find me. As big of a sports fan as I am, it’s become a pleasant surprise that my first “LA Season Ticket Holder” experience would be with the football fans from SC. My old man has expressed interest in coming out for a game at some point; it’d be great if these fools made it back to the Rose Bowl this year. Probably wishful thinking though.
NFL: Chiefs. The team I grew up with in the league I love the most. Hosted many a Super Bowl party, but as of yet not for my own team. I’ve watched the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and San Diego Chargers in the big game. But not my team yet. And last season, don’t get me started.
Excuse me while I put ice on my knuckles…