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Can Houston Rockets Choke City 2 turn into Clutch City 2?

Disclaimer right up front: I am biased.

I had Rockets season tickets for the great Hakeem Olajuwon’s entire career, and saw every game of the two championship playoff runs. And I agree the old adage “you can’t go back.” Whether one is discussing being a participant (be it fan or player) of a great team’s run, or working for a great company like a Compaq, that particular environment, the excitement and enthusiasm is hard to recreate. You expect things to be the same, but they rarely are.

And that brings us to this year’s Rockets.

In the 2004 season, against the Phoenix Suns, the Rockets had home court advantage, just like this year’s Rox had home court against Portland. The 2004 Rockets had leads evaporate in both game 1 and game 2. This year’s Rockets let game 1 slip away and were soundly beaten in game 2.

The Rockets of 2004, of course, earned the name “CHOKE CITY” for losing those first two games in that fashion, and then came back and won the series in seven games, prompting the T-shirt empire that was “CLUTCH CITY.”

And then those Rockets: Hall of Famer Olajuwon, and a cast that included TNT Commentator Kenny “the Jet” Smith, Vernon “MadMax” Maxwell, the underrated Otis Thorpe, Mario Elie, Sam Cassel, Robert Horry (who has more championship rings that most Hall of Famers) and a cast of others…won the NBA Championship over the New York Knicks.

Then they did it again the next season, with the addition of hometown hero Clyde “the Glide” Drexler.

And they were done.

They brought in the “Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley, who was more round than rebound. That didn’t work out.

They brought in Scottie Pippen, late in his career, and without Michael Jordan. That didn’t work out.

Tracy McGrady came in, Yao Ming came in. A small bit of playoffs, but that didn’t work out.

And thus we come to the current incarnation, good players with good nicknames: James “the Beard” Harden; Dwight “DHo/Superman” Howard, Chandler “J.T.” Parsons, and a good cast of Patrick Beverly, Jeremy Lin, Terence Jones and others.

Like their illustrious predecessors, this years Rockets get home court in the playoffs, and lose the first two.

Can they make lightning strike twice? Can they turn Choke City II into Clutch City II?

Sadly, I think not. Even worse, I find that I cannot care about this team.

There are several reasons.

One, hack-a-Howard. If anything makes a game not worth watching, it is this strategy. Sure, the guy being hacked (whether Shaq or Howard or Omer Asik) should make the free throw and thwart the strategy. But what a waste of watches and paid attendees time.

Two, if it is true, this sequence from Harden:

“I’m not worried about my offense, I’m worried about our defense — our defense as a team,” Harden said.

A few minutes later, the questions stopped coming, but not before Harden, evidently still aggravated, circled back and spun the questioning to the aforementioned reporter, taking issue with his basketball credibility.

“You’ve never seen someone shoot 29 percent in two games? You must not watch basketball.”

The longtime reporter responded that he’d watching basketball longer than Harden had been alive. And that Harden should be held to a higher standard because he is All-NBA.

“Weirdo,” Harden said, before walking out of the room once Houston’s PR staff stepped in.

Despite his defiance, Harden has never been this bad. He has missed 33 shots in his past two games, the most he has ever missed in a two-game span in his career. In the 2012 Finals, Harden infamously shot 18-for-48 (37.5 percent) in five games, but he wasn’t the focal point of the offense like he is in Houston.

In Game 2 on Wednesday, Harden missed 13 shots, which is more than he attempted in any of those five Finals games.

Third, DHo. My son and I like him, really want him to be successful. But, unlike Olajuwon, who’s motor and competitive fire seemed to always be running (sometimes to his detriment) and who is working with Dwight, Howard seems to need a push. And, when he plays like Shaq wants him to play, the running Rockets are out of sorts.

And, lastly, and most telling, I find myself switching over to watch hockey (which I call Rugby on Ice). I find it more enjoyable these days than the NBA. I don’t get as much enjoyment from a Rockets win as I do from the San Jose Sharks winning. I get more enjoyment from an Anaheim loss than I do a Spurs loss. The players seem to try harder, push themselves more, and aren’t such prima donnas.

Can this year’s version of the Rockets come back?

I wish them well, but most likely won’t be watching.




Getting Married is Like Having a Ring in Your Nose

On this 25th anniversary of our wedding, I tell the tale that many of you have heard, and cemented everyone’s admiration for my lovely bride.

She’s sneaky…and gorgeous. As skeptical as I was about marriage, I am continually surprised at how my love for her continues to grow after all these years.

I published this essay about how, to everyone’s surprise, I came to be married to this lady in the book Voices In My Head, written for my mother and father on their 70th and 75th birthdays, respectively. I offer it now to mark the date 25 years ago when Audrey (and Sara) changed my life… and Audrey made sure I knew what I was getting in to.

= = =

Not much scares us. After all, my Granddad (Dad’s side) survived the trenches in World War I, plus the Great Depression. And we are fierce American Indians on my Mom’s side (Choctaw or Cherokee, depending on who is telling the story) and Comanche on my Dad’s side. We are built tough.

But the movie Jaws scared me.

When Jaws came out when I was a kid, every time my hand was over the side of my mattress in my sleep, I’d dream that mattress was a raft and my hand was dangling in the water, like chum for that shark to come and munch on. I’d be out of that bed and into my brother’s in a heart beat. It would irritate Terry, but he didn’t kick me out… that’s what brothers are for.

Sharks used to scare me. They don’t intimidate me much any more, since I got my scuba license and floated down amongst them for a bit (not bite). They are really enjoyable creatures to watch.

Many years (okay, decades) ago, marriages and weddings used to scare me too. Scare and intimidate, and I was loud and vociferous about my objections to them to hide those fears. Every wedding I went to during my days as a young man, I would torment the groom as much as possible with stories of their impending slavery. My tagline (which I should have made into a t-shirt and sold the rights to Vercie): “Being married is like having a ring in your nose that your wife can use to pull you
around by.” There were usually some creative curse words embedded in the phrase, but you get the drift.

I’m not exactly certain where this fear and disgust of marriage originated; my parent’s marriage seemed actually quite happy, until it was over. And I mean that with all sincerity. As you’ve seen (hopefully) from these stories, my mom and dad are excellent people. Divorce was more of a trend than an event at that time, most of my friends parents were busy getting divorces; some of them had parents who collected divorces like some people collect stamps.

I actually enjoyed going to most weddings; the party atmosphere, and the happiness after the tension (and the teasing that can go on to help ease the tension) are good experiences. I’ve been best man at several weddings (that I can remember). I did yeoman clean-up work after my brother’s post-wedding party, even gave a nice little toast where I refrained from trashing his new found marital status. I played cameraman, best man AND gave the bride away at my man Vercie’s wedding (this was after I was married, but it still makes a nice story…and the video is priceless). I managed to keep up with the Polish folk drinking whiskey at 9am on the day of Tim’s wedding (and I still remember the object lesson of scheduling too early of a flight home from Iowa so hungover that I white knuckled the takeoff, the ride and the landing).

We even did weddings in other countries. For a short time, we had three Mexican (or half Mexican) step sisters, and had three weddings in Mexico: one in Mexico city, one in Cuernavaca, and one in a place I can no longer remember. The Cuernavaca wedding was memorable for several reasons:

  • my sister hung out and smoked with the mariachis, appalling the Mexican side of the family because the mariachis were at the bottom of the social scale (and I’m sure that is exactly why Jan spent time with them);
  • we got to visit the pre-Columbian ruin Xochicalco, which has an “observatory” that is amazingly accurate in its astronomy;
  • I spent a long time at a disco speaking really poor Spanish to one of our new step-half brothers, who responded in equally good English;
  • I almost passed out when I saw the bill, due to my son (who was a pre-teen at the time) ordering the only thing he knew in Spanish (nachos de pollo) repeatedly while we were with the wedding party and he and his sister were in the room. Of course after swimming in the hotel’s very cold pool, I’m sure he needed lots of nourishment.

= = =

But, no matter who’s wedding, I teased them all, tortured them with the thought of me, free for all time of the chains of bondage that was marriage. I came downstairs in my apartment during college to find my brother and his bride-to-be in a very romantic embrace on the fold out couch. Turns out he had just asked Marie to marry him, and I was shocked that he would bring such cooties into my home. What if it’s contagious? What if I get infected? I wasn’t sure if I should wash the couch, fumigate or just move!

No ring in the nose for ole Lar, no siree.

Until Audrey got me in her sites on the Rugby field. You’ve already heard that story, or at least how I remember it.

I only asked her to marry me five times: four times when we had been drinking (she, of course, turned me down, with a not so subtle “ask me when we’re sober”), and one time sober. The last time occurred while we were doing yard work at the house she was renting. We were both dirty, sweaty and disgusting (well, I was disgusting; she even looks good dirty)…the picture of marital bliss. I proposed, she finally accepted.

And then I freaked.

I actually didn’t speak to her for several days, with her leaving me messages saying “It’s okay, I know this scares you, I won’t hold you to it.”

But I held myself to it. Why would I let her go?

When our wedding week came around, I was still nervous, but had enough sense of the event that I planned our joint bachelor and bachelorette party on April Fool’s Day. Many of my friends were certain that I was still joking, and came just to see the punchline. Some are still waiting.

But the following weekend, April the 8th, we gathered again. The punchline could have been that I had one of my Texaco drinking buddies, Bill who was an ordained minister, perform the ceremony. Audrey uses that factoid to this day, when she decides we are not really married because Bill couldn’t have been a minister and it wasn’t legal.

During the ceremony, I concentrated on staying vertical, staring at Bill, certain everyone could see the sweat rolling down my back. My bride was wearing her mother’s antique wedding dress, and Sara made a great flower girl/witness/interested party trying desperately to stay awake. With my brother at my side, just like he was during those scary shark nights, I thought I just might make it through the formalities to a shot of liquid courage afterwards.

When Bill pronounced us, my brother leaned into me and said “Welcome to the club” or something to that affect. I couldn’t focus my eyes, I was so glad the ceremony was over. When I finally did, I saw a thin gold ring in my brother’s nose.

A quick scan of the assembled friends and family showed me that EVERYBODY had a ring through their nose.

Again, sensing that I’d been had by a friend, I accused Kenny, my friend and Compaq colleague who was fond of practical jokes.

“Dude, it wasn’t me,” he said. “I’d check out your blushing bride.”

Stunned, I turned to Audrey. She flashed me one of those smiles that said many things, but mainly “I love you, but you should never underestimate me.”

Somehow, while I was sweating it out under the pressure of the day (and assumed she might be nervous as well), she managed to sneak in a large amount of toy gold rings that could be easily spread apart and attached fashionably to one’s nostrils. While I was doing some glad handing or other triviality, she was talking the entire gathered assembly, family and friends, young and old, into putting these things into their nose while I was frozen with fear.

We’ve been married twenty-five years. I love her more than I ever thought possible. And she still has a bag of those rings around here somewhere…just in case I need a reminder.

= = =

from VOICES IN MY HEAD © 2010

Audrey and Me

Audrey, Rugby and Rod Stewart’s wife

Twenty-five years ago today, my wife and I had our combined bachelor-bachelorette party – yes, on April Fools Day. Most of my friends indeed thought I was kidding…and are still awaiting the punchline.

I published this essay about how Rugby led me to my wife (or her to me?) in the book Voices In My Head, written for my mother and father on their 70th and 75th birthdays, respectively. I offer it now to mark the date 25 years ago when Audrey could have said “April Fools!” and walked away…I’m infinitely better off that she wasn’t fooling.

= = = = =

Audrey and Me
Young men play sports. Young men in Texas MUST play sports. I believe it is part of the state constitution, under the Articles of Testosterone, right after the one about “Men must hunt deer” and right before “Texas has the right to secede from the Union whenever we damn well please.”

Go to the State Capitol; look it up.

The first sports team I can remember was the baseball team Terry and I were on in Spring Branch called the Bears. These weren’t the “Bad News” Bears, these were the “We just plain Suck Rocks” Bears. We played at a field that was dusty and rough, with very little grass, and our skill level wasn’t even worthy of that. Terry was our only good player (a lefty first baseman, and the oldest) and I’m not sure why he stuck around; probably because of me, or maybe cause mom told him to. I clearly remember pitching (I only got to pitch when we were way behind), with a kid from the other team taunting me to throw it over the plate. I walked a couple of batters to catcalls from the opposing dugouts.

Then I started aiming for the batters.

It made me throw a lot harder. But I still missed. That is when I first learned to trash talk. Words sometimes hit harder than a baseball (and I was more accurate in throwing them).

I learned two very valuable lessons at that young age: channeling your anger can be good in sports if you can control it; and I absolutely abhor baseball. The sport is adequately described as two guys playing catch with lots of others standing around watching. It is no wonder that when little kids play t-ball they inevitably end up picking grass or putting their glove on their heads; face it folks, America’s pastime is boring unless it is the ninth inning with a runner in scoring position…and even then only because most of the crowd got their third beer at the seventh inning stretch. (more…)

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