Tag Archives: Lance Allred

The amazing Serena Williams, and a Lance Allred update!

It takes a lot to get me up early on a Saturday morning. A fire in the apartment, leaf-blowers from the people next door, that kind of thing.

But I was up bright and early (well, by 9, which is bright and early for me on a Saturday) to watch my

DVR’ed Australian Open women’s final, and I was totally captivated.

Serena Williams is just astonishing. I’m not a big fan of her attitude sometimes, and how she refuses to ever give credit to the opposition when she loses. But good Lord, that woman is a hell of a competitor. She’s getting to the point with me now where, like Roger Federer, LeBron James, and Peyton Manning, that I don’t so much watch them as marvel at their brilliance. How can one person be that good for that long, and just make their opponent look so, so, ordinary?

Anyway, Serena won a pretty captivating three-set match over Justine Henin. She was leading, then she couldn’t win a point, and it looked like Henin was going to snatch the title. Then Serena turned it up a notch, and just roared away for the victory. She’s getting up there with the all-time greats in women’s tennis now; that is undeniable.

I wrote more about it here at my regular tennis blog.

***So you might remember me writing about one of my new heroes, Lance Allred, a few times. Lance is the 7-foot, deaf, Mormon basketball player who wrote an amazingly honest and wonderful book called “Longshot,” about his experiences and how he finally made the NBA. I wrote about Lance here and here.

I bring him up now because while flipping the channels Saturday night I came across an NBA D-League game (basically, the minor league of pro basketball) and there Lance was, playing for the Idaho Statesmen. Which confused me, because when I met Lance last summer, he swore up and down he was done with the D-League. Well, after a few months in Italy, he came back to the States, apparently changed his mind, and now is kicking butt since he returned to the D-League a few weeks ago.

Check out his blog here; he’s truly one of the most unusual and thought-provoking athletes you’ll ever hear from.

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Agassi’s book blows me away, SI again snubs Federer, and a holiday gift you must own

When I read Lance Allred’s brilliant autobiography a few months ago, I thought that would be the sports book I measured all others against for a while.

Lance, I love ya. But move over. The Andre Agassi book I’ve just finished, “Open” blows you and everything else out of the water.

Let me state right off that I was never an Andre Agassi fan as a tennis player. I thought he was cocky, obnoxious, and didn’t respect the game. I thought he floated by on natural talent, never worked that hard, until the middle of his career, and didn’t really love the game that much.

In this brutally honest memoir (ghost-written, it should be said, with Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer), Agassi revealed that, well, he hated tennis his whole life.  Reading the book, I can understand why. He was basically a tennis slave for his father, Mike, for most of his childhood, and never had the chance to do anything else he might like.

I was pretty pumped up a few weeks ago when I wrote about reading the excerpts from the book, but let me tell you, the crystal meth admission, which got so much attention early on, is about the 28th most interesting thing in this book.

We learn about Mike Agassi’s dreaded ball machine that tortured Andre, and the great match with NFL legend Jim Brown when Andre was 8. We learn how shy Agassi was around girls, and about how lonely and tortured he felt at the boot-camp style Nick Bollettieri tennis academy, where he was shipped once hit double-digits in age.

There’s plenty of “inside tennis” stuff for fans like me: Agassi tells a great story about notorious player Jeff Tarango cheating when both were in a junior tournament and both were under 10. There’s an “in hindsight” hilarious dismissal of Pete Sampras’ career prospects, and some serious anger Agassi felt toward Sampras (a bad tipper, we learn), Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors (a jerk to Agassi several times in his life) and Michael Chang. The book opens with an incredible passage describing Agassi’s last U.S. Open win, a 5-set thriller against Marcos Baghdatis (a match yours truly has on tape, it was so good).

But this is so much more than a tennis book. There are fabulous stories about Agassi basically stalking Steffi Graf to go out with him; about Brooke Shields’ odd behavior, and about Agassi’s remarkably devoted friend/mentor/trainer, Gil Reyes (How dedicated is Reyes? He doesn’t ever get up to go the bathroom during Agassi’s matches, lest Andre look for him in the stands and not see him).

Most of all, it’s about the maturation of a spoiled kid who hated life into a remarkable man who now runs a school that helps poor kids get to college.

I urge you, for any person in your life who likes to read, to buy the Agassi book for them. It will stay with me for a long, long time.

***So Sports Illustrated named its Sportsman of the Year Monday, and as I sadly expected, it wasn’t Roger Federer.

They went with a nice, safe, American choice, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. Can’t say No. 2 doesn’t deserve it; he’s been a classy Yankee for 14 years, doesn’t get caught doing drugs or steroids, or beating his wife. He’s a class act and a pretty humble guy considering he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Like with so many things in life, it all goes back to good parenting.

Still, I wish SI had given Fed the nod. It is a pretty cool cover, though.

**Finally, I know most of you have probably started your holiday shopping, but look no further for the person in your life who loves pajamas, and presidential politics.

Presenting … the Ojamas! PJ’s with the president’s face all over them. Who doesn’t want this as a holiday gift, anybody???

Stauffer update, “The Reader,” torture and an African baseball player: A grab-bag post

Mets Padres Baseballthe-reader_l

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Yes, I may have set the record for longest blog headline there. What do you want from me; I’ve got lots of things on my mind that I wanted to blog about today.

Let’s get right to it, dear readers of mine, for whom I am grateful (believe me, I realize there aren’t that many of you yet, so I appreciate all of you!)

  ***So if you’ve been reading me for the past month, you know two of my favorite athletes right now, and two really good guys you should root for, are San Diego Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer and basketball player/author Lance Allred.  Both are having outstanding months. Stauffer, despite getting no run support for the pathetic Padres, has continued to pitch terrifically for the Padres as he tries to establish himself as a big-leaguer. He’s got a 1-4 record, but a sparkling 2.90 ERA. He threw five innings of one-run ball against the Mets Sunday.

As for my main man Lance, the 6-foot-11 deaf Fundamentalist Mormon who I wrote about here, he just signed a contract to play for Napoli of the Italian League. That’s one of the better leagues in Europe, and plus, who wouldn’t want to hang out in Italy for nine months? Big props to Lance.

     ***You know sometimes when you hear so much abuot a movie and a performance and you build it up in your mind, and then you actually see it and you’re like, “Eh.” That’s kind of how I felt the other night after seeing “The Reader.” It was good, no doubt, but it wasn’t SO sensational. Kate Winslet was, of course, fantastic. She’s truly an amazing actress, and a beautiful woman, yet it seems like she’s so much less famous in America than she should be. I loved her in “Titanic” and everything I’ve seen her in since.

But the movie was just pretty good. I think Ralph Fiennes was wasted, since he had only four scenes or so. Without giving too much away, I just don’t feel like the director established why Fiennes’ character Michael was so deeply affected by his relationship with Winslet’s Hannah. I give it 2 1/2 stars, maybe three.

***So the American Civil Liberties Union takes a lot of crap from conservatives, because it’s an automatic applause line for them. Heaven forbid we have a strong organization in this country that’s actually looking out and making sure people’s rights aren’t violated. Because, you know, the Bush-Cheney folks NEVER did that.

Anyway, I love the ACLU, and I love even more that they put out this video to put pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to hold hearings on our torturing of prisoners. It’s chilling to hear this stuff out loud, and to realize that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld didn’t care that it was going on.

Some of the famous folks in the video are Oliver Stone, actor Noah Emmerich, and actress Rosie Perez (who, apropos of nothing, my wife does a killer impression of):

 ******Rafael Nadal returns to the tennis court in singles Wednesday night for the first time in almost three months. I am annoyed it’s not on TV, but thankfully ESPN will be showing the quarters, semis and finals starting Friday. I have a feeling we’ll know VERY soon if Rafa is back to being himself. For the sake of my favorite sport, I really hope he is.

***Finally, saying a Gary Smith story in Sports Illustrated is terrific is kind of like saying water is wet. Just about every Gary Smith story in SI is brilliant. I swear, I read him some times and I feel like he and I aren’t even in the same profession.

If you’re not familiar with him, check out this piece on former New York City basketball star Richie Parker, my favorite Smith piece ever. He is SO fair and so balanced in his reporting, that at the end I found myself conflicted, when I never in a million years thought I’d be.

Anyway, he wrote another great story in last week’s issue about a kid named Gift who’s trying to the first-ever Major League Baseball player from Africa. Really fascinating stuff if you have a chance to read it; it’s not nearly as long as most of Smith’s usual stuff.

OK, done rambling for one day.

My new hero

lanceallred 

So my heroes used to be Don Mattingly, John McEnroe, Wesley Walker and Mark Messier.

I’d say with the exception of McEnroe, I chose pretty wisely as a kid. I thought Johnny Mac was so cool for the way he blew up at umpires and humiliated them, until I grew up and learned that for all his remarkable talent, he was just a big baby and remarkably immature. I outgrew McEnroe and was sort of ashamed that I used to love him.

But I’ve got a new hero now, and he’s kinda different from any other role model I’ve ever liked.

His name is Lance Allred, and he’s a 6-foot-11, deaf, OCD sufferer who’s a former Fundamentalist Mormon and grew up on polygamous compounds in Montana and Utah. He’s been battling in basketball his whole life, and for three shining games in 2008, finally made the NBA.

He just wrote an astonishingly honest, hilarious, forthcoming and tragic book about his life called “Longshot,” and I finished reading it last night.

To say it’s one of the best sports books I’ve ever read would be an insult, like calling Rembrandt just one of the 17th century’s best painters. Allred’s book is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in my life.

Unlikely, you say? Wait till you hear his story. He was an awkward, gangly child who was seen as a bit of an outcast since his father “only” had one wife. He became deaf immediately after being born but was undiagnosed for years.  He was told by a Sunday School teacher that he couldn’t hear because of sins he’d committed in a previous life (I hope that teacher got fired immediately, but I’m sure he didn’t.)

Eventually, his parents broke away from the compound and moved to Utah, before another family split made them homeless for a short while.

As a kid, Allred struggled to find his place (you know how kind kids can be to children who are different), and he finally did on the basketball court. Of course, that only brought more suffering. A much-beloved coach at the University of Utah named Rick Majerus treated Allred unconscionably while he was there, humiliating and destroying Allred’s confidence and once telling him he “was a disgrace to cripples.” (Majerus was eventually investigated for his behavior, and resigned from Utah shortly after Allred transferred).

Allred became a star at a smaller school, but then found himself battling through the bizarre and highly unpredictable world of minor league basketball in Turkey, France, and the United States (if for no other reason, buy the book to hear Allred’s wickedly funny description of travel life in the NBA Developmental League). 

There were so many times Allred wanted to quit, and so many times coaches and others gave up on him. But he finally made it to the NBA, if only for a few days, and when you get to that point in the book, you almost feel like cheering.

In his beautiful writing style, Allred weaves metaphors about life and basketball together with meditations on religion, the monotony of practice, and too many other topics to count. He refused to blame others for his failures, and is quick to credit others for his success. He’s funny, smart and had me looking at some things in a whole new light.

I got to meet Allred last month at an NBA summer league camp, after having heard about him on this NPR podcast, “Only A Game“. I wrote this column about him for my newspaper, and I was so impressed with his intelligence and humility that I knew I had to read his book. It blew me away.

Lance Allred will not become a major superstar, of  that I’m pretty certain. But he’s why I love sports; proof that beyond the reprehensible reputations of Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Barry Bonds there are good guys with amazing stories to tell of will and determination.

I defy you to read this book and not become a fan of Lance Allred. If money’s tight and you’re not able to buy “Longshot,” you can probably find it at your local library.

“I do not care about the money, or the fame,” Allred writes in a letter to God in the book. “I just want to say that I set an “unreachable” goal and I made it.”

He certainly did.