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Stride Nation: The Marathon & the Kings

Posted by doktakra on January 11, 2012 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)

briefly wrote about the time I ran the 2006 New York City Marathon back at the time, but whether it was due to fatigue or just pure laziness (probably more of the latter), I never went into much detail about what I went through before, during and after the race.


Last week, I finally wrote about the entire experience – from my early days of running cross county in high school, to over-training for the Marathon, to (spoiler alert!) finishing the race in my Mitch Richmond Kings jersey – on Stride Nation, a new blog started by SBNation.com's Tom Ziller.

Here's a short excerpt from the post, which sets the stage for the somewhat dramatic conclusion: 

As I crossed the 20-mile marker, I started to doubt whether I could finish the 2006 New York City Marathon. My quads were on fire, and my shins were excruciatingly stiff and sore. I slowed down and gingerly walked to the side, wincing in pain and groaning in disgust, as runner after runner zoomed by me.

A few weeks prior, I was walking around on crutches on the advice of my doctor, who discovered multiple stress fractures in both of my tibias. Despite being advised to rest for at least a month until my injuries healed, I couldn’t convince myself to sit out the race after vigorously training for over a half a year. But now, 20 miles in, I thought about how no one would blame me if I decided to stop.


I'd advise you to read the whole story, but, well, I'm probably a little biased. At the very least, make sure to check out StrideNation.com, which has an amazing community of knowledgeable writers and readers discussing running tips and race preparation.

In Any Avent

Posted by doktakra on October 18, 2011 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

With no NBA Summer League or preseason games on tap, I’ve resorted to honoring players’ birthdays on Twitter with some of their best (or worst) highlights or cheesy commercials. Since New Jersey native and NBA journeyman Anthony Avent was born on October 18, I’ve decided to commemorate him with the story of how I met him 16 years ago.

As a kid, there was nothing I loved more about summer than going to my camp in Union, NJ. I didn’t care about arts-and-crafts projects, swimming classes or field trips to the mall – all I ever wanted to do was sneak out to play basketball with anyone who’d happen to be on the courts.


On occasion, random NBA role players who lived in the area, including former New Jersey Nets Tate George and Chris Gatling, dropped by the facility to practice during the offseason. Most of the time, they’d quietly work out with a trainer on a side basket and bolt before any eager campers would catch wind of the fact that NBA players were in the building.


One day, when my friends and I were about to play a quick pick-up game, we noticed a freakishly tall, muscular player stretching on the sidelines. Since the Shaquille O’Neal and “Penny” Hardaway-led Orlando Magic were one of the league’s most popular and televised teams, I quickly recognized that it was backup forward Anthony Avent.


We watched as he picked up a ball and began shooting from just outside the three-point line on the right baseline. Swish. Swish. Swish. We stood in awe as Avent made all but one out of a dozen long-range bombs and moved on to shoot from the top of the key with the same results. It would’ve been incredible had we been watching a shooting clinic put on by Steve Kerr or Reggie Miller, but Anthony Avent? I would’ve never expected him to have been so accurate at the time, and looking at his statistics now, Avent’s NBA career field goal percentage (40.3%) is actually the eighth-worst for a big man in the last 50 years (minimum 300 games played). Yet, there he was, drilling hundreds of uncontested 25-foot jumpers as if they were lay-ups.


I considered myself to be a good basketball player at time, and despite being a five-foot tall Jewish kid with glasses so think they would’ve made Steve Urkel blush, I dreamed of making it to the NBA. But seeing a fringe player like Avent effortlessly knock down shots made me realize just how extremely talented even the so-called worst professionals truly are.


When Avent finished practicing after making what seemed like a thousand baskets, I gathered the nerve to approach him to challenge him to a shooting contest.


“Mr. Avent, um, can I play with you?”


He turned to me, chuckled, and shook his head. “Nah, I don’t get down like that.”


My friends broke out in laughter before I even realized that Avent made an immature, and in hindsight, very inappropriate joke at my expense. I felt like I’d just been humiliatingly turned down by the girl I liked at a middle school dance (which also happened that year, by the way).


His questionable sense of humor aside, Avent turned out to be very pleasant, signing my Kings hat that’s still sitting somewhere in my parents’ attic (funny enough, he’d briefly play for Sacramento a few years later). I don’t remember if I ever did get my chance to exact revenge by beating him in a game of HORSE or if that was just a daydream. I just know that from that day forward, I vowed to become a better shooter than Avent and work even harder on making it to the NBA (still working on that one) and make sure to use better wording when challenging someone to a basketball game.


Happy 42nd birthday, Anthony.

Walk This Way

Posted by doktakra on March 31, 2011 at 1:21 PM Comments comments (0)

Living in New York over the last decade, I can't explain why I haven't run into celebrities more frequently.  Sure, I've seen plenty of movies and TV shows filmed on the streets and caught glimpses of Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, and Will Smith filming a few scenes.  During my freshman year of college, I saw Robert DeNiro trip over and then stare down an orange cone on the set of Analyze That.  Signs for Law & Order: SVU and Nurse Jackie filming hours are regularly hanging on street poles in my neighborhood.

But I've hardly ever actually bumped into someone famous outside of a nightclub or at a nice restaurant.  Now, this could, of course, be due to the fact that I rarely go to fancy places (or just out, in general), but just by sheer luck and coincidence, you'd think some celebrity and I would be walking down the same street at the same time.  Until last week, this happened exactly once.


After I graduated college but before I could afford to move into my own apartment in the city, I lived in NYU housing for one summer semester.  As I made the turn on Broadway and Chambers Street on my way home from work, Sam Waterston, better known as District Attorney Jack McCoy on Law & Order, came out of his trailer parked on the side of the road.


I immediately recognized him and told him that I watched the show every week.  He was surprisingly interested in talking to me, and asked if I was still going to school and if I lived in the area.  I told him that I'd recently graduated and worked at an investment bank, but was temporarily staying at a college dorm a few blocks away.  His reply was nothing short of epic.   Now, I don't know if he was still in character or if he just naturally talks like Jack McCoy at all times, but he sharply turned his head towards me as if he was interrogating a hostile witness on the stand and yelled, "a DORM?!" in apparent disbelief.  I started telling him that I had to save money, but by that point, he seemed to have lost interest and went back inside his trailer with a quick good-bye.


This was six years ago, and professional athletes at sporting events aside, I hadn't seen a single celebrity in person since.  Well, some Real Housewives reality TV star once had dinner in the same restaurant as me and my friends, but since I had no idea who he or she even was, I don't really count that.

But after a long drought. it finally happened -- and it wasn't even in New York.  I flew down to Miami for a college buddy's wedding, and we had dinner afterwards at Emeril's Restaurant in South Beach. I went to the bathroom towards the end of the night, and just as I was washing my hands and getting ready to leave, I noticed a familiar face.  It was Zach Gilford, who happened to play one of my favorite TV characters of all-time, Matt Saracen on (the sadly defunct) Friday Night Lights.


I felt a little awkward approaching him in the bathroom -- I'm sure there's some kind of guy code against doing this sort of thing -- but I told him that I was a big fan of FNL.  He thanked me and we talked about the show for a few minutes, at which point I asked if he'd mind taking a picture with me.  He hesitated for a second, and then said, "How about we do that outside?"  Good call, Zach.


We walked out into the hallway, where Michelle had been waiting for me, and Zach asked her if she'd take the photo.  I told him that she was my fiancée, and he asked if we were from Miami and congratulated us on the upcoming wedding.  Afterward, Michelle told me she thought I ran into an old friend by the way Zach and I were chatting on our way out of the bathroom.


Nope, I was only talking to the greatest quarterback in the history of the Dillon Panthers.  Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose!  And no, I didn't actually say that to him. Regrettably.

Sing for the Moment

Posted by doktakra on January 18, 2011 at 11:14 AM Comments comments (0)

There are certain songs we'll never forget that play a special part in our lives.  “Our songs," whether they remind us of a school dance, a first kiss, or some crazy party, come on the radio and instantly put us in a good mood as we sing along, pretending as if we know all of the lyrics. For me, aside from all R. Kelly tracks, of course – which are either unintentionally comedic beyond words or brilliant, with no in-between – there are a few songs, for better or worse, that always take me back.  Well, at least, these are the ones I can talk about on this (somewhat) family-friendly site.


Carl Carlton, “Everlasting Love – I was a horrible basketball player during my first year of summer camp. I pretty much nailed all of the stereotypes of the nerdy, unathletic white kid, and I'm pretty sure there was a time when other campers decided five-on-four would be more competitive than picking me for a team. So, when I came back home, I convinced my parents to put a basketball hoop in the driveway and spent hours pretending I was Mitch Richmond. During the bus ride back to camp the next year, "Everlasting Love" came on the radio, and for some reason, I took it as a sign. I stepped out on the court at camp, and the same kids who used to ridicule me, couldn't believe how good I'd become. Feeling cool and confident, I played a guy one-on-one for his girlfriend in front of everyone and emerged victorious, all while humming "Everlasting Love" the entire time. This will always be the highlight of my basketball career. Yes, I was 14.


Eminem, "The Way I Am" - Just as I dreamed of becoming the first ‘cool’ white rapper (Vanilla Ice and Snow obviously failed in that regard), Eminem busted on the scene with “My Name Is” and crushed my hopes. So, I did what any normal person in my position would do – I wrote Jewish parodies of Eminem’s singles, and eventually other hip-hop artists’. “I Am,” “Stan,” Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” were a few of my bigger hits, which I’d post on Napster and rename as popular Limp Bizkit, Christina Aguilera, and 'N Sync songs to get more downloads and get my name out there. The strategy sort of worked, but I was banned from performing them at my school’s talent show for risk of offending someone (I think I had a Yiddish swear word in one). I probably still have the MP3s (or WAV files) on my parents’ old computer, but I don't plan on re-releasing them anytime soon.


Donell Jones, "Where I Wanna Be" – Jones’ hit is still one of my favorite songs, even though it was playing on the radio when I was involved in a minor fender-bender in high school – with an off-duty cop. It was definitely not where I wanted to be at the time. Making matters worse, I was wearing my school's windbreaker track pants, which I conveniently "forgot" to give back at the end of the season because they were incredibly comfortable. So, of course, my track coach happened to be passing on the street during the time of the accident, and called me into his office the next day to get the damn pants back. The good news is, after years of paperwork, I somehow convinced the insurance company that it wasn't my fault. No such luck with the pants.


The Offspring, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) – You may not believe this, but there was a time when I acted, um, ‘hood’ in my tiny, suburban New Jersey high school. Naturally, everyone decided that “Pretty Fly” was written about me and sang it whenever I was in the hallway. If that wasn’t enough, some of the girls also started calling me “Kenny,” in honor of Seth Green’s character in Can’t Hardly Wait, which came out around the same time.  Shockingly, I was single the entire time. Ninety-two percent, yo!

California Love: Deleted Scenes

Posted by doktakra on January 12, 2010 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Coming Soon: A major announcement that you might already know if (a) we're actual or online friends; (b) you follow my Twitter; or (c) you listen to this Jagged Edge classic...


You know how CSI and CSI: Miami will have those occasional crossover episodes to make you tune in to each show to get the entire story, even though don't really need to watch both episodes to get the scoop on everything anyway?  That's kind of what's going on here.  By now I'm sure you've read all about my gloriously entertaining first visit to Sacramento (and shame on you if you haven't), but here are some other highlights from my three-day trip to the Westside (do people still say, "Westside" or am I living in 1996?).


Santa Monica Pier:  I've got a long-running streak that goes back all the way to my summer camp days at the Green Lane "Y" in New Jersey -- I've never gone home empty-handed from a boardwalk basketball hoop.  In fact, I used to be so good at hitting those tricky shots, that other campers would ask me to shoot for them just to get the prize.  You'll be glad to know the streak lives on -- I won a stuffed animal shark for Michelle after eight attempts on my first try, which is now promptly sitting in a box in our storage unit.  Good times.




Someone So Unforgettable:  We were on five flights with three different airlines over the weekend, and despite Virgin Airlines' free in-air TV and WiFi and Jet Blue's timely NFL package, my hands-down favorite was Southwest Airlines.  As we prepared for landing, one of the flight attendants announced that we'd be treated to some entertainment -- Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable."  That would've been fine and all, but she then proceed to sing the entire song herself over the PA system.  Look, you just had to be there...it was like being trapped at an "American Idol" audition 10,000 feet up in the air.


Just Win, Baby:  It would've been far too easy had we boarded our flight out of Sacramento early Sunday morning and been back in New York by eight o'clock at night.  But of course, our plane was diverted to Oakland due to heavy fog, so we missed our connecting flight out of Long Beach.  Fortunately, Jet Blue gave us the option of leaving out of Las Vegas, complete with a three-hour layover in Sin City, which no rational person could possibly be mad about or decline.  Things got even more interesting when an earlier flight to Vegas was held up in Long Beach just as we arrived, and the security people inexplicably let us on board without even checking our IDs (gotta love the way they've stepped their game up after those recent scares).



Long story short, we rented a cheap hotel room and spent a solid six hours gambling at the Flamingo and Caesar's Palace .  I wasn't old enough to enter the casinos the last time I was in Vegas on a family vacation in high school (thanks, mom), but I more than compensated this time around.  I won't disclose how much money I lost, but let's just say that it was roughly three times more than what Michelle gambled away.  Note to self:  the roulette tables are not your friends.

 

By far the greatest moment was when a woman won $1,000 in the "Wheel of Fortune" slot game in front of us, and then told me, "now it's your turn" before walking away.  She left $20 worth of credits in the machine, which I went on to lose in about three minutes, but still, that type of thing just doesn't happen every day.  Or hell, maybe it does in Vegas...I should go back more often.

I Can Be Your Hero, Baby

Posted by doktakra on July 30, 2009 at 2:48 PM Comments comments (7)

I was a huge comic book fanatic as a kid.  I'd pick up the latest issues of X-Men and Spiderman every week, read them from cover to cover, and then carefully place them in plastic protectors to keep them in mint condition.  I'd pride myself in knowing every minute detail about Wolverine's past and Cyclops' superpowers, and spent hours drawing my own superheroes and fictional stories.  I dreamed of working for Marvel or DC Comics, and my cousin still tells me I would've made a great animator every time I see her.


My love of comic books slowly started to fade as I became more and more immersed in sports when I reached middle school and started trading basketball cards.  One day, I decided to put my entire comic book collection in the attic, presuming that some time down the line, they'd appreciate in value and pay for my college education (in retrospect, I would've been lucky had they covered half a semester at NYU).  I haven't looked at them since, and can only hope that my parents didn't throw them away after I moved out and shifted my focus towards stalking Candace Parker my financial career.


A couple of months ago, one of my friends, a terrific professional animator who'd previously worked for Nickelodeon, decided to create his own comic book.  He asked if I'd help him with the project, and I was about to tell him that I'd be happy to pitch ideas and could even dig up some of my old drawings.  It turns out, he was looking for something different  -- he wanted me to be the superhero in his story.  I ended up posing for several pictures (not nearly as shady as it sounds, I promise) and he later presented a few comic illustrations to the heads of a well-known studio.


Although most of the details are still under wraps and I'm not allowed to reveal any additional information at this time (the titles have been edited out), I'm proud to present two future comic book covers featuring my likeness.  Keep in mind that he had to, "make [me] look less than flattering given the context of the scene."  I still think I look damn cool, even with a knife pressed up against my throat.  I guess this makes me a hero...



Speechless

Posted by doktakra on July 2, 2009 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (7)

I thought Michael Jackson was a woman the first time I saw him. No, really, I did. I was in third grade when my class watched one of his performances on a big screen in the auditorium, and I saw a white person with long hair and a high-pitched voice, unlike anyone I'd ever encountered.  I should note that I'd only been in United States for a few months, having spent most of my childhood in a poor Russian neigborhood with little access to American music or television. Needless to say, there was no one quite like Wacko Jacko in Russia.

 

Perhaps because I'd missed some of his earliest and best work, including Thriller and Bad, I wasn't all that impressed at first. And since my family didn't have cable or internet at the time, I didn't see his ground-breaking videos (or mini-movies) until years later. The first Michael Jackson music video I saw was "Scream," which premiered on MTV during the same summer in which I finally convinced my parents to sign up for basic cable. Although I didn't, and still don't love the song, it marked the beginning of my undying love crush on his beautiful sister (Janet, obviously, and maybe LaToya if I squint hard enough). This video still has been responsible for a lot of discarded tissues over the years ... and may have gotten me into domintrices. And for that, I will always be grateful to you, MJ.


 

I started getting into Michael Jackson's music when I began listening to more and more hip-hop and R&B in the mid-'90's and recognized the influence he had on my favorite artists. At one point, I played "Man In the Mirror" on a continuous loop in my car, hoping to gather the nerve to ask a girl I liked to the prom (it worked).  And then came "Your Rock My World" during my freshman year of college. The boy bands were desperately trying to hang on to a last shred of relevance, and Jackson blew them out of the water with a classic song that only he could pull off -- I mean, honestly, who says "you rock my world" besides Steve Urkel?  No one could resist getting on the dance floor when it came on during a party, and it still puts me in a really good mood any time I hear it (think D'Angelo "Untitled").


Like every other fan, I'll miss you, Michael.  Anyone who gets down to R. Kelly's "Ignition" gets a pass from me for any of his other troubles. Rest in peace.

Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)

Posted by doktakra on June 6, 2009 at 7:07 PM Comments comments (2)

What's this, two straight posts of me hanging out with attractive ladies?  I'm as shocked as you are.  I haven't been this cool since...um, ever.  Actually, no, I take that back -- in summer camp, I once played this guy one-on-one for his girlfriend, in front of her and a huge crowd on on-lookers.  I beat him on a lucky fadeaway three and walked off the court with my arm around his girl (the first and only black chick I've dated).  Ah, good times, even if it was like 10 years ago...but I digress.


Last night, I went out for drinks with a few fellow bloggers: Midwest Coast Bias, one of the Michelle's from 2 Michelles and miamidolphins.com, and Kristine, who did video-editing for Fanhouse and now writes hip-hop gossip for a living (I know!).  Anyways, here are some pictures -- the last three are supposed to be of us trying to out-gangsta each other.  Needless to say, I failed.  Oh, and yes, the subject of my second (technically third) Deadspin ban came up, but no, I won't get into that here.  Who needs them?

Return of the Mack

Posted by doktakra on November 29, 2008 at 4:56 PM Comments comments (4)

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Man, how I used to still love this song.  I'd request it at every middle school dance, Bar Mitzvah, and birthday party, and then sing along and step in the name of love like Elaine Benes.  My high school Project Graduation party had some kind of 'make your own music video' station, but unfortunately, they didn't have my song (shocking, since it was five years old at the time).  My friend and I inexplicably settled for the Backstreet Boys' classic, "As Long as You Love Me," which to this day remains one of my worst decisions of all time...right up there with choosing a career in finance.  I'm praying that all copies of that performance have been destroyed, but I'll bet my parents still have a tape laying around somewhere.  Ah, good times...hold on, this will make more sense in a second.

 
Okay, so, I talked about "The Pickup Artist" -- a fantastic VH1 reality competition that tries to turn huge losers into studs -- last year, and I can't believe I didn't know there was a second season (see: it's the return of the mack!).  Don't worry, I'm all caught up now and here to give you the breakdown.  First of all, I can't begin to describe the level of unintentional comedy packed into every episode.  These guys are in their mid- to late-20's, and are bigger dorks than me in the 7th grade.  When you feel down about yourself, just remember that Rian is a 28-year-old virgin who's never kissed a girl and sleeps with stuffed animals, and that Brian, well, here ya go.  Oh, and I can't get over the ridiculousness of the host, Mystery, who looks like he's at least seven feet tall, and dresses -- no, excuse me, "peacocks" -- like a cracked-out Andre 3000.

Keeping that in mind, there are the things I need to know:

  1. Mystery is supposedly a 'master pick-up artist' and can get any woman he wants.  Okay, sure...but there's always gonna be some chick that thinks he's creepy and wants nothing to do with him.  So, um, what happens when he tries to impress his students and gets shot down?  It's bound to happen some time, right?  Is there a little behind-the-scenes action?

  2. Sadly, this season is only eight episodes long, and we don't know how much was cut out and how long it actually took to film.  But the guys progress a little too quickly.  How do they go from being too scared to approach a woman, to picking up bikini models with more smooth talk than Hank Moody?  Maybe some of Mystery's tricks work, but I'm just not buying it...

  3. What do the guys do with the numbers they get from girls?  I mean, the point is to actually date them, no?  And do the producers tell the club-goers about the show after they're done shooting, or do the girls not even know until they see themselves on TV?  That would be priceless...

I will leave you with the winner's favorite pickup line, which needs to be delivered in a whiny and overly excited tone:  "Girls, what movie is this from?  Nobody puts baby in a corner!"  Good God, if I hear that crap one more time...

Nothing Lasts Forever

Posted by doktakra on September 30, 2008 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

With both the Mets and Yankees moving to new stadiums next season, it's a time to reminisce on the good times.  I was never a huge fan of either team -- for reasons I don't fully understand myself, I'm a Florida Marlins fan -- but I've had my share of fun experiences in each.  They usually had nothing to do with the games themselves, but more about the people and the times.

I'll always remember being chased by four security guards at Yankees Stadium back in summer camp.  My friend Jeremy and I didn't care about a meaningless game against the Texas Rangers, so we found other ways to entertain ourselves.  One of us (probably me) thought it would be a good idea to fill cardboard food trays with ketchup and mustard and then toss them at unsuspecting people by the concession stands.  After about a half hour of unspeakable fun, we saw several cops rushing toward us.  Jeremy and I ran down the stairs and somehow dodged them, but had no idea where to find the rest of our group.  I don't know how we made it back on our bus, covered in red and yellow food stains, but we never told a single person about what really happened.  The whole thing makes me laugh to this day for some reason.

I also recounted an emotional moment at Shea Stadium on Deadspin, where I comment under the pseudonym of Candace Parker Secret Lover:

This One Was For All Of Them. I'm not a good enough writer to describe how Mike Piazza's go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth inning on September 21, 2001 lifted an entire city. I remember standing up and cheering with my friends, at a time when none of us could imagine ever smiling again. I was a freshman at NYU, and just 10 days prior, the tragic events of 9/11 brought about unspeakable pain and suffering. To many, going to a game during a time of mourning was appalling and heartless, but we needed baseball to remind us that we could get past the tragedy and move forward. After Armando Benitez (who else?) gave up a run in the top of the eighth, putting the Braves ahead 2-1, Shea was eerily quiet and dejected. The good vibes from the touching pre-game tribute were all but gone; I don't think we had the heart to go home with another loss. And that's when it happened. Edgardo Alfonzo reached on a walk and set the stage for Piazza to rescue the Mets, and in many ways, us all from being down. I'm not ashamed to admit that it was the only time I ever cried during a sporting event. We left the stadium in a state that was somewhere between hysteria and disbelief. Whatever that feeling was, I'll never forget it.


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