From Whiteboards to Prescription Pads.

“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

I paused, waiting for him to continue imparting wisdom.

Don’t leave me standing here, let me know the way.

I had decided to venture onto the fourth floor to happen upon any of my old teachers. Fortunately, both Mr. T and Mr. C happened to be lingering within their respective classrooms at the end of the high school day. Mr. T taught me chemistry in grades ten and twelve, while Mr. C’s grade eleven class was sandwiched in the year between.

“Do you think anyone knows what they truly want to do or who they want to be at the age of eighteen? I just started teaching after all my schooling and stumbled into enjoying teaching you guys. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

I took solace in Mr. T’s guidance and sauntered towards Mr. C a few doors down. Though he struggled to remember my name at this sudden appearance, it was easy to recall his impact on me. His class was fun, expectations were high, and Dr. House was a fictional figure to be revered.

“I want all of you to think the way that he does,” he exclaimed while showing us an episode of House during class. “When you answer the bonus questions at the end of my tests, I don’t want you to give me any BS. Think outside the box and defend your words.” I had never been taught this way by a science teacher before (or ever again). I was captivated in his classroom. We finished the curriculum early just to fit in a learning unit on recreational drugs. In pairs, a presentation on one of these drugs was a requirement. In fact, I omitted the names of my teachers when I got to this paragraph to prevent any potential trouble.

While Mr. C instructed me to be unorthodox in my analytics, it was Mr. B located four floors down who provided my gateway drug into kinesiology at York University. I leaned against the right handrail of the middle staircase of my former high school as I bounded down the steps towards the first floor. I ran into Mr. B in one of the hallways near his classroom. He taught me both civics in grade ten and exercise science in grade twelve but it was keeping me off his basketball team in grade eleven that I remembered most vividly. Mr. B was pleased to run into me and curious about my life trajectory. Any ill will quickly dissipated (even though I missed two shots the entire tryout and hit a left-handed layup over who ended up being the starting center that year – honestly, I am no longer bitter).

It was finally time for why I was back at the old stomping grounds. Though I meandered from the school entrance, to the fourth floor, and all the way down again, I was at the gymnasium after catching up with Mr. T, Mr. C, and Mr. B. Our lead custodian Rick was the coach of the (previously non-existent) junior boys basketball team and I was embarking on a weeks-long journey to shadow him as the major assignment for my third year university coaching course. I exchanged pleasantries with Rick and he expressed excitement over having an assistant coach for a few weeks (surprise!). I suppose I was dressed for the role: zip-up long-sleeve and sweatpants. I was ready to actively teach at a moment’s notice. I was ready to start my coaching career by seeing the fork in the road and walking straight and off the beaten path.

The contents of those practices were not memorable but the circumstances surrounding them stood out. The school scheduled boys’ basketball practices in the morning on the same day boys’ volleyball practices were in the afternoon. The athletes on both teams were forced to choose. As the volleyball team was more successful, the basketball team featured quite a few missing pieces during the practices held at seven in the morning. I commended Rick for maintaining focus and uplifting morale during these waking-hour sessions. I recall scrimmaging once as only nine players were available and five-on-five action was sorely needed. Rick’s improvisation and cultivating of available students was the model for me to follow when coaching a few years later.

Upon completing my undergraduate Kinesiology degree, I continued to work as a pharmacy assistant and considered my options. During that gap year before embarking on a new journey, a friend from undergrad had started a year-long postgraduate program at a local college for Sport and Event Marketing. I’ve seen that road before. Wanting to continue pursuing a career in sport, I applied and was accepted for the semester beginning in January. Upon entering the classroom for the first time, I was greeted by a friend who was in the same group project with me as my friend who had taken the program the previous year! This seemed like a good omen.

I was enrolled at a program specifically related to the business of sport. Coming from the exercise science background, I believed I was covering all the bases – I had seen this road before. I excelled and secured a paid internship at a regional basketball non-profit organization running their tournaments. During in-class sessions, I was less prepared for the microaggression of being told “I speak English surprisingly well” or a few students locking up internships at the most important sport entity in Toronto despite having almost non-existent class attendance. I later found out that their fellow group member was cousins with someone working there. That lightbulb moment for me did not inspire an ensuing “eureka!” This aspect of the business of sport always left me waiting. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried.

Ultimately, my internship landed me a part-time job directly working with my favourite sport. I continued to work in pharmacies throughout Toronto during the week and supervise the basketball tournaments I had planned during my internship on the weekend. Along the way I secured a volunteer role with the 2015 Toronto Pan Am games. 2015 will always be one of my favourite years. I was excelling in the three positions I was balancing and envisioned these experiences catapulting me into my future career. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from every role thrust upon me. Unfortunately, a full-time opportunity still proved to be elusive.

I continued to support my family through my work in the pharmacy as I vetted any and every prospect within sport. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried. I became a volunteer basketball head coach at the school where my friend was employed as an early childhood educator. I cherish the moments connecting with and mentoring those twelve to fourteen year old boys through my favourite sport. I vividly remember our star player missing two free throws to beat the hosting school and legendary local coach on their home floor. The inconsolable Jahzi in a pool of tears on our bench was heartbreaking.

Throughout this coaching journey, my current boss was flexible, navigating around my practice schedule to continue growth in my pharmacy capacity. A funny thing happened along my meandering path. I thrived as a pharmacy technician, built a network of pharmacists along the way, and decided that the long and winding road always led me back to this door. A nighttime high school physics class, a few undergraduate science and math courses, a national pandemic, and a failed first attempt later; I still plan on knocking on that pharmacy school door.

Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried.

The long and winding road has led me to this door.

Bursting Our Bubbles.

Photo by Viajero from Pexels

It would be a sunny day at the local park. You’d ask your friend to pass the hoop so you could dip it into the bottle of magic bubbles. Blow gently into the magic contraption and Voila – bubbles were airborne. These instant creations were delicate and burst immediately upon contact.

Photo by TOPHEE MARQUEZ from Pexels

As you progressed through adolescence, bubbles were a little harder to chew. More thought was put into degrading them. These were built tougher from your monotonous jaw grind. Though longer-lasting, you spit them right out on an adolescent whim.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

With life experience, you have greater autonomy in your decisions. As less have cable, more are perusing the internet to solidify their bubble. This process begins even earlier with the rise of YouTube and streaming services.

The multitude of options available for consumption in 2020 ensure there is always something to watch, read, or listen to (which is obviously helpful during a global pandemic). With these choices at our fingertips, it is easy to fall into the same ingrained patterns of conscious and unconscious biases. We naturally gravitate towards what we are most familiar with. With a vast collection to choose from, it would be wasteful to retread the same paths over and over. While the majority of us are relegated to remaining indoors during this pandemic, the easiest and most passive method of meeting this current moment is to do one simple thing: consume content by people who do not look like you.

The human experience is vast. Every person has a unique story to tell. Can you recall your parents’ personal history without notice? How about your grandparents? While we should start there (you would be surprised how much you can learn from just asking), there is no better time to consume content about other human experiences than right now. There is always something to learn about your fellow human beings. The following are a few personal suggestions, I hope at least one piques your curiosity and allows some bursting of bubbles.

Books

Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng: Set in a 1970s small town, Chinese-American Lydia Lee is found in a local lake. This book centers itself around a young biracial girl’s struggle, death, and ensuing aftermath.

Colourless” by Haruki Murakami: A personal favourite as I read it at a time when I was experiencing loss of friendship myself. “Colourless” follows the Japanese, middle-aged Tsukuru’s venture into his own past and discovery of how the close ties he once had disintegrated into thin air.

Open City” by Teju Cole: Julius, a Nigerian doctor, meanders through New York city contemplating his new country, isolation, and a lost relationship.

Every Day is for the Thief” by Teju Cole: I had to include Teju Cole’s next novel as well. I read this in close proximity to my first vacation to the Philippines in twelve years back in 2016. I related to the protagonist visiting Lagos for the first time since arriving in New York. Both of our trips involved reconnecting with our respective backgrounds and selves.

The Sun and her Flowers” by Rupi Kaur: This book of poetry by Indian-Canadian Rupi tackles love, empowerment, and being an immigrant.

Television

Never Have I Ever“: Created by Mindy Kaling, this new series is a coming of age story of Indian-American high schooler Dev as she navigates adolescence following the sudden death of her father.

Movies

Sorry to Bother You“: African-American Oakland-native Cassius Green climbs the corporate ladder at a telemarketing company. His pursuit of the American Dream ultimately comes at a cost.

Tigertail“: Taiwanese Pin-Jui sought a better life for his mother and himself when he immigrated to America. Narrated both in present day and with flashbacks interspersed throughout, Pin-Jui’s decision has consequences immediately and in the following decades. His once evident charisma is dulled after leaving Taiwan. A tale of longing, regret, and hope.

Podcasts

Higher Learning” co-hosted by Van Lathan and Rachel Lindsay: Media personality Van and lawyer and only African-American lead on the Bachelor/Bachelorette ever Rachel provide their both poignant and entertaining analysis on everything related to black culture. Especially necessary now.

Asian Enough” co-hosted by Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong: Los Angeles Times columnists Jen and Frank unpack Asian American culture through anecdotes of their own and those shared by their celebrity guests.

On Accountability.

We have a lot of work to do.

Before every karate class, students would kneel in one of two ways. As sensei, “teacher” in Japanese, would address the communal area, we would line up across the middle of the floor kneeling on both legs with our feet beneath our butts or with one knee up as we absorbed sensei’s greeting and pre-lesson inspiration. As we stationed ourselves on the floor, our kneeling indicated respect and deference to our martial arts leader. After a couple of minutes, we would begin to feel restless and start shifting between those stances. This restlessness would not have taken us eight minutes and forty-six seconds to feel uncomfortable. A conscious decision would have been made to maintain such a position.

Almost four years ago, Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. At the time, there was more outrage over kneeling during the national anthem than the deaths of unarmed black men. Throughout centuries, peaceful protest, violent protest, and everything in between has been practiced. If neither forms of protest created enough institutional change, why is there still criticism for the never-ending search for justice? Not only has our black community had to face this for centuries, the latest string of horrific murders comes amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. To be both pathogenically and systemically attacked simultaneously must be overwhelming.

For far too long we have put the burden solely on the black community to use their voices without allies alongside in full support. The non-black community has to do better. Has living in fear from a global pandemic prompted more empathy from us? Whether as a non-black person of colour, like myself, or as a caucasian, we have to stare directly into the mirror at ourselves. How have we been both implicitly and explicitly bias? What can we do to listen, educate ourselves, and make tangible change in our communities? There is a cycle we do not want – and can not afford – to be repeated again: unjustifiable black death, outrage, and lack of systemic change. While progress has been made regarding justice for George Floyd’s senseless death, a charge is not yet a conviction.

At the end of every karate class, we assumed the same kneeling stances to listen to sensei wrap up the lesson. After taking a few gems with us after the physical and spiritual workout, we stood at attention. The learning was not over yet. We recited the student creed after every single class:

I promise to become the best possible person I can be,

With honesty in my mind, confidence in my heart, and strength in my body.

I will achieve excellence and share it with others.

Sensei: “What is your goal?”

Black Belt Excellence.

Sensei: “What is your quest?”

Personal Best.

We reminded ourselves everyday what was most important: becoming the best possible person we could be. We took accountability for our actions and sought to achieve excellence both individually and collectively. With systemic issues unchanged, holding the four abusers of power who murdered George Floyd accountable for their actions will be difficult. Though that verdict rests in the American justice system’s clutches, the integral thing we can control each day is holding ourselves accountable for our own thoughts and actions.

#WeTheChamps

?: Frank Gunn

Giving Jason Kapono $24 mil & my fave Mo Pete’s 24 was a slap in the face – not the Vince kind. I thought Michael Curry was the 3 for Kevin O’Neil’s defence & Pape Sow would be Ben Wallace 2.0. Rob Babcock stupidly drafted Rafael Araujo over Andre Iguodala – a VC/CB4/Andre core was right there… At 13, I knew VC was traded for nothing. MIKE JAMES! had a fun, green light season. Jalen Rose gave the people what we wanted, wearing all black as a funeral for his starting role. Donyell Marshall was streets ahead as a stretch big! TJ/Parker/Garbo/CB4/Rasho gave us 47 wins & Jose lead our original bench mob to success. TJ/Jose stabilized the 1 spot before TJ’s neck injury derailed his career & altered our dynamic. Jose selflessly offered to come off the bench when TJ healed. Garbo’s gruesome leg injury before the playoffs lead to the Nets intercepting Jose’s pass. Shawn Marion was acquired but his contract leaving the Heat lead to LeBron/Wade/Bosh. Hedo Turkoglu was heralded when we sign-and-traded The Matrix for him in a 4-team deal – Bryan Colangelo was creative, thought he was the messiah. Jarrett Jack & Chris Bosh were Georgia Tech roommates – CB4 was staying! CB4 injuring his face in DeMar’s rookie season lead to a must-win Bulls game for the playoffs & we had to rely on Primo Pasta & Ball – saw that live. Young gunz: DeMar/Sonny/Amir had next. Poached Masai Ujiri, brought him home. Game 7 Brooklyn, Paul Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry at the buzzer. Ran it back but with 6 man Lou Williams, got embarrassingly swept by the Wizards. Norman Powell’s superhero dunk in 1st round, Game 5 against the Pacers lead to Bismack Biyombo’s Herculean efforts in the East finals against LeBron. Got PJ Tucker & Serge Ibaka at the deadline, got swept by the Cavs. Had the best season in franchise history, supported by our bench mob: still swept by the Cavs. I was at LeBron’s demoralizing “fadeaway game” in Game 2. Dwane Casey fired. DeMar traded. Everything lead to a fun guy restoring his reputation. Board man gets parades. What it doooo baby!? Kyle got his gold ball. Get out the salami & cheese mama, the championship belongs to Toronto. ???

Mr. Toronto Raptor

There is so much to unpack regarding this morning’s blockbuster trade. When it was clear Chris Bosh was leaving for the Miami Heat in 2010, DeMar DeRozan tweeted “Don’t worry, I got us…” In the last four years, with the rise to prominence of the Toronto Raptors franchise, I have referenced this pinned tweet every time DeMar did something of significance to lift the Toronto Raptors from bottom-dwellers to consistent contenders. He was that guy.

DeMar was the first star that the Raptors developed to want to remain with the franchise for his entire career. After being left at the alter by Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and Chris Bosh (to name a few), basketball fans in Toronto embraced their homegrown star with open arms. We recognised his flaws… He was such a raw, unrefined talent when drafted back in 2009. Every summer, Deebo proved his detractors wrong by adding another dimension to his game. He worked tirelessly to develop go-to moves, improved his ball-handling, and eventually became an above average play-maker during the excellent 59-win 2017-2018 regular season.

From an objective perspective, the Raptors did really well with this trade. By not giving up OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam and only giving up a protected 1st round pick, the Raptors did not mortgage their entire future. Even in a worst-case scenario where Kawhi leaves after one season, the Raptors can pivot into a rebuild with Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam still under contract. In a best-case scenario, the Raptors can accomplish what they hoped to do last season: make the NBA Finals. A deep playoff run, after a year-long recruitment could make Kawhi more receptive to remaining in Toronto for the long haul. The newest iteration of the Toronto Raptors is deep, versatile, and a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.

But let’s get back to DeMar DeRozan. Just because I think the Raptors did very well in this trade, doesn’t mean I can’t be immensely sad about it. DeMar DeRozan is a class act on and off the basketball court. There are so many moments… The Mozgov dunk. The Detroit dunk (and the pass that embodied his evolution). The Cleveland dunk to tie the game. The Gobert Dunk. The most underrated dunk contest dunk of all-time. His friendship with Kyle Lowry. The game-winner against Orlando. The dunk to end Milwaukee. “I am Toronto.”

I’m glad DeMar gets to work with the greatest coach of all-time. San Antonio is going to love him. I can’t wait to give him a standing ovation when he returns to Toronto for the first time. His number 10 will undoubtedly be up in Toronto when his career is over.

Kyrie Takes His Shot (Again)

Jun 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) shoots the the game winning shot during the fourth quarter against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) in game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

“Having just a tremendously great player like that come to your team, and you see yourself being one of those great players eventually, and then he ends up joining it, and then now you have to almost take a step back and observe… Finding that balance is one of the toughest things to do because you have so much belief and confidence in yourself… Selfishly, I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time.”

– Kyrie Irving during the most recent NBA Finals

A lot of NBA fans derided Kevin Durant for ring-chasing when he left Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City to join the historic 73-9 Golden State Warriors. They chided him for not being loyal to his organization or joining the greatest team to not win the NBA Finals. In the end, KD got what he sought: a ring and his defining moment. Now that Kyrie Irving has requested a trade from the Cavaliers, he is getting the same criticism – for doing the opposite.

From the outside, it looks like Kyrie couldn’t possibly be unhappy with his current situation. Since the return of LeBron James to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavaliers have made three straight NBA Finals and completed the greatest comeback in NBA history while down 3-1 against the aforementioned 73-9 Warriors. Kyrie was the one who took The Shot that sealed the championship. What many don’t remember is that Kyrie signed his maximum 5-year extension before LeBron decided to go back home.

What Irving committed to was building the Cavaliers from the ground up and continuing to craft his legacy on his own terms, as the alpha dog of a young team left in ruins after LeBron’s original decision in 2010. Based on Kyrie’s comments during this year’s NBA Finals, it’s easy to see that it was difficult for him to adjust to his new situation right after making a long term commitment to a completely different one. As selfless as LeBron James is on the basketball court, as the greatest basketball player of his generation, it is difficult to make your own imprint while playing alongside him. With a supreme belief in his abilities, Kyrie wants to see how good he can ultimately be.

As the former Cavaliers’ General Manager David Griffin said on a recent “The Jump” podcast, most people don’t have the courage to do what Kyrie did. Playing with LeBron James and having a chance to win every year while being his teammate are not the only factors affecting his happiness. Based on the recent news of his shoe collaboration with Kobe Bryant, Kyrie’s always been more Black Mamba than LeBron.

Imagine working for an organization for a long time, gradually coming into your own, and eventually encountering a circumstance to finally hone your talent, elevate your performance, and take yourself and your team to the next level. You see the possibility of having greater influence and look forward to the challenge of living up to the expectations of the organization and those that you place on yourself. Then, after being given that freedom of agency, your boss decides to recruit someone with vastly more experience and an imposing network within the industry. While this is still a great opportunity to learn from one of the best, you have to take a step back right when you thought your time had come. You had come so close to being able to showcase your abilities only to be overshadowed immediately with no opportunities to be the one most remembered for elevating your organization.

This is how Kyrie Irving feels. He wants the pressure of having to sink or swim. He delivered an iconic moment that brought the city of Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. He has his ring. Now he’s seeking to further cement his legacy.

#WhyNot

I honestly love Russell Westbrook so much. I think he’s my spirit animal. Dude literally does what he wants now. The credo he lives by is “why not?” I can’t think of a better way to respond to adversity.

This past summer, Kevin Durant decided to abandon Oklahoma City and leave Russell Westbrook to carry the Thunder franchise himself. How did Russ respond? Prior to games 81 and 82 in 2016-2017, he had already secured a triple-double average (32/11/10) and broke Oscar Robertson’s record for triple-doubles in a season by earning number 42 in an epic way.

The way Russ went about his season is such an excellent blueprint of how to deal with people who leave you. Go about your business, succeed anyway, and make your own waves. I hate disloyalty. Sometimes what happens is for the best and it just allows you to meet great people and make your own history.

I have been gushing over everything that Russ has done all season long. From the perceived shot at KD with the cupcake Instagram, official photographer outfit, and his ultimate “fuck you” by averaging a TRIPLE DOUBLE for the entire season. Dude has proven to be ruthless all year. Do you Russ! You’re my favourite & I love you forever!

The Complexity of Home.

Source: http://news.nike.com/news/nike-basketball-debuts-the-lebron-james-together-film

Source: http://news.nike.com/news/nike-basketball-debuts-the-lebron-james-together-film

It’s been about a week since my mom and I landed at Pearson Airport, returning from the Philippines after spending the majority of December amongst family. Reality settled in when we were welcomed home by the harsh winter winds of the North. In a few days, we would be returning to work and no longer basking in the sun or eating to our hearts’ content (every day is “cheat” day when you’re on vacation). As my mom and I were reminiscing about our eventful month, we couldn’t believe it had been twelve years since we had last visited.

To be honest, I was the most apprehensive leading up to our December 4th departure. Even though I have fond memories of our summertime trip in 2004, I was concerned twelve years was too large a gap to bridge. That flight involved transporting my great grandmother to live out her final years in the comforts of home. On a personal level, that July involved getting over my first breakup, falling in love with basketball, and purchasing College Dropout while in the Philippines. To get over the former, I would fire up my CD player and loop Usher’s Confessions album. The Philippines’ media kept playing Sisqo’s Incomplete or Mobbstar’s version of Itsumo as if they sympathized with teenage heartbreak. My Lolo unknowingly helped by buying a basketball hoop and installing it in the garage. While my cousins were in school, its presence helped me pass the time and keep my mind off my first girlfriend (not to mention improve my layup ability). I will always remember when Tito Boy attempted to dunk by jumping off the building materials stored behind the hoop and almost ripping off the entire rim and slamming his face into the ground. I bought my first SLAM Magazine at Pearson airport, was gifted my first NBA jerseys (Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Richard Hamilton), and further gifted my favourite basketball shoes ever. Then I got Kanye’s College Dropout. Surprisingly, one of the local radio channels played the entire album while we were on a road trip and my fandom escalated from that point. Just from typing out this paragraph, I recognize how much that early millennium trip influenced me. I’m still a basketball junkie and a fan of Kanye West (though not his recent antics).

This time around, completing the first quarter century of my life, my mom and I were able to press pause and catch up with family across the globe during the holiday season. My friends keep asking me about what I did when I was gone for the majority of December. Honestly, we just enjoyed our time with family and helped my grandparents by bringing them to doctor’s appointments and making sure they were taking their medications properly. Every weekend consisted of a road trip with at least my Tito Boy and Tito Thony – the most hilarious and essential people to be around on long drives or short drives impeded by the ridiculous daily traffic. My fondest moments involved hanging in my Lolo’s garage with my cousins until early morning or playing with my baby cousin Marck. Family was my biggest takeaway.

Sometimes it takes a trip across the world to remind you about the most important things. My mom and I haven’t had the easiest last few years but we have gotten by, remained positive, and supported each other. I fully understand now how she has always been able to maintain proper perspective. I had forgotten about how she came from such a big, loving, and giving family and migrated while only really knowing her aunt and grandparents here in Toronto. Her relatable story reminds me of two books by Teju Cole: Open City and Every Day is for the Thief. Open City is about a young Nigerian doctor exploring his new home New York by walking around as a mental reprieve from the difficulty of his work and loneliness of his situation and Every Day is for the Thief is about a Nigerian writer who returns to his hometown of Lagos after spending years away working elsewhere. When my mom moved to Toronto, I can imagine she felt like the main character in Open City: trying to find where she fit in within a completely different cultural landscape. During periods when it’s difficult for us to have meals at the same time or have lengthy, quality conversations, I can see how she would miss her first home. Our trip reminded me how important it is for us to remain solid and strengthen each other while dealing with our adversities. I can relate to my mother more regarding the main character in Every Day is for the Thief.

Returning to a place of origin after twelve years away is difficult. There is uncertainty regarding everything you used to know or believe about a place, time, or presence in your life. I know that my mother feels the way LeBron does in this post’s introductory photograph: a welcomed but heavy weight on her shoulders. I admittedly feel parallels regarding our own situation but I had not realized she feels that same load spread across generations that exist on the other side of the world. It’s not an unwanted obligation that we feel but more a welcomed and challenging compulsion to lift forward. When my mom left for an opportunity to start a new life abroad, she was adamant she would never forget what she was leaving behind.

You never really do overlook something that has shaped you profoundly. During the paragraph writing about the trip to the Philippines in 2004, I hadn’t realized how much I remembered about it. I didn’t even include the more personal aspects but the more surface level impact of dealing with first heartbreak and developing musical and basketball affinities in my formative teenage years remains intact. Our most recent visit reiterated that we cannot wait over a decade to be amongst family again and the hardships communicated to us through phone or messenger isn’t hyperbole.

Balancing thoughts between old homes and new ones can be like walking on a tightrope. While the past has undoubtedly formed your character, your present requires your attention and for you to look forward while holding onto the ideals that were developed previously. This is the conflict the Lagos’ born writer from Every Day is for the Thief deals with. This balance requires a lot of reflection if family is indeed important to you. If you are unable to help yourself, it’s impossible to help anyone else. While home is complex, the idea of never forgetting where you came from is easier to comprehend.

Sun.

Pound The Rock.

Love.

After listening to the Freakonomics podcast of October 26th, I was inspired. I was ready to talk about the idea of incremental growth that was front-and-center in that podcast. The hosts Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and their guests had healthy discussion about how change happens – gradually as opposed to exponentially. Often, we get carried away believing in immediate change. It’s human nature to get swept up in that narrative. Think about your New Year’s resolutions. Do you remember any of them? Have you worked at achieving those goals throughout the entire year?

When Head Coach Dwane Casey was first hired by the Toronto Raptors, he embraced the mantra “pound the rock” – a phrase directly relating to this concept. Casey wanted to instil in his young, inexperienced team that it takes work each and every day to get to where they wanted to be as a team. To further solidify his message, Coach even went as far as bringing a massive rock into the locker room. Success wasn’t due to one instant but the result of many progressive moments.

“Pounding the rock” wasn’t a new concept created by Dwane Casey. Coach adopted the saying from journalist Jacob Riis. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Riis wrote about the poor and disenfranchised workers in New York. He knew that for change to come, he had to continuously fight for his values.

When Barack Obama was elected the President of the United States in 2008, it was an historic moment. I vividly remember sitting in my leadership class the next morning discussing the achievement with my teacher and classmates. The USA chose an African American to the highest office in their country. He was deserving, compassionate, and a great orator. It was a step in the right direction for a nation’s leadership and race relations. President Obama championed fair pay, universal healthcare, gun control reform, and LGBT rights. “Yes we can” was a rallying cry to build a foundation upon.

All the progressive steps taken over the last eight years make the results of the American Presidential election on November 9th, 2016 more difficult for me to comprehend. The United States elected Donald Trump to be their next President. He campaigned on a platform of hateful and reckless rhetoric. He lied tirelessly in debates and interviews. He has zero experience in public office. None of these facts mattered to ~50% of Americans. This is really scary. I’m not even American.

When people feel disenfranchised and unhappy, they seek change. If desperate enough, people will believe when someone promises to make their situation better. Barack Obama campaigned on a foundation of hope. Perhaps this elevated expectations for his tenure in the Oval Office. While able to accomplish a lot, the American people expected more. Maybe they sought immediate change as opposed to the incremental progress being made over the last eight years.

While ultimately disheartening, the results of the Presidential election were a reality check. Colin Kaepernick tried to bring police brutality to the forefront with his national anthem protest. Despite the work he has done to support his protest, he didn’t even vote in the election. This is disappointing and undermines his message. There is a lot of work still needed to be done by everyone. It broke my heart seeing heinous acts of hate on the first day of President-elect Donald Trump. As human beings, we have to tirelessly defend our values. We can’t participate in the normalization of President-elect Trump’s sexist, homophobic, and racist language.

Whittling away at seemingly insurmountable odds is nothing new. It got President Obama elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. Just a few days before the election, the Chicago Cubs came back from down 3-1 in the World Series against the Cleveland [Baseball Team]. I see it in my friends who have graduated and seek the opportunity to start their careers in a difficult job climate. It’s evident when reading the retirement essay of Ray Allen, my favourite sharpshooter from childhood, whose hard work lead to the greatest shot in NBA Finals history. My dear friend chips away, when writing lyrics and playing music each day to get over a difficult break-up. The person who goes to the gym once a week, then twice, then thrice is pushing his or her limits little by little. “Pounding the rock” is identifiable in the person who grinds to work every day, looking to provide for his or her family and seeking opportunities for growth throughout the uncertainty of their situation.

In the end, the fate of a nation doesn’t rely on one person. While the President is the nation’s face and symbolic presence, it takes the collective work of communities, governments, and activists to enact change. By looking to preserve our core values, evolve, and contribute to our communities, we can continue “pounding the rock” for progress, the betterment of our lives, and protecting the ones to follow our own. Love always trumps hate.

17 Reasons I’m Excited About the 2016-2017 NBA Season.

Shoutout to NBA's The Starters

Shoutout to NBA’s The Starters

There are many reasons why basketball is my favourite sport and the NBA is my professional sports league of choice. If you look at this letter from Commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players’ Association leader Michele Roberts, the NBA is definitely one of the more progressive sport institutions. The free flowing nature of the sport, being able to visualize each player’s distinctive play style, and observe the contrasting team strategies unfold in real time is a joy for a basketball geek like myself. The game has evolved to emphasize shooting, speed, and skill. This makes watching an NBA game so aesthetically pleasing. Here are 17 reasons I’m excited about the upcoming NBA season:

  • A 73-9 team added one of the best basketball players on the planet.

The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals… That devastating heartbreak on their home floor ultimately lead Kevin Durant to sign with them. What a silver lining! Essentially, the best regular season team of all-time is replacing Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. I think his transition will be seamless. Like Steph, he already knows how to do this. Losing Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli will undoubtedly hurt their defence but tell me how anyone can guard Draymond/KD/Iggy/Klay/Steph… (Note: I’m posting this after watching the Warriors get thoroughly dismantled by the Spurs)

  • LeBron James is an underdog after winning a championship for Cleveland.

The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals… The reason is simple: LeBron James. Down 3-1, LeBron had 41/16/7/3/3 in Game 5, 41/11/8/4/3 in Game 6, 27/11/11/2/3 in Oracle Arena for Game 7. Looking at those video game numbers, I still can’t believe it! After a tumultuous regular season, he brought the Cavaliers back from down 3-1 against the greatest regular season team of all-time. After KD’s decision to join the Warriors, he’s an underdog despite winning the championship! After what I witnessed in the 2016 NBA Finals, I know better that to doubt LeBron again.

  • Russell Westbrook unleashed.

Are the Oklahoma City Thunder headed towards a downward spiral? As Russell Westbrook would say, “That’s cute man.” During the 2014-2015 season when KD was sidelined for 55 games with a Jones fracture in his right foot, Westbrook averaged 31.4/9.9/8.6 after the all-star break to try and lift OKC into the 8th seed of the Western Conference. His efforts were for naught as Anthony Davis and the Pelicans took the 8th seed. This time around, Russ has a great pick-and-roll partner in Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to alleviate ball-handling duties. The Thunder should remain in the playoff conversation with their combination of youth, athleticism, and defence.

  • A less-injured Anthony Davis and his New Orleans Pelicans.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Anthony Davis will be a future MVP. He showed off his enormous ceiling earlier this year during his 59/20 game against the Pistons. However, he has already been out for two weeks after spraining his ankle in an exhibition game. To reach his limitless potential, AD has to find a way to finally play over 70 games in a season. What’s disheartening is that the plethora of injuries he has endured are only loosely related. The Pelicans had to deal with injury problems of their own last year, leading the league with 351 games missed due to injury. I would imagine last year could just be written off as bad luck but with AD already dealing with another injury and Jrue Holiday tending to a family matter, New Orleans will not start the season as they had hoped. It remains to be seen if their depth additions in free agency will be able to weather the storm in case injuries strike the team again.

  • It’s gut check time for the Clippers.

I feel for Chris Paul. He’s arguably the best point guard of his generation. Since joining the Clippers he’s averaged 18.9 points and 9.9 assists with only 2.3 turnovers a game and has lead his team to win 61.6% of their games. Furthermore, the Clippers purged their team of one of the most heinous owners in professional sports and completely altered their image from laughingstock to “Lob City” entertainers and consistent winners upon his arrival. One accomplishment has remained out of reach: the Western Conference Finals. Blowing their 3-1 lead against the Rockets in the 2014-2015 playoffs after eliminating the Spurs in 7 games was devastating. Last year, unintentional and self-inflicted injuries to impending free agents Chris Paul and Blake Griffin derailed them again. The clock is ticking.

  • A new era for the Spurs.

It’s so weird that Tim Duncan won’t be playing for the Spurs this season. On paper, adding Pau Gasol to replace a 40-year old Duncan looks like a clear upgrade but that would downplay Tim’s towering presence over the last nineteen years. His hall of fame talent, leadership, humbleness, and selflessness will all be missed in San Antonio. Attempting to fill his shoes are Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Kawhi seems to fit the personality profile while LaMarcus has the post skill mastery covered. For the Spurs to continue consistently winning games, they will have to maintain their dizzying ball movement predicated on unselfishly hunting for open shots without their anchor defending the middle. I look forward to how Coach Pop leads the Spurs for the first time without his right hand man.

  • If you aim at King James, you best not miss.

LeBron James has made six straight NBA Finals. That’s an absurd number of consecutive appearances and that streak doesn’t look like it will end this season. In my opinion, the Cavaliers have two teams vying to supplant them in the East. First off, I like the chances of my hometown Toronto Raptors. The Raptors finally slayed their first round demons by grinding through two 7-game series with the Pacers and Heat respectively to secure a berth against the Cavs in the conference finals this past June. The playoff experience was invaluable for this young team but Toronto must still offset the losses of backup center and playoff hero Bismack Biyombo to free agency and offseason addition Jared Sullinger to a preseason foot injury that will cause him to miss about three months to start the season. There is ample opportunity for Jonas Valanciunas to command a larger role on both sides of the ball.

Another contender ready to pounce is the 48 win Boston Celtics who added all-star Al Horford over the summer. Horford is jumping from the equal-opportunity offence of the Atlanta Hawks to another team-centric culture fostered by Head Coach Brad Stevens in Boston. He is the centrepiece of a team that was already on the precipice of contending with the Eastern Conference’s elite and should fit seamlessly next to Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. The Celtics have assets on the horizon, a competitive team, and a great head coach locked in on a multiyear deal. Boston is set up well for Eastern Conference supremacy going forward.

  • The Knicks are trying…

.. but they might be stuck in the wrong era. On paper, a starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joakim Noah looks highly formidable – in 2011. There are too many questions regarding this iteration of the Knicks to confirm their status as contenders. I believe this team is stacked with talent but I am unsure how they will mesh together and most importantly, stay healthy. Joakim Noah was limited to just 29 games last season and by now, basketball fans are well aware of Derrick Rose’s injury history. Rose has been embroiled in highly publicized sexual assault allegations throughout the offseason that have resulted in more troubling decision-making. The Knicks can either contend for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs or miss out altogether.

  • Dwight Howard trying to flip the narrative.

It seems like forever ago that Dwight Howard was a popular figure and MVP candidate playing for the Orlando Magic. It was only three years ago that he left the Lakers after a tumultuous season and decided to form a superstar tandem with James Harden in Houston. Only two seasons ago everything was going according to plan with Houston playing in the Western Conference Finals after shocking the Clippers in the second round. Last season, absolutely everything went wrong for the Rockets and the Harden/Howard partnership. Since forcing his exit from Orlando, Dwight has bounced from the Lakers, then to Houston and has experienced various levels of success (and failure) at both stops. It’s been a rocky road for Dwight Howard since making the NBA Finals more than half a decade ago. This summer, he decided to join his hometown Atlanta Hawks. On an unplanned 14 minute segment with Inside the NBA, he stated his desire to enjoy playing basketball, work on his legacy, and play to his capabilities again. Dwight is capable of controlling the next chapter of his career. It would be great for the NBA to have a resurgence of a formerly dominant big man to contrast the small ball variances that are commonplace nowadays.

  • James Harden partnered with Mike D’Antoni.

Oh my. The Houston Rockets have to be pencilled in as at least a top-7 offence this season. The hyper-charged offence of the Phoenix Suns’ “7 Seconds or Less” era is back as D’Antoni will have the talent, proper roster construction, and support from management and ownership to execute the vision he was unable to replicate in both New York (other than the short-lived “Linsanity” era) and Los Angeles. The ability of the Rockets to defend at a league-average level and/or establish a top-3 offence will determine whether or not they make the playoffs in an always-competitive Western Conference. If the team continues to play lackadaisical defence, they won’t crack the top-8. Either way, the Rockets will be infinitely fun to watch play offensively.

  • Linsanity!

I imagine a parallel universe where the New York Knicks decided to match the Houston Rocket offer sheet to Jeremy Lin. I see Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, and Amare Stoudemire learning to co-exist and complement one another in this alternate timeline. Instead, Lin’s darkest timeline unfolded. He battled with incredible defender Patrick Beverley for minutes and never played for a coach that trusted him as much as Mike D’Antoni did after inserting him into a midseason game back in 2012. A moment like the Valentine’s Day game-winning dagger on Toronto would not be replicated. Fast forward a few years, following a slight comeback season as the 6th man of the Charlotte Hornets, and Jeremy finds himself as an alpha dog in New York once again. This time, he’ll be doing it as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. The rebuilding Nets will feature Jeremy Lin and Robin Lopez prominently, alongside their younger and unproven draft picks and free agent signings. The two veterans will provide bridges across what will be a slow and painful build due to the team’s limited future assets. Maybe Lin can make the case to be a part of their future. One thing’s for sure, the spotlight will be on him once again. Let’s see if he’s ready to reacquaint himself with the bright lights of New York.

  • Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins anchoring a Tom Thibodeau defence.

Thibs is back! After being unceremoniously dismissed from the Chicago Bulls, he took a year off coaching basketball and has now returned as the Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Posting a 64.7% winning percentage, developing a dominant defence, and making the playoffs every year (in spite of Derrick Rose’s injury woes) was not enough to keep his job. Now, Thibodeau gets gifted two-way talent in recent first overall picks Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. He will drill a defence-first mindset into his two franchise players while leveraging their immense talent, potential, and athleticism. Minnesota still has slick playmaker Ricky Rubio to mentor their most recent draft pick, point guard Kris Dunn, and ignite fast breaks alongside high-flying and awe-inspiring Zach LaVine. The Wolves are on the upswing. We’ll see if they can convert all that potential into some meaningful games throughout the upcoming season.

  • The Chicago Bulls confusing everyone.

The Chicago Bulls have tried to transition out of the Tom Thibodeau era of defensive slugfests into a more up-tempo style preferred by his replacement Fred Hoiberg. Perhaps the most confusing part about last season’s Bulls was their baffling decision to bring their heart and soul, Joakim Noah, off the bench. In his place, Pau Gasol and sophomore Nikola Mirotic started in hopes of spacing the floor and providing more offence. This strategy backfired as the Bulls dropped from 11th to 23rd in Offensive Rating and fell to 15th in Defensive Rating, thus losing their identity and not truly establishing anything other than solidifying Jimmy Butler’s status as franchise player. Over the summer Dwyane Wade shockingly left the Miami Heat to play for his hometown with Rajon Rondo signing on as well. These signings were perplexing decisions as the Derrick Rose trade seemed to signify the beginning of a rebuild. I can’t knock the talent at the Bulls’ disposal, but the fit is less than ideal as Butler, Wade, and Rondo are all ball-dominant players. Furthermore, Coach Hoiberg’s system emphasizes shooting but on paper, his starting backcourt has the worst 3-point shooting in the NBA. It’ll be intriguing to see if Wade’s excellent backdoor cutting will be the most prominent part of his offence and if Butler will seek more catch-and-shoot opportunities with Rajon Rondo dominating the ball and surveying the court for easy scores.

  • Pat Riley overplayed his hand and Miami is a mess.

It’s so interesting to me that Pat Riley always talks about loyalty. It’s as if the concept only applies when it benefits the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade has never been the highest paid player on his own team. The first championship with Shaq, suffering through a 15-win rebuilding season, recruiting LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and being the quintessential player of the Miami Heat franchise was not enough to earn him his due in this past summer’s free agency. Instead, Riley let Wade leave and is essentially pushing Chris Bosh out the door after he suffered potentially life-threatening and career-shortening blood clots. All is not lost in Miami as they still have Coach Erik Spoelstra, Goran Dragic orchestrating the offence, and Hassan Whiteside manning the middle. But beyond their two foundational pieces, losing their franchise player forced Miami to match Tyler Johnson’s exorbitant offer sheet. Without an all-star level replacement for Dwyane Wade, Miami needs to strike big in free agency again next season. Will the allure of Pat Riley and his rings have the same pull next offseason? Time will tell.

  • The 76ers are fielding a competitive team again.

Make Philadelphia basketball fun again! Joel Embiid! Ben Simmons! Spanish Chocolate! Bryan Colangelo hasn’t had me this excited about a basketball team since these guys. I know it’s a process and Ben Simmons is likely out for the year, but this team is stacked with so much young talent! I haven’t even mentioned Dario Saric, or incumbents Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. I’m just excited for the city of Philadelphia being able to watch some NBA basketball again. Bryan Colangelo addressed the need for SOME veteran talent on the roster, with the additions of Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless. These moves sought to mend bridges with agents and players that were burned by brilliant but stubborn predecessor Sam Hinkie, who refused to sign any semblance of NBA-level talent or traded it away during his scorched-earth rebuild. I can’t wait to watch Ben Simmons run this team – I hope that he makes a full recovery.

  • The young Bucks are looking to bounce back.

It was a devastating blow when Milwaukee lost Khris Middleton for the season. His shooting and two-way ability was the perfect glue for this young team still learning how to shoot and defend. What the Bucks do have is length – and they know it. Their youthful energy was unable to sustain their 4th ranked Defensive Rating of the 2014-2015 season as they fell to 23rd last season. Greg Monroe was unable to defend adequately as an anchor for their defence. Late last year, Head Coach Jason Kidd sought to make Giannis Antetokounmpo the primary playmaker, a 6’11” player with a 7’4” wingspan! If all goes according to plan, Milwaukee will be stalking passing lanes and making offence difficult for their opponents all year long.

  • The NBA and NBPA are going to avoid a lockout.

Finally some labour peace! The NBA is experiencing a huge influx of cash after their massive 9 year/$24 billion television deal and would be foolish to stop this financial momentum with a work stoppage in 2017. The NBA and NBPA will choose not to alienate their fans as major points have already been agreed upon and a new collective bargaining agreement looks to be in place before the opt-out deadline in December. Furthermore, I love their new public service announcement on togetherness.