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.

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.

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.