Posted in pop culture, Self-Discovery, sport

The Last Dance, Being Like Mike and My College Traumas

Lockdown is making people feel all kinds of nostalgic. Its understandable: the present is looking a little bleak at the moment, and no one knows what’s going to happen in the future, so we comfort ourselves with thoughts of the past. My extended family has taken to sending old photographs in our messenger group, including some of myself that has led me to conclude that I was a cute baby but a freakin’ ugly kid who then grew up to be an okay-looking adult.

I could be an emoji

Anyway, I don’t think it gets anymore nostalgic than The Last Dance, a sports docu-series that’s currently on Netflix which tells the story of the 1997-98 championship winning season of the Chicago Bulls, starring the great Michael Jordan. Its made a lot of people into three-week basketball fans; its had such an impact that its even trending in the UK, a country where – when I first arrived and said I didn’t like football because I’ve grown up watching basketball instead, people looked at me like I had horns sprouting from my head.

Watching this documentary brings home the fact that so many of my childhood memories are centred around those Saturday NBA games on ESPN when we would all gather around the telly watching Michael do a lay-up or a fadeaway or another dunk – basically anything humanly (sometimes inhumanly) possible to win the game. I’ve been watching the episodes with my sister, who’s not a big sports fan but nonetheless could almost reflexively identify all the important players of that era even now, 23 year later.

I remember watching my brother and my male classmates go through a period where they worshipped everything Jordan-related. If a genie had appeared before my brother at age 8 I believe he would have asked for a pair of Air Jordans without so much as batting an eyelash. His face when my aunt finally sent one over from the States is what I imagine mine would be when I finally meet the love of my life (yeah, I just had to get that in there lol).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care what other people say but nothing compares to watching a really good game of basketball, especially when you’re invested in the team and the players, as a fan or as a person. And I think the magic of MJ is in the way he makes you feel invested; he pulls you in with that attitude and that determination to win at all costs. There’s something to be said about a guy who believes in playing at the highest caliber at all times, because if you don’t, what’s the point in playing at all? Hey Mike, I want a sip of your Gatorade.

Watching this series, and getting to know the person behind the legend, I realise that I don’t really like Michael Jordan and I think a lot of people will agree with me; he’s kind of a dick. But I think people not liking him is a price he’s willing to pay for being GREAT at what he does. They don’t need to hug him on his way to the basket, they just need to get out of the way. I find myself wondering a lot of times while watching this series whether it was better to be liked or to be respected, and whether it was possible to be both.

When I was younger I used to be quite arrogant and a bit full of myself. I was probably masking some deep deep insecurities (which may or may not have been related to my weight issues) but the one thing I always had going for me was my intelligence. I knew I was smart. I was first on the honour roll from kindergarten onwards. I graduated class valedictorian in high school and had so many medals around my neck after the graduation ceremony you could hear them clanking as I walked.

Then I started college and for the first time I was around people who a) have not been my classmates since we were practically in diapers and b) who were just as if not more intelligent than I was. Suddenly I was in a class where we had 14 valedictorians and about half as many salutatorians. It was a whole other playing field. And like MJ (just so we don’t lose the thread here! Haha) I revelled in that. I pushed myself hard and I was determined to be the best of the best.

I’m a really competitive person. I want to win. I don’t want to do something if I can’t be great at it. I don’t believe in mediocrity. That attitude has gotten me to where I am today. But my greatest weakness has always been caring too much about what other people think. I have this pathological need to be universally liked. And in college, I rubbed a lot of people off the wrong way because what I thought was me being determined (and okay, showing off a little) most people saw as me being a complete bitch with a superiority complex. I still cringe at the thought of how much people I now call friends must have hated me in college. Oh well. At least they like me now.

Needless to say, I graduated college with one medal, a lot of friends, a more humble attitude and a greater appreciation of my place in the great circle of life.

Why am I suddenly bringing this up? I suppose its because I wonder where I would be if I had the same attitude as Mike…the whole isolation is the price of winning mentality that seems to be a characteristic of the greats. Is it worth it? Or is the old adage true, that its incredibly lonely up top all by yourself? I’m sure my feelings would have been different if you asked me when I was younger, but with the wisdom of old age I can say (with only a slight hesitation) that I would rather have friends than reluctant admirers. I would rather have people who will be there for me no matter what, even and especially if I fail – and its almost a guarantee that you will fail at some point in your life.

As usual I’ve managed to make this about me but whatever.

Takeaway messages from The Last Dance: Dennis Rodman is a Dude, Steve Kerr is proof that nice guys don’t always finish last and you should never judge a book by its cover, Scottie Pippen deserved better and finally, it takes a village. MJ wasn’t winning championships until he had a winning team. 72-10, baby.

P.S. this blog is in part dedicated to the guy whose job it was to shout “What time is it?” during the Bulls’ pre-game huddle. You, my man, are an icon.

Posted in sport

Remembering Kobe

I have been up all night trying to make sense of why I’m so upset. When a celebrity dies, we all post RIP messages on Facebook and send thoughts and prayers to their family via Twitter (as if any of them would ever read it, but its the thought that counts anyway), but we don’t really feel emotionally involved.

But when a friend sent me a message saying Kobe Bryant had died on a plane crash I was genuinely and inexplicably shook to my core.

I am not a sporty person. I have very little hand-eye coordination and my stamina is, uhm, dodgy at best. But I grew up in a country that loves basketball. In fact the only sport that gets more coverage than basketball in the Philippines is a Manny Pacqiao boxing match. And when it comes to basketball, it doesn’t get any better than the National Basketball Association (NBA).

From an early age, I have been immersed in the culture of this league that yielded so many greats. From the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to their Western Conference Rivals that consisted of Malone, Stockton and Hornacek. Hill, Iverson, Ewing, Carter, Mutombo, Barkley, Payton, O’Neal, Hardaway (Penny and Tim) – I grew up watching these guys play. Rebounds, 24-second violations, three-point plays, triple doubles, fadeaways and layups were a regular part of my vocabulary just as much as cat, apple, and dog.

But I wasn’t really invested until Kobe Bryant came along. I mean, I liked MJ but he was on his way out by the time I really understood what the game meant. Kobe was different. He was young and exciting. He played with a single-minded determination that really was something to see. He laughed in the face of critics who claimed he was too arrogant because hey, if he’s winning games (and he usually did) then I believe the word for it is CONFIDENCE. He was very clearly a winner, and I loved winners. I never believed in rooting for the underdog.

Saturdays used to mean battling with my brother for control of the telly. I wanted to watch the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls on MTV’s Asia Hitlist, he wanted to watch the back-to-back NBA games that played on ESPN every weekend. But when Kobe came along and I became a Lakers fan I was there watching alongside with him, and our arguments now consisted of heated debates about the individual merits of our respective teams. I was convinced that the Shaq-Kobe duo and the flashy style of the Lakers made them the best team that ever walked the planet, he preferred the old-school defensive style of the dependable (but boring LOL) San Antonio Spurs.

I laugh now remembering how he would chant “KOBE SUCKS” during all the Lakers games because he knew it would upset me, and how upset he was when Derek Fisher made that miraculous 0.04 second game winning shot against the Spurs. I was ecstatic when the Lakers acquired veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton to support Shaq and Kobe, and devastated when the Detroit Pistons pulled an upset and, against all odds, beat the Lakers in the 2004 NBA finals. (My brother was beside himself with glee).

When there were doubts about whether he would ever win a championship when Shaq moved to Miami, I never wavered. I knew Kobe could do it. He had that steely determination to win at all cost, even if he had to carry his entire team on his shoulders – and he had to do that for a while, while the Lakers attempted to rebuild.

2 championship rings later and all the naysayers were finally silenced.

I was lucky enough to be in London for the 2012 Olympics. The only ticket I bought was for one of the preliminary matches between Team USA and I can’t even remember which country now. I wanted to watch Kobe Bryant play, I didn’t care who he was playing against and how much I had to pay to do it.

Watching him on the court was every bit as exciting as I hoped it would be, and it remains one of the fondest memories of my life.

Kobe Bryant was the embodiment of my childhood. At the back of my mind, I have always been invested in his life and his career, even when I got too busy to follow the NBA games. When he announced his retirement I mourned with the rest of the world. I pored over the highlights of his final season and marvelled with the rest of the basketball fans around the world at how he, after 20 years, was still able to show us how. it. was. done.

His teammates spoke well of him and his rivals loved to hate him. He was a fierce competitor and he loved the game of basketball, genuinely loved it. He gave it all he had. I wish I had that kind of fire, that kind of passion, for my life’s work.

I’m not going to mention that infamous rape accusation. It seems silly and inappropriate to drag up something that was settled out of court in light of recent events. I will, however, comment on the impact he’s made to the league, to basketball fans, and the millions of young impressionable boys who shouted his name every time they attempted to shoot a fadeaway (or shoot a crumpled piece of paper into a wastebasket).

To be honest, I’m really not sure where I’m going with this post. I just know that I needed to get it off my chest, how devastating it was to learn about his death and that of his daughter Gigi. I think I’m upset – as I always am- by the absolute waste of a life cut short. They could have done so much more, the future was ahead of them and it was shining bright, and in the blink of an eye it was gone.

I guess there’s nothing left to do but end this post with words from the man himself:

Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep rolling.

Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020

Rest easy, Kobe. Mamba forever.

Posted in Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, sport

How To Get 100 People To Run In Six Easy Steps

Summer in London means people are more motivated to go out and be active.

Or so one would think.

Operating theatre staff are notorious for being reclusive and exclusive (even though in reality we really are a nice and sociable bunch). Tucked away in some hidden corner of the hospital, we probably see more blood than sunshine (morbid, much?), so as some kind of team building activity, I thought it would be a great idea for us to join the annual run organised by the Institute of Sports, Exercise and Health. 

As you can imagine, when I raised this during the daily team brief I was met with reactions that ranged from skeptical to downright scornful. Team building for most people means having a sit-down dinner and maybe having a few rounds of beer afterwards, preferably sponsored by surgeons and anaesthetists. But. You can do that on any ordinary day. This activity is actually a chance to get everyone out in the sun and running for charity. Think of the health benefits!

But no dice. People heard the word running and they literally ran away from the idea. So I had to get creative (and manipulative) and think about how I can generate enthusiasm for my idea. I thought if I could just get 30 people to sign up, I’d consider that a good turnout. This was about two months ago. Here we are 60 days later, the event has just finished and I managed to get ONE HUNDRED people from the department to run the race.

How did I do it? I honestly have no clue. I had several moments these past couple of weeks as I was sorting out bundles of registration forms and actually collecting money in the form of COINS when I thought to myself, what in the world was I thinking? The whole thing had totally run away from me (see what I did there?) and I was petrified that I would fail to organise this properly now that its turned into such a large-scale activity.

But we did it. And a good day was had by all. Looking back I think there were six key things that really made all the difference. And I thought I’d share it with everyone just in case you’re thinking of getting your own department to do something active, and also I want everyone in my department to take note so someone else can organise this next year! Lol

Plan a picnic

I think food is the fulcrum around which all of society spins. Its not love or money that makes the world go round, its booze (haha). So when my team and I said that there will be a picnic afterwards, people became more enthusiastic about the whole thing. We told people to bring food and drinks potluck-style, and my colleague Joanne volunteered to head the food committee. Instant attendance-booster.

Appeal to everyone’s naturally competitive nature

I don’t know about other departments, but our theatre team consists of some of the most competitive bunch of individuals I know. So we made a competition within the race, telling people to get into teams, and the idea was that the first group to get all five people within their team to the finish line wins a prize. Suddenly everyone was coming up with team names, printing their own t-shirts, motivating each other to train and of course, ragging each other about whose team is going to win (mine won, by the way, JUST SAYING).

Open it up to family and friends

Look, we already work five out of seven days in the hospital. Its really difficult to get people to voluntarily come on a Sunday; for free I might add. So we made sure to encourage people to bring their family and friends and turn it into some kind of Family Day so that those with kids can be persuaded to come. It was good to see people mingling and having the kids play with each other.

I often think that seeing someone in a social situation allows you to relate better with someone. In a stressful environment such as the operating theatres, there are a hundred and one ways for people to end up in some kind of argument. There’s also a hierarchy, and in some ways that hierarchy is there for a reason, but it also makes it easy for people to forget that at the end of the day, we’re all human. We have more in common than we think.

Okay, I got a little bit sidetracked there. I was just really chuffed to see families interacting. It really warms the heart.

Un-complicate the process

I’d like to think that I have good insight and people skills. I have a sort of innate understanding about how people think and how to best get them to cooperate. And I know that in order for everyone to stay enthusiastic, I should take out as much of the administrative work as I can (and inevitably, have them fall on my shoulders).

So I asked ISEH if there was any way we could register as a group (this was back when I thought I would have at most 30 runners) and they were so great at helping me find a way to make it easy for people to sign up.

Of course, I did spend the last three weeks collecting registration forms, chasing people for payment, counting change and putting names on an Excel spreadsheet, but I looked around the number of happy, smiling faces today and I have to say, it was worth it.

Make running less intimidating

Honestly, when I first started running I never thought I could even finish a 3k, let alone a 10k (which is the longest run I’ve ever done to date). And I think most people feel that way. They think running is just for the fittest of individuals and that they’re too slow to participate.

Every time someone came up to me who was hesitant about joining the run, I told them, look, its not about finishing first or finishing within a certain time. The point is to do it, and even if you finish behind everyone else, even if you finish last, you still finish. That is an achievement in and of itself because on a Sunday, half the population of England are on their couches (or in a pub somewhere watching the Football World Cup).

Even if you choose to walk a 5k, that is literally 15,000 steps. It can be done in like an hour and a bit, which is still a good time for finishing a 5k run especially if you don’t run regularly or you’ve not trained. Also, it was good of ISEH to have a 2.5k option – especially for the kids – because that’s really what the majority of the our team chose to do.

It takes a village

The idea might have been mine, and I may have done the leg work, but this would never have been organised if I hadn’t had help from my team and if people didn’t embrace the idea. I’m really thankful for my bosses who were so supportive, and who actually came and ran themselves. It was also great of them to buy medals so we can have our own awarding ceremony. I’m thankful to everyone that came, period. I think everyone deserves a round of applause at this point.

At the end of the day, we were all there to support each other and have a good time. I lost track of the number of people who passed by me and took the time to slow down and give me encouraging words or a thumbs up sign. One of our theatre leads actually crossed the finish line AND THEN went back to encourage and motivate the rest of his team, it was awesome.

 

I’m realistic enough to realise that all the problems of the world, and the NHS and our department in particular, will not be solved by one little fun run. But i genuinely hope, at the risk of sounding too corny or maudlin, that we can keep the momentum going and be able to see work a little better with each other than we did before this run.

And if not, well, there’s always next year. 

Thank you everyone for your support!  🙂