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My Favorite Villian

I love movies.  I love the escape that they provide from reality for 90-120 minutes at a clip.  I especially love the basic formula that is used to tell the story.  If you haven’t guessed yet, I am speaking of the age-old formula of “good vs. evil” that is the blueprint of most theatrical performances.  As a child growing up in the 70’s, every year I could see this formula play out in both of my Easter classics.  One being The Ten Commandments and the other was the Wizard of Oz.

Both had villains that we were introduced to in the very beginning of the films and appeared difficult, if not impossible, to defeat.  To keep things simple I will just focus on Dorothy and her nightmarish situation of waking up in another time and place with just her little dog.  Kids could identify better with her because the age gap wasn’t as far as that of Moses in Egypt.  Minutes into Dorothy’s saga, she is confronted by the evil, wicked witch whom we find very scary, intimidating and unbeatable.

After we are introduced to our evil villain in the first minutes of a movie, we then spend the majority of the film wondering how on earth our hero is going to triumph.  But time after time the hero finds some miraculous way to conquer evil in the waning moments of the movie.  It could be something as simple as a plain old glass of water; we have discovered that from the wicked witch’s demise in the land of Oz.

That all changed for me 35 years ago in the summer of 1977.  My dad took me to the movies for the first time (he left my mom when I was 4) and it just happened to be the blockbuster film that I had heard so much about…STAR WARS!  All I knew for sure is that there was this awesome scene where chess was being played on a board by live creatures.  The rest was all a great and spectacular surprise to my 9-year-old eyes.

Moments into the film we meet our villain and he was like no other bad guy I had ever seen on-screen.  His height, his gait and that voice had me quaking in my Dolby stereo implanted seat.  As soon as we meet him he is killing people with his bare hands and also this mysterious power known only as the “force.”  Immediately my mind starts to wonder how on earth are the good guys going to defeat this evil?

Only this time the evil villain would not be defeated by the good guys before the credits rolled up the screen.  How could this be?  Good has to triumph over evil because that is the only formula this kid has ever known.  But George Lucas had other plans for his fans as he put together the best trilogy to grace the big screen.  And not only does the dark villain, now known to us as Darth Vader, survive the first chapter of the saga, he comes back in the “Empire Strikes Back” (my favorite of all six films) as mean and as ruthless a bad guy as I had ever witnessed.  The guy cut off his own son’s hand for goodness sake.  Then he coined a phrase that will live in moviegoers eternity when he uttered, “I am your father!”

As you can see, I could go on all day about Lord Vader and his evil antics but what the first trilogy left me asking myself was what could have happened to him to turn him into such an evil monster.  Well Mr. Lucas gave us a wonderful back story about how Lord Vader came to exist.  And in 2005, at a midnight showing no less, the reason was revealed…it was love.

Darth Vader chose evil over good so that he could save the life of his wife and unborn child (she did have twins but that was a surprise to everyone).  How many times has history shown us that behind every great moment was a love story?  Love of a woman/man or love of freedom and country have been common themes since the beginning of time.

Darth Vader…evil personified

But today I have a new favorite villain to watch as he conquers his foes on the hardwood of the NBA.  His name is LeBron James and I have watched this man dominate the sport that he loves for more than a decade now.  But to so many people, two summers ago he became the biggest villain in the sport of professional basketball.  Why?  Because he made a choice that he had every right to make as the most sought after free agent of modern times.

Criticize the way he went about it all you like, but at the end of the day he made the best decision for himself, his family and his basketball career.  So many of us are not able to make those kinds of decisions in our entire lives and then this hometown kid decides to take his talents to South Beach and join forces with his buddies on a quest for multiple championships.  Had I chosen to leave my firm when I was as hot as he was in year 7, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would still be at the top of the corporate world today (that “two comma” income did allude me).

In year one of his journey he made the conscious decision to embrace his new villainous role and play with an angry chip on his shoulder.  He even made an awesome commercial about it with his team from Nike.  That earned him boos in almost every arena in the league whenever he touched the ball.

He played hard that season but made a habit of not finishing as strong as he was capable of and his “hater” ranks grew stronger as he failed in the best of seven against the Dallas Mavericks (the Mavs got even from their previous 4-2 loss in 2006 to the Heat).  So this year he had to constantly hear that he couldn’t get it done, about his “Decision” and his prediction of multiple championships (those other two guys said it too).

He could have been unbearable when he finally got the chance to hoist the trophy but instead he was grateful and humbled by his team’s triumph.  He knew that he couldn’t do it alone and he chose the team that he knew he could get it done with.  That line of thinking got him labeled the ultimate villain and that was unfair.  LeBron knows more than anyone that life is unfair at times and he does his part to level the playing field.  This year he made a commercial pleading with young people to stay in school and get an education.

Mr. James, you became the type of villain that, when it is all said and done, there won’t be anyone around to claim that they ever hated you.  I look forward to you leading our country to Gold in London and your next NBA campaign as you embark upon the hardest challenge in pro sports…repeating as champion.

Lord Vader made a tough decision that led him down an evil path that forever cemented him in our minds as the top member of the Evil Hall of Fame.  LeBron James made a tough decision that will cement him in our minds as one of the greatest to ever play the sport and a guaranteed Hall of Famer.  For different reasons I have found a way to love them both.

LeBron James…NBA Champion

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Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Business, Life, Love, Movie, Sports

 

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The Train

The story comes in many varieties but it always ends the same way…with a missed opportunity.  If you’re lucky, I mean really lucky, your chance may come around again but the odds are not in your favor.  My favorite story that I like to tell others about missed opportunities is “The Girl on the Train.”

If you are a guy reading this, you have probably been in this situation at least once in your life and missed out.  You are on the train and a beautiful girl catches your eye.  You stare at her intensely until she glances your way and then you look away and play like you were not aware of her.  Your initial hope is that she gets off at the same stop you are so that you can win some sort of dating lottery.

This “staring and then look away” game goes on stop after stop as your prayers are repeatedly answered as she doesn’t rise from her seat to get off the train before you.  The knot in your throat tightens as your own stop is drawing closer and closer.  You wonder if she is really going to get off at your stop because, of course, that is when you plan to make your move.

Suddenly, your stop is next and she is making no preparations to get off of the train.  Now your mind starts to race with questions.  The biggest one is why you didn’t make your move several stops ago.  Now there is no time for a rushed introduction because the train will soon stop and your  momentum, should you gain any, will be lost as you exit.  And remember, you are still not even sure that there is any interest from her side.  Oh, what to do?

You decide to not take the chance and just rise to exit the train for your stop.  After you pass through the double doors and find yourself on the platform, you can’t help but take one more look.  You look at her, she looks at you for what seems like hours, and then she knowingly smiles to let you know that had you shown the courage you would have been rewarded.  Of course that smile comes as the doors close and the train is pulling away with you powerless to stop it.

This is where the accounts can and usually differ.  When that happened to me many moons ago, my next move was to look at my watch and note the time.  If I could be on that very same train at the very same time tomorrow I would be able to have my chance encounter, right?  Wrong. The truth is I will probably never see her again and another agonizing truth is that I don’t deserve to.  She’s thinking, “he had his shot and he didn’t take it.  Too bad…maybe the next one will have the cojones needed to ask me my name and number.”

Two summers ago, LeBron James was on the same train and he did the courageous thing.  He asked her for her name and number.  She said her name was Miami and gave him a number that started with area code 305.  For seven years LeBron had been taking the same train in Cleveland and ending his season without the championship he coveted.  The only way to break that cycle in his mind, and in my opinion, was to start taking a new train that had a different destination with different passengers.

LeBron James has already made it to the top of the mountain in one sense.  He has become like the teams and the players that everyone tunes in to see whenever they are on television.  The Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, and the Los Angeles Lakers are 3 of the teams that everyone tunes in to see.  Most want to see them win but many want to see them lose.  Either way the games are almost always highly anticipated and highly rated to boot.

Tiger Woods was, is and will probably always be the golfer that everyone tunes in to see win or lose.  First because of his greatness but more recently because of his human failings.  Kobe Bryant sort of fits that same mold as Tiger but he managed to get new sponsors, get more rings and gain even more popularity since his legal troubles of a decade ago.

LeBron James is disliked for exercising the freedoms that we would all like to have.  He honored his contract and then he took another train.  We, not me necessarily, just didn’t like the “way” in which he chose to make and then announce his decision to the world.  He’s gone on record as admitting he would change  some parts of the process if he had it to do over again but I liked his decision to join his friends and go for it all in Miami.

The major hangup was, and will probably always be, the arrogance surrounding the “Decision” and then the “Promise.”  At the end of the day, people always want you to do things the way they would have done them if given the chance.  Those people just need to get over it.  LeBron James did not leave the Cavs with nothing like it is always reported.  He allowed the Cavs to sign him and then trade him to Miami for future draft picks.  He did not have to do that.  He could have been a jerk like his former team owner was very upset over the news he was losing his superstar.

It is not always easy to know when you are on that fateful train in life but ask yourself if you will have the courage to ask her “for her name and number” or will you let the train pull out of the station.  You only get one life so I say live the one with the least regret and the one that says you left everything you had out on the playing field of life.

 
 

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BE (Be Exceptional)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” ~ Anonymous

One of my favorite quotes is stated above.  I love that quote because it lays out a truth that I believe lies in all of us.  We are all, in some form or fashion, exceptional at something.  What I find that most exceptional people do is hide from their exception in order to fit in with their surroundings.

This past week my soon-to-be 10-year-old son and I were talking about the upcoming NBA draft.  My son tells me all the time how much he wants to be drafted into the NBA right out of high school like Kobe and LeBron.  I tell him that the current rules won’t allow for that to happen.  He believes they will make an exception for him.  I will use his desire to his advantage.

My son Tre is an exceptional young man.  He has a name that he shares with only two other human beings.  He is left-handed and is learning every day that he has a definite advantage over his peers on the field of play.  He is smart as a whip and he has a great sense of humor but most of all he is a fierce competitor.  In fact, he is an exceptional competitor.

We introduced Tre to sports at a very young age.  He started his flag football career at age 4.  He was not allowed to play on the team in actual games until age 5 but he worked out with the team regularly until the season began.  Once the season started though, he couldn’t stand not being able to play in the actual competition so I ended his torture.  The following season he played cornerback in a league that doesn’t really throw the football.  They are just 5 and 6 after all.

So he was bored out of his mind in the defensive backfield most plays and really had an uneventful flag football season.  After the last game, the coach approached me and told me something shocking.  He wanted Tre to be the quarterback next season.  I knew that he would be great at the quarterback position because he would be forced be engaged in the game throughout.  The quarterback touches the ball every play so you can’t take any plays off.

Tre led his team to the Super Bowl that season.  In order to get there though he had to bring his team back from 5 points down with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter.  With time winding down from the continuous running clock, Tre took the snap and then promptly fumbled the ball onto the turf.  Without a moment’s hesitation he scooped up the football and galloped sixty yards for the winning touchdown. To this day, everyone who watches the video clip wants to know how I managed to film his run while everyone around me was losing their minds.  I don’t know I just kept the camera locked on him until he stopped in the end zone and then strutted…my boy.

The only thing that would have made his score more dramatic is if the clock had gone to zero.  It didn’t so all Tre did was go out on defense and make another game saving stop to preserve the win.  He was so cool at six and the game announcer fell in love with his name that evening.  The feeling of being his father that night was amazing.  Hearing other fans yelling your child’s name at a competitive event is indescribable.  You tingle from head to toe and tears well up in your eyes.  Other dads give you a pat on the shoulder for a job well done and you just kind of take credit in stride.

The following season Tre moved up to tackle football from the flag level.  The coach’s son was the QB so Tre was back on defense and football kind of lost its shine with him.  “No problem,” said Tre, “I will just play basketball.”  We signed him up for a league at the Y in our neighborhood and it wasn’t long before our son was dominating his teammates as well as his opponents.  The problem with the Y was the structure was loose, the baskets were lowered and stealing the basketball was not allowed.

After watching Tre run all over the court doing everything but dunk the ball, we were starting to get looks from the other parents instead of praise.  Then one game Tre made up his mind he was going to score 20 points and he was well on his way when the coach yanked him from the game in the 3rd quarter.  The coach was starting to feel the heat from the other parents. Tre pouted on the bench for the remainder and then did not shake hands with his opponents, as is customary, at the final buzzer.  That day his AAU basketball career was born.

AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball was where Tre would hone his skills.  The competition is top flight and almost every weekend there is a tournament somewhere that involves a shiny trophy.  Tre was challenged at every turn in AAU because as a 2nd grader he was playing against 3rd, 4th and sometimes 5th graders in these tournaments.  The coaches often schedule against older kids so they can toughen their own teams up.  It works.  If you get beat by 4th and 5th graders on a regular basis then when you play kids your own age you have a definite confidence edge.

Tre had a good first season with his team until his coach defected to another AAU club due to politics.  Tre’s team was disbanded and he landed on a 4th grade team.  He worked hard in practice and during his very limited game time minutes until one day, in a tournament championship, the coach decided to start Tre.  They won the trophy that day and my son had his first taste of AAU victory.  He was hooked.

Tre put us on notice soon after that baseball was out (to the dismay of the little league coaches that wanted to draft him 1st) and football was on life support.  He moved up to a new grade level and with that a new coach.  It is always a good sign when the “team mom” is the spouse of the coach.  That demonstrates stability and the likelihood of a season without a lot of parental drama.  Of course the coach’s son is on the team as well whether he’s the best or the worst.  I love that dynamic.

Tre had an even better season with The Warriors that culminated in a national tournament at a huge sports complex in a North Dallas suburb.  His little brother and I drove the four plus hours to the event and it was huge and intimidating.  Tre saw first hand the big business that was competitive basketball.  The clocks, the refs, the structure was all at the highest level we had ever seen and it was exciting.

The team easily won their first few games on the first day and everything was fine as the Warriors were rolling to getting a high seed in the single elimination phase of the tournament.  Then the team ran up against a tough group from out-of-state and Tre found himself waiting at the scorer’s table to be subbed into the game.  The coach was down on the scoreboard and decided to stay with his starters.  For the first time in his young career, Tre didn’t play one minute of the game.

The Warriors lost their first non-elimination game and my boy had tears coming down his little cheeks.  “Coach said he was going to put me in but he didn’t,” he said.  I told him that the coach was more concerned with winning the game than giving him playing time.  I told Tre that he had to stay engaged in the game and especially when he was on the bench.  If he looks your way and sees you are not paying attention he may just leave you on the bench.  Tre swore that day he would never be left at the scorer’s table again.

His next few games he played like a man on fire and then I heard some of the parents calling for Tre to get back in the game to get more steals and more blocks.  See Tre is a tall kid who is an inconsistent shooter but his defense is the best.  He is the guy you can put on the best player and Tre will shut him down.  I told him the basket can be fickle sometimes but your defense always has to be present.  You notice when he leaves the game  and I told him that’s the mark of an exceptional player.

It was now Saturday night and the Warriors found themselves one win away from the Final 4.  The tournament took the Final 4 honor so seriously that you could only buy a  Final 4 t-shirt if your team made it…wow.  The Warriors were up against this team from Arkansas that was loaded with talent.  They had blown away everyone they played by at least 20 points and they had that look in their eye that the Warriors were next.

Unfortunately for us, our starting point guard and our starting shooting guard got stage fright.  The point guard was scared to dribble after getting stripped a couple of times and the shooting guard was scared to shoot after getting blocked a couple of times.  At the half we were only down by two points and the boys from Arkansas found themselves unable to blow us out.  The two guards never fully recovered and we lost the game by just 4 points.  Tre played well and didn’t express too much disappointment towards his frightened teammates.

He loved the experience and left the north Dallas suburb of Frisco knowing he could compete at the highest level.  He thanked me for taking him on the best trip of his life, we hugged and I kissed him on his forehead.  Of course I caught that one tear that ran out of my eye.  We celebrated our accomplishments that night and made the long drive back home to Houston the next morning.

Tre Medearis (left) and his teammates celebrating another AAU tournament victory…one of many.

I remember growing up in school and having to cover my test scores and other grades so that I wouldn’t feel like some kind of freak.  I was weird and a nerd until 5th grade.  That’s when I was identified as being gifted and was entered into the best magnet school in our public school system.  My life was different because I was now surrounded with kids that were just like me…exceptionally smart.

But now I had to function in two worlds.  I had to get up before the sun, catch a bus and two trains to arrive at school on time.  Then when I would come home in the afternoon the sun would be on its way down.  I would go out and play with my friends and hear the ridicule from at least one person on a pretty regular basis.  Luckily for me I was one of the better athletes on the block so even though I was a nerd I was one of the first guys picked.

No one could hit a baseball farther than I could and nobody had better hands when it came to catching the football.  Wasn’t the best shooter on the court but I could block shots and rebound better that anybody.  My exception was not my ability to play sports but the grey matter lodged between my two ears.  I knew that because I was born with asthma and my single parent mother was not interested in seeing her only child laying on a football field gasping for air and losing his life.

It took me a long time to figure out that I was an exceptional person.  I knew I was different and because of that I tried to fit in with my peer groups.  Being exceptional is better than being different.  It is a recognition of your God-given talents and maximizing them to their highest level.

I have tried so hard to bring others over to my different world not realizing that they were often times missing that much-needed ingredient of “being exceptional.”  Why build a team with average players that you have to coach up when you can coach a team with great players and actually just enjoy coaching?

Ever wonder why only one out of every 100 people finds a way to earn $100,000/year or more?  Is it because they are better?  No, it is because they are exceptional.  They make it because they believe that they can.  Ask yourself what have you ever accomplished without belief in your ability.  I believe that everyone has at least one exceptional ability and if they embraced it instead of running from it they could have the life that they really want to live instead of the life that they are “stuck with.”

Later this month, the NBA will add 60 players to their ranks.  These 60 players will come from all over the world, not just these United States.  The odds of making it to the highest level of exceptional basketball play are difficult to calculate but it is obvious that the 60 that get picked this month will believe in their exceptional abilities.

As long as my son Tre continues to embrace his exceptional talents and realizes that his dream to play at the NBA level is within his belief system, I am confident that I will one day hear his name called as a member of that very elite group of 60 exceptional athletes.  I won’t bet against him…that’s for sure.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Business, Life, Relationships, Sports

 

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