Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holidays in China

I did a bunch of reporting for a WSJ Weekend section piece on celebreating the holidays in Asia. I enjoyed the work and did some good stuff but most of it ended up on the cutting room floor. Here it is, vignette style... some of it would have ended up in my last column had I known it wasn't going to otherwise run.


Not all Chinese are enamored of the nation’s growing interest in Christmas. “It’s not real,” says Dong, an English teacher who lived in London for five years and enjoyed the Christmas season there, finding it full of a spirituality sorely lacking in his home country. ”Starbucks, McDonald’s and Christmas are all the same to most people here – they just like foreign things. People don’t understand what the holiday means. It’s just fashionable, big fun.”

**

The small but close-knit Jewish community in Beijing also gets together to celebrate Chanukah.

“It’s really exciting to meet Jewish people all over the world who share the same traditions and come together to celebrate Chanukah with them,” says Ilene Marks, an American who lives in Beijing. “It’s not isolating to be such a small minority – it actually breeds more togetherness.”

“It has also helped my kids feel special in a good way,’ says marks. “There are just a few Jewish families at their school and the teachers there embrace the diversity of the international student population, including Chanukah. I went into both of my kids to explain Chanukah to kids who largely had never heard of it.”


Last year, a giant menorah was lit atop the Great Wall last year, a collaborative effort between the Israeli Embassy and the Chabad House of Beijing (an outpost of the orthodox Lubavitch sect, which has 2,700 centers around the world).

“It was the first public Chanukah display in modern China,” says Chabad House Rabbi Shimon Freundlich. “The Chinese government was very enthusiastic about it as a means of developing the relationship between China and Israel.”

This year, a menorah was lit in downtown Beijing near the popular and beautiful Houhai Lake.

**


Just a few years ago, Western expats in China had to search high and low for Christmas trees. They were available in just one or two places, with a very limited choice of trees. Virtually no decorations were available and people who really cared brought them from home, or had them sent over.

“We moved to Shanghai in 1998 and there was one little place that had a small supply of Christmas decorations,” says Jacqui Cameron, a California native who now lives in Beijing with her husband and three sons. “In 2000, there was a change and trees appeared at the flower markets and then every year since then there has been more and more of a Christmas presence in China.”

Christmas came to Beijing a little bit later; just three or four years ago, you could barely find a tree here. There has been an explosion in Christmas items the last few years, due to both an exponential increase in Western expats and a growth in the number of Chinese celebrating the holiday.

“Every year it increases a little bit and that makes it a little easier for me,” says Cameron, who has lived outside of the US for 10 years. “I like seeing it all. I think about it more and feel the absence when there’s not Christmas decorations to look at.”

Cameron lives in a largely Chinese housing compound with just a few decorations. She enjoys driving through the large, Western-dominated compound across the street, which is strung with thousands of watts of Christmas lights.

“I think I actually celebrate the holiday more here than I would at home,” she says. “I feel an obligation to participate in it more f r my kids because I’m not home. Because I don’t go home for Christmas I feel I have to establish tradition for my kids, like I had. And I feel that it’s all on me to do. In the states, you go to the mall and it’s there. You drive down the street and it’s there. The schools make a big deal out of it. Here, there is so much less of that so I feel a big need to take it all on myself.”

**

At Beijing’s massive Lei Tei Flower Market [I need to verify the English spelling], signs of Christmas are everywhere. Inside and outside the sprawling building, temporary stores are set up to sell trees and decorations. And while many Chinese customers were browsing on a recent evening, Mr. Wen, the owner of one outside Christmas theme stall says that business is worse than he anticipated. He says that 80 percent of his gross sales go to foreigners. A lot of Chinese browse and quite a few buy, but they pick one or two small items, because they want a little sign of Christmas. The foreigners, he says, spend much more money, buying large trees and multiple decorations.

“Most of the Chinese who do want to buy anything have some overseas experience or else they are buying them for office or hotel decorations,” says Mr.Wen. “Those places feel like they need them,”

Just around the corner, at another Christmas store, Tommy Zhang and a work colleague were looking at trees, though they had no desire to have one in their own homes. “I have a PR company and we represent a large state-owned bank that wants a tree,” Mr. Zhang explained. “They are putting on a holiday show in a theatre for the family of VIP customers. They will be dancing to the music of Romeo and Juliet and they want two trees to make the right Christmas mood.”

**

People in the U.S. often fret about putting the Christ back in Christmas. Such angst doesn’t exist in China because Christ was never really there; the holiday is gaining popularity amongst young Chinese and it is virtually devoid of religious meaning.

Michael Bolton singing Christmas songs blasts through a PA, wafting over the sidewalk in front of Beijing’s Pacific Century Mall. Chinese customers walk around, admiring the large, even garish Christmas display, which features three live Santa Clauses who complement two mannequins, wire reindeer, complete with nameplates around their necks and large white faux church complete with imitation stain glass windows showing Jesus and Mary and other religious imagery. There is even a manger scene, but the browsers don’t seem to understand or note any difference between Santa Claus, Prancer and Baby Jesus.

A Chinese family poising in front of the church laughed when asked if it had any religious significance to them. “No, said the mother, who didn’t want to share her name. “It just looks so beautiful. We come here every year to take pictures.”

The display has been there for three years.

Inside the mall, there are signs declaring “Merry Christmas” and Happy New Year and a few Christmas trees scattered around, but there was no palpable buzz. The stores were fairly empty on a Sunday two weeks before Christmas.

Zhang Zheyu was shopping with her six year old daughter Liu Jing Lan, who was clutching a stuffed Olympic mascot doll, while her mother held a box of four more similar doll sin a bag.

“These are her Christmas presents,’ she explained. ”She picked them out – not surprises.”

Mrs. Zhang says she has celebrated Christmas for two years, first going to her Canadian English teacher’s house, then decorating her own after Liu learned about the holiday at her bilingual school nd asked for more decorations.

“We like to make the children happy and it is a fun holiday,” she says .”It’s not a religious event for us, but a time to have nice and pretty things and get toys for the children.”


***



While more Chinese are celebrating Christmas it is still essentially an optional holiday. People make vague plans and talk of getting together to meet some friends, go shopping or out for a meal or maybe visit a church, which is still an oddity in China.

"It depends on my feelings, if I have a very happy mood, I might really celebrate Christmas, if not, well, it's not a Chinese holiday anyway,” says Beijing resident Kelly Zang. “Most of the people have to work on that day, so it's ok without any celebration.”

Last year, one friend surprised her with a gift and she returned the favor with a scarf, but she remains unsure if she wants to exchange gifts this year. “maybe, maybe not.”

The big gift-giving holiday in China is Chinese New Year, which falls this year at the end of February. Then people will give each other the only truly acceptable gift – red envelopes filled with money.

Still, Christmas is at least inching beyond the Chinese elite. The sprawling Sunhe Market sits nearby many of Beijing’s largest expat-oriented compounds, northeast of downtown Beijing, but is a world apart, filled mostly with low rent stalls and frequented by few foreigners.

Two weeks before Christmas, there was no sign of the holiday inside the teeming stalls, but outside a lone vender sat in the parking lot selling somewhat sad-looking artificial Christmas trees and cheap decorations.

He smiled when asked if his customers were foreign or Chinese. “Zhong-guo ren [Chinese people},” he replied. “Before, Chinese people didn’t know Christmas but now they like it. Some like it – and they buy trees.”

He admitted, however, that his business wasn’t all that brisk, surely nothing compared to the real live conifers being sold at three or four spots just a mile up the road at the expat-dominated shopping plaza.



**

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Lots o' photos, NJ division
















Good thing a picture is worth a thousand words because I don't have the juice to string too many words together. Lots of new babies, lots of fun...

Final ski photos









As we stumble along on out exhausting but fun trip...

This was a great ski trip.. all three kids bought into it whole hog.. Jacob learned to turn and now looks like he is actually skiing.. his teacher was "uncle hill," a really fun guy... he had lots of pinkl\-clad girls in his class, which he enjoyed.. he told everyone to call him JP.

Eli was in love with "Princess Flor," his Aregentine teacher.. he improved as well, and dug it.. anna was right in there.. Dixie looks and skis great.. Suzie as well.. she is a good sport... and i would say pretty high ranking int he 70-year-old grandma division.

There was an avalanche which killed a skiier on the Hanging Valley Wall while we were there. That was scary and upsetting..

More soon...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

skiing photos






All is well here, in the anti-China. Tons of snow. Kids all digging ski school, including anna.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reunion with Javier Wong






I am working on a more extensive post about our early travels but things are going well though it its exhausting.

We are skiing in Colorado with my folks now and having a great time, making it through two days despite eli and anna being up in the middle of the night both nights we’ve been here, like 1-5 am. Still making it to ski school and thriving.

We came here after two days and one night in San Fran.. lots of highlights there.. stayed with di Kapp and Dave Singer and had a great time.. hugng with Lisa Russ and family in Oakland and had a great time.. and met up with Charles and LimingWwong and Javier, Jacob’s dear friend from Beijing who moved to Fremont, cal last summer. They came and met us a the Oakland Farmers Market and the kids did bouncy castles for 90 minutes. They all had fun and we did too -- very, very nice people. Really nice to see them and very satisfying to see Jacob and javy together.

Later, Jacob said, “It was like a miracle that I got to see Javier.”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I posted a story on Slam Online, which is basically my last That's Beijing column. You can read it here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My forum

Well, it's going to be a tough week to get any posting done. I have been busy, busy trying to get ready to leave on Friday. It will be a whirlwind trip and I am trying to get all my i's dotted and t's crossed before departing. That includes getting my next column largely done since we will be in colorado skiing next week when it drops. It is going to be a tie in with a big WSJ story on celebrating the holidays abroad.

They have people filing from all over for that and I sent in notes from here. I spent all Sunday afternoon with a news assistant as translator going to malls and the big flower market to report on it. It was fun. I will post my whole file once the story runs.

Also trying to finish up a few other things and pack etc.

Lastly, I have been spending a fair amount of time on my forum on wsj.com.

I would like that to succeed and I figure if I can help push it off to a strong start that will be help. Feel free to pop up there and browse around, throw up a post if you are so moved. Don't try to hide your connection to me though.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Old men playing chinese chess



I took this video the day I walked through the "there goes the neighborhood" neighborhood. This was a pretty sweet spot sitting hard between two huge construction sites. It will probably be gone in six months. Then these guys who have probably lived there all their life will get some compensation that affords them a house far away outside the city in some highrise with better plumbing.

Not sure what this game is called but you see people playig it all the time. I have learned the name 2-3 times and it always goes in one ear and out the other.

NOTE: I know the video is screwed up but I don't know why. The quicktime file is fine. I reloaded it to You Tube three times. Not sure what's up. Too bad. It's kind of cool in a sleepy hypnotic way.

More hoops video



This captures a bit of how agressive Chinese fans were in going for autographs. This was American Rashid Byrd, whom they really don't care much about. You should have seen them going after Yi Jianlin.

The horror



Came across this via Jed Sandberg's WSJ column, Cubicle Culture. Oh my. You can't get away with anything these days.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Terrible story

I somehow ended up following this story closely. Very, very sad.

San Francisco Chronicle
Searchers find missing dad's body

Peter Fimrite, Jaxon Van Derbeken and Marisa Lagos


James Kim Found Dead



(12-06) 17:04 PST GRANTS PASS, ORE. -- James Kim died in the southern Oregon mountains after what one rescue leader described as a "superhuman'' trek across nearly impassable terrain to try to find help for his family.

The body of the missing San Francisco man was found today, 11 days after his family's car became stuck on a side road in the snow and four days after he ventured off to look for help.

Kim, 35, died after picking his way nearly to the end of a steep, 5-mile canyon that leads down to the Rogue River in the Siskiyou National Forest west of Grants Pass. Wearing tennis shoes, he had to climb around boulders and over fallen trees in an dripping-wet environment where rescuers said they were wet within half an hour.

"Based on what the searchers were describing, the terrain they were working in, it seems superhuman to me,'' Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson said of Kim's effort.

A helicopter crew spotted Kim's body half a mile from where Big Windy Creek empties out of the ravine and into the Rogue River. Rescue workers had been focusing their efforts in the canyon for the past several days after following Kim's tracks there, and had gotten to within a quarter-mile of where he wa found.

"We are devastated," Anderson said at an earlier press conference in Grants Pass, about 20 miles east of where Kim died. "I'm crushed."

Kim first hiked about 5 miles up a road from where he had been stranded with his family for a week, then turned into the ravine. He had crossed from one side of Big Windy Creek to the other as tried to find a route down the canyon, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said.

Kim's body was found at a place where the terrain becomes impassable on both sides because two sheer cliffs line the creek.

"He was probably too weak to get back up out of there," Winters said.

"I admire his effort, I truly do," Winters said of Kim. "He has a lot of intestinal fortitude. He comes from the city without a lot of outdoors experience and he was tough on his feet, he was very meticulous. . . . He had a strong will to survive."

It's not known whether Kim knew that he was approaching the Rogue River, but authorities said he wouldn't have found civilization had he made it. The area is virtually uninhabited.

Kim was spotted by a helicopter crew that his family had hired, Anderson said. The body was taken to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab, where a medical examiner will determine the cause and time of death. Autopsy results may be released as soon as Thursday.

Earlier in the day, authorities said Kim had been leaving clothing and bits of maps in the canyon, apparently as a trail for searchers to track.

"He was motivated -- I mean, we were having difficulty in there," Anderson said. "That was what has so frustrating; we couldn't seem to get in front of him."

The discovery marked the end of a saga that was closely watched in San Francisco, where Kim worked at the tech news site Cnet, and around the nation.

Kim left his wife and two daughters Saturday morning to look for help, a week after the family became stranded off Bear Camp Road in the mountains between Grants Pass and Gold Beach. His wife, Kati, 30, and daughters Penelope, 4, and 7-month-old Sabine remained with their car, 15 miles down a dead-end logging road, and were rescued Monday.

"We want the Kim family to know that we appreciate all of their support -- they have been true champions throughout this whole ordeal," said Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings. "We just want them to know that our thoughts and our prayers have been with them from day one."

Hastings said that "the commitment by those involved in the search for Kati, for the kids and for James has gone nonstop around the clock. This is obviously extremely tough on those who have had an emotional commitment over the last several days here."

Winters also became emotional while talking about the family, noting that Kim's father, Spencer Kim, had been particularly involved.

"I admire Mr. Kim's love for his son," Winters said. "We take this very personally. (His father) was there, he was relentless in his support of us. When he looks you in the eye and says he is depending on you, it's tough."

Authorities had remained upbeat about Kim's prospects for survival, despite temperatures that dipped into the 20s.

Rescue crews had dropped care packages in the area earlier today and on Tuesday. The packages, paid for by Spencer Kim, each included clothing, a wool blanket, gloves, waterproof overalls, flares, a flashlight, a hand-warmer and rations. Each package also had a letter from Kim's family.

The Kims left San Francisco on Nov. 18 for a combined vacation and work trip for James Kim. They spent Thanksgiving in Seattle with family, then went to Portland, where they had brunch with a friend Nov. 25.

The family then left on their way to a stopover in Gold Beach. At 8:30 that night, they ate dinner in the central Oregon town of Roseburg, where authorities say they intended to take state Highway 42 over to the coast.

However, they missed the turnoff, consulted a map and decided to drive the 55 miles down Interstate 5 to Grants Pass. There they turned onto Bear Camp Road, which is lightly traveled even in the summer and often is closed in the winter.

It was stormy, and around the 3,000-foot elevation, about 50 miles from their intended destination, James Kim turned off onto the logging road. He drove several miles before stopping.

The Kims ran the engine of their station wagon to power its heater, and when the gas was gone, they burned the tires. They ate what little food they had, and Kati Kim breastfed her two daughters.

Kati Kim was spotted Monday afternoon by a private helicopter pilot.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Visa renewal

We had a pretty classic trip to the police visa station yesterday.. I wrote about this place last year.. you go in and it’s just a huge hall filled with people and I mean filled. All foreigners have to go there to renew their long-term visas, but it is 90 percent or more Chinese. I’m really not sure exactly what they have to do there.

I picked up my new passport yesterday morning then headed back to Becky’s office to pick her up and head over to get our visas with Mr. Dou. The thing is, we have to submit voluminous paperwork which includes officially printed out and “chopped” (stamped) documents from Beijing Riviera stating that we live here,. There is one for each member of our family and the kids are all attached to mine.

So after I picked up my new Passport I went to Becky’s office to make a photocopy of it and finalize getting all our papers ready and then we realized that all of our resident papers for me and the kids are already printed out on official stationary and chopped with my old passport. So I realized I was probably hosed – I had a new passport and no official documents showing residency with that number on it.

I asked lily, the office manager, if I should even go and she thought for a moment and said yes, but you may have to have Mr. Dou take you to Riviera and get new documents and return to the office this afternoon.” Then she wrote the new number on the document, along with a note explaining the situation more or less. And then Becky and I got in the car with Dou and headed over.

Now, Dou is the driver but he is more than that. He is like the government affairs administrator. He runs interference on all this stuff and on this day he turned in an absolutely bravura performance. Becky and I figured there was zero chance of them accept in the paperwork for me and the kids. They don’t play with the chops here. No chop means no document.

We got up there and Dou just blew off this long line of Chinese people and sort of shoved our documents into the hands of one of the officers, whom I recognized as the Slam lover from last year. [ Remember this? -- scroll down almost to the very bottom of the page to see the Slam chop.

Dou hands him this big stack of papers and leans over the counter, chatting him up amiably and spinning out a long yarn. The guy is laughing and smiling as he flips through the papers.

Realizing who he was, I then remembered that I had a copy of the New Chinese Slam in my bag, which the publicity director of Nike China had given me a few days prior. I pulled it out and started looking at it, intending to give it to the officer when I had the chance. I told Becky I thought he would like it. He looked up and said, “wo xi huan!” (“I like”). We all laughed and I gave him the magazine. He stamped everything with official Chops and handed all the papers back to Dou.

We had to cross the room to wait in another line to finalize the processing of the papers but this was the essential part where they are accepted or not. At least I think that’s the case. Who knows. We just follow Dou around and sign when and where we are told. But we were waiting inline and the Slam-loving officer approaches and says hi, says he and the other officers play a regular pickup game and he wonders if I might like to join them sometimes. I said sure, sure and gave him my card, urging him to call. I haven’t heard from him yet but hope he does call. That could be pretty classic. I may have to come up with a knee brace to fake an injury. For years, I was wary to play guitar in front of people since they would expect me to play like Eddie Van Halen and now I have to watch picking up a basketball. Funny.

Eli letter


Eli saw a picture of himself with Miss Deanna, his teacher from last year who has moved back to Florida and said how much he missed her. He decided to wrte her a letter. Here it is.

Jesse on the Mat again



Better results. I still can't imagine seeing my kid do this. Can't wait to watch Ben Kessler kick some booty though.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Holiday shows








Eli and Jacob had their big holiday shows the last two nights.

They were held in a large Chinese high school with a full on stage, huge auditorium, etc. The kids were very very excited and it all went off well. I think Eli was more fired up for this than anything ever. He did great,ear to ear grin the whole time. I wish I could have captured it. I took some videoand will get it up if I ever get around to it.

It was really sweet. His class did Mary Poppins. All the kindgergarten and first grade classes were in it, each doing different little parts of classics.. Peter Pan, The Ugly Duckling, Three Little Pigs, etc. Really sweet and cute and well done.

Last week or so I've heard a few mothers complaining about all the time and energy put into these productions but I totally disagree. I really like the school's emphasis on performance. Arts are not incidental to education.

Hell, 75 percent of life is performance and I think the confidence gained from being on stage at such a young age is tremendous.. not to mention the simple lesson of how you can master a seemingly impossible task by working together and practicing. I love it.

Could go on.. But I am tired and trying to finish my column right now.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dixie Update




Wow. What a world. Dixie and David Kann are on a ski trip in Aspen/Snowmass. They got out there when it was -5 degrees and 24 inches of new snow. Take the bad with the good. DK took this video of Dixie in Snowmass and emailed it to me here in China..I uploaded it to You Tube in, I guess, California. And now you can see it wherever you are.

I dare say there aren't many 71-year-olds with a reconstructed bladder and a titanium hip looking much better on their boards. Or at the subzero Glenwood Hot Springs.

All reports are they are having a great time though Dixie was quite concerned about DK constantly looking at his "walnut." (That would be his Blackberry.)

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or more willing to be way out there, as the case may be. Further evidence is this Thanksgiving report from Delaware Dave:

The Turkey Day pics capture things well. "Wall Street," dressed in a Randle-El jersey, frying a turkey while smoking a Cuban stogey in the Delaware rain. He definitely gets bull goose looney points. We missed you guys. Symbolically, we made an extra turkey for your family that went uneaten. Could have fed a Chinese village.

The highlight of the weekend may have been the trip to the bowling alley apre turkey. Dixie claimed to not have been bowling in 50 years. Well his muscle memory returned from Forward Lanes. He smoked us all in the 1st game with a 152, highlighted by 3 straight strikes in the final frame. To top it off he shimmied like Johnny Petraglia, doing a nifty dance in the lane every time he made a mark. To top it off he bought a bowling alley pitcher of beer which we enjoyed on a Friday afternoon.

Emma was talking smack about the turkey bowl for a full year. After 4 downs her and Sarah ran off to the playground. We played on a totally drenched field. Huge mud puddles. When I caught Dixies stop and go long on the opening play Jesse decided we were playing tackle and took me down in the mud. He is a smart kid but has yet to figure out the 1st play call, and most other play calls from Dixie, is stop and go long.

Or this from Wall Street himself:

Dixie went to the hotel at about 3pm on Turkey day to get ready for dinner. At about 5pm, after we had started frying the Turkey, Suzie became so distraught over Dixie's continued absence (only exacerbated by the unanswered phone call to the hotle room) that she
began to mobilize the troops. Just as Laura and Suzie stormed past the Turkey fryer with car keys in hand to go looking for Dixie, he pulls into the drive way - a call to the Delaware State Police was only narrowly avoided.

Dixie's comment to the commotion "I knew when
I missed that phone call trouble would be brewin'".

Suzie's and Laura's dash past the fryer was the
closest any of the risk averse Delaware guests got to the boiling pot of oil with the exception of course for Dixie who almost kicked the pot over during his first looksee (after which he was banned from coming within a three foot radius).

Jesse on the mat



Nephew Jesse Paul bravely sent me this video. I can't imagine watching my kid do this.

Jesse gets bonus points for referring to himself as Power Saw.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Last week's column

Soccer Season Turns Into
'Bad News Bears' in Beijing

Soccer has been a big part of our social life in Beijing. Within a few weeks of arriving here, we had signed our boys up for Saturday soccer with Sports Beijing, an organization that runs a host of youth sports. Close to 600 kids from countless countries play soccer every weekend and we solidified a lot of friendships on the fields, helping us begin to feel a part of life here.

I signed up to coach both my boys, and while now-six-year-old Eli has yet to show more than a vague interest, the sport has developed into an important part of almost-nine-year-old Jacob's identity. We kept his core team together through two seasons last year, led by co-coach Scott Kronick, who has become a good friend since our random pairing. (He was also mentioned in my previous column1).

Unfortunately, we lost many kids this year, including Jacob's good buddy Lucas, who scored 90% of our goals. We had to start from scratch, without a star player to depend upon. Sports Beijing runs try-out-only development teams and the participating kids, mostly European, are emerging as real forces. Some teams had three or four of them. We had none.

[expatlife]
The mighty Sports Beijing 98 light blue Scorpions

There is one big difference between coaching youth sports in Beijing and New Jersey; in this highly diverse international community most teams have at least one kid with whom you can't communicate. The best instruction I could offer the German Swiss boy on our team last spring was constant yells of "Schnell! Schnell!" ("Fast! Fast!") Bad communication also contributed to our skewed team this year. Lucas wanted to play with us but was accidentally assigned to another team. On the first day I asked all the mothers if one would mind switching teams so that three friends could remain together. They all looked at me blankly. I sensed that those who understood me at all felt like I was somehow firing their kids, so I just let it go.

Help is always available for the Chinese kids with poor English skills but the Korean players, whose omnipresent mothers generally do not speak much English either, are more challenging. We had two such players this fall and I admire their pluck for being there, even while puzzling how to get through to them. Easier to coach was Cameron Lee, a newly arrived Seattleite who is one of the few girls in our age group and was the best player on our team, deepening the Bad News Bears vibe.

We lost our first four or five games badly. With the kids losing interest and Scott out of town, I abandoned my laissez-faire style in favor of stalking the sidelines, screaming at kids to run, attack, stay focused. My friend Greg walked by midgame, slapped me on the shoulder and said, "Take it easy coach. You look like you're about to pull a Woody Hayes." Hayes was the legendary fiery Ohio State coach whose career ended when he attacked an opposing player. That was a double insult to a Michigan man like me, but Greg was joking and the kids were clearly having a blast as I barked encouragement and instructions. We lost 2-1 and we all felt as if we had won, so I figured my new approach was the right one with this group.

The next week, we were decimated by the best team in the league, even with their coach, my friend Steve, pulling his stars back to defense halfway through. The score ran to 8 or 9 to nothing before Cameron took the ball full field and slammed a shot past the German kid who had scored three or four goals. He promptly told her he had let her score out of pity.

I was worried that this would sap their will but the kids responded the next week with another close loss. The year ended with a four-game 90-minute tournament and as soon as the first match began it was obvious that the whole team was playing with a newfound passion. The first two games ended in 0-0 ties and the kids were feeling good as we moved over a field and saw Steve's black squad waiting. Our players visibly slumped but we called them together and said, "You can stay with anyone if you play like you have been. You have as much right to the ball as anyone. Go get it!"

Then Scott and I walked off the field, just hoping not to get wiped out too badly. But the moment the ball dropped it was as if we had been transported to a feel-good movie. Our international band of misfits was playing with lion-hearted valor. Jacob anchored the defense, playing like a whirling dervish while his line mates, the Taiwanese Ethan and the Korean Ji Yoon displayed far more aggression than they had all year. They were meeting and reversing virtually every charge and when a shot did get by them, Scott's son Samuel made great saves. We continued to cheer them on, screaming to never give an inch.

One of the stars on the opposing team took off down the sideline, feeding another streaking player whose eyes grew wide as he spied a clear lane to the goal. But Jacob flew over, put his foot out, stripped the ball and fed it to Ethan, who passed to Cameron in the middle of the field. She took off toward the goal, with a clean breakaway, taking a strong shot, which the goalie snagged with a fantastic leaping save.

This game was now officially unbelievable and the parents were cheering wildly. A few minutes later, sweet, good-natured Korean Chet had another breakaway attempt foiled. We were dominating the action, and I suddenly found myself tearing up behind my dark sunglasses for reasons I can only barely fathom. I was just overwhelmed with pride that these kids were all putting themselves on the line, tapping into something I'm certain they didn't know was inside of them.

"You guys are like a different team," Steve told me. "No one has shut us out all year." The mother of his star player approached me, saying, "I can't root against my son but I can't root against your team either." Their elevation was that obvious.

Meanwhile, the game was dragging on at least 10 minutes beyond its 20-minute slot. Noting that my kids were losing steam, I encouraged them to stay focused while praying for a whistle. Black attacked, with three or four kids in front of our goal. Jacob took the ball, found himself boxed in and tapped it back to the goalie to control -- but it squiggled in. And just like that it became clear that this is real life eight-year-old's soccer and not a Disney movie. The whistle blew, about two seconds too late, as the other team hopped around in celebration and my guys glumly lined up to shake hands.

We gathered in a circle and I was happy to see that no one looked too dejected. Even Jacob felt certain he had made the best possible choice in a bad situation and no one else seemed to notice who had actually scored the lone goal. "I have coached two kids for four years," I said. "And I have never, ever been prouder than I am of you right now."

At least one kid wasn't buying it: "But we lost," said the friendly Hong Kong kid who seemed to live his life with a joystick in one hand and a candy bar in the other.

"I don't care. We've been telling you all season that winning doesn't matter. We only want you to play hard and have fun and this is what we meant."

They held it together for one more 0-0 tie, giving us an experience that I hope they will all remember. It's hard to imagine a winless season ending on a more upbeat note. Why do we all have our kids play sports? What are we trying to accomplish? We want them to have fun while learning the value of exercise, teamwork and consistent effort. I think that during these four games, every kid discovered a fifth gear they didn't know they had. If that knowledge stays with them, no matter how deeply buried … well, that's why we want our kids to play sports. And that's the same in any country and in any language.

* * *

Readers Respond

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Below are selected, edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, about buying celebrating the holidays in Beijing.

* * *

I am a 10-year U.S. expat in Osaka, Japan, and you have captured the Asian expat experience better than anyone else I know.

Your statement "kids...running wild through the streets in a manner more similar to what I did 30 years ago than to what you see in most contemporary American neighborhoods," was as usual spot on. We have a great Halloween celebration in the neighborhood surrounding the Osaka International School, and the older U.S. expats all agree that it reminds us of our childhood.

Watching my 5-year old run around in a costume with his friends and fill a large trick-or-treat bag with candy is an experience that he probably wouldn't have in the U.S. anymore, and it is priceless for us as parents to see the joy that he gets out of it. These are the times that I really love living here.

-- Steven Roberts

Thanks for all the kind words. For the record, my kids did some pretty heavy trick-or-treating in Maplewood, N.J. But there is definitely more roaming freedom here.

* * *

I enjoyed reading your piece about Jewish worship in Beijing. My husband, daughter and I lived in Beijing from 2000 to 2001, and then again from 2002 to the end of 2005. My daughter and I attend Mass at the Visa Section of the British Embassy in the Kerry Centre. I know that the Capital Club has service for a Christian group each Sunday, but I had no idea that the Jewish community worships there on a Friday evening!

I hope you will continue to enjoy your life in Beijing as we did our time there. We miss it a lot.

-- Maria Brown (now living in Australia)

Thank you. I will send your regards to Beijing.

* * *

We just moved back to the U.S. after a year in Pune, India. It's amazing how many parallels run through what is really a very different experience, in very different countries.

We were nowhere near as successful as you all in celebrating American holidays, probably because we only knew a handful of American families, who were scattered throughout the city. We skipped Halloween completely, but my husband really wanted to honor some of the holiday rituals around Thanksgiving. He had called me on a trip to the U.S. and asked me to bring a pie plate back to India, and on the day before Thanksgiving, he asked our cook to buy apples and then worked with her to figure out how to fire up our tiny gas stove. Later that evening, he pulled a beautiful apple pie out of the oven. Our cook seemed to think the whole thing was a little strange, but she withheld her comments. The next day, we cracked open the pie, took a big bite and … spit it out. The salt in India comes in large crystals, and my husband had mixed the apples with salt, thinking it was sugar. Our cook, it turned out, had snuck a small taste of the pie filling and knew it was inedible, but hadn't been willing to say anything that might possibly seem critical.

-- Cindy Carpenter

Constant misunderstandings are a daily part of life as an expat. That's a classic one. I hope your transition home has been smooth.

* * *

Oh, where do you buy the turkey? Never having seen turkey in a Chinese restaurant here in the U.S., I'm wondering whether Chinese eat it.

-- Tom Farrelly

You can get frozen, imported turkeys or fresh local ones, which I believe are raised and sold strictly for foreigners. There is no real domestic turkey market. Last year I asked our then-cook to get a turkey because he was always able to get good meat cheaply. He proudly showed up with a frozen Butterball.

* * *

My co-workers here in Kazakhstan, both locals and many other nationalities, got their first taste of Halloween this year. We had good fun scaring a few then making our peace by offering a piece of candy. Our bags of candy were all imported from the U.S. this year but with better planning we are hoping to expand on the tradition next year. My favorite time in sharing U.S. customs is at Thanksgiving; last year our local caterers put on whatever U.S. costumes they had to help us feel special while we had our dinner, something I was truly thankful for.

-- Rick Roy

Zip, zip, zip

Wow. Things are moving fast. It’s been a very hectic time here, and the days are flying by. W are leaving December 15 to go back for two weeks, a whirlwind trip that I sort of opposed though I am sure I will love.

It will also mark the halfway point of our stay here, which is hard to believe. I can already see how quickly these last months will zip by and I’ll be writing, “So. I can’t believe our time in china is done.”

Zip, zip, zip.

Dan hertzberg, second in command (I think) at the Journal ha been here for a few days and Becky has been running around with him, taking him to meetings, tours, etc so she hasn’t been around much the last few days and I’ve been largely flying solo in mornings and evenings. Kids have been good. I’ve only felt like unscrewing their heads once.

They have their Holiday shows coming up next week and Jacob and Eli are both incredibly, beyond belief overwhelmingly esxcited. Eli’s class is doing a few songs from Mary Poppins. Becky bought the DVD when she was home and he watches “Step In Time” as much as possible and sings and dances along. He also spends hours coloring and drawing again. I think he has a real artists’ temperment but we’ll see how that plays out.

Jacob’s class, along with all grades 2-5 is doing “Santa’s Rocking Christmas” which is somehow acceptable to us in China, though still mildly annoying,. He is one of Santa's Secret Service members and is also totally consumed by the play.

Friday, December 01, 2006

From the Archives: Spencer Haywood


This ran in Slam about seven or eight years ago.. one of my favorite Slam interviews I've done. Spencer is a trip. He called me endlessly as we were doing this story, to clairfy or expand up on various things.

Spencer Haywood’s life reads like an epic blues song. As with all real blues, it encompasses the darkest, most profound human emotions and experiences. And like so much of the deepest blues, it starts in the Mississippi Delta. For it was there, in the tiny town of Silver Springs, that Spencer Haywood was born in 1949, beginning his life’s journey in the belly of the segregationist beast. It was the start of an extraordinary life that would land him smack dab in the middle of a series of culture-defining moments.

The crushing poverty and racism of the pre-civil rights Deep South – Haywood was there. The ’68 Mexico City Olympics, when Black Nationalism came to the fore of the nation’s consciousness with the defiant gesture of John Carlos and Tommy Smith –Haywood was there. The desegregation of Southern collegiate sports – Haywood was there. The struggle for athletes to break free of the oppressive slave mentality which bound them to colleges for four years and to pro teams forever – Haywood led the charge, suing the NBA to rescind its ban on underclassmen. The scourge of cocaine, which almost sank the NBA in the 80’s -- Haywood was a tragic victim.

Tragic because before his downfall Spencer Haywood had a game to die for. A 6-9, 225-pound power forward who could run, shoot, block shots and rebound with the best, he played one year of D1 ball, averaging 32.1 ppg and a staggering 22.1 rpg for the University of Detroit. Then Haywood went to the fledgling ABA and dropped 30 ppg and 19.5 rpg, good enough to be named both MVP and Rookie of the Year. In ’70, he jumped to the NBA. His first year was truncated by legal wrangles, but over the next five seasons he averaged 24.2 ppg and 11.9 rpg and was headed for a Hall of Fame career before the demon drug sidetracked him. His numbers slowly slipped away until he was suspended from the Lakers and exiled to Italy in ‘81. A successful comeback the following year was again sidetracked by personal problems and maybe, just maybe, an NBA blacklisting.

But if Haywood’s story is a blues, it is not a tragedy. Not today, when he has become a successful Detroit businessman and a loving, providing husband and father of four girls. “This is a great time for me,” Haywood says. “And I appreciate every minute of it, because I know how fast it can all change.”

SLAM: You were originally from Mississippi. How did you end up in Detroit?
HAYWOOD: My mother sent me here when I was 15 to find a better life. My father died three weeks before I was born, and my mother struggled with nine children in the Delta, where the only things you have are blue singers and cotton fields. You can’t even find Silver City on a map. We’re just a flashing light and a general store, and one big cotton field. Education was not a priority because the farmers ran the school board and they wanted you in the field. We were sharecroppers, earning like $2.50 a day. If that sounds like slavery, it’s because it was.

When a young black man grows fast, they get you in some kind of trouble, say you looked at a girl wrong or cursed at a white person, and throw you in jail so you miss some school and fall behind. Scare the heck out of you so that you end up uneducated and afraid and permanently on the plantation. My mom didn’t want that, so she put me on a bus and my brother, who had already escaped and was a student at Bowling Green, picked me up and said, “We got to find you a place to go to school in Detroit.”

SLAM: How did you do that?
HAYWOOD: I went to the big summer tournament at Kronk, arriving with cardboard-patched holes in my shoes, living in my brother’s car while I played. I did really well against the high schoolers so they put me up against college stars like Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin and pros like Dave Bing. I held my own there, too, so Will Robinson, the coach at Pershing High, said, “I am going to be your coach and adopt you.”

So he became my guardian and I moved in with him until one of my teammates took me in. I had two adopted families and they learned the same thing: “He can play basketball, but he can’t read for shit.” I was almost illiterate. My mother always said, “Jesus will send you what you need not what you want.” Lo and behold, Dr. Wayne Dyer, a professor at Wayne State University who is now very famous now for his self-help books [including 101 Ways to Transform Your Life and Wisdom of the Ages] took an interest in me. We spent tortuous hours studying and learning behavior modification and slowly but surely I went from a D student to
C+ student to a B student.

SLAM: You were selected for the ‘68 Olympics, the first JC player ever to make it.
HAYWOOD: I had to petition the Olympic committee to be allowed to try out, then I was the first player picked. We won the gold medal and I was named MVP. In fact, my record for points, blocked shots and rebounds still stands even after the Dream Teams. But, man, those were some intense days, and I learned a lot about life in that short period of time. Remember, this is 1968, the year Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed, and the Democratic convention erupted into riots.

There were people picketing outside the gate saying that we were betraying black America by representing our country. Harry Edwards was in that group. We had a visit from Jesse Owens, who gathered all the black male athletes and questioned why we would want to make a demonstration. We said we wanted to show solidarity with the brothers in South Africa, and that we had to make some kind of statement. He sat back and paused for a second and said, “Young men, let me tell you something: you’re in the most important situation of your lives. Those people outside the fence are gonna go home and become professors and doctors and lawyers, and you guys will be left out in the cold. We had similar things going on when I ran against Hitler, people saying we shouldn’t be there.”

George Foreman looked at me, and said, “I know this -- when I’m in the boy’s home in Houston none of those fools are gonna come visit me. I’m going out and winning me a gold medal.” And Mr. Owens was right –look at Harry Edwards now, a consultant to Major League Baseball and all that.

SLAM:
Then John Carlos and Tommy Smith made their silent protest of holding up their black gloved hand on the medal stands.
HAYWOOD: Right. We all supported them and didn’t really think it was no big deal. Then, all of a sudden, Avery Brundage was on our floor telling them that they have to leave the Olympic complex immediately. It was pure chaos.

I’m sitting in the cafeteria eating my third dinner of the night -- George and I had an eating contest because neither of us had ever had all the food we wanted, so we kept eating and eating --when Howard Cosell sits down with me. I was feeling all big time when he put the camera and lights on and says, “What are you gonna do about the boycott?” My young head was filled with patriotic visions of saving basketball from the commies, so I said, “We invented basketball, we can’t let them win.” And he goes, “50-million people will be watching to see if you are right.” All of a sudden, I started thinking about how many people that was and those three meals started juggling around in my stomach and I threw up all over him.
I had been acting like a big, grown man, but I was just a 19-year-old kid. Suddenly I was laying in my room in a fetal position. They had to fly a private jet to Detroit to bring Will down and calm me down. In the gold medal game, I had 24 points, 14 boards and six blocked shots, and we kept the game safe from the commies. [laughs]

SLAM: Then you signed with the University of Detroit, thinking that Will Robinson would become the coach.
HAYWOOD: That was the agreement. After the Olympics, I was the number one amateur player in the universe, recruited by everyone. When U-D told me that Coach Bob Callahan was going to retire after one season and they would name Will coach, I was really excited, and I even brought guys with me from Trinidad, ready to do some damage. We got to number seven in the nation when we had a meeting and were told that we can no longer start five black players.

Coach Callahan—who was a god man caught in a bad situation – put his son Bob Jr. in and it caused so much dissension that everything started falling apart. Then they decided that they were not going to bring Will Robinson in but they were instead going to bring a drill sergeant in to instill discipline. I was really disappointed and wanted to leave – but I didn’t want to transfer and sit out a year and I couldn’t play in the NBA, because of the rule against underclassmen. Then a group of law students told me that it was illegal and we could win a challenge.

SLAM: Did you have any idea what you were walking into?
HAYWOOD: No way! I thought it would be simple because the rule made no sense. I just went on the premise that a hockey player, a tennis player or a baseball player can go pro when they want. Why did these rules only apply to football and basketball players, the only sports making money for the schools? And they kept talking about the importance of graduating and I knew that less than a third of basketball players were getting their degrees so that was pure nonsense. Some people said, “Don’t take this on. Just wait two years.” But my mother was still picking cotton in Mississippi, and it was an opportunity to get her off the floor. I didn’t even know if she would live two more years.

SLAM: You bypassed the problem initially by going to the ABA.
HAYWOOD: Yeah, I signed with the Denver Rockets. The ABA had the rule too, but they were desperate. I won outstanding player and Kareem was MVP and he decided to go to the NBA so they courted me pretty hard. Then I won every award they had so everyone said, “This can be done.” But I wanted to go to the NBA because the business in the ABA was sort of fishy and owners weren’t up front. Like, they’d say you had a $1.9 million contract, and it really was $100,000 for six years, then a personal service contract for $1.3 million from ages 50 to 70. So I wanted out, and I thought the NBA was ready for me, but when I went there all hell broke loose.
SLAM: What exactly happened?
HAYWOOD: First, it was disputed if I should be in the draft or not. The Lakers figured they should have had me, but the Sonics’ Sam Schuman said he had just cause in signing me, going by what he was told—that he was supposed to get the best player available. There was no free agency, but I created that. So I signed with the Sonics and that set the rest of the league against me along with everyone else. I already had suits filed against me from the University of Detroit and the NCAA and now the NBA itself. Jack Kent Cooke [Lakers owner] was like Adolph Rupp: “If I can’t have him, he ain’t playing in my league.”

They filed an injunction against me and every game we would go out for warmups, then the announcer would say, “Ladies and gentleman we have an illegal player on the floor and this game is under protest.” People would boo and sometimes throw stuff. Just when we were ready to go on the floor a guy would come up and say, “I need your autograph real badly” and slip me a paper saying, “You’re being served.” That was the work of Stern and his gang. [Current NBA commissioner David Stern was the league’s chief counsel.] Then I would usually have to walk off the court, hearing things yelled at me that reminded me of Mississippi. I spent many nights in the locker room and one time in Milwaukee they said that I had to leave the premises. I went to the bus, but the door was closed, so I had to pry it open. It was 15 below and I was sitting there shivering and crying and wondering, “Why is this so difficult? “ But I couldn’t give up. Remember, you had Muhammad Ali giving up his heavyweight crown to protest the war in Vietnam. It was a radical time, and I told myself, “This is what God chose for me. This is payback for making it of Mississippi alive, for all the good things that have happened to me.”

SLAM: Was anyone in the league on your side?
HAYWOOD: The players, the opposing coaches and the fans were all against me. The only people who kept me sane were my teammates Lenny Wilkens, who was player/coach, and Rod Thorn, who is now Stern’s right hand man. They were very strong individuals who tried very hard to insulate me. And Rod’s role was especially valuable, because it was one of the first times a white person had ever shown such kindness and consideration for me as a person.

SLAM:
What about opposing players with consciousness, like Connie Hawkins or Paul Silas?
HAYWOOD: Their consciousness stopped when it came to me. The only player who ever reached out to me was Kareem. He met me at halfcourt, hugged me in front of everyone and said, “Welcome to the league.” And that was on the eve of my victory, when it was clear I was gonna win. We went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Curt Flood’s baseball case was being argued next door at the same time. Difference is, he lost and I won. To give you an idea of the importance of my case, my lawyers were Jack Quinn, who had been an advisor to President Kennedy, Pete Brown, the former governor of California and Frank Rothman, who’s now the NBA’s head of legal counsel. We finally won the case and then the floodgates were opened for the NBA. Then the owners said, “This is a great thing, We have a huge pool of players now, so we’re gonna expand.” A few years later, you have Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entering under the Spencer Haywood rule.

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a great black hero, said to me, “This is a wonderful thing you’re doing, you have to stay strong. The players are gonna love you. You’re gonna be like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.” But today the players hate me to death, tell me to get out of their faces.

SLAM: Who said that?
HAYWOOD: Shaquille. I went up to shake his hand and introduce myself at the All Star game and he said, “Bullshit, get out of my face.” That made me feel like a piece of shit and basically he is no different than any of the other players. I’m still waiting for them to just stand up and say, “Thank you.” I thought it would finally happen at this big dinner for the 30th anniversary of the ABA. Bob Costas spent 32 minutes teasing Marvin Barnes about how many jails he had been in, but didn’t even mention my name.

My case changed the game more than anything else. Where would the league be if Bird and Magic and Michael Jordan hadn’t come out early? Everyone benefited from my case but me. I will not be nominated for the Hall of Fame, I will not be on the top 50 list. They’ve taken all of these things away from me, even though I left the NBA with 13 years and a 20-point average, because I was labeled a black militant. And that’s a hell of a label for a guy who’s really not that black and not all that militant.

SLAM: You developed a nasty cocaine habit. Do you blame your drug problems on all the stress the case put you through?
HAYWOOD: No, I made those choices and have to take the blame myself. I was drug-free until I got to the Knicks and met my former wife, Iman. Then I changed my circle of friends and was running with the beautiful people, who were all snorting cocaine. That’s how they stayed slim. They used to give models a vial of coke and tell them to do a line whenever they got hungry. And I jumped in because I was sick of being the militant outsider and wanted to be accepted. But it wasn’t a problem until I got traded to the Lakers.

Iman and I were at a big party in the Hollywood Hills with lots of well-known people, big show-biz types. We walked into the kitchen and there was this guy cooking cocaine with baking soda and a glass vial and he said, “Look, I’m purifying this cocaine.” He showed me how all the pure cocaine was coming to the top and all the crap was on the bottom, so, as stupid as it sounds, my whole premise was that it must be ok because it was organic. So I fired it up and the first time I got high freebasing was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I was hooked from the first puff, and I did it all night long. Next thing I knew, I was out there sitting with all the zombies, crawling around the floor going, “Where is there more of this?”

SLAM: So that was that.
HAYWOOD: Yep. I took a fast ride in a car with no bumpers or headlights heading into a wall. I started out averaging 26 points and 12 rebounds and went down to 17 and 7, then 7 and 4. It was pathetic, and I kept saying, “It’s got to be something else. It can’t be the drugs because they are organic.” But, of course, it was. I was lying to myself. And that lost opportunity hurts me more than anything. I was playing with Magic, who was just an absolute joy to be on the floor with, and Kareem, whom it had always been my dream to play with. It was a great situation for me, but I got trapped in this drug world and couldn’t find my way out. That was my biggest drug year, and that kills me. If I had been drug free throughout my career, there wouldn’t have been a power forward close to me.

SLAM: What did you have over Karl Malone, whom many consider the best power forward ever?
HAYWOOD: I could shoot the ball better, I could move much better, and I blocked many, many more shots. And my excitement and love for the game was much higher than I’ve ever seen Karl display. But unfortunately, when I came to New York, I threw myself into my marriage and started living the decadent lifestyle. I lost my zeal for the game, and started going downhill.

SLAM: What was your low point?
HAYWOOD: I was kicked off the Lakers for the final three games of the ’80 Championship Series because I went to [Coach Paul] Westhead and said, “I have a problem, and I need some help.” And they went, “Ah ha! You admitted it! We got you now.” And they kicked me off, when I wanted to finish the Series then get some help. You have to understand the times: a lot of people were doing cocaine. I mean, I had used with eight guys on the Lakers. The NBA started letting everyone get help but me, because of my background.

And then, these players, led by Magic -- who came in under the Spencer Haywood rule – voted me out of my playoff share. I played 76 regular-season games and all the playoffs except the last three games and they voted me no share. And the NBA Player’s Association allowed this to happen. Years later, I sat down with Magic, Kareem, Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon and they said, “You were doing so much that we thought you might die if you had the money and live if we delayed it.” And there’s something to be said for that, because I was very sick. This is my 14th year of sobriety now, and that’s a lot of meetings and church and praying, so you learn to accept a lot about yourself. It gets a little easier, but it’s a tricky disease.

SLAM: What happened after you left the Lakers?
HAYWOOD: I went to Italy and started to play strong again, and got some time under my belt away from drugs and the bad influences. I was playing some serious ball, and I loved the Italian people, who took me in as one of their own.

I played one season there, and started a second when I got an offer to come back and play for the Bullets. I averaged 13.3 ppg and 5.6 rpg and carried the team and thought I was a lock for Comeback Player of the Year, but –surprise!-- Gus Williams got it. Then the next year, I came back and was playing strong until I hurt my calf. Then two of my best friends died within two weeks and my wife was in a horrible car accident. I asked for some time off but they said no so I chose to take a leave of absence, and that was the last straw. They said, “That’s it for you buddy.” They weren’t going to give me any more chances. Then I slid back and got high again for about six months, so I went out to California and entered a program. It was the end of my basketball life, but the beginning of a new existence for me.

SLAM: You seem to have a whole new lease on life.
HAYWOOD: I really do. One of my advantages as a basketball player was I knew about hard work, because of my upbringing. As a young man I was so much older than my years because I had lived through slavery in Mississippi, picking cotton from sun up to sundown form the age of five, and living through the most tumultuous racism that ever existed. All that made me mature, and now I’ve applied all those lessons to my new life.

I have four daughters -- isis, shaaqira, nikiah, and zuleka -- and a wife to whom I am totally dedicated. And I have a business with my college roommate, Gary Stewart. We are in the auto supply business and my good friend Dave Bing was instrumental in helping us get contacts at Ford and get off the ground. I broke down some doors with the help of several very good people and some good things have happened. I thank the Lord for that every day. Having lived through the bad, I really appreciate the good. Though it’s not good to think about the days when I screwed up my life, doing so provides a barrier. I want to remember what can happen even when things are going great, so as to make sure they never happen again. Ever.