Day 176 – Casual beauty

I love the Englewood Metropark.

This is no secret to any of you dear readers, as I often play disc golf there. Lord only knows how many rounds I’ve thrown there — couple hundred, easy — but in the last 10 months or so, I’ve also taken to simply walking around the park.

The scenery is astounding, full of lush greenery that shines bright on a warm summer evening. It’s relaxing — today’s pace was set to “recovery”, as the throttle ramps up tomorrow — and refreshing while also enough effort to burn some calories.

I spent over an hour out there tonight, moving around, enjoying a podcast and soaking up the beauty of God’s creation. It’s nice being outside, especially on a reasonable Ohio evening in June.

Soak it up, kiddos. Winter is always coming.

Day 175 – Big Foot

I went for a walk tonight in town, and along the way this song came on:

“Big Foot” is a sweet tune, man. Love the sound of Chickenfoot, a super-talented group of rock and roll awesomeness. Joe Satriani is a killer guitarist, one of the best in the world. Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith have sold millions and millions of records as solo acts and part of Van Halen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, respectively.

Crank it up. Loud.

Day 174 – A dive into the NBA

In my youth, I wanted to write about sports. I didn’t have a sportswriting hero, but I liked stories and I liked sports, so a marriage of the two seemed an obvious route. I dabbled in it for a bit, but ultimately found I didn’t like how that life was shaping up.

But — now I have a blog! Given that the NBA offseason is ramping into high gear, and as my appreciation for the sport grows and grows, I felt like writing about it. The game is at a high point in some ways, with an abundance of stars and teams worth attention.

And so here I present to you, my list of the 5-best NBA players in the world. The criteria is, for one season, who are the best players to build a team around.

5. James Harden – PG/SG – Houston Rockets

Nope — no Russell Westbrook. He carried a team to a hapless exit in the first round, made exactly zero of his teammates better and dresses weird (last part doesn’t count). Pass.

But, you could also say that Harden’s team quit like a bunch of punks en route to a blowout loss at home to the Spurs to finish their season. And, well … you’d be telling the truth.

But Harden isn’t Russ — he involves his teammates, for one thing. The Rockets are driven entirely by The Beard’s excellence, but that excellence involves great looks for the shooters that surround him. He’s a devastating isolation scorer, as creative and crafty as anyone in the league in awhile, a superior version of Manu Ginobili.

Both him and Westbrook are indifferent defenders, but given their offensive responsibilities, such things can be forgiven. Harden was my pick for MVP, meaningless as such an award might be.

The problem with Harden is simple. He’s shown an unfortunate tendency to underwhelm in the playoffs, twice now offering up terrible performances in key moments. That sort of thing can become a bad trend real quick, and until Harden lights up a pivotal playoff game that conversation will continue.

4. Stephen Curry – PG – Golden State Warriors

The best shooter ever and an underrated defender, Curry remains the gravitational force that allows the other Warriors to shine. Defenses are forced to focus on him, because even a momentarily lapse can be back-breaking.

His shot is quick, effortless and deadly, able to hoist from anywhere. Seriously. Anywhere.

Curry is uniquely skilled at finding space, making him a true pain in the ass to guard. He’s also a crafty ballhander, more clever than athletic but overall dangerous enough to even dance on the King:

Curry looked healthy in the Finals and took pleasure in thrashing Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson off the dribble, perhaps as payback for an underwhelming performance in the 2016 Finals. He was back to being the Chef, and as such the Warriors were all the more dangerous.

3. Kevin Durant – SF – Golden State Warriors

Perhaps the most complete scorer in NBA history (to be fair, if Michael Jordan played in this era, he’d have developed into a knockdown shot from range — he simply didn’t need to in the 80s and 90s), Kevin Durant is effectively impossible to guard and has shown remarkable defensive abilities when pushed. He’s tall, fast and super skilled.

Durant, when on, can torch even the best defenders because of the options at his disposal. He’s so tall (just at 7 feet) that affecting his shot is a serious challenge. But wait! If you sell out to stop the shot, he’s already past you. Guess what happens next?

Dunk? Maybe. Kick out to Curry or Klay Thompson for a three? Maybe. Either way, it’s a bad day for a defense.

Even the best player alive has such moments against KD:

Oh, and he’s skilled in the paint and likely will evolve more in that area as he slows down. He’s a special player, and with the Warriors is able to show more of those skills than ever before. It’s a treat to watch.

He’s free, now, and a deserving champion.

2. Kawhi Leonard – SF – San Antonio Spurs

The best defensive player in the world, arguably in the inner-circle all-time, and now a lethal all-around offensive player, Kawhi Leonard is so often forgotten in these discussions. Why? Well, he’s quiet, team-oriented and rarely showy. Plus, he plays in San Antonio, a city known for legends who aren’t recognized properly (see: Duncan, Tim).

Leonard is the ideal combination of an annoying, nagging defender and extraordinary athlete. He’s quick, incredibly long and brilliant, able to defend anyone aside from true centers like Anthony Davis or the like. But anyone else can be gobbled up by Leonard.

Look what he does here to poor Ben McLemore:

As he’s matured, the Spurs have put more on his plate offensively, handing him the keys to the car. He’s done just fine, developing a great shot and (as expected, given that he’s a Spur) shown an aptitude for great decisions.

Kawhi carried a team full of dudes who were better three years ago to 62 wins. He was kicking the tar out of the Warriors before hurting his ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Long live Kawhi.

1. LeBron James – SF – Cleveland Cavaliers

Are we done questioning LeBron James? Is that cottage industry all dried up? James is the best basketball player since Jordan, and stands nearly eye-to-eye with His Airness historically. They don’t play similarly — Jordan wasn’t as focused on his teammates, while at the same time James isn’t as dominant a scorer — but both ran up incredible levels of success.

James is the best basketball player alive, even now, even at 32, even with tons of miles. He was exceptional in the Finals, again. He carried a slow, older team that played terrible defense up against a supernova, again. All while being questioned — “why isn’t LeBron doing enough?”

What the heck else can the King do? He’s everything for the Cavaliers. They’re a juggernaut with him on the floor and a lottery team without him, even if his All-Star teammates remain in the game. Any lineup combination the Cavs employed that didn’t include James was terrible.

Think about that.

Any lineup combination the Cavs employed that didn’t include James was terrible. The Warriors won Game 5 by slaughtering Cleveland in the short, short amount of time James was on the bench. That’s astounding, a serious indictment of the other Cavs and a huge compliment to James.

He’s the King. LeBron is the most multi-faceted superstar in NBA history, a player capable of lifting inferior teammates to championships. He’s a savant, probably the most brilliant all-around offensive player in league history, a perfect marriage of Jordan and Magic Johnson.

At no point has he enjoyed what Durant got to this year, a team that perfectly fits and surrounds him. No — James has always had to just make it work, and he has.

He’s lost 5 Finals. True. Jordan went 6-0. Also true. But the eras are different, and at no point has James had a running mate like Scottie Pippen. The Finals record doesn’t diminish James at all. Three losses to the dynastic Spurs is hardly a knock, given that Duncan and Leonard were/are superstars and Gregg Popovich is on the Mt. Rushmore of NBA coaches. The ’15 Warriors were awesome and James was saddled up with guys way beyond their depth.  And, frankly, the ’17 Warriors were a force of nature.

LeBron James is not the best ever, not yet. But damn, he’s on his way.

Day 173 – A nice break

I’m not a big-time gamer.

I play PS4 periodically, usually a sports game, but I’m not obsessed with it. For me, playing a game is a nice break, a solid diversion from the grind of work, training and church (not that church is in the same category, but I tend to be working at church a lot). So when I turn on that console, it’s to break away from life.

Is it always effective? No. Sometimes, a quick casual round of disc golf can be better, allowing me to drift away, deep into the podcast I’m hearing and the round I’m playing (while moving — that’s often beneficial).

Those moments are wonderful. I treasure them.

For some, a great book offers that. Maybe a binge-worthy TV show. A really good Marvel movie has that effect on me, too. Or spending time with a close friend over coffee, even. Lots of stuff. In a lot of ways, worship on Sunday is that too.

I have come to enjoy the grind of life more than before, but man those moments of relaxation are just awesome. Sort of like how a great foam rolling pain/pleasure/torture/ecstasy session releases so much built up angst in your body after a hard workout.

There’s something magical about that release.

Day 172 – Familiar pain

I’ve worked especially hard on cardio this week, and I’m feeling it. I got quite used to aching quads last spring, and as I walked into work today, I was reminded of it.

I stepped out of my car and my legs barked at me.

“That was too fast,” my right quad said. “Give us some warning next time.”

Alright, sure. When did you learn to talk? (And then I remember, oh, they’ve spoken for years now … )

Does that ache suck? Sort of, but sort of not too, because I know I’ve earned it. And that pain isn’t really pain, so much as soreness indicative of past achievement.

Do I look forward to further aching, slow saunters into the office? In a sense, yes. It means I’m moving down the road.

Day 171 – Developer horror story

First, watch MPJ:

Developing is an endless cycle of confusion, panic, crippling self-doubt followed immediately (and shockingly!) by success. And so, even with my limited experience, I find what MPJ says here encouraging and also challenging.

We will make mistakes. We will probably repeat some mistakes, even if our stated goal is to not do so. But the key is to learn and grow past such pitfalls, while accepting that new pitfalls lurk around the corner. Web and software development is simply too challenging to not accept that failure happens — at least for me. Otherwise, the actual process of production wouldn’t move forward.

And so, we should share our mistakes — I screwed up a table in one of our production databases at work in April. It was quickly restored, no harm, no foul. But I remember it. It was a pseudo-badge of honor. My colleague laughed.

It happens.

Day 170 – “Spider-Man: Blue”

I’m a big comic book fan. I’ve read plenty of pages, played tons of games and seen many movies. I remember as a child liking the Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman animated shows and being delighted as a teenager when they came to the big screen. (I distinctly remember the first X-Men movie as a significant event, back in 2000.)

Since then, my appreciation for the genre has only grown and evolved. Now, instead of the action, I am drawn to the human stories of characters like Bruce Wayne/Batman, Logan/Wolverine, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

One of my favorite runs — not necessarily my favorite arc any character ever had — is by Jeph Loeb, called “Spider-Man: Blue.” What makes Spidey so engaging is how flawed he is. Parker has a troubled life, full of failure and heartbreak, riddled constantly with self-doubt.

Sounds like a lot of us. The only difference is, Parker is a superhero.

“Spider-Man: Blue” finds Parker in his 30s, happily married to Mary-Jane Watson. He’s still fighting crime, too. All of that is fairly routine, but Parker finds himself reminiscing about his first love, Gwen Stacy, on a Valentine’s Day. Stacy, in a famous arc from the 1970s, tragically dies when Spider-Man fails to save her (he’s accidentally responsible).

Loeb shows how they fell in love — unlikely as ever, of course — and how a younger Parker struggles to balance being a hero with all of life’s responsibilities. He’s terrible at it. What we come to find is, he very much sees Stacy as the woman he will spend the rest of his life with, and her death rattles him to his core. (Arguably as much as the death of his Uncle Ben.)

Because everyone knows Stacy dies, I’m hardly spoiling that. The joy of “Blue” isn’t in a shocking ending, but rather the ride Loeb takes you on walking through that history. It’s also engaging to see how mature Parker and Watson’s relationship has become, and even more so how unique Parker is to have not lost the humanity he had as a younger hero despite seemingly neverending tragedy.

Day 169 – To be the King, you got to work like the King

This dude has worked his butt off for about 15 years, carrying the burden of heavy expectations since high school. He’s been taunted, loved, mocked and cheered for. He’s won titles and suffered defeats.

In his career, albeit only at 32, he’s played around 50,000 minutes in the NBA. He’s one of the most magnificent athletes I’ve ever seen, perhaps the most. He cares about the community he’s in and seems like a dedicated father and husband.

This star just lost a fifth Finals, and decided to celebrate thusly:

Back at it! #striveforgreatness🚀

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

You want to be the King? You do the work.

Day 168 – Learning

I spent some time yesterday watching the wonderful YouTube videos of web developer MPJ, learning about JavaScript and all its nutty glory.

JavaScript is challenging, fun, insane, ubiquitous and a required skill for the web developers today, and so I slog through it. Luckily there are kooky YouTubers like MPJ to help.

Sucks for y’all oldtimers! Learning with BOOKS! Bah. Absurd.

Day 167 – In progress

So, as it turns out, writing decent works of fiction takes time. So again, I beg of you patience as I slowly churn out another short story. It’s a different tone — far different — and a bit more robust than Monday’s work. Plus, I’ve got a sermon and Sunday School lesson to write, so my typing hands are a tad busy.

Plus the rest of life. Sigh. It’s tiring doing this adult stuff …

In the meantime, I shall leave you in someone else’s hands. Lee Jenkins, the terrific Sports Illustrated writer, penned a profile on Kevin Durant and the Warriors. If you’re into sports, you should read it.

(My two cents: good on Durant. I don’t understand why we must view sports as beyond the typical career. He left a mildly successful company for a more successful company. Why is this such a thing? If a software developer leaves Oklahoma City Tech  (or whatever) to join Tesla or Microsoft (or whatever), people would applaud. But a basketball player does the same — without the disrespect of how LeBron James left Cleveland in 2010 — and it’s this affront? I just can’t go there.)