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A Story About Basketball

Back in the early ’90s I really got into basketball.

I was terrible at it. But I loved it.

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls captured my imagination and pulled me in. I became a fanboy. For awhile there as a kid, I lived and breathed basketball, the NBA, the Bulls, and to a smaller extent, the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were a new team, and pretty terrible. So watching the Bulls was more my speed. It was fun to watch a team that could win. Plus, the head coach was a North Dakota boy, and Jordan, the biggest superstar in the league, played in Chicago.

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Eighth grade: heckuva mullet, kid! And check out that shirt. Da Bulls!

I watched all those greats: Jordan, Pippen, Magic, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley. I watched every game I could. The NBA on TNT network seemed to be a nightly routine. I would scour the TV listings, the printed listings in the Thursday newspaper, for anything that had to do with professional basketball: NBA on NBC, NBA Inside Stuff, special documentaries on cable. I watched Jordan lead the Bulls to their trilogy or “three-peat” of wins. I’ve still got one or two of those championship games on VHS somewhere in my stuff. I collected trading cards — mainly three brands: Fleer, Skybox, and Upper Deck. Now and then I’d get a pack or two of NBA Hoops. I still have them all. I wore Michael Jordan shirts, Chicago Bulls apparel, and the only shoes I would want to wear were Nike basketball shoes. I pestered my mother into getting me a limited edition basketball from a Pizza Hut promotion.

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That pendant ain’t no bull, yo.

I was borderline obsessed with the NBA and my family seemed to know it. My sister Wendy found a piece of jewelry in the shape of a bull’s head and painted it to look like a Chicago Bull, just as a gift for me.

Oh, and I played basketball in school.

I was not good. I was also short, measuring in at 5’4″. My nickname was Shorty. I wasn’t great at remembering and running plays. My shooting was off the charts, but in the wrong direction. Apparently I was too aggressive as well. During one game, after the referee called my third foul, he told me I should try football or wrestling and use that aggression to my advantage. I didn’t.

There were three school years in which I played. Fifth, sixth, and eighth grades. I don’t know why I didn’t play seventh grade ball. Maybe I took a year off to work on my layup. I’m joking, of course. I couldn’t really work on anything on my own at home. Our living situation was never one that could have accommodated a basketball hoop at home, though I would have loved one.

In fifth and sixth grades I played on my elementary school team. The Roosevelt Raiders played against the kids in the same grade from the other elementary schools in town. I was so excited to be on a team. My only disappointment going in was that we played in red tie-on bibs, instead of numbered jerseys. But I got over that. In those two years, I scored two points. Two. One layup. I don’t even remember it. I just remember the mere fact that it happened. In those two years, our team won one game. One. It was against the Washington Warriors. And they were quite embarrassed by that loss. There was a kid in our school that mockingly said earlier in the season that if we actually won a game she’d buy the team pizza. She never paid up. Because she never expected us to actually win a single game. When we did, all bets were off.

I went out for the team again in eighth grade. Of course the only reason I was on a team at all was because it wasn’t a try-out based system. It was inclusive. Anyone who wanted to play could. Again, I was terrible. But I was so into it. And I finally had a jersey with a number. It was a reversible jersey that could be either white or blue, and I was assigned number 24. But I remind you. I was not good. I touted myself as being a mainly defensive player. This is what I told myself when my teammates would rarely pass to me, or when I’d miss every shot I took. At times, I would see my coach put his face in his hands. I knew I was frustrating the hell out of that guy.

Not pictured: any mention of Shorty. Let’s forget this happened, guys.

I’m not even in the junior high yearbook’s team photo, or mentioned as “not pictured.” To this day, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why I didn’t know about it. It’s as if I didn’t exist on that team. Did I miss the memo? Did they not tell me on purpose because I was so bad they didn’t want to remember me on the team? Those were the questions I asked myself as a kid. And a few times when I signed a friend’s yearbook, I’d go to my team’s photo and write my name in as “not pictured.”

But I had heart, man. I took it seriously. All those inspirational Gatorade commercials in grainy black & white in which the athletes talk about perseverance, determination, and hard work with dramatic underscore… Those got to me. I remember telling my mother resolutely, “Some day I’m going to play for the Bulls and I’m going to make a million bucks.” Bless her heart, she didn’t discourage me. She kindly and lovingly said, “I hope you do!”

My basketball career culminated with the final game of my eighth grade year. I didn’t play much that game, but the coach must have felt obligated to put me in now and then. He put me back in during the fourth quarter. I don’t remember the score or even whether we won that game. I just remember, so clearly even to this day —

My team was on offense. There was a defender on me. He wasn’t great. But neither was I. I was at the top right-hand corner of the key. I broke away from my guy toward the side line. I turned and the point guard passed the ball to me. In the briefest of moments, I considered whether I would pass it off again, like I normally did, or if I should attempt a jump shot. My jump shot usually resulted in a turnover. So I wanted to avoid it if possible. In that instant, a path opened up from me to the basket. It was as if the Red Sea parted. Everything was shadow, save the light shining on this glorious path. I, Moses, was about to dribble this ball to the Promised Land. Everything went to slow motion. I broke into a run, remembering to dribble the ball. I sped straight down this wide open freeway and laid up the ball. Time went even slower. The ball went in. It actually went in. Two points for my team. Two points for me. They were the only two points I would score in the season. There was cheering in the arena. I looked over to my mother, who was beaming and clapping. Her son had finally scored something, after all these games. All this happened in a fraction of an instant and the glory ended when time instantly sped back to normal and the ball fell back down from the basket and bounced off my head, resulting in me tripping over my own feet and planting on the hard floor.

The glory and the dignity of my one junior high basket had faded oh, so quickly into my inevitable buffoonery. It withered into memory, where it still lives happily.

I kept an interest in basketball for awhile, but decided not to go out for the team my freshman year. I knew what the result would be. So I avoided it. I found activities that were more suited to my strengths. Music and Theater were more my thing after all. My interest in the NBA faded. I didn’t go pro with basketball. I never played for the Bulls.

However, this whole story is leading up to one more story. Fast forward more than twenty years. I’m married with two boys and a little girl on the way. We moved into our house about a year and a half ago. A paved slab in the back yard, complete with a basketball hoop, came with the house. Last summer, it just stood back there undisturbed. A couple weeks ago, though, I got a net and hung it up on the hoop. I have a kid-sized hoop as well for my little boys. We’ve been out there playing a bit the past few days. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but my target practice seems to go a lot better than it did in my youth. I’m not awful at making shots any more. At least I don’t think.

But there’s one thing I realized.

In those years of trying, all those times in which I tried to make something of myself in the game, in all the failed shots, all the turnovers, in all the fouls, in all the times I tripped over my own feet, in all the times I craved a crowd reaction to something good I had done on the court, the times I craved my coach’s approval, my team’s approval… None of it compares to now.

When I take a shot and it goes in, two-year-old Caleb claps, laughs, and gleefully yells “Yay, Papa!!” And five-year-old Josiah says, “You’ve got to be the best basketball player in the world, Papa.”

That’s all the approval I need.

I feel like a million bucks.

Categories: Family, Life

My Prince Story

April 21, 2016 Leave a comment

 

Prince’s star on the wall of First Avenue in Minneapolis

It has been said that everyone who lives or has lived in the Twin Cities of Minnesota has a Prince story. Prince – that most mysterious and elusive of all Minneapolis musicians. That legend beyond explanation. No one ever quite knew how his mind worked, or what direction he would move next. Was he human? Or was he a spaceman on par with Bowie? I know several people that have had a number of Prince encounters, whether it be simply seeing a surprise performance, interviewing for a recording engineering gig with Prince lurking over their shoulder, or even watching unreleased concert footage with him in his home. These were not my experiences, but those of first-degree friends of mine. A lot of Twin Citizens have these kinds of experiences.

Mine is simple. Not extravagant. Unimportant. Fleeting.

But it was impactful to me. It still is, even sixteen years later.

It took place seven years before I even lived in Minnesota. In 2000, some friends and I went to Minneapolis primarily to see an unrelated show at the Target Center. It was Muse/Foo Fighters/Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was a fun show and we had a heck of a time. When it was over, however, it was not the end of our night. We had heard tell there may be something going down at Paisley Park later on. Three of my friends in our group, Dustin, Bryna, and Heather are the biggest Prince fans I know. They kept their ear to the ground in the right places to know these kinds of things.

On their hunch, we went to Chanhassen. We lined up outside with a couple dozen other folks. It was getting into the late hours of the night. My friends explained that often Prince has unannounced parties at Paisley Park. There’s music, dancing, snacks, refreshing (non-alcoholic) drinks. The simple purpose was to have a good time. They explained that sometimes Prince would show up and dance. Sometimes he would usher the attendees into a larger room and put on a performance. Other times he would simply stand in the corner and nod approvingly. Sometimes he didn’t make an appearance at all.

The doors opened around 2:00 a.m. or so and security let us in after inspecting us. We were led into an open dark room with party lights, a dance floor and a basketball hoop. I would later see photographs of the Man posing on that very floor, and hear tell of the basketball games he would play there. When we entered the room the music was already playing, the subwoofers thumping, pulsating our insides. The only thing to do, the only natural thing, the compulsory thing, was to dance. I am not a dancer. I have no moves. I fit the “white man” stereotype quite accurately. But it didn’t matter. Not to me. Not to my friends. Not to anyone there. There was something magical and mystical about that night that has always lived in my memory. Inhibitions were gone, and we all moved our bodies to the music without a care of what any single person thought. I was not the least bit self-conscious about my movements and neither was anyone else. I did not feel out of place at all, though I may have anticipated as much beforehand. In my memory, it’s in slow motion. I look around at my beautiful friends, making a circle as we dance. All of us moving, sweating, laughing, sharing in this moment, free, enjoying and having the time of our life.

And then a feeling washed over me. Just a feeling that to this day, I can’t fully explain. Like the pressure in the room changed. Like the sleepy memory of your mother putting a blanket on you in the middle of the night as a child. Dustin must have felt something too, because he and I looked at each other wide-eyed. We looked at our friends in our circle, who I surmise felt the same thing. I began looking around the room, and sure enough, Prince was there. He was off in the shadows, leaning against the wall, arms crossed with one hand to his chin — nodding approvingly.

He was right next to the entrance/exit of the room. A portal through which you must pass if you had to, say, use the restroom. And though my body wasn’t feeling the need for relief, by golly I felt a pressing need to go to the restroom. As I walked toward the door and consequently toward the Artist, I played it cool, remained nonchalant, even though I was physically drawing ever closer to one of the greatest living musical legends. Again, in my memory this plays in slow motion. I slowly look up from my feet directly at him. He looks me in the eye. I give him a cool-guy hello nod. He smirks and gives me an upward nod as the hand at his chin moves loosely into a somewhat limp two-fingered peace sign. Prince Rogers Nelson acknowledged my existence in that moment. I saw him up close. I saw his face. I saw the texture of his facial hair. I saw his stature (something we share — I am 5’4″). I saw individual strands of hair on his head. He was human to me for the first time. Not a photograph, not television, not cinema. We shared the same air. He had a presence and an aura that could only be explained as Royal.

My slow-motion moment passed as I passed Prince and time returned to normal. I entered the restroom, washed my hands and came back out. By then, he had vanished.

It was a fleeting moment that he undoubtedly forgot about the second it was over. But a moment that has lived vividly in my memory ever since.

To be clear, I was never a die-hard fan. Those would be my friends – Dustin, Bryna, and Heather. They introduced me to Prince and ushered me into my appreciation of his work. I have been a casual fan at best. But I have always recognized the legend, the talent, and everything that goes with those. A true Artist has the ability to transcend certain barriers. You never truly knew them, but often through their work you feel as if you were close. Sometimes you just admire everything they accomplished and everything they were capable of. It is a shame to lose one of the greats at an age in which he had so much more to explore, so much more to create, and so much more to share. Even as a casual fan, I am heartbroken today. I can’t imagine how my beautiful friends feel.

I share this story today, on April 21, 2016, because today I know that this is the only encounter I will ever have with the man. And I want to always remember the feeling of that moment. I shared immediate space with one of the all-time greats for only a few seconds. He looked me in the eye and smiled. It was special to me. I have always regarded it as such. Even more so today. I type it out today because I want some record of it. I want to always cherish it. I don’t ever want to forget it.

Categories: Uncategorized

My son has a baby doll.

We were at Target today. With our toddler and newborn son in tow, we spent some time in the toy section. This is not uncommon, of course. It is regularly requested by my oldest, Josiah, as you can probably imagine. He normally asks to look at “cool cars” or toys from the Disney/Pixar films Cars and Planes, with which he is currently obsessed. In fact, we had already picked out a cool Neon Racer Lightning McQueen to purchase as a special treat.

We made our way through a different aisle, one we don’t normally venture down. One that is nauseatingly saturated with pinks, lavenders, and other similar pastels. My wife wanted to look for accessories for my son’s baby doll.

Yes. My son — a boy — has a baby doll. And I — a man — support this fully.

Society

Pink is not everyone's favorite color. I'm living proof.

Pink is not everyone’s favorite color. I’m living proof.

When a lot of men my age were kids, they were made to think that toys like baby dolls, kitchen sets, vacuum cleaners, etc. were just for girls — that if a boy played with those types of toys he was a sissy or “even worse.” To be clear, my own mother never imparted these negative ideas on me. I had a couple hand-me-down baby dolls myself that came from my older sisters. I never latched onto them, really. But I had them. I was never discouraged away from them.

There is this old idea that women nest and men hunt. And admittedly, there may be something to it, but it can be seen as kind of an old-fashioned notion in today’s world. In truth, men and women do have some inherent differences. I’ll leave that to you to determine what they may be. But society has taken these stereotypical roles and applied them children’s toys. In general, home-themed toys are marketed to girls, while boys have things like trains, cars, construction vehicles and war/battle-themed toys. The boy toys are exaggerated and extreme. The girl toys are pink and gentle. There are probably a lot of conclusions to be drawn by this. And I’m sure there are a lot of articles out there examining the implications. I haven’t done any scholarly research. I just want to talk about my family’s experiences and observations.

My son is a great kid. He is a “boy” through and through. He is rambunctious. He naturally loves things like cars, trucks, tractors, construction equipment, snow plows, robots, etc. We never forced those interests. He developed them on his own. He also loves to imitate his parents, like a lot of kids do. In the summer time when I mow the lawn, he gets out his toy lawn mower and helps me. When I shovel snow off the deck in winter, he grabs his very own shovel and joins in. Likewise, when my wife (an amazing woman who has chosen to be a stay-at-home mom) does household chores, my son wants to imitate her sweeping, vacuuming, cooking, and organizing.

He also observes how both of us care for both him and his baby brother. Therefore, he wanted a baby to care for as well. We got him one. He is a great papa to his baby doll. Because, after all, if we’re training our girls through play to be mothers and homemakers, shouldn’t we train our boys to be dads who are capable of cleaning up after themselves, instead of just extreme animals who blow things up?

Marketing

So much of it just comes down to marketing. We were all very annoyed that all the toys in the baby doll aisle were pink and lavender. It doesn’t really seem necessary to make every accessory pink. But society has equated pink and pastels with girls. Kitchen sets, E-Z Bake Ovens, toy pediatric sets, toy baby bottles, doll strollers, car seats, cradles. It’s all pink. And you know, pink isn’t my son’s favorite color. I mean, surely, not even little girls want everything to be all pink and purple all of the time. Never mind the not-so-subtle hint that society yells to little boys: THESE TOYS ARE NOT FOR YOU. It puts unfair limits on both boys and girls.

Marketing has changed over the years and not for the better, if you ask me. Here is a good, brief article illustrating some of the marketing for the exact same toys in different eras: LEGO Ad From 1981 Should Be Required Reading For Everyone Who Makes, Buys Or Sells Toys.

Well that's more like it.

Well that’s more like it.

Just the other day, my wife was in a conversation with a grandparent at the community center who said something to the effect of, “I’ll never buy him a stroller that’s pink.” And that’s a shame, because now that little boy may miss out on playing at real life skills. We buy our son the toys, even if they are pink. Plus we’ve been lucky enough to find some toys that are more realistic, color-wise. He’s got a nice pots-and-pans set that are a deep red and black. And he’s got a kitchen in blues and red. He’s also got a white vacuum. They were not that easy to find. All the baby doll stuff he has, however is pink: the cradle, the high chair, the stroller, the car seat.

I want to make one more note about marketing to the sexes. My mother tells a story about when she was in high school. The school was having a really hard time getting boys to sign up for Home Economics. They obviously felt that boys could benefit from the skills and knowledge being taught in a Home Ec. class. Their solution was to simply change the name. They added a home ec. section under the title “Bachelor Living.” It filled up so quickly they added a second section. It was the same instructor, same book, and same lessons. But different marketing. Curious.

A “Sissy” or “Worse”

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain there is an unclear memory of an older person (I have no idea who) saying something about a male child (I have no idea whom) regarding playing with “girl” toys. The person said, “I’d be afraid it’d turn him into a sissy,” then a pause, followed by “or even worse.” This is just one of those shadow memories, but I know people feel this way, and I remember the implication — that a boy playing with girl toys could turn him into a homosexual and that was something to be avoided.

Well I don’t have the time or energy to get too deep into this. I’m just going to say a couple things. Playing with certain toys won’t make you gay. If my son is gay, so what? The only thing I’d be worried about is how certain people would treat him for being himself. I recently saw this cartoon that summed up how I feel about my son playing with “domestic”-themed toys.

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Conclusion

When we went down that aisle at Target, my wife was looking for a good car seat toy that would fit Josiah’s baby doll. Of course the only one we could find was pink. Be that as it may, we still got it because Josiah had been wanting one ever since we installed the one for the real baby. In addition, Josiah took interest in a smaller baby doll. This was a boy baby doll, dressed in yellow and gray — the only baby doll in the whole baby doll section that was not dressed in pink or lavender. Since Josiah has a baby brother, he wanted a boy baby doll too. This one is small enough to be his regular baby doll’s baby doll. I told him he could get either the Lightning McQueen car or the baby boy doll, not both. He chose to put the car back and get the baby. While some may see this negatively (“my boy ain’t no nancy!”) I see this positively. Symbolically, maybe he’s choosing to care for his family rather than to blow money on fancy sports cars. Okay, maybe I’m reaching there. But my overall point still stands. As a group we should prepare our boys to be fathers just as much as we prepare our girls to be mothers. Men need to cook and clean too.

The young cashier was overly chatty, making remarks about our items that were a little annoying. “Oh, I thought you guys were vegetarians, but then I saw the ground beef and I was like, uuhh…” “That’s not ground beef. It’s meatless. We are vegetarians,” I replied stoically. She then took the item out of the bag and inspected it and looked at me with a suspicious eye. She put it back into the bag, saying simply, “Vegetarians…” So imagine my horror when she started asking me about my children.

“How old is the little one,” she asked. The cover was over the carrier, so Caleb couldn’t be seen. “Just a couple weeks old,” I answered. “Oh, she must be tiny.” “He is, yes.” “He?!?” I assured her that, yes, I was correct and my son is a boy. “Oh, I just thought that with the doll and the carrier…” “Those are for the older boy,” I said with no hesitation. She had a blank look on her face and was stunned, wide-eyed, into a rare moment of silence. “Oh.” She then continued scanning my items with very little conversation. I guess we were a little too weird for her.

Her assumption about the toys is fine. I obviously can’t hold that against her. Society has conditioned us to make these assumptions. What is not fine is that society has conditioned us to think it is unnervingly odd for a boy to want a baby. That’s plain wrong. This interest in a baby doll is rooted in love, family, and nurturing. We could use more of that in today’s world. My son is interested in his baby doll. As long as my son’s interests are positive and they hurt no one, I support him.

Categories: Family, Life, Parenting

Pomplamoose has done it again

February 22, 2014 Leave a comment

A couple years ago, I used Pomplamoose as an example of how to survive in today’s music industry. I posted a link to their unique “videosong” — a cover of Beyonce’s “Put a Ring On It.” They were innovating through multiple mediums, using a quirky, musically sound take on a popular song and doing something creative with the video. I became a fan of Pomplamoose when I first saw that video. They have made many, many more since. What makes them so notable to me, is that they made me sit up and take notice. And that’s what you need in the music business today.

Most recently, they have released two videos using extremely creative and innovative techniques. Everyone is familiar with the mash-up by now. You take two songs and mash them together. Pomplamoose does that in these two videos, but rather than mixing the original recordings together, they do their own unique arrangements of these songs mashing the elements together. They create a beautiful musical fruit salad of sweet deliciousness. On top of this, they throw on top, a nice cool dollop of cool whip in the form of their video.

In these two videos in particular, they are using a single projector to throw images onto white foam boards and other three-dimensional surfaces. It sounds dull, but you really need to see it to get it. It’s brilliant. Watch both videos. They’re short. They’re worth your time. Share them and buy their tracks on iTunes. This sort of creativity deserves to be rewarded.

Categories: Music, Stuff I Like

A new project

February 19, 2014 Leave a comment

My band Junebug is currently starting work on our fourth album, Stan. We’re not exactly sure what shape it will take yet, or really how it’ll be done. But I’ll be co-producing as well as co-engineering the record.

A pile of mics in the music space? How can that be?

A pile of mics in the music space? How can that be?

tony

More

More

All right, boys. Let's do another take.

All right, boys. Let’s do another take.

Categories: Music

Tony’s a Loser

January 4, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve got another blog, too. This one focuses on my weight loss journey. I’ve lost a bit of weight and I’m still working on losing more. I’m a loser, but it’s okay! I want to be!

Tony’s a Loser: My personal weight loss and health journal

Categories: Uncategorized

Free download: “Copenhagen” by Junebug

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Here’s another track I produced!

To commemorate the New Year, Junebug has released this non-album online-exclusive track. May your resolutions be fruitful and productive.

Lyrics by Anthony Bergman, Music by Junebug
Vocals, acoustic guitar: Anthony Bergman
Electric guitar: Dustin Marks
Drums, Piano: Tony L. Kollman
Bass: Dillon Marchus

Recorded at IPR Studio 4, MasterMix studio, and Tony’s home studio, all in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Produced, recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered by Tony L. Kollman.
Special thanks to Kevin Bowe.
Cover art by Tony L. Kollman.

Copyright 2011 Junebug Jones. All rights reserved.

Categories: Music