The ‘Madness’ Continues

by Bob Sparrow

2020 Headline

We thought we knew what ‘March Madness’ was until last March when suddenly restaurants, schools, bars, churches, gyms, salons, etc., etc., etc., were suddenly closed for the better part of a year – now that’s MADNESS!

Last year’s ‘other’ March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, was cancelled due to a new thing called the Coronavirus Pandemic.  This year, in our effort to return to ‘normalcy’, the tournament is back, albeit with a few restrictions around Covid and woke correctness:

  • All players must wear a mask and a shield while playing
  • Coaches over 55 cannot attend the game in person, so must coach from home via Zoom
  • While on the court player must socially distance, making sure they get no closer than six feet from anyone
  • The ball must be sanitized following each team’s possession
  • During the game, all players must be able to show proof of a hook shot, a jump shot and a Pfizer shot
  • Cheering is not allowed, as it could show favoritism to one player over another
  • There will ultimately be no winner and more importantly, no losers – all players will get a trophy

OK, perhaps I’ve stretched the truth a bit, but there are some real restrictions:

  1. To prevent excessive travel, all games will be played in the Indianapolis area
  2. Capacity of games will be limited to 25% of arena capacity
  3. If a team can’t play due to Covid, it will be treated like a loss and that team will be elimination

Former UCLA Coach John Wooden

Most know that the ‘Final Four’ is the last team standing from each division – they play for the championship.  However, the ‘First Four’ is made up of eight teams that are on the ‘bubble’ of getting into the tournament; they play the week before the tournament starts (which was last week) and the four winners advance to round out the 64-team field.

The classic match up in last week’s ‘First Four’ game was UCLA vs. Michigan State.  These two schools have historically been perennial basketball powers and would typically be in the Final Four, not the First Four.  UCLA has made 49 appearances in this tournament, made it to the Final Four 18 times, won the tournament 11 times and was undefeated for the year four times.  Michigan State has made 33 appearances in the tournament, made the Final Four ten times and won the championship twice.

UCLA won last Friday’s ‘First Four’ game in overtime and thus receives an invitation to ‘The Dance’.  Aside from the overtime game, the other three First Four games were decided by 1, 1 and 8 points – this is going to be one great tournament!  Michigan State will be joining  a couple of other basketball powerhouses, Duke and Kentucky, on the sidelines this year.  The last time those two teams were NOT in the tournament, Gerald Ford was president – that was 1976!   A “does-history-repeat-itself” aside: As many of you will recall, Gerald Ford’s assent to the presidency is unprecedented. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned due to charges of extortion, bribery and conspiracy, President Nixon appointed Ford, who was then the House Minority Leader, to be vice president.  Then, less than a year later, the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resigned, making Ford president.  Does the absence of these teams from this tournament mean we’re going to see some unprecedented movement at the top of our government? Or have we already see it?

But enough about those who didn’t get voted in.  One of the favorites in this year’s tournament is the Gonzaga University Bulldogs, a school with an enrollment of around 7,000 undergraduates in Spokane, Washington.  They are the only undefeated team in the tournament, as well as being a #1 seed along with Baylor, Michigan and Illinois (who got beat in the first round last week!)  This small university in the northwest has been to the tournament 22 times and, in fact, played in the championship game in 2017, when they lost to North Carolina.

Even if you think you don’t like to watch basketball, I would bet that if you start watching this tournament, you’ll find yourself hooked and rooting for, or against various teams – you’ll end up having a ‘favorite’ that you’d like to see playing for the championship on Monday, April 5th.   After this Monday’s games, we’ll be in the ‘Sweet 16’Pac-12 fan are loving the tournament so far, all five teams made it through the first round, including both UCLA and USC.

I think you’ll find the tournament a nice break from the latest Netflix series or another one of those ‘fake’ reality program – this ‘show’ is truly unscripted reality!

Say What? You Went Where?

by Bob Sparrow

blood_v_cripsAs you regular readers know, I love to travel, but I can’t hike in places like the Andes or the Himalayans every year. Nevertheless, I was feeling a bit of cabin fever (You know how this harsh California weather can keep you housebound all winter), and perhaps a bit ‘blog-challenged’, so I started looking for someplace to go, someplace local, someplace neither you nor I have been before.

I pulled out my map as I recalled some of my experiences from previous ‘local’ excursions, i.e. being thrown off the beach at Nixon’s Western White House, being freaked out by a paranormal experience on the Queen Mary and being ripped off by a phony fortune teller at Venice Beach, to name a few. OK, maybe they weren’t all great experiences, but they were experiences and they were local! Now I was looking for someplace really ‘different’, someplace ‘locally foreign’, if there is such a thing. Then I saw it, starring up at me from my map . . . South Central Los Angeles. No, I wasn’t back at the local Yardhouse being over-served on foreign beer! I thought, why not do a trip into the toughest part of LA, it could be a great experience . . . or you could never hear from me again; either way, it’s an adventure.

Depending on the kind of adventure I was looking for, I could either drive there during the day, or wait until the evening. I thought I wouldn’t get the full flavor unless I went in at night, but I also was really interested in surviving the experience. I’m sure if I left it up to you readers, you’d have me go late a night with $100 bills hanging out of my pockets. So I planned to leave Saturday morning.

watts riots

Watts Riot

I wanted to hit as many of the famous, or infamous ‘landmarks’ as I could, you know, the places where I was sure to find placards reading, ‘Kodak Moment’, signifying great photo opportunities. I actually called some places I found on-line that offered tours of the area, but none of them responded to email or phone inquiries. In fact, truth be told, none of them looked like they were still in business – not a good sign.

My ‘South Central’ map indicated a number of ‘must see’ locations: the site of the Watts Riots (1965), the neighborhoods where crack cocaine became an epidemic (1980s), sites of the Rodney King beating (1991) and where the riots broke out with the subsequent reading of the verdict of the officers involved in the beating (1992), and of course the hangout for the notorious rival gangs, the Crips (late ‘60s) and the Bloods (early ‘70s).

At this point I was beginning to wonder if Disneyland might have been a better choice – I know it would have been a safer one, but undaunted, I plotted my route through South Central on my map and, after checking to make sure my insurance (both car and life) was current, I put on some Snoop Dog and motored north to South Central.

graffiti

Peeps from the ‘hood

scientology

Church of Scientology

It was an unusually warm winter day in southern California and I could see a hazy outline of the downtown Los Angeles skyline in the distance as I exited the freeway and entered ‘the hood’. I noticed that most of the shops, which were liquor stores and check cashing places, had bars on their windows (we don’t see a lot of that in Orange County); I noticed a good number of street people wheeling all of their earthly belongings in a grocery cart. Along the sidewalks I saw lots of clothes hanging from rope lines and didn’t know if these were items being sold or laundry being dried. As I traveled north on Vernon Avenue there were a number of churches, none more magnificent looking than the Church of Scientology, which looked like it was dropped in from a Beverly Hills neighborhood. I wondered as I drove by if that was Tom Cruise out in front waving people into the building. I drove by some old major crack houses (No, I didn’t stop, I’ve been clean for four days!) and then passed the corner of Florence and Normandie, which was the site of the Rodney King verdict riots. Next on my left was Manual Arts High School; it was built in 1910 and was only Los Angeles’ third high school at the time. There was a high chainlink fence around it – not sure if they were keeping people in or out.  I turned on Martin Luther King Boulevard and drove past the Los Angeles Coliseum adjacent to the incongruous location of the private institution of the University of Southern California.  Instead of having ‘Fight On’ as their slogan, it seems like it should be ‘Drive On’ or perhaps ‘Drive By’.  I then headed south on South Central Avenue and drove by the old Black Panthers Headquarters, it didn’t look like any meetings were in session, so I didn’t stop. After several miles of graffiti-filled buildings and walls, I began to work my way over to  Avalon and 116th Street which is where the Watts Riots started in 1965, causing 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage.  As I headed back to the freeway on my way outwatts towers of the hood, I drove by the iconic Watts Towers (right).

The whole trip took me about three hours and I traveled a total of about 90 miles and never saw another white person the entire trip – the demographic is made up almost exclusively of Hispanics and Blacks, while Whites and Asians make up about 1% each.

OK, to be honest, it really didn’t compare to getting away on a mountain trail with pine-scented air, but it was really interesting to take a deeper dive into the history of South Central Los Angeles and to actually cruise the streets. Unfortunately, given recent events, ‘South Central’ seems to be a clarion for the failure on all sides of race relations.

Yeah, maybe Disneyland next time.

Why L.A. Will NEVER Get an NFL Team

by Bob Sparrow

rodeo clown

Just helping you forget about taxes

With Suzanne’s well-written admonitions still echoing in our heads from last week, I thought the weighty topic of Los Angeles and professional football would be an appropriate blog subject as a break from our tax-dulled senses.  Metaphorically speaking, if taxes and dying in San Francisco were a rodeo, this blog is the clown that jumps out of the barrel to distract the bull, maybe in this case to sling the bull.

   Like many of you, I couldn’t care less whether LA ever gets a professional football team; I am a 49ers fan for life who wouldn’t drive to LA to see a game if I had a seat next to Kate Upton . . . OK, maybe then, but I wouldn’t be watching the game!  I do, however, miss that 49ers-Rams ‘north-south’ rivalry and so have paid some attention to all the talk lately around various billionaires building space-age stadiums (paid for with our tax dollars – Oops, I was trying not to mention taxes) in various parts of the city to attract an NFL team.  So why am I convinced that the country’s second largest media market, which once had two NFL teams, will not be getting another one anytime soon?

stadium

New L.A. stadium . . . in their dreams!

First, after USC’s Reggie Bush took a pay cut to go to the NFL a few years back, some would suggest that LA already has a professional football team, but that would be a cheap shot.

The main reason for no team in LA is the make up of the LA fan.  I have observed three types; the first have luxury boxes and are notorious for ‘making an entrance’ sociably late to the game, wearing the latest fashions and then, after being seen, leaving early to avoid the congestion getting out of the parking lot.  The limited time they are at the game is used for consuming their Beef Wellington hot dogs, truffle fries and Bombay Safire martinis.  These are the fans that would root for their team to ‘kick a touchdown’.

bearsThe second type of fan are those that are not originally from Los Angeles, which is about 80% of the southern California population.  The only time they go to a game is when their hometown team comes into town to play.  Those from Chicago, for example, even though they left the ‘Windy City’ 20 years ago, would not give up rooting for ‘da Bears’ in favor of rooting for the ‘L.A. La De Dahs’.  I personally was part of this group when Rams games were being played in Orange County; when the 49ers came to town, I’d go to the games and there would be a sea, make that a bay, of San Francisco red and gold covering the entire stadium.  The NFL is concerned that these are the fans that would get beat up, by the third type of fan, in the parking lot after the game for wearing the visiting team’s colors.

Raider fans

Part of the ‘Raider Nation’ Gang

The third type of fan are the ones left over from the Oakland Raiders 12-year, forgot-to-pay-the-rent visit to Los Angeles.  This group, who dressed like every game was Halloween, are not so much crowd members as they are ‘gang members’.  With this group the NFL would be concerned that if an LA team lost a game or the refs made a bad call that these guys would riot in the streets and then go home and burn their own houses down.  Game food for this gang is Beer Chicken, hold the chicken.

miley

Miley’s ‘V’ for Victory

The other NFL franchise owners are another reason why LA will never have a team.  They must approve any move to a new city by any other current team, so each team’s owner, always looking to get stadium up-grades (from city taxes – dang, there I go again!), threatens to move to LA – eventually their city acquiesces and the owners breathe a big sigh of relief that they don’t have to move their team, and themselves, to ‘the land of fruits and nuts’.

The NFL might also be concerned that a ‘Tinsel Town’ team might employ people like Miley Cyrus, the Kardashian sisters and Bruce Jenner as their cheerleaders.

oj_simpson_the_chase

L.A.’s new mascot?

In the true spirit of Los Angeles football, one potential owner already indicated his choice for a mascot when he said, “ The team mascot should be The White Broncos, to commemorate O.J. Simpson’s infamous police chase through the city.”

Don’t worry, it ain’t gonna happen!