Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

20141120-234121.jpg

MIKE NICHOLS ON THE SET OF THE GRADUATE

The 30th of October, 2001 was memorable. It was a crisp fall evening and the opening night of the NBA basketball season. Michael Jordan had come out of retirement one last time and donned the uniform of the Washington Wizards. He’d been granted an equity stake in the team, and had gotten that itch to lace ‘me up again. Coincidentally, the old Knick killer was scheduled to make his season debut at Madison Square Garden against a Knicks team that was in decline. I was a newly installed Executive Vice President of a fresh start-up record company that was based in LA, and I was traveling back and forth between both coasts while trying to sign artists and establish a New York office. I got a pair of tickets for the game and a date.

New York was still on it’s heels after having taken a devastating combo on the chin when both World Trade Center towers were destroyed on 9/11. National Guardsmen were patrolling the streets and paranoia filled the air. Buildings that you could previously walk through in order to take a shortcut were closed. Metal detectors were everywhere, and anyone with a Middle Eastern appearance was mistrusted on sight. Racist propaganda was spouted from every possible source, and patriotism was the thing that made it okay. The Bush administration was preparing to take advantage of the patriotic fervor by invading two countries that we still haven’t fully gotten out of, and by directing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to use the moment to empower all intelligence services to begin to monitor civilian communication by phone, and the web – they called it the Patriot Act. We were badly in need of an evening’s entertainment.

This particular night, the game was being played in the stands. Jordan brought the A-list out and seated next to me was SNL’s Darrell Hammond, and his date, Lorraine Bracco of the Sopranos. My seats were cool – right on the aisle of the first row behind the fold-ups on the Eighth Avenue baseline. We were in the corner nearest the Knicks bench. The networking thing was in full effect. My date was a leggy Italian attorney with a great smile and gorgeous eyes. I’d given her the seat on the aisle and she was being chatted up by one of the City’s great power couples, Good Morning America anchorwoman, Diane Sawyer and her husband, the great film, and theater director, Mike Nichols. Lovely people. It was an honor to spend an evening in their company.

Of course, at that point, I had already been a Nichols fan for nearly 35 years after seeing his satirical groundbreaking masterwork “The Graduate” as a child. And since then, I’ve seen it many, many times more, along with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Working Girl, Silkwood, The Birdcage, Postcards From The Edge, Wolf, Heartburn and his unforgettable contemplation on morality, fidelity and the Internet, Closer.

Earlier today, news came to us that Nichols died of a heart attack. I do remember that the Knicks beat the Wizards that night, but I most remember meeting one of the greatest directors that America has produced. I am grateful to have lived during the era that formed him. R.I.P. Mike Nichols, you did your thing.

insideplaya

For Sylvia

Read Full Post »

20140912-165827.jpg

JANAY RICE & RAY RICE

Karen Kaufman is an independent film producer and executive in Hollywood. I’ve know her for twenty-five years. I met her when she was an account exec in DC radio, and I was putting records on the radio that made a difference. She’s come up in several media businesses, but she’s football people. Her daddy coached several top tier high school, college and NFL running backs – John Riggins and Barry Sanders are two of his former players who are enshrined in Canton – and he caught a couple of rings with the San Francisco 49ers when they were the class of the sporting world. Her first husband was a starting linebacker for Joe Gibbs when he was the head coach of the Washington Redskins, and they went to a few Super Bowls when they were together. The world of professional football formed her.

Like anyone who else has seen it, the videotape of Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice hitting his wife with a short, hard jab, knocking her out, and then nudging her with his foot, shocked Karen. She thought about it, discussed it with me, and consented to share her understanding of what it was like to be a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of an NFL warrior who she was married to. She also wondered what Janay Rice has been thinking. In the form of an open letter, here are her thoughts and questions.

insideplaya

Dear Janay,

We’ve never met, and I don’t think we have any friends in common. Before this year, I’d never heard of you, and until recently, hadn’t seen a picture of you either. Because of these facts, I have struggled with my decision to write you, as I can only imagine the barrage of emails, phone calls and texts you are receiving during this time. But our stories are so entwined I felt I had to reach out to you.

Based on the little that I have seen, I have to let you know that I am disappointed in you.

I’m not supposed to feel this way. As an educated Black woman who was once married to a Washington Redskin during one of their glory periods and a daughter of an NFL running back coach, whose running backs are Hall of Famers, I’m supposed to be compassionate and supportive of your situation. I’m trying hard to get there but I have to get past my disappointment first.

Please know that I write this letter to you from a place of understanding. The situation you are, in as an NFL wife, is a special fishbowl. Growing up, I spent an inordinate amount of discussing and watching football as well as attending games. For my family, sports was not recreational, it was the business that allowed my parents to feed, clothe, educate and care for me. Winning or losing resulted in harsh public scrutiny, and then a fast round of packing and a move to another city; but it didn’t seem odd to me as it was the only normal I ever knew. This gave me a false sense that I was prepared to be married to a professional football player but I was very wrong. I found being a wife of a player is significantly different from being the daughter of a coach. As a coach’s daughter, there is a veil of protection that doesn’t exist with a player’s wife. As a player’s wife, nothing stands between you and the front office, coaches, agents, lawyers, financial advisers, media, other players’ wives and the never ending parade of groupies. I think one of the hardest lessons I had to learn during my time as a NFL wife was this: People are gunning for you. And I what I truly didn’t comphrend is that your own husband can gun for you also.

You know what I mean don’t you? Cuz you know Ray was gunning for you even if he had done something that made you push and spit at him. My guess is that it was another woman because I have acted close to the same way when I learned of yet another woman. My guess is Ray has been wanting to vent for a long time so I don’t think that punch was all for you; it may have been because he was racially profiled when he was pulled over for driving a $150,000 Benz, while listening to his agent explain why the Ravens wouldn’t give him $100 million dollar contract like J.J. Watt, or the nagging shoulder injury that he is trying to mask during practice, or the 100th request for money from another distant “cousin”. He wasn’t just pissed at you; life as a professional athlete is stressful and you became an easy target for him to take it out on.

Yet, you chose to stay with him, and in fact, chose to marry him after he cold clocked you. You see why I might be a little disappointed? I wanted you to leave right then because like Rihanna going back to Chris Brown; you sent a dangerous message to young women. Though you may not want to see yourself as a role model, the moment you choose to be with a high profile athlete you became a celebrity and your actions were open to public opinion. Because too whom much is given, much is required. As the ink dried on Ray’s contract, we had 22 million reasons to care about your life.

But I understand that leaving a man you love is hard, particularly when there are children involved. Though I didn’t have children with my ex husband, I agonized for years before I left and it took his becoming physical for me to end it. My ex and I were college sweethearts and since my father had been coaching in the NFL for several years, I was pretty damn good at spotting talent. And there was nothing about him that looked liked pro material as he was too small, had an exciting but not spectacular college career at a small California state school (whose games were rarely aired on TV) and he was a walk on.

Honestly, because he was an undrafted free agent, I didn’t think he would make the team and we already had planned that he would become a social worker after graduation. I naïvely assured him, “Don’t worry because I’m going to make a lot of money.” Boy did things take a turn in training camp after the starting linebacker was hurt and my ex replaced him. The whirlwind became a personal hurricane as he went on to start in three Super Bowls in five years. With this success came the usual perks of a beautiful home, cars, jewelry, furs, travel and aaah the women. The women were bountiful especially in a city like Washington DC with a ratio of 8 women to one man.

Some described me as a mature 24 year old but I felt like a cat on a hot tin roof…if I jump here will he smile? If I jump here will he not fuck some chick when I’m in the next room? If I jump will he talk to me? As time went on I got tired of jumping. But we know in the NFL code that infidelity is not a reason to end a marriage; it’s more of an occupational hazard. Even though I did my best to ignore his antics, he didn’t bother to be discreet. Why should he? The cat keeps jumping.

One night after finding condoms in his wallet (not meant for me), I told him I was relieved he was using protection. He snapped, grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me against the wall of our three story suburban home. As my back slammed against the wall, I knew I was in deep trouble because I was no match for a guy who was 6ft 3in, 225lbs with 5% body fat, and had grown up in the ‘hood’ in Los Angeles. I was 5ft 6in, 125lbs, and had lived a very sheltered upper middle class life in the San Fernando Valley, and never had a physical exchange with anyone. I thought to myself was, “This doesn’t happen to people like me”

When my ex threw me against the second wall, I realized, that when the police arrived they would never believe me, and that we would be on the cover of the sports section of the Washington Post. I tried to fight back but my weak efforts only resulted in small cut on his cheek. Afterwards, he apologized because he never meant to hurt me.

But I didn’t believe him. No different than Ray…I wasn’t the only person he was mad at. He was mad that his career was ending, never making All Pro and he had suitcases full of childhood pain. But that night, at that moment, like you, I was his target.

Did that come to your mind when he hit you? Or have you been watching this all of your life so you thought this is what love looks like? These are the questions that make me soften my view of your decisions, because I don’t know how you got here. Some experts say we have to stop asking why women stay in abusive relationships and replace it with why do men hit women? My thoughts about that will come later in this letter but for now let’s just say, I’m still disappointed with your decision.

Just a year before my incident, I had consoled another player’s wife whose husband had beaten her at her children’s school. She’d smarted off to him and then tried to run. Bless her heart, did she think he became a great defensive end without speed? Anyway he beat her in front of her children but she didn’t want to leave because she loved the money and didn’t want to work. I didn’t feel that way; I wanted a career so losing the money didn’t factor into my decision to pack my things. But if I was really honest, I left because I found that my behavior was mimicking the actions of my mother who is an undiagnosed manic depressant with a little personality disorder to boot. Basically I was raised by a crazy woman and being married to a celebrity triggered my inner crazy (and all this time I thought I was just creative). I had to leave to save my soul.

Don’t you want your soul back? Don’t you want to stop excusing his behavior? Have you planned the speech you will give your daughter when she sees the video? Back in my sports days, there was no internet, no cell phones, no Instagram, no Facebook or TMZ. Yet, reputable outlets like the Washington Post or Sports Illustrated longed for a juicy story but being in a three ring circus didn’t interest me.

I know leaving a man you love isn’t easy and my situation was less complicated than yours because we had no children. With access to a fat checking account and great credit, the physical move to my high rise upper Northwest apartment only required a phone call to the movers. For the sake of keeping appearances, our separation was kept a secret. I am grateful I wasn’t like many women who don’t have the resources to leave their Hell.

Now let’s get to the part that I’m really mad about.

Why are you fussing at us and the media for your downfall? What made you think we wouldn’t find out the whole story? Yes, I wish you hadn’t married that jerk but if you chose to go forth in this charade of sorts dammit …you should have spun it better! Why didn’t you fly to LA, and pay Howard Bragman $25,000 to fool us? Howard Bragman would have made your first press conference look like an episode of Oprah with Ray crying huge crocodile tears while he apologized for his insane, and inhumane behavior. Then you could have announced that you were committed to raising awareness of the fact that domestic violence effects all economic classes. A few months later, you would have been pictured donating a home to help women who don’t have the financial means of getting out. Yet, you and the NFL somehow thought you were immune to this tape getting released. Now Ray is out of work indefinitely, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might be joining him. This blatant short sideness feels arrogant and assumes that your fans and public will believe anything. Between Jay Z, Solange, and Queen B coupled with Donald Sterling, and the death of Michael Brown, don’t you see social media is exposing the good, the bad and the ugly?

I’m feeling less angry now. Thank you for letting me vent.

Your public incident has raised a lot of opinions about domestic abuse and some say that the question has to change from “Why did she stay?” to “Why did he hit her?” I’m not sure that this is true because the older I get the more I realize how I feel about myself affects everything that happens to me. One of the many important influences which introduced me to the idea of self importance was Pearl Cleage’s Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth. I read the book long after my divorce when I was working on the film, Sugar Hill in New York. My dear friend, the insideplaya arranged for me to stay with a generous female friend of his, in Harlem while I worked on the film. At a Black book store where the shop owner was surprised by how many books I hadn’t read, she introduced me to Cleage and it changed my life. Cleage talks about how Miles Davis’ openly admits he beat Cicely Tyson and she suggests to women that we stop financially supporting artists who harm women. If we closed our pocketbooks to their albums, movies, paintings…then we could put them out of business. I felt like someone dunked my head in cold water as I had never even conceived of the idea that I had power. I’m not sure if it’s important why a man hits a woman but, I’m sure that it’s important to ask, what will we do about it? Will we stand up and say “Help me please get out of this because I deserve to be treated better!” or will we shrink into silent denial believing that we are unworthy. As mothers, you and I owe it to our children to teach them that they have value.

My son is 9 years-old and he is an athletic stand out in our predominately White area. He often dominates in strength, size and has the uncanny knack to anticipate an opponent’s move. It is both disturbing and rewarding to see the amount of attention showered on him, so my husband and I have made it clear that we expect him to act like a man of honor. Because to whom much is given, much is required. After much contemplation, I showed him the footage that captured when you were hit, and his first question was, “Why did she marry him after he hit her?” Then as his anger grew he insisted, “This is no way for a Black man to act.” I held back tears. He’s right; it was no way for a Black man to act.

So now what will you do? How will you live with your angry frustrated ex player of a husband. Not playing for the rest of the season and possibly never playing again will only elevate his anger and let’s pray you won’t be his target. Until then, I hope you will be safe but as you struggle with this whirlwind of drama, please check out Pearl Cleage as she may help you tap into your courage. Because no woman deserves to be beaten and until we understand that if we don’t close our pocketbooks (and legs) to those who harm us, this cycle will continue.

All best,
Karen Kaufman

20140912-170037.jpg

THE AUTHOR

Read Full Post »

20140713-045647.jpg

LeBron James

The phone started ringing early Thursday afternoon. My fellow Knicks fans had been checking in all week either in search of, or to deliver, updates on whether or not scoring stud Carmelo Anthony had rejoined the team for $129million – the expected maximum amount he is due. As of this writing, he is believed to have rejoined the team that is now being rebuilt in the image of 13 time World Champion Zen Master, Phil Jackson. The day before, Ed Eckstine, former president of Mercury Records, called to say that another World Champion Laker expat, Rasheed Hazzard has joined, new head coach, Derek Fisher’s staff as an assistant coach. Rasheed is a champion that I have watched develop and grow since he was 12 years old. Along with other members of his extended family, I am proud that my old friend has joined the team.

But something else happened on Thursday: Jayson Jackson, former manager to Lauryn Hill, who long time readers of this blog may remember as “The Epicurean” called with stunning news, LeBron James announced that he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers and leaving the Miami Heat. The basketball world is reeling.

20140713-045838.jpg

Q-Tip

For two weeks prior to the announcement, my good friend, Hip Hop legend, Q-Tip insisted, in private conversations with me, that James would be returning to play in Ohio, the state of his birth, and to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the organization where he began his professional career, when he was drafted out of high school as the number one overall pick in 2003.

Tip and I spoke about this several times, and I grew increasingly more and more dismissive with each mention, “C mon son, who moves from Miami to Cleveland by choice?” I went on, “There has never been a major free agent signed by the Cavaliers.” And, “Who in their right mind would move to Cleveland from Miami after they’d already lived in Cleveland?” Tip grew more and more subdued as I became more emphatic with my dismissals of this preposterous notion. But he remained confident.

Every year, My Beloved Knicks are an important lens through which I see much of the world during the months that begin shortly after Halloween and continue on until a couple of weeks past Memorial Day. Since the Knicks haven’t made a deep playoff run in fifteen seasons, in order for my passion for the sport to be fueled, I have had to broaden my view, and pay more attention to the league as a whole by watching the development of other players and organizations. As a result, I have seen situations that have illuminated race relations, class disparity, labor relations, cultural issues of importance and business practices.

Based on recent developments, I believe that we are witnessing events that are forming a paradigm shift and a watershed moment in the history of sports in America. During the NBA playoff season, Donald Sterling, the former controlling owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, engaged in a conversation with his jump off that, unknown to him, was digitally captured and shared with the world. While he was giving his young paramour the benefit of what he’d learned about how the world works; he went on and on about why she shouldn’t be photographed on social media platforms with Blacks, why she shouldn’t invite them to his games and how Magic Johnson was unfit for her to be seen in public with.

By making the recorded conversation available on the worldwide web, TMZ broke the sensational scandal on the day before my birthday in April. This initiated a chain of events that resulted in; the NBA stripping Sterling of day-to-day control of his team, Dick Parsons, an outstanding corporate executive of color being installed as the interim CEO, it caused sponsors to withdraw their support, catalyzed the Clippers players to threaten a boycott of the playoffs, prompted President Barack Obama to weigh in from a trip abroad in Asia and the NBA’s best, most visible and most important player, LeBron James stated, “There is no place for anyone like Donald Sterling in our league.” “Our league,” he said. Sterling – who is litigious to the extreme – is currently involved in a court battle with his wife that, when settled, will determine whether or not she has the right to sell the franchise to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for the inflated price of $2billion and if Sterling is mentally competent. Last week, reportedly, during court proceedings, Sterling was inexplicably absent one day, and on another, referred to his wife as a “pig”.

Back to the lesson at hand: With the heightened media interest that accompanies the NBA free agency period, Thursday afternoon, in the midst of all of this activity, professional basketball proved once again that on the whole, it is a game played for and by progressives, when LeBron James announced that he was leaving the Miami Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In an exclusive announcement for Sports Illustrated, among many reasons given, James explained that, “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People, there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

I’ve seen James play live, during his senior year, in a high school showcase game, that was played on the campus of UCLA, and the summer afterward in Magic Johnson’s Mid Summer’s Magic charity game at the Staples Center. I was impressed by his combination of size, speed, agility and passing ability. It was obvious he could score, but he wasn’t greedy – he passed shots up to get teammates the ball. This is the essence of LeBron James: He often sacrifices for the good of others.

Thursday when the news went public. J. A. Adande, the sports correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and ESPN credited my man, Q-Tip with breaking the story on Twitter when he Tweeted, “Q -Tip did kinda win this” RT@QtipTheAbstract: Man all y’all who was acting like I didn’t know what it was w lebron check my timeline.”

Despite Miami having summer 10 months out of the year, young hot ass Cuban girls with thongs, beaches, food, close proximity to the Caribbean, nightlife and no state income tax, James made the choice to change teams. Why would you leave Miami to go anywhere else? Never mind Cleveland. So I called Tip, to pay respect for his obvious insight, and asked, “What made you think LeBron was going home?”

The legend said, “I don’t know. I keep my ear to the street. Basketball is not just a game, it’s a community, it’s about grassroots, it’s about getting knocked on your ass and getting back up. I hear rumors, but you have to process who’s said them. I heard a few things from credible sources, and I believed them. So I went with it.”

When I asked him, “Why do you think he did it? Obviously there are his reported reasons, but why do you think he did it?”

He responded, “LeBron is a Soul Man from a Soul town. The area of the country he’s from is having it rough right now; people are being deprived of water in Detroit, Black on Black murder is rampant in Chicago, Cleveland has some of the highest unemployment in the country, he (James) has always tried to be a beacon.”

James himself said about the move back to the Cavaliers, “But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

I also asked Tip if he knew of other athletes that reminded him of James, “Of course, but they are from different eras; Bill Russell was an activist for social justice and a freedom fighter. Arthur Ashe, Curt Flood… Billy Jean King used her status to fight for gender equality, and who could forget Muhammad Ali?” He went on further, “During the Trayvon Martin tragedy, he (James) led his  team in protest. He’s a special dude. He’s blue collar, his mother raised him right.”

Frank Cashen was the General Manager of the New York Mets during an exciting period in the franchise’s history. He made a distinction between sports fans and customers: fans root, customers buy tickets. I’m basketball people. My mother played, and coached. She put me in the loop during Bill Russell’s last active season, and then the next one, My Beloved Knicks won the watches. I played and have friends all over the country that I have met through the sport. I have seen over 400 live games in the NBA. It is in my blood. With this latest move by LeBron James, he has validated my belief that sports can unite like very few other human endeavors, and for a little bit, maybe restored the faith of a few of us in the possibility of America. Great move by a great guy that has warmed my heart and made me smile. This season, I hope the Knicks beat his brains in.

insideplaya

Read Full Post »

For Macho

Lesvia Castro is a Black Music vet with strong ties to Soul City. She has been a friend of the playa’s for 25 years. She worked in video when it was cool, A&R when it meant something and is currently in the marketing department at Universal Records. She is of Puerto Rican descent and a writer with flair.

Last week, Puerto Rican boxing legend, Hector “Macho” Camacho, the scrapping New Yorker, who fought his way out of Spanish Harlem to be a four time world champion, was murdered on the island of his people. He was a magical figure who captured the imagination of every New Yorker with a dream. The news of his death broke my heart and prompted me to request a guest blog from Lesvia. Here it is.

insideplaya

46221_4249783921967_623300175_n

THE CHAMP

I admired Hector Camacho’s skills in the ring and loved that he was Borinqueno. This made the love fest more intense for me because he was one of our own, and his ascension into the boxing world as one of the greats, elicited national pride for Puerto Ricans on the island and on the mainland. We loved that he never forgot about the island of enchantment, where he was born.

I also admired that after doing a short bid for some dumb shit he did uptown, he would square off with dudes behind the wall, and after seeing how great a fighter he was, one of them spoke 5 words to him that would forever change the trajectory of his life, “what are you doing here?” After that stint in jail, the cocky kid escaped the mean streets of Spanish Harlem by focusing on fostering his God-given ability to box, and ultimately earned three time New York Golden Gloves Champion and four time World Champ status.

Camacho was a lionizing figure in the sports world with a brash character. He strutted his way to fame with that single, annoying, power curl that dangled faithfully from the middle of his forehead, and its longer, even more annoying follicle bredren, that hung from the lower back of his head. He lacked humility and was too Hollywood for some. He was a colorful guy, who did it big, with flamboyance in and outside of the ring. His aggressive and outspoken attitude, his SUPA sized persona, his ladies’ man status and the offensive amounts of jewelry he wore proudly, sealed this impression in the public’s mind.

I never really liked that he was so full of himself or that he liked to wage psychological warfare on his opponents, but I resolved that it was part of the ever-present mind fuck that boxers use to instill the intimidation prior to squaring off in the ring. Once, he had the audacity brass cojones to feminize a challenger by sending him a pair of red lace panties before a fight. To ensure that he would open the gift, Camacho had the box addressed as if it had come from the Governor of Puerto Rico. Along with many of the fans who were in attendance at MSG, the night the two fighters battled for the world lightweight title, I believed that Edwin Rosario, his fellow Puerto Rican, kicked his ass. The cacophony of “boos,” when the winner was announced, told me so. Many believed (me included) that the fight was unfairly called for Camacho.

The Julio Cesar Chavez fight showed the world what Camacho was made of. He was outclassed, outfought and pummeled ferociously. When it became apparent that there was no beating Chavez, he stood his ground and didn’t quit. He carried the pride of a nation into the ring with him that night and made us all beam with joy. He was a MACHO man and macho men, who grow up in Spanish Harlem by way of Bayamon Puerto Rico, don’t quit! And, he didn’t! He famously said at the post-fight conference “I just got my ass kicked, but I’m still ready to party!” That was the essence of who he was.

Oscar De La Hoya, who put Camacho on the canvas and defeated him for the WBC welterweight title on Sept. 13, 1997, tweeted: “May your soul rest in peace my friend. You are a warrior gladiator and a special human being. We will miss you dearly and will always love you. I remember Emanuel Steward told me, “You are not going to knock him out, his chin is made of granite and his heart is twice the size!”

64300_3348881369220_175221821_n

THE AUTHOR

In the end, Hector “Macho” Camacho was a misunderstood soul, who couldn’t get out of his own way. I wanted him to win…not just in the ring, but in life. He said that he was back and that he was done with all the extra-curricular activities that overshadowed his greatness as a warrior. But since he raced toward his death by keeping suspect friendships in his midst, he’s left us all in disbelief, broken hearted, confused and in mourning.

Tragically, at 50 years of age, he was much too young to have made his departure from this life in such a violent manner. His spirit remains, however, in the heart of his fans that accepted the man with all his faults. Though he pursued his life with reckless abandon, he was an icon in Puerto Rican popular culture and will always be remembered as a skilled boxer and brilliant promotion man with unmitigated audacity, that easily rivaled that of Don King’s. I hope the peace that eluded him in life, has finally found him in death. Que en paz descances, Campeon Borinqueno! It will always be MACHO TIME in our hearts…

Lesvia Castro

Read Full Post »

Ed Eckstine is an old friend and collaborator. He was the first Black president of one of the major labels. Before that, he worked with Al Green, Quincy Jones, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Chaka Khan, Ashford & Simpson, Rod Temperton, The Brothers Johnson, Michael Jackson, and Clive Davis. He ran a small imprint called Wing Records, and the Playa handled duties as the East Coast Director of Promotion for our small shop where we broke Vanessa Williams, Brian Mcknight and Tony Toni Tone. We are both fans of the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders.

He is also the son of the legendary Billy Eckstine, who along with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald became one of America’s earliest crossover sensations. The smooth baritone, romantic ballads, and good looks of Mr. B had many a female fan prepared to ignore the accepted segregationist norms of the day. Mr. B also fronted the first be-bop big band that included Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughn, and a young Miles Davis. In his travels, Mr. B befriended another young legend, the great football innovator, Al Davis. Davis passed away last week at the age of 82; Ed has graciously consented to share a few memories with us of his old family friend. Enjoy.
insideplaya

oakland_raiders_mascot-14233

My father Billy Eckstine passed away on, March 8, 1993 at the age of 79. A sad day for sure. Six months prior he’d suffered a stroke; when his body shut down, it was just a matter of time until that day would come. I was in my office in New York, tending to my duties as President of Mercury Records, when I received the call from my sisters informing me of his transition. I issued a press release on behalf of the family, felt an electric jolt throughout my body and braced myself for the outpouring of love that was surely to come. Within minutes my assistant buzzed me and told me that Al Davis was on line two.

“Eddie,” I heard in that voice that every football fan has heard, exaggeratedly imitated over the years, “I just heard about “B” and I’m absolutely sick.”

“Thanks, Mr. D, it is really nice to hear from you now. I know how much Pops and you loved each other, so this is special, and much appreciated,” I said.

“Let me tell you something, kid, your Dad was a special guy. My favorite sing-uh and a real Raid-uh. First Sass (Sarah Vaughan) and now B. This hurts, I miss the S.O.B. already.”

I heard sniffles on the other end of the phone, tried my best to console the man who had called to console me. In an attempt to lighten the mood I said to him: “Mr. D, I’ve known you since I was a kid, but I don’t know how you and Pops came to know each other. Tell me.”

JOHN MADDEN & AL DAVIS

Scan 2

THE LEGENDARY BILLY ECKSTINE SURROUNDED BY THREE MEMBERS OF THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

He said while laughing:

I was a kid, 19 or 20. I loved jazz, couldn’t get enough of it. I loved all of the singers — but Mr. B? That was my guy. Your Dad was playing on 52nd Street, and I was too young to get in at night so a lot of us kids would stand on the street, hovering outside the club door, listening to the music coming from the stage. In those days the artist would pull up in a cab, walk in the front door, and walk right by those of us on the street. Many would stop and sign autographs before entering the club.

I think it was a Thursday night, and I had positioned myself by the rail so when Billy arrived I would be right there to greet him. Couple of minutes later he pulls up, steps out of the cab, looking like a fucking king. When he stopped at the front, I said ‘hey Mr. B can I get an autograph? My name is Al.’ Girls are screaming and clawing at him, but he signed the piece of paper for me and went in. I stood outside and listened to two sets in the cold. When he left for the evening there I was to tell him, great set, B. He turned, shook my hand and disappeared into the night.

I was beside myself.

The next night I came back and did the same thing. When I offered my piece of paper for the autograph, I told him I had been there the night before, he said, ‘yeah I remember you’ — I now suspect that was bullshit. I was just another punk kid. But when he said that, I knew I had to stick around to see if I could really talk to him after the show.

Three sets later he appears and there I am standing there freezing my ass off. He looks at me and says, “it’s cold out here kid, go home.”

I looked at him and said can I talk to you for a minute Mr. B?

He must have felt sorry for me because he stopped and said, “what do you want?”

Billy, (like we’re pals, right) my girl and I are your biggest fans and I’m going to bring her to the matinee show tomorrow. You don’t know what it would do for me if when you get here tomorrow and you see us you’d make a point of saying hi to me.

I’ll never forget he looked at me and said, “sure kid, if you are here, I will. What was your name again?”
Al. Al Davis.

So my girl and I get to the club an hour and a half early. I didn’t want to blow this one. He pulls up, steps out, and is talking to someone. I immediately get nervous that he is going to forget.

Just then he turns around, looks at my girl and says, “hey Al, how you doing, buddy? This must be that pretty girl you’ve been telling me about — how you doing, honey?” She just melted. I felt like the coolest bastard in NYC.

He then turns to his manager and says, “make sure my buddy, Al, here gets a good table, and that nobody asks him how old he is. Tell them he is with me.”

“Let me tell you something, two people fell in love that night. The girl became my wife; and B, my fuckin’ man. Our paths crossed over the years. As I made my way in the football business, we shared many mutual friends. He was friends with so many of the great black players of the 50’s and 60’s like Buddy Young, Marion Motley, Tank Younger, Lenny Moore, Big Daddy Lipscombe, and Ollie Matson. Right,fully so many of them were skeptical about the white guys in the front offices and coaching staffs. I was what they called a ‘race guy’ who viewed everyone equally, and when guys would see that B liked me, it broke a lot of ice for me. I will never forget him.”

Al and I both shed a tear at this point, agreed to speak soon, and went about our business.

When I was seven years old (in 1960), the AFL came to Los Angeles with the Chargers, coached by the legendary and innovative Sid Gillman. Dad and Sid were friends, and Sid was known by the black players as one of ‘the good guys’. When he was in college, Dad had aspirations of being a football player in his youth, but a broken collarbone derailed those plans. A singer was born; but his love of the game, its characters, and their talents never left him.

In the pre-integration days of Black College football, he loved to visit his friend, Eddie Robinson at Grambling. He’d go to practice, reach out to his friends, Carroll Rosenbloom (who was then the owner of the Baltimore Colts) and Sid Gillman, regaling them with tales of a kid he’d seen at Prairie View and how they’d better get there tired asses down there to see these kids who could run like they’d just stole something and could catch a pass in a hurricane.

Al Davis was on Gillman’s coaching staff with the LA Chargers — where the vaunted vertical offense was developed — along with another future Hall of Famer, Chuck Noll, the coach of the great Pittsburgh Steeler teams of the 70’s.

When Al left to take over the Raiders another phase of his relationship with Dad began, rooted in the competition of two men and their football teams. Dad had standing invites from both Gillman and Mr. D. He was issued a gold pass from both teams for entry to any stadium where they were playing. It was assumed that he’d sing the national anthem when there. Pretty cool, obviously, but the Chargers and the Raiders played each other twice a year; therein the trouble began.

Al took to calling Dad the Raiders “designated singer” and having him introduced at Oakland Stadium as “the World’s greatest Raider fan” just to piss Sid off. Sid would have Dad escorted to his box in San Diego by security, just so he couldn’t sneak over to the Raider side of the field and see some of his Raider pals. Pops, of course, knowing a good opportunity to rib his pals, always made a point of being a front runner, threatening to only support the team that was doing better in the standings.

My brother Guy and I attended many of those games in both cities. Usually watching the games from the sidelines, which really wasn’t all that sexy when you were a small eight or 11-year-old trying to watch the game with 6′ 6″ Ernie Ladd standing in front of you. Not long ago on ESPN Classics, we were watching a replay of Raiders vs. Dolphin game and there we were in all of our afroed glory standing on the Raider sidelines with Pops.

Mr. Davis always laced us with Raider gear before it was fashionable, just so we wouldn’t wear Rams (Rosenbloom owned the team by then) or Charger swag. If Pops was playing a gig in San Francisco, Tahoe, or Reno, you could bet Mr. Davis and some of his Raider posse, Jim Otto, Willie Brown, Art Powell, Jack Tatum, or George Atkinson would be front and center.

ed-eckstein

MARLON JACKSON THE KING OF POP & THE AUTHOR

When the Raiders moved to LA, Mr. Davis’ assistant, Fudgie, called to tell us that four seats had been put aside for us at the Coliseum on the 50 yard line, 30 rows up. Perfection. We kept those seats the entire time they were in LA.

When I called to say thanks, where can I send a check, he relayed the message: “send it to your old man. I know he is gonna bet against us at some point this year and lose his ass.”

The last time I spoke with him was a memorable day in Raider nation. It was the day in 2005 they signed Randy Moss. The phone rang and it was Fudgie, telling me to hold for Mr. Davis. I thought what could this be about?
“Eddie. How are you, kid? I’m just calling to see how those broken hands of yours are healing. Are you doing okay?”

Mr. Davis, my hands are fine. Where did you hear that they were broken?

“I didn’t have to hear it, you SOB. I haven’t heard from you so I just assumed it.”

We laughed, shared pleasantries, talked about the Moss signing. I respectfully avoided talking about how depressing things were becoming in Raiderland and then he told me he had an idea. “You still in the music business?”

Sort of, I’m no longer at Polygram and I decided to take a break to be with my family and figure out what to do next in my life.

He continued, “you know, we have about a dozen Raider stores across the state of California. I‘d like to sell some music in them. These kids today don’t know all the greats like your Dad, Sarah, Ella, Billie, Dinah and Steve and Eydie. I can’t find Eydie’s version of “If He Walked Into My Life’ anywhere — so shit, I am going to put it out myself. I figure we’ll press up some CDs put the Raider logo on them and start selling them in our stores. What do you think?”

Knowing that it wasn’t as easy as that, what with copyright and master ownership issues — this stuff had to be licensed — I was quickly mulling how to respond. “Well, Mr. D, my first response is really creative. I love my Pops and the other music. I appreciate your desire to carry their contributions forward. Honestly, you’d sell a lot more music if you chose metal and hip hop; that’s who your fan base is. I bet we could put together some only-for-this-project collaborations cause there are a lot of Raider fans in the artist community. I know you love Kay Starr, but honestly your fans don’t give a shit about her. As far as the notion of putting together some CDs, slapping the logo on them, and selling them in you stores, I was thinking of doing the exact same thing. I was going to get some tee shirts put the Raider logo on them and start selling them out of the back of my car. I don’t need to license it right? You’d be okay with that, huh?”

He thought about it for a second, and in that inimitable voice said, “Oh, so you’re a fucking wise guy, just like your Dad. God, I wish your Dad was here so we could talk about this Moss kid, I really miss him.”

God rest you Mr. D, just like Pops they tossed the mold when they made you.

Read Full Post »