RGIII, cake pans, wedding registries and fandom
"People invest in stocks because they want to become of a part of the rise of a company," Redskins fan Shawn Basak told me earlier this week, explaining why he bought an 8-inch cake pan for Robert Griffin III. "This is a little bit of the same thing. He's someone I think everyone feels a bond with. He's someone I'm probably never going to meet, but now I have this very odd relationship with, because I bought him a cake pan. And the way he pays everyone back is by bringing us hope and happiness with the Redskins, which is a big part of everyone's life."
I know you're probably sick of reading about the RGIII gift registry thing. That's understandable. But I'm writing about it one last time, because it's now something I actually care about, and very few things that meet that criteria.
See, the thing that got me a bit worked up was Michelle Singletary's recent column on the rush of fans to buy gifts for a wealthy quarterback. Let me quote:
Griffin is missing the point. Although he seems like a nice guy, showing off the gifts even the swaggered way he is standing in the photo -- makes him seem more boastful than grateful. If he wanted to thank fans, a handwritten private note to each giver would have been more appropriate.
It's not that you shouldn't receive gifts if you're wealthy or that you don't deserve them. And certainly people are free to buy presents for the couple, but why were they registering for gifts at all? Really, they want people to buy them $9 flatware? It's yet another example of how people treat their special occasions as an opportunity to profit. With so much already, why couldn't the couple communicate — without a gift registry — that they have so much already?
Now, Singletary is talking more to Griffin than she is to the fans. But I think there's a fundamental lack of understanding here about the relationship between adult fans and their athletic heroes.
It brings to mind the phenomenon of autographs. Sure, some people wait in line for athletes' autographs because of the implied financial value. Most, I'd guess, are seeking something else: a rare moment of human connection with someone they don't know but have nevertheless invested hundreds of hours of emotions into. It's not really much different than waiting in line for a handshake or a hello. It's trying to turn something that's obviously absurd and childlike into something briefly tangible, a real interaction between a fan -- who probably knows it's all a bit silly -- and an athlete who's usually just a flickering image on the TV.
I'm not saying people should or shouldn't care so much about athletes, but they do.They will.
Which brings me back to Shawn, whom I quoted above. He's 26, grew up in Montgomery County, but now lives in Chicago. He isn't around anymore for the autograph shows and the Welcome Home Luncheons and the training camp practices -- which he first started attending when he was 7 -- but he still cares tremendously about the Redskins.
And -- prompted by a question from his own fiancee -- he's actually thought a lot about why he felt so compelled to buy the quarterback an inexpensive gift from his registry, even though he still hasn't bought wedding gifts for some of his closest personal friends. Griffin, he said, is the opposite of Albert Haynesworth, who promised everything and delivered nothing. Griffin delivered.
"The decision to get him a present wasn't the hard part," Shawn told me. "There's just some emotional relationships that I think a lot of fans have with him, because he's made a point to show us that he's not going to fail us. Anyone can say it, but he's the real deal ..
"We've been pained for so long; 10 or 15 years of just misery," he went on. "It's no one else's decision whether I buy a cake pan for a guy I'm never going to meet. And so what if he's got 15 of them? I'm now a part of his cabinet. A little piece of me is part of that cake pan in his cabinet. It's less about Robert than it is about the fans. We want to be a part of his life, just the same way he's a part of ours."
It's funny, but it's not really a joke, unless you've decided that the entire process of emotionally investing in a team is a joke. Were we all mature and wise and rational, we'd never spend $15 on any frivolities, on anything other than the bare necessities of life. Since that's not the case, I can think of a lot worse ways to waste money than spending $15 to feel like a little part of you is embedded in the house of an athlete you love.
Which brings me, finally, to Jimmy Chan, a 34-year old from Sterling who bought Griffin a $15 bath mat. He, too, has thought a lot about this whole episode, both the fans' actions and the online backlash. It made him think about Michael Jordan, the player he most idolized back in elementary school, and how Griffin has elicited similar, long-dormant emotions.
"It's just a way to be connected to him. He'll get something from me, as a thank you, for the way he entertained me this year," Jimmy said. "I think part of it is living your childhood again."
If you can't understand that, I'd submit that you're the one who's missing the point.
'Doin' It In The Park' hoops documentary evokes memories of D.C. playground scene
While many basketball fans spent Wednesday speculating on who the Wizards might pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, a different night of hoops was happening in Columbia Heights.
At the Gala Theatre, hip-hop ambassador and basketball lifer Bobbito Garcia screened his film, "Doin It In The Park," to a somewhat star-studded crowd. The film, which Garcia made with Kevin Couliau, explores the world of New York City's outdoor courts and the culture surrounding them.
The documentary is a love letter to blacktop basketball, and explores open runs from the famous West Fourth Street Court to the prison-yard games at Rikers Island. Shot impeccably on what Garcia called a "no shoestrings" budget, it serves as a primer for anyone unfamiliar with the world of playground hoops, the true lifeblood of the game in many minds.
But that wasn't the crowd in attendance Wednesday. The event, which was also a fundraiser for the non-profit group Hoops Sagrado, drew D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, as well as ESPN television personalities Kevin Blackistone and Tony Reali, who hosted a question-and-answer session after the movie with the filmmakers.
Sagrado, run by Bryan Weaver, sends at-risk teens in D.C. to Guatemala to teach basketball and provides scholarships for education beyond fifth grade to children there.
And of course, the film brought up discussion of D.C.'s own playground scene, which has a rich history as well. The Goodman League is well documented and stories of past players like Elgin Baylor still come up in street hoops circles.
"I'm very aware of the great players that have come out of here, dating back to Elgin Baylor, who's probably the first superstar that I know of out of the DC playgrounds," Garcia said. "According to folklore, Wilt Chamberlain came down from Philly and Elgin's crew spanked his five, although I don't know if they gave Wilt a bum four to run with."
And for Blackistone, the movie reminded him of games he saw growing up in the area.
"I remember being at an Urban Coalition league in a hot, sweaty Dunbar gym, when Adrian Branch dropped 72 and broke the scoring record there, which was 71, set by Truck Robinson when he was playing in the NBA for the Washington Bullets," Blackistone said. "I can remember games like that."
Reali, a New York native and D.C. resident who still plays regularly, noted that between the two scenes, there are some differences at the highest level.
"It's not really fair to compare how your playground is to how your NBA success is, but if you look at the players that have come out this region now, you talk about [Kevin] Durant, you talk [Michael] Beasley and guys in the league now. The NYC players we saw in the league most recently, that's Smush Parker and Homocide Williams, who couldn't make the Toronto Raptors, and he's a legend," Reali said.
"This is one of things we saw with the NBA lockout. I think D.C. really stepped up their game at that moment. And became more of a national scene for playground basketball during the time when the NBA would shut down and these players came back and played in this area."
Bobbito's movie and life have a couple connections to D.C. beyond basketball. His wife is from the District. And clearly the title of the movie is an homage to the Blackbyrds' 1975 hit, "Rock Creek Park."
And for Garcia, geography isn't really what the film is about at its core. It's about how one sport has managed to bring communities together in an urban context for so many years with so much success.
"I've been coming down to D.C. since the '80 s and have played pickup, and of course there's X amount of amazing players who have impact from both PG County, Baltimore and D.C. We have nothing but love for this city. Our film is based in New York because that's our area of expertise, but forget about the location," Garcia said. "It's more about a movement. You can be from China, or D.C., and you can relate to that."
Clinton Yates is a D.C. native, Local News Editor for Express and a columnist for The Root DC. Follow him on Twitter: @clintonyates.
Best Week in Washington Sports: Ernie Grunfeld
My colleague Chris Cillizza has a great weekly feature called "Worst Week in Washington," where he spotlights a political figure who has landed on the wrong side of the press. I'm stealing a page out of his playbook, and it was my original intention to award a "Worst Week" to a D.C. sports figure every Friday. But I'm generally not a cranky person, so I decided that the Bog version should be all puppies and chocolate-chip cookies. So here's "Best Week in Washington Sports."
When the Wizards avoided drawing the eighth draft pick in Tuesday's draft lottery, it jumped them to a guaranteed top 3 pick. Now, I don't fully understand the wacky draft rules that allowed this to happen (to me it's like watching Joey, Ross and Chandler play Bamboozle), but it doesn't matter because the result was that Ernie Grunfeld gets a gem of a pick. He gets a young guy who can likely contribute right away. He gets a guy he can build around.
Plus, he gets to say mysterious things like this:
"Well, I think it's a three-player draft. But I won't tell you who that third player is."
Will he trade the pick? Probably not. Will he take local college star Otto Porter or Alex Len? Maybe. Does he get a solid pick for any position? Yes. And the point is, the man has choices, which is an NBA executive's dream.
Besides, John Wall, Bradley Beal and a third overall pick on the same team during the last year of Grunfeld's current contract looks pretty good for the Wizards GM.
Maryland women's lacrosse team is intense, possessed
Alex Prewitt did a fine job explaining how intensely focused the top-ranked Maryland women's lacrosse team is on the national championship entering Friday's semifinals.
"They have a goal," Coach Cathy Reese said, explaining why there was a muted celebration after the Terps' quarterfinal win. "They're on a mission, and that's a piece of it. I'm like, 'We need to celebrate our successes. This is huge that we're going to the Final Four.' But they're on a mission."
If you'd rather see a pictorial representation of that intensity, here ya go. Someone with the team sent along this photo from the Thursday night banquet at the Appleford Estate near Philadelphia. That's something, anyhow.
FOX Sports 1 s RGIII promo
The first mention I can find of Robert Griffin III in Nexis came in the summer of 2004, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It was beneath a story about then-7-year old tennis star Domonique Garley, who was competing on the u-10 and u-12 circuits because she was so dominant.
"Domonique Garley wouldn't mind picking on someone her own size on the tennis court," the story began. "The problem is there aren't many 7-year-olds who can hit a tennis ball like the Fort Worth girl, meaning she's always playing at higher levels to find adequate competition. And Domonique frequently leaves the older girls scratching their heads after she beats them with a cross-court backhand or fires an ace at 45 miles per hour."
There were also bunch of youth sports results tacked on at the bottom. One "Robert Griffin III" placed first in the u-14 high jump at a local track meet, with a leap of 6-02 1/2.
And nine years later, here I am doing blog posts about 11-second promotions for sports networks that don't even exist yet, starring that same RGIII.