IMG_5425

Oh there were a bunch of dignitaries there. A Governor. Organizing Committee Head. Olympians. Celebrities. There were proclamations. Couldn’t see it. It was rainy. And I was too late to get to a good spot.

But it was still cool, on October 28, 2017, to celebrate 1,000 Days to the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the Ginza.IMG_5418

 

At the moment the photo above was snapped, there was 1,000 days and over 4 hours to the start of the Tokyo Olympiad – in other words, 8pm on Friday, July 24, 2020.

We got to see the 2020 logo on display, the white geometric design on traditional Japanese indigo blue, featured on the festival happi coats of supporters.

We got to see demonstrations of a few of the new events to debut in 2020, like 3-on-3 basketball and sports climbing.

IMG_5430

In the case of 3-on-3 basketball, basketball players slipped on the rain-slicked asphalt, but still put on a show. Afterwards, renown kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa and Olympic weightlifter Hiromi Miyake showed off their shooting prowess.

IMG_5410
Olympic weightlifter Hiromi Miyake

IMG_5406
Famed kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa
This event at the Ginza, still one of the world’s swankiest shopping areas, was an opportunity for Tokyo 2020 local sponsors to promote their linkage to the Olympics.

 

IMG_5433
Eneos does the classic tourist gimmick.

IMG_5435
A new ANA plane, with artwork designed by a junior high school student.
Here, I put my origami skills to the test to fold a paper crane. I failed…but I still put my heart into it.

IMG_5440
Kinki Nihon Tourist asking passersby to fold cranes.
On November 29, it will be 1,000 days to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

The countdown continues…..

Frederic Weiss at a Knicks camp

It was the end of June, 1999, and my New York Knicks had come off a stunning run to make it to the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. They lost in five games, but the energy and excitement that Latrell Sprewell, Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Marcus Camby brought to New York City was electric!

It was a great time to be a Knick fan!

But a week later, still basking in the glory of my team’s incredible season-ending run, the powers that be in the Knickerbocker management team made a decision in the NBA draft that puzzled, if not deflated the fan base. With the fifteenth pick in the first round of the draft, the Knicks selected Frédéric Weis.

Qui?

Weis was from France, a seven footer, perhaps someone to clog up the middle. Who was pick number 16? One of the most talented players to come out of my favorite university college team, Ron Artest, who would go on to become a volatile but brilliant All-Star in his career. (Yes, Artest of St. John’s University, would change his name to Metta World Peace.)

But what of Weis?

For starters, the Knicks’ coach, Jeff van Gundy did not appear to be supportive of the selection. Weis, overjoyed to be drafted, soon felt the cold shoulder once he arrived in the United States for the Knicks’ summer league camps where rookies and others are worked out. Weis was not considered inspired material, but he was a first round draft pick, which afforded him the right to sign a contract that would have made him a Knick. But thanks to his agent, he declined so that he could play another year with his professional team in France. Weis personally believes that was a mistake.

Then came the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and perhaps the most famous dunk in Olympic history, perhaps in basketball history. The American team were facing the French national team, and pretty much handling the French, up by 15 with 16 minutes to play in the game. The French rebounded the ball at their end of the court, one player bounced pass a ball that went a bit too high for his teammate. That’s when Vince Carter, one of the NBA’s most dynamic players at that time, came charging in, snatching that high pass, dribble twice and then leaping for a thunderous dunk. In his path was Weis, who Carter simply lept over, all 2.18 meters of him.

That play has been dubbed “Le dunk de la morte,” or the Dunk of Death.

Vinsanity went into overdrive. Weis, if he were a stock, nosedived – a symbol of all the terrible talent decisions Knick management had made in the past (and in the future).

And that was despite the fact that Weis played well on a French team that won the silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Weis never played a game as a New York Knick. After the Olympics and his return to France, no efforts were made by Knick management to make him a part of the team. In other words, to Knicks fans, Weis was a total waste of a good draft pick.

The New York Times followed up on Weis in September, 2015, with this wonderful but sad story of a man whose basketball career, so full of promise, never took off, and a life that appeared to deteriorate year on year.

Vince Carter Frederic Weiss in Le Duck du Mort

A couple of years after winning silver at the Olympics, Weis and his wife Celia had a boy named Enzo. A year later, the boy was diagnosed to be autistic, which was hard for Weis to handle, so much so that the couple separated, Celia taking Enzo away. Bouts of depression became deeper, until finally Weis decided he had had enough of himself. Here’s how the New York Times told that story:

On the morning when Frédéric Weis tried to kill himself, he dreamed about owning a beach house. A beach house had been Weis’s dream for a long time. In France, in Spain, in Greece — wherever his career as a 7-foot-2 professional basketball player took him. He liked the sand, he liked the surf. A beach house was a good dream.

But on that day, in January 2008, the dream did not make him smile. Weis got into his car in Bilbao, Spain, around 10 a.m. and began the drive here, to this small city in west-central France best known for its production of fine china. He was on his way to see his wife and son. About 90 minutes into the drive, Weis suddenly pulled over at a rest area near Biarritz, a French town not far from the border.

He stopped the car, leaned back in his seat and, at 30 years old, considered all that had happened to him during his career… Weis thought about all this for a while. Then he thought about the beach house. Then he thought about his son, Enzo. Then he reached over, took out the box of sleeping pills he had brought with him and swallowed every single one.

But, as the article explained, Weis did not pass on. He instead fell into a deep sleep, waking up 10 hours later realizing he was still alive. “He had failed, and for once, this made him happy. ‘It was the luckiest I’ve been in my life,’ he said.”

Frederic Weiss tobacco shop
Frederic Weiss at his tobacco shop

Weiss returned to basketball in Spain and France before retiring in 2011. When the New York Times caught up with him in Limoges, France, where he was running a tobacco store and a bar, battling bouts of depression, but back with his wife Celia and son Enzo.

Life goes on for the man made famous by the Dunk of Death.

This is Part 2 of a breakdown of the amateur film by George and Lilian Merz.

The Merz’s, who won an award for their summary of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, stayed primarily around the National Stadium, so their view of the Olympics was primarily track and field. But on occasion, they trained their cameras at events outside the National Stadium, as well as on non-sporting events. Their footage of the ceremonies have been more effectively captured elsewhere, but their human interest forays are interesting at times.

US Team Opening Ceremony_Merz Film
US Team Opening Ceremony
  • Opening Ceremony: 1:25 – It’s the Opening Ceremony at the National Stadium on October 10, 1963. At the 3:12 mark, the US team enters the stadium. The men on the US team are wearing cowboy hats, and it appears that is all you see in their sea of members. The women however aren’t wearing any hats. President Johnson, who is believed to have had the hats sent to the Olympians, probably didn’t think it was appropriate for women to wear these cowboy hats. What struck me was how small the female crowd was. When I looked it up, of the 346 people on the US Olympic squad, only 79 were women. And many of them were likely swimmers who had to compete in the next few days, so were likely not allowed to march in the opening ceremony. Interestingly, the men who dominated the US sailing team brought up the rear, not in cowboy hats, but in sailor caps. Also great footage of the balloon released, the Olympic flag raised and the cauldron lit, in a jam-packed stadium. At the 8:36, Merz has footage of the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the stands!
  • Huckster Girls: 12:25 and 13:56 – That’s what Merz calls the women selling food and drink in the National Stadium. I can’t tell what snacks they were selling, but they were selling a bottle of Coca Cola for 50 yen. At 360 yen to the dollar, that’s about 13 cents!
  • Nature Boy: At the 14:32 mark, Merz films an unusual looking Japanese man outside the National Stadium, whom he dubs “nature boy”. He’s bald headed and bare chested, except for a sash, and holding a banner. The sash says “Make Your Body as Naked as Your Face!”. His banner basically says the same thing, further emphasizing that nudity is healthy, and that he belongs to some sort of nudist association. In modest Japan, this is the last thing I would have expected to see in this documentary.

Nature Boy_Merz Film

  • Rain Rain Rain: You can see at the 17:16 mark a sea of umbrellas. On certain days, it simply rained through the day.
  • Press Seats and TV Monitors: As you can see at the 16:44 mark, the press section in the National Stadium had little TV monitors so that the press could watch the action up close.
  • Eating Bento: I don’t know what the guy is eating, but I’m sure it was good! At the 23:16 mark you can see the spectators sitting on wood-slat benches, and this particular man enjoying a bento. He appears to be sitting in a covered section of the stadium too.

eating bento in the stands_Merz Film

  • 4×100 Swimming Relay Men’s: 5:26 – The Merz’s visit the National Gymnasium and fil the second heat of the men’s 4×100 swimming relay, which the Americans win handily.
  • Field Hockey Men’s: 25:24 – The Merz’s take a break from the National Stadium and head to the Komazawa Stadium to watch a field hockey match between Germany and Kenya.
  • Basketball: 25:48 – The Merz’s then head to the National Gymnasium Annex to see men’s basketball. Unfortunately, the footage is too dark to tell which players are from which countries.
  • Closing Ceremony: 27:38 – And finally, here was footage of the closing ceremony. The film is dark, but you can see the Olympic flame extinguished – a blurry light extinguished, the Olympic Flag lowered, to be send to Mexico City, and an fireworks display to cap off an incredible two weeks.

Rain Rain Go Away_Merz Film

pick-up basketball

I was like every other boy in my neighborhood of Briarwood. We’d take every opportunity on the weekends and the summer to play outside: touch football on the street, whiffle ball in front of the house, handball against any school wall, stickball in the Molloy High School parking lot, and half-court basketball at Hoover Park.

Playing basketball is easy – all you need is a ball and a public park. Kids all over America, and now all over the world, are building their ball handling and shooting chops in half-court pick-up games. Going to high school not far from the famed West Fourth Street Courts in Manhattan, I’d stop and watch some pretty amazing athletes play some intense games in the classic link-fenced city courts, the kind of environment where so many NBA stars got their starts.

And now, not only can kids on these public courts dream of going to the NBA, they can now dream of going to half-court fame and glory in the Olympics. In the middle of the 2017 NBA Championships, on June 9, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that basketball would have a new event debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – three-on-three basketball.

“It’s great for basketball,” said Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, LeBron James. “For us to be able to add another category to the Olympics, another basketball category, I think it’s pretty great.

James went on to say that he wasn’t very good at 3-on-3, and that he avoids 1-on-1 matchups in team practices, so he didn’t see himself going to Tokyo on a team of 3. But that hasn’t stopped the world of imagining what it would be like to have the top NBA stars playing on these squads. SB Nation took the liberty of compiling each NBA’s team’s likeliest 3-team. Here’s their line up for six of the top NBA teams in 2017:

NBA 3 on 3 teams

Lew Alcindor and Coach John Wooden
Lew Alcindor and Coach John Wooden

The 1964 US men’s basketball team had a chip on its shoulder because it was feared they would be the first American team to lose a game in the Olympics, even with NBA champions Bill Bradley, Walt Hazzard, Mel Counts, Luke Jackson and Jeff Mullins, as well as famed coach, Larry Brown. USA took gold fairly handily at the Tokyo Games.

But one could argue, in retrospect, that the 1968 US men’s basketball team had even less star power and a greater chance of losing a game. There were future NBA champions Jo Jo White and Spencer Haywood, but the rest were a collection of (certainly) great athletes, many of whom ended up bouncing around the American Basketball Association.

The person who could have been the center of attention on the team was the UCLA star, Lew Alcindor. Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, led his high school to three straight NYC Catholic championships, and then, from 1967 to 1969, three straight NCAA championships with UCLA.

Abdul-Jabbar was in his collegiate prime, but declined to go to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In fact, he boycotted the Olympics to protest what he believed to be injustice for black Americans. The now NBA hall of famer and 6-time NBA champion published a book entitled “Coach Wooden and Me“, and explained his rationale, as excerpted in this article from NBC Sports. He wrote that while he wanted to go to Mexico City and play against the world’s best, he felt that it was more important to raise his social activist voice:

…the idea of going to Mexico to have fun seemed so selfish in light of the racial violence that was facing the country. The previous summer had seen two major riots, one in Newark that had lasted five days, and one in Detroit that had lasted eight days. And on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. White America seemed ready to do anything necessary to stop the progress of civil rights, and I thought that going to Mexico would seem like I was either fleeing the issue or more interested in my career than in justice. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I did go and we won, I’d be bringing honor to the country that was denying our rights.

Coach Wooden and Me

The decision to boycott by the great center for the UCLA Bruins spurred “a firestorm of criticism, racial epithets, and death threats.” But he explained that the UCLA administration and his famed coach, John Wooden, did not try to dissuade Abdul-Jabbar from his conviction to protest. And yet, Abdul-Jabbar, then and for many years later, felt in his heart that Wooden did not approve. Although Wooden never voiced his views, Abdul-Jabbar thought, “I just knew that he was very patriotic. He had been a lieutenant in the navy during World War II. I couldn’t imagine him endorsing my refusal to play in the Olympics and bring glory to the U.S.”

But he was wrong.

Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his book that he received a letter from a woman he did not know about a letter that she got from Coach Wooden, in reply to her letter to him criticizing Abdul-Jabbar’s decision to boycott the Olympics.

Dear Mrs. Hough,

The comments of this most unusual young man also disturbed me, but I have seen him hurt so much by the remarks of white people that I am probably more tolerant than most.

I have heard remarks within his hearing such as “Hey, look at that big black freak,” “Did you ever see such a big N—-r?” and others of a similar nature that might tend to turn the head of a more mature person in normal times. I am truly afraid that he will never find any peace of mind regardless or not of whether he makes a million dollars. He may be able to afford material things, but they are a poor substitute for true peace of mind.

You may not have seen or read about the later interview when he said that there were so many things wrong at present of the treatment of his race in this country that it was difficult for him to claim it as his own.

Thank you for your interest,

John Wooden

Wow. To have one’s perceptions flipped 180 degrees in a moment, to realize that such unspoken assumptions, living quietly in one’s bosom for decades, were false, can be both dagger and balm.

I read the letter again. Then again. Oh, Coach, I thought, I wish I’d known how you felt. If only to ease the burden you’d taken on to defend me. I thought back on my own arrogance at thinking I understood the man by reducing him to the kind of easy stereotype, the very thing that I’d been complaining about my whole life when it was done to me. He’d been too humble ever to say anything to me about the letter. Most people would have made a point of telling me how they’d come to my defense. But Coach Wooden didn’t care about receiving credit. A good deed was its own reward. Seeking praise or gratitude would have negated the deed.

I will have to add “Coach Wooden and Me” to my read list.

 

Koebe Bryant high school
Kobe Bryant

The Players Tribune is a internet forum devoted to the athlete’s perspective. Hounded and misquoted by the press, Derek Jeter believed athletes needed a place for them to tell their story in their own words.

One of the features of The Players Tribune is Letter to My Younger Self, an opportunity for athletes to reflect on their youth, and what their current self would have told their younger self.

Kobe Bryant‘s advice to the high school prodigy that he was is interestingly of a financial nature, and somewhat insightful. He explains that giving your friends and loved ones things, nice things, expensive things, is not doing your friends and family a favor. In fact, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and five-time NBA champion, Bryant would tell his younger self that giving things away is an act of selfishness, and not a responsible way to take care of those you care for.

You love them, and they were always there for you growing up, so it’s only right that they should share in your success and all that comes with it. So you buy them a car, a big house, pay all of their bills. You want them to live a beautiful, comfortable life, right? But the day will come when you realize that as much as you believed you were doing the right thing, you were actually holding them back. You will come to understand that you were taking care of them because it made YOU feel good, it made YOU happy to see them smiling and without a care in the world — and that was extremely selfish of you. While you were feeling satisfied with yourself, you were slowly eating away at their own dreams and ambitions. You were adding material things to their lives, but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth. Understand that you are about to be the leader of the family, and this involves making tough choices, even if your siblings and friends do not understand them at the time.

When you’re young, you’re care free and often pain free. But the aches and pains of the full-time athlete can take its toll. To world-class athletes, it’s often the mental stress that is the bigger test.

According to three-time Olympic medalist between 1996-2004, Brandi Chastain of the US women’s soccer team, and four-time Olympian, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, managing pain and injury is a key to maturing as an athlete.

Brandi Chastain portrait outside Spartan Stadium
Brandi Chastain

The mental and physical challenges of rehabbing your body will test your patience. Have faith in those moments — they will define your future perseverance. No athlete knows what’s on the other side of significant injuries. Live all of your questions and trust the process. You’ll return a better player, a better teammate, a better person. – Brandi Chastain in The Player’s Tribune

Yes, your leg will be black and blue, and the torn muscle will bring pain unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. Yes, you’ve never been seriously injured before. However, it will be essential that you listen to your physical therapist when they tell you that you’ll be OK. The only thing that will hold you back is a lack of mental toughness at the time.Jackie Joner-Kersee in The Player’s Tribune

And finally, if these athletes were to tell their younger selves to give pause, it would be for their parents, who unconditionally and thanklessly chauffeured them to practice and back, practice and back, practice and back.

Caroline Wozniaki
Caroline Wozniacki

2012 London Olympic semi-finalist, Caroline Wozniacki, wrote about the early morning drives to tennis practice, and how she wished she were more in the moment, more appreciative of those moments in the car.

He’ll wake up early to drive you to the tennis club at 6 a.m. so you can practice before all the matches start. Then, at eleven at night, he’ll jump back in the car with you and take you back to the club so you can practice after the day’s matches have ended. Appreciate everything your family does for you during your childhood. They will sacrifice so much for you. Do yourself a favor and make the most of those car rides. Soak in all the lessons and guidance that Dad provides you — and not just the stuff about tennis. Pay attention to what he is trying to instill in you about life. He and Mom will always stress the importance being a good person, of treating people right, of being respectful and kind. Let that sink in. Allow it to shape who you become.Caroline Wozniacki in The Player’s Tribune

Henrik Lundquist kid

My favorite player on my home team ice hockey team, the New York Rangers, is goalie Henrik Lundquist. The two-time Olympian and gold medalist from the 2006 Turin Winter Games, Lundquist also remembers the long hours his parents drove him through all kinds of weather so he and his brother could play hockey.

Starting tomorrow, your parents will begin their journey, too. They will drive you and your brother hours and hours across Sweden to play hockey. They’ll drive through huge snowstorms. They’ll drive after long days at work. And their reward at the end of those drives will be to sit in cold rinks for hours — helping you get dressed, then watching you play, then helping you get undressed. Years later, when you think back on this time in your life as a grown man with a child of your own, you will finally appreciate what an incredible sacrifice your parents made for you and Joel. – Henrik Lundquist in The Player’s Tribune

Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
The Olympians has been a labor of love for exactly two years. It is my sketchbook as I prepare for the mural masterpiece, a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

While my book’s focus is on the XVIII Tokyo Olympiad, I use my blog as an excuse to write about anything even remotely related to these areas: the Tokyo Olympics, the Olympics overall, Japan, and sports in general. In other words, I think of my blog as therapy for a restlessly curious mind.

How else could I go 730 straight days without missing a post?

Enjoy!

Japan 1964

 

Tokyo 2020

 

Random Rambles