Monday, May 9, 2011

The Passing of An Age

(Bonus points awarded to those nerds who get the reference in the title of this post)

Well, shall we say...a different way to end the season.

Face. Palm.
Altogether, I was and remain surprisingly reserved in reaction to the Lakers' unceremonious exit at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. I was startled by Game 1's collapse. Disgruntled by the lack of execution late in Game 2. By the fourth quarter of Game 3, however, as others have far more eloquently pointed out, I realized the signs had been lurking all season and accepted our fate. This current Laker team went as far as it was going to go. The Mavericks, bolstered by their fabulous ball movement (you don't get that many open looks without passing well), shrewd interior defense, and the consistent brilliance of one seven-foot German, deserved to win. They were, by leaps and bounds, the superior team. I applaud them, congratulate them, and will heartily root against them in the next round.

It's an interesting time. 

I and my fellow fans, blessed as they come, have not experienced such an early playoff exit in a while. You would have to rewind all the way back to 2003 to find another Laker team with championship aspirations failing to reach the Finals. Yet that brand of sustained excellence, perhaps equaled only by the Yankees in all of sports, acts as fuel to the hysterical fire. There's a reason why Lakers supporters are the most hated in basketball. Losing is not accepted well here in Los Angeles. Minutes after the final losshell, during the final loss"fans" clamored for change. Pau Gasol? Get rid of him. Phil Jackson? Utterly overrated. Kobe's legacy? Forever tarnished. The entire team? Blow it up. (Hey Magic, chill out.) To quote someone I follow on Twitter, "There isn't a single fanbase that overreacts to everything as much as Lakers fans."

I observed the mass panic with a certain sense of detached amusement and shame. Of course I was upset. I shared in the pain. But it's genuinely baffling to me that the majority of fans can be so short-sighted. Nothing lasts forever, you dolts. We lost. Thankfully it doesn't happen often, but we lost. There's always next year. (Man, it feels weird saying that.) It's not like the Lakers won't re-tool. They will be back in the hunt soon enough, perhaps refreshed and re-focused after a badly needed long summer off. In the meantime, take a step back, reflect on the level of success our team has achieved in our lifetimes, and revel in the fact that such consistency is the envy of millions. Your passion is great. Use it in a positive manner. Except when discussing Shannon Brown.

Again, it's an interesting time. 

This loss just feels so final. Our longtime coach, the greatest in history, is not coming back. The Mavericks exposed serious flaws in the current roster and tweaks, if not an outright overhaul, need to happen. And Kobe, for all his bravado, is showing serious signs that he's finally slowing down.

There are more subtle signs beneath the surface. Getting not just beat, but swept. Watching your seasoned, veteran team self-destruct in as classless a manner as possible. Hearing words like "trust," "bond," and "team fabric" used negatively during interviews. Tabloid-worthy rumors of extracurricular WAG activity affecting chemistry between the two best players. I pause to speculate (SO trying my hardest to be that "rational" fan), but has this team reached its breaking point? Four-plus years of an aging core, constant scrutiny, and immense expectations proved too much to overcome this season. It may prove too much to overcome, period.

The NBA landscape, as we know it, is about to change. Old stalwarts like San Antonio and Boston (and of course, the Lakers) are on their last legs. Young upstarts in the Bulls, Thunder, and Grizzlies look like the real deal. Who knows what this lockout and subsequent collective bargaining agreement will bring.

I hope, I pray the Lakers will find a way to stay on top. (Oh, Dwiiiiiiiiiiiight?) I hope Brian Shaw or whoever the new coach is can provide a smooth transition. I hope Pau ignores the doubters and regains his confidence (as well as his fiance). I hope Kobe will gracefully accept his slow decline and morph into a more efficient role. I hope we find a point guard who can stay in front of JJ Freaking Barea. As a fan, I don't know if any of these things will happen. All I can do is hope.

What I do know is that the league, flooded with young talent and more popular than ever, is entering a new golden age* and I will cheer my darnedest for my team during it. But I will also marvel at how Chris Paul keeps his dribble alive. I will fear Tony Allen's defensive ferocity. I will laugh at Kevin Durant's skinny arms and then wonder how he sinks effortless jumper after effortless jumper. I may even find it in my heart to appreciate Lebron James.

I will, and will always, love the game of basketball. I will, and will always, love the Los Angeles Lakers. Getting to win championships is just the cherry on top. If you're a Lakers fan, remember that. If you're not, well, uh, be jealous that we have to remember that. Yeah.

Cherish the ride we had. Look forward to the one ahead.

Oh, and Phil? Thank you. You were one-of-a-kind.

The good ol' days.

*Of course this all depends on the new CBA, whether owners like the Maloofs will still be allowed to operate, if we can curb overly enthusiastic refs from dominating games, international goaltending rules not being instituted, yadda yadda yadda. Sigh. Remind me why I love sports again?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Social Media is Social: Why Twitter is Worth Your Time

Confusion. Embarrassment. Incredulity. Judgement. Laughter. Denial. Pity. Surprise. Curiosity. Respect. Genuine interest. Common ground. Love at first sight.

If you listed any or all of these in an attempt to describe what I encounter whenever I try to talk to women, congratulations. That was remarkably accurate. (Note: some occur more often than others) Also, how dare you.

Coincidentally, mentioning Twitter in casual conversation usually engenders the same reactions. Seriously, responses always boil down to some version of:

"I don't get Twitter. It just seems so stupid."

"You have a Twitter?? (quick look of revulsion) What you do you use it for?"

"Hey! You have a Twitter?! I do too!! What's your username?"

Just yesterday, my friends and I were discussing something and one remarked, "Oh yeah! I tweeted about it the other day." I felt momentary confusion at hearing the word "tweeted" used so casually in conversation until I realized we've reached that moment as an modern, technologically forward society. Twitter is no longer a fad that can be ignored, having surpassed 200 million users recently. Time to get on that train, people, (or at least understand it) unless you'd like to end up one of these:

For the completely uninitiated (quick look of revulsion), Twitter is a "microblogging" social networking service that offers users the ability to share well, anything they want in 140-character messages called tweets. These messages are displayed on one's profile and are freely available to the general public for consumption (you can restrict your tweets to just your followers if you so choose). Users can also subscribe to other accounts, and such tweets of those you follow are collectively shown in one's timeline. You may contact anyone with a public profile by mentioning them (defined by typing the "@" key, followed by their username) as well as send private messages. Get the gist of it yet?

Let me be clear: Yes, Twitter can be simultaneously incredibly useful and incredibly stupid. Many of the pre-conceived notions about it are true. They, however, gloss over its extremely versatile nature. Twitter is a bizarre and entertaining hodgepodge of generic drivel, spam, meaningful information, insightful commentary, and hilarious creativity. Put all together, it's a revolutionary tool on par with (perhaps even surpassing) Facebook and totally undeserving of the rep it gets from common folk. Here are some reasons why:

Breaking News: Twitter has completely revolutionized how the public consumes its information. In fact, the folks in charge quickly recognized this invaluable trait a couple years ago and changed the status update question from "What are you doing?" to "What's happening?" If you happen to follow the right accounts, you can get a pretty good grasp on what's happening in the world (or whatever part of culture you're invested in) with a quick look of your timeline.The ability to easily update or "retweet" what others have updated further streamlines this process. Almost all reporters, bloggers, and/or publications, most notably in the sports world, first share what they learn on Twitter now, so you know you are getting instant information directly from a credible source. Heck, even politicians (not as credible) use it. For what's it worth, I learned much of the recent events of Libya and Egypt from Twitter alone. No, I choose to think of myself as efficient and savvy rather than woefully ignorant, thank you very much. 

Celebrities! Since I am also superficial and a media whore, this is probably my favorite thing about Twitter. You know that section in US Weekly, the one titled "Stars! They're Just Like Us!"? Well, that's Twitter ALL THE TIME. If you are the person who makes pithy remarks like "I don't care what famous people eat for breakfast," liar. Pants on fire. Everyone loves famous people. It's like a law. Thank you so much for sharing your song of the day, Olivia Wilde. Why yes, Blake Griffin, of course I want to know you just caught a foul ball at Yankee Stadium. Oh Kristen Bell, you're so much more adorable once you revealed you watch American Idol with Dax Shepard. AND famous people often take and post pictures of their lives as proof??? Jackpot.

What, Joe Jonas? You're in the middle of--just kidding; I don't follow the Jonas Brothers. (scrambles quickly to edit Twitter account)

In all seriousness, it's an amazing way to connect with fans. Filmmakers and actors answer questions from eager beavers about current projects. Musicians share new songs and tour dates. Comedians try out material and can receive instant feedback. Athletes give away tickets or apparel. For as shallows as it seems (and often is), Twitter allows us plebeians to feel closer to these higher beings, and that has never been achieved before in such a fast, simple, and (most importantly) free manner. I mean, where else would I learn Russell Westbrook takes a lot of "mean naps" and mentions, without fail, before every game, "headed to the Ford Center! Ayyyyye, fam bam! Letss get it!!!!"? No, I don't know what that means either.

Marketing & PR: This aspect somewhat piggybacks on the previous two. Have something to plug? Perhaps a movie out this weekend, an blog article just posted online, or a charity/cause to raise awareness about? Twitter does all this instantly, free of charge, to people/customers already rooting for your success, and who in turn can retweet and promote to their own spheres of influence.

If you run a savvy business/corporation, you most likely also run a Twitter account (or at least pay some lucky 24-year old "social media coordinator" to do it for you). Anything and everything, from department stores to restaurants to job openings, can be promoted. I can't tell you how many deals I've stumbled upon following various Amazon accounts. Look, these companies want your attention and you'd be a fool not to pass them up. Conversely, it's also a direct avenue should you have any questions/complaints for said companies. If anything, you're spared customer service lines and the accompanying migraine.

Communication: To rehash, the main knock against Twitter is the whole "no really cares about your opinion or what you're currently up to at the moment" thing. I have to respectfully disagree. The trending topics list provide a snapshot into the mood of the world. Twitter itself is portal to that world, allowing its users to effectively converse with people previously inaccessible (someone abroad, a basketball blogger, a celebrity, etc.). It opens up whole new avenues to engage in and explore, all without the need for friend requests or email addresses or phone numbers. It provides a communal experience, a "virtual water cooler," where millions can discuss and share their thoughts on the Oscars or the Super Bowl or midterm elections. Anything, really. Most importantly and more personally, whether indirectly or directly, it allows me to stay in touch with people I care about. Perhaps a short message to old friends from college. A single tweet on my timeline updates me on what they've been up to. Almost instantly, I can feel involved in their lives somehow. Even if they don't know it, I am still connected to them. That alone makes Twitter worth it to me.

Yes, individual tweets are usually meaningless. Yes, it's probably not all that productive to be share #uknowyoudrunkwhen stories. Yes, we are seeing the slow, systematic butchering of the English language.  But taken all together, as part of a thriving ecosystem, there is no better way to engage society. For better or worst, Twitter truly has brought the world closer together.

For heaven's sake, whole revolutions and protests were organized on Twitter. If the ability to topple governments is not enough to demonstrate its highest potential, nothing will.

I know, some things just aren't for everyone. But I hope I was articulate and convincing enough (probably not) to persuade any doubters not to immediately dismiss Twitter anymore. And some day, when not knowing what The Rock has been up to becomes just too unbearable, I hope they'll hop on board that train. I'm @SenorJeffer in case you ever decide you need more quasi-stupid rhetorical questions and observations in your life.

I leave you with a video that perfectly encompasses everything I just spent way too long writing about. In fact, I probably should have just posted it at the beginning. But no matter, I got your pageview already! And uh, thanks for reading! (start at 15:25 til about 20:00. Better yet, watch the whole thing if you can. It's worth it.)