ESPN’s The Last Dance – A Few Thoughts

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I was born in 1977, so I got to experience the Bulls’ championships while in high school and college, which was pretty cool. I loved the NBA during those years. I remember staying up late on school nights every season during the playoffs to take it all in.

When The Last Dance debuted on ESPN, I felt disappointed because we don’t have cable–we’re cord cutters. I kept hearing it was on Netflix as well, but I came to find out that was just for the international market.

However, last week I learned that the ESPN app is free on smart TVs and that The Last Dance is available to stream via that app. Guess what my wife and I have done for the last few nights? That’s right–we binged The Last Dance after the kids went to bed, and we loved it!

I have to be honest–I know Michael Jordan is the greatest player to have ever picked up a basketball, but I forgot just how damn good he actually was. Seeing those years compressed into ten hours … wow. Amazing, amazing stuff.

The documentary played with time in an interesting fashion. It kept bouncing back and forth between the first championship run and the second. This juxtaposition made for some interesting viewing as you compared the “young” Michael Jordan to the “old” Michael Jordan.

Plus, it was fantastic to see those players I loved to watch so much back in the day. Not just the Bulls players, either. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Charles Oakley, John Starks, and very young versions of Shaq and Kobe.

If you enjoyed 90s basketball, The Last Dance is extremely fulfilling. Keep in mind, though, that this is pretty much Michael Jordan propaganda. There are no hard questions for the man, no controversies, no awkward moments for him to tackle. This is purely reliving his glory years, and I’m absolutely okay with that.

Here are a few things I learned from The Last Dance that I didn’t know back then …

  1. Michael Jordan tormented every teammate and opponent he encountered.
  2. Scottie Pippen was a little more selfish than I thought, but, even so, he wasn’t very selfish at all under the circumstances.
  3. Dennis Rodman’s shenanigans were far more calculated than I imagined.
  4. Phil Jackson cursed pretty hardcore for a zen master.
  5. Steve Kerr has always been hilarious and really, really smart.
  6. Scott Burrell was on the team.
  7. Horace Grant was a bit of a whiner.
  8. Jordan had a security guard who could have been a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  9. Before Jordan joined the Bulls, they were a traveling cocaine circus.
  10. Michael Jordan had a very special relationship with his dad.

The Last Dance proved incredibly fun. I still enjoy the NBA, but nothing will ever replace those formative years spent watching the League and Jordan.

Oh, and I’ll finally admit that Jordan was better than LeBron, but I still like LeBron more and I always will.

A Teacher’s Thanks To District 87

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As many of you know, I teach high school English. (Yes, I am the epitome of the clichéd  English teacher who thinks he’s also a writer. It’s true that I even have sports coats with elbow patches.)

I wanted to take a moment and thank my employer–District 87.

It’s been a long ride with District 87. I started teaching with them in 2002. Other than a two year sabbatical when my first child was born, I’ve been in the same building in the same hallway–and almost every room in that hallway–for sixteen years. We’ve been through a lot together.

In fact, I didn’t think there was much that could surprise me anymore when it came to teaching, and then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.

The weeks leading up to the official “shelter in place” were confusing. Like you, we heard all kinds of contradictory reports. When the order issued to stay home, none of us knew exactly what to expect.

District 87 did two things that I find exemplary.

First of all, they implored us to “do no harm” to students. They reminded us that maintaining positive relationships and assuring students’ well-being took top priority. They encouraged us to error on the side of caution, to be gentle, to have an open mind, and to emphasize kindness. In my opinion, District 87 recognized that trauma takes all kinds of different forms, and no matter how well individuals were dealing with the situation, it was nonetheless somewhere on the trauma scale for all of us.

Which leads me to my next point. District 87 treated its teachers just as compassionately as they urged us to treat our students. District 87 goes above and beyond in fulfilling the various needs of our students. We are not just an educational institution. I feel that we are also very much a social services entity. As a result, I personally think that sometimes we want to do so much good for the kids that teachers become physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. One of the first things that District 87 did after we were all sent home was to alleviate our fears as much as possible. District 87 demanded that we take care of ourselves and our families. They acknowledged that there is no way we can teach like we did in the classroom. They made a point to let us know we would all continue to be paid and that they wanted us as safe as possible.

I have not once felt pressured, judged, or stressed by District 87’s leadership during this pandemic, and for that I am deeply grateful.

To my employers, I say “thank you.”

 

Netflix’s The Eddy – A Few Thoughts

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Though I was skeptical at first, the name Damien Chazelle initially drew me to The Eddy. You may know him from movies he directed like La La Land and First Man, which are two films I very much enjoyed.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show’s premise, it features Elliot Udo, a formerly famous American jazz musician. Udo has taken refuge in Paris and opened a club called The Eddy with this best friend, Farid. Though he doesn’t play music anymore, Udo manages The Eddy’s house band as Farid oversees the club’s operations. Before long, Udo’s estranged sixteen-year-old American daughter comes to live him him. Soon after that, Farid is murdered on the street right outside The Eddy. Keep in mind, this is just the first episode. From there on things get very complicated on many fronts very quickly.

The Eddy is grimy, claustrophobic, and mostly spoken in French. Again, these are not aspects I typically find appealing.

However, the show does many things so well, so perfectly, that I couldn’t help getting hooked on it.

First of all, the characters are captivating. All of them are fallible. Many of them make mistake after mistake, yet, because they are so realistically depicted and utterly likable, we become mesmerized by them.

In fact, the word “realistic” is a great way to describe The Eddy. They show you the real side of Paris–not the tourist areas. They show you just how difficult relationships between children and parents can get. They show you what real Parisians look like. they show you the conflict that can arise among creative people who both love and hate each other. Furthermore, it looks like the actors are really playing their instruments! That detail truly increases the level of authenticity. Sure, The Eddy has some far-fetched moments, but, overall, you’ll feel like you know these people on a personal level. You become invested in them.

Also, the pacing is perfect. As you probably guessed, there are three major plots occurring. The first revolves around Udo’s contentious relationship with his daughter. The second involves Farid’s murder. The third centers on Udo trying to break out his band. Of course, several other plot points arise, and each of them converge into one of the overarching three by the season’s finale. It’s excellent story telling unfolding at a gripping rate.

Finally, the music. Oh, my–the music. I’m not even a jazz fan, but the music truly won me over. It’s fantastic.

By the way, I feel embarrassed that I had no idea who André Holland was before watching The Eddy. Holland made me believe there’s actually a guy named Elliot Udo living over in Paris. He made Udo into a living, breathing, stubborn, charming, infuriating man that I would very much like to be friends with. If you search Holland at IMDB, he’s had a wonderful career in some high profile works. My failure to appreciate him until this point is my own error.

Even if jazz, Paris, and the French language are not your thing, I hope you’ll give The Eddy on Netflix a try. I wasn’t particularly interested in any of those things, either, yet the show easily won me over.

Disney’s Prop Culture Gave Me the Feels

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Disney Plus recently released an original series called Prop Culture. In this show, the host visits iconic props from seminal, sometimes historic, Disney movies.

My family and I watched the first episode this evening, which focused on Mary Poppins. I’ll be honest with you–I’m not a fan of the original Mary Poppins. I somehow missed it in childhood and, though I’ve seen it since, it just doesn’t do much for me. (Interestingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns.)

So, even with that being said, this first episode about moved me to tears on at least five different occasions. (It wasn’t just me, by the way. My wife admitted as much, too.) I won’t spoil it for you, but the host doesn’t just visit iconic props, he visits iconic people relating to those props. In the case of Mary Poppins, some of these people haven’t seen these props since 1964. To see their faces light up, to see the raw emotion on their faces at the sight of the prop … it was quite moving. For many of them, Mary Poppins was their crowning achievement (and what an achievement it was!). To see that brief return to greatness, that moment of glory–incredible stuff. Keep in mind, I have no emotional attachment to the film and I literally didn’t know anyone the host visited. It was simply a visceral experience to behold.

Of course, the whole thing celebrates Disney and idolizes Uncle Walt. I can’t deny it’s an advertisement for everything Disney. But, hey, I figure if you’ve got Disney Plus you’re already among the faithful. There’s no denying that Disney deserves every ounce of fandom they’ve garnered, and these props truly are a part of cinematic history.

If you love movies, movie history, movie props, or if you simply love seeing pure joy on people’s faces, Prop Culture is a must-watch.

Upload – A Few Initial Thoughts About The Amazon Original Series

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Generally speaking, I tend to like Amazon Original content. When I saw a new series debut created by the man who brought us The Office, I had to give it a chance.

I am currently three episodes in, and I really like Upload.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Upload takes place in 2033. It’s a very recognizable world, but it’s also got some technical upgrades we might expect such as constant drone traffic, self-driving cars, and rating systems for basically everything. One major advancement, however, is the ability to have your consciousness uploaded into a virtual reality program upon death. As the slogan says, “Live your best digital afterlife.” Unfortunately, there are degrees as to the quality of the digital afterlife, and those variances are determined by how much you are willing to pay.

Our main character is Nathan Brown, played by Robbie Amell. Nathan is a young, handsome, charismatic software developer who finds himself uploaded to the digital afterlife. His personal assistant is Nora Antony, played by Andy Allo. Nora is basically a customer service agent tasked with making sure residents in her company’s afterlife program are well attended.

So far–like I said, I’m only three episodes in–Nathan and Nora have developed an unlikely friendship, and they both have begun to suspect that Nathan really and truly doesn’t belong in the digital afterlife.

Which brings us to something I greatly admire about Upload. It defies any labels regarding genre. It has comedic moments, to be sure, but it’s also pretty evocative in terms of science fiction. It’s taking a grounded, realistic approach in many ways as to what our technology will probably bring us in 13 years. Furthermore, a true mystery is in development pertaining to Nathan’s death. Comedy, realistic sci-fi, mystery? Perfect!

I’ve written about Robbie Amell before, but Andy Allo is new to me. Both of these actors shine in Upload. They are charming, beautiful, yet also strangely relatable. Allo pulls off the “common person” role convincingly despite her star quality, and Amell utilizes an early Tom Cruise level of lovable cockiness that is undeniable.

I’m not sure this show is for everyone, but it definitely appeals to my tastes. Though the first episode is about an hour, most of the subsequent episodes are only about 30 minutes, so I believe it would be well worth your time to give it a try.

Let me know what you think of it.

What the NBA G League Means For Businesses and Colleges

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The NBA’s G League is kind of a like a minor league for the NBA. Players in the G League are considered professionals, and they are paid. However, something very interesting has happened over the last several weeks. Top college prospects are electing to enter the G League rather than going to college for a year before entering the NBA draft.

Up until now, it was common for elite high school  basketball players to go to a top-tier basketball school for one year. In doing so, they raised their own stock and gained a national spotlight, but they also made a lot of other people very, very rich while not being allowed to legally earn a cent for themselves.

Jalen Green, who is largely considered to be the best of the best among high school seniors, is reported to earn $500,000 his first year in the G League. After that first year, he’ll be allowed to enter the NBA draft for, presumably, quite a bit more.

You probably have an opinion about the basketball angle of all this, but that’s not really what I want to talk to you about. No, I want to talk about why kids bother going to college at all.

Now, obviously, college is the only path for many professions–teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

However, quite a few of us land jobs that have virtually nothing to do with our degrees–it’s just the fact that we have a degree that allow us to obtain a job.

According to The Street, who got their information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American makes an annual income of around $48,672. The average annual college tuition is somewhere around $15,000. Keep in mind, that’s just the tuition. If you need room and board, that’s another $10,000. In other words, an average American can expect to pay somewhere around $100,000 total for an average public university’s undergraduate degree.

I teach at a local high school, and the idea of paying $100,000 for college is a crippling one, especially if a student has no idea what they want to do with their lives. Most of my students just want to live comfortably. Most want to earn a decent living. Taking on $100,000 worth of debt, plus interest, to earn somewhere around $50,000 a year doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them.

If given the choice, I think most would opt for the Jalen Green route. Go right into the work force with the opportunity to earn lots more while learning valuable skills.

Frankly, I’m surprised corporations don’t offer their own in-house universities. Almost all of the large corporations have some kind of a learning and development department, and almost all of them offer ongoing training for certificates and advancements. Imagine if a corporation hired an eighteen-year-old at an entry-level position, then offered free courses specific to that corporation’s field of interest that the new employee could take at their own pace. After so many hours, the employee would have the equivalent of a college degree, and they could then use that degree to go find other jobs in the same field (if they chose to do so). Consequently, I’m guessing most would stay with the corporation that groomed them.

I’m going to be honest with you–I paid for a lot of classes at college that had no bearing on my career as a teacher nor did they particularly interest me. (Geology comes immediately to mind. My apologies to all of the geologists out there.)

I personally believe in the power of education. I also appreciate that college is intended for the student to receive a well-rounded education on a variety of topics. I know that education is the path to greater success and ultimately provides an easier life for nearly everyone. However, I also admit that college has become far too expensive for the average American, and that college is not particularly appealing to the average American because much of it seems unnecessary.

Education and college should not have to be one and the same when it comes to a high school graduate’s earning potential.

So why aren’t corporations following the NBA’s model? Why aren’t they creating their own “G League?” And if they do, what will be the colleges’ response?

 

Netflix’s Unorthodox – A Few Thoughts

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Have you heard of Netflix’s Unorthodox? I hand’t, either. One of my wife’s friends recommended it to her. Even though it didn’t look like my thing at all, I decided to give it a try with her.

Let me tell you, this show is captivating.

At just four episodes averaging about fifty minutes apiece, Unorthodox is not a huge time investment, and it helps that each episode flies by.

The story focuses upon a young woman living in an ultra-conservative Hasidic community in New York. After a year of repressed marriage, she flees to Germany. However, her community is not willing to let her go freely, and they pursue her across the world.

Based on a true story, Unorthodox is brilliant due to the incredible acting, costumes, props, and editing. Of course, its main achievement is that it offers a glimpse into something I really haven’t seen depicted on screen much–ultra-conservative Hasidic Jews. It was like entering another world.

Unorthodox bounces around in time quite a bit, and at just the right moments. This kind of editing keeps the viewer enthralled as the story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion. There are plenty of surprises, and more thrills than I ever would have guessed.

My only complaint is that while in Germany, our main character befriends a group of students that are just a touch too perfect. Each one fits a certain demographic, which results in them feeling very forced upon the viewer. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them all, but I knew they were fashioned for me to like them.

I absolutely recommend Unorthodox no matter what your taste. It will grab your interest and hold onto it until the very last second.