Sunday, April 12, 2009

A World that Needs REAL Heroes

They're everywhere around us...and most of them never get the recognition they deserve.

More often than not their deeds and actions are overlooked altogether. In other instances, their fates remain unknown due to the risks they take...such as Tank Man (left) from the 1989 protests in Tienanmen Square...and don't forget the tank driver who refused to run him over. He's a hero too.

For a very long time ~ for decades, essentially, in the latter 20th Century ~ society put heroes on pedestals that were attached to their feats on the playing field or in the movies.

In nearly every instance, the measure of heroes involved physical feats in the spotlight and statistical benchmarks rather tha
n the feats of everyday bravery, smaller acts of humanity, and accounts of kindness that would go virtually unnoticed.

Then, on 9/11, everything changed and we were humbled.

We took a second look at the definition of a hero. Sadly, it involved the deaths of hundreds of brave and courageous NYC firefighters and police officers, in addition to innocent civilians, to reshape that focus.

I believe the message was delivered and taken seriously.

I think there's real signs that refocusing has held steady since September least in my mind.

We celebrated Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully and gracefully landed a crippled airplane into the Hudson River right before Obama's Inauguration Day.

Refusing to take the spotlight in the weeks following the crash, Sullenberger would ricochet all the attention and adulation directed at him into his copilots and crew, giving them all the credit. He praised the passengers for remeining calm and following protocol. He recognized the ferry boats that arrived as first responders. He expressed regret over injuries one of his crew members suffered and was quick in his effort to take responsibility...but WE weren't going to let him get away with that.

Through all of Sullenberger's humility, however, he was willing to cough up a small furball...recognizing what the actions of he and his crew, and the events surrounding the successful crash landing, meant to the rest of the country.

Sully is as wise as he is humble. He understands that the world is hungry ~ even desparate ~ for heroes. REAL heroes. People who face adversity and take action, no matter what the foreseeable cost...or it can take the form of simple acts of kindness.

In this last week, I've recognized and continue celebrating one of my personal heroes; Marvin Webster, a man whose professional basketball career shot like a star across the sky and whose life was sadly beset by unfair tragedy and ended way too early.

His acts of kindness, attention, and inspiration to me as a 9-year-old kid are what help to define him ~ not what he accomplished on the basketball court ~ although there was much to be said for his accomplishments in Seattle between 1977-78.

I realize I've been gushing about this fella all week, and I will continue to do here it is again.

Thank you Marvin...again.

Then, just today, our beloved Navy Seals rescued Captain Phillips, who was the head of a cargo ship crew on its way to Kenya when Somali pirates took him hostage
and held him for the better part of a week.

The only reason we were dealing with one captive was due to his selfless acts that allowed his sailors to go free and continue onward to Kenya while he stayed behind to try to negotiate his release.

These are some of the heroes we hear about, and they're the sorts that we need out there.

We need these individuals of great character and their stories to be known to us to inspire the hero in the rest of us.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

More Footage of Marvin in Game 7 of 1978 NBA Finals, his last game as a Sonic

Here's more footage of Marvin...if you go to the 45 second mark, you'll see his classic jump shot. While he was known more as a defensive player and shot blocker, when he turned up the heat he was unstoppable.

He led the Sonics with the most points in this Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and led the team in what became the franchise's first appearance in the championship series. What an amazing run.

Footage of Marvin in 1978 NBA Finals

It's a vid that focuses on the Washington Bullets, but Marvin's all over the place...notably just before the 3 minute mark. The 1:50 mark also mentions Marvin's contributions, and after that it's interesting to see the Marlboro Man on top of the Seattle Center cube.

...and the music, dear God. Holy dated 70s porno music, Batman! Where's the first Dire Straits record when you need it?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Personal Account of Marvin Webster, Always Remembered as a Hero

I'm stunned and saddened. One of my all-time heroes has passed.

I just found out today that former Sonic Marvin Webster died this last Monday. You can find details
here, and here's a second article that expands on his illnesses that most likely contributed to his early passing here. Here's another article from the Baltimore Sun, the newspaper of Marvin's hometown, but I'd advise you to read that after this post if you want to hear good news first.

This is really upsetting.

For those who kept track of the Lenny Wilkens-led Sonics teams of the 1970s, you will know who Marvin "The Human Eraser" Webster is. While the best year of his career was with Seattle (1977-78), it was short-lived and only for one season. Ironically, his departure to New York in 1978 brought power forward Lonnie Shelton to the Sonics, who won the NBA title that following year.

But that's a little history that only a few in the general public are barely aware of, at best.

It really hurts to read the insensitive AP headlines (not surprisingly) that describe how he was found "in a hotel bathtub." Sure, it's true, but it's not like this guy died in the manner of Kurt Cobain...he actually struggled with health issues for most of his life (Hep A and B, I believe), including during his time as a basketball player. He also struggled, appears, with some unimaginable heartache.

Those at the AP show us once again how they have no soul and are interested in selling only newspapers. They'll never understand that these stories involve real people with meaningful lives and admirers who respect them.

I have a different story to tell about Marvin...something a bit more personal. Marvin Webster's one of my all-time heroes and one of the few people in this life that I've ever looked up to.

Uh, literally. As an eight year old kid I looked up to him...and up...and he stood tall at 7'1"...

...but his character stood much taller. In an industry peppered with attitudes, infidelity, and domestic troubles, he was THE diamond in the rough.

Needless to say, they don't make them like Marvin anymore.

Marvin Webster was one of the good guys, and the consummate teammate. Totally selfless and kind. He gave to people, on and off the court, without any expectation of receiving. Putting aside what he accomplished as a pro hoops player, he represented the best of what society has to offer in terms of his off-the-court selflessness and citizenry.

In 1977 my family moved from Oregon back to their native Seattle when Dad switched jobs...and it just so happens that Marvin Webster and his lovely wife were our next door neighbors. It was a difficult year of adjustment for me, as I'd left behind some buddies in Oregon I had built some connections and rapport with, even at the ages of seven and eight. I didn't have any siblings, so I had to go out and seek companionship.

When my Dad figured out who was next door, he introduced himself. The families warmed up to each other and started spending time together.

It's hard to describe what it was like having Marvin next door...the only way I can describe it was that IT WAS LIKE HAVING SUPERMAN NEXT DOOR, LITERALLY...with a uniform and all. Except this Superman didn't wear a cape and tights, he wore a MUCH cooler uniform...and proudly wore #40.

In my world, #40 belongs to Marvin...the way #42 belongs to Jackie Robinson and #3 belongs to the Babe.

We got to know t
he Websters; Marvin, Maderia, and Marvin Jr. while in utero (she carried him for most of her term in Seattle)...they were very approachable, gentle, and kind. Our two families spent time together and went out to dinner. It was a relaxed hang...nothing was ever forced. We were brought into the Sonics community and spent many days at basketball games sitting with the player's wives under one end of the court.

I developed a personal relationship with Marvin, and his presence served as a guiding light through the difficult adjustments I was making from being the new kid on the block. He wasn't a father yet, so he was able to spend some time and gave me attention. I even opened a Christmas gift from him; an illuminated tracing table is what I recall. I'd stop by their house and visit him on his off days, when he was usually lying diagnolly in their king-size bed resting watching television ~ because that's the only way his long frame would fit on it.

My most memorable moment with Marvin occurred once when he was hosting a Sonics gathering at his home, and my folks were over there as part of it. It's come to be known as the "cherry Coke incident."

During the gathering, which took place one evening, Marvin offered to come next door and check in on me. In an effort to replicate what was known at the time as a "Roy Roger" (not sure if they're called that anymore), I had decided that I was going to attempt to make a cherry coke by melting a cherry life saver in the microwave oven in a bowl...I figured it would melt and I could just pour the contents into a glass full of Coke, right?

Sure...there's the developed and imaginative brain of a kid who's just turning nine.

Needless to say, the experiment failed. The bowl cracked in the microwave just as Marvin came by to see what was going on.

e to signs of fatherhood, Marvin!

He helped me clean up the mess, and I had to settle for a Coke without the cherry in it. My folk's stories have echoed that Marvin went back to the party and entered the room full of Sonics and partygoers, shaking his head. When he explained what had just happened next door, apparently everyone was in stitches and kid antics were one of the focal points of discussions the rest of the night.

The Cinderella story of that year, Marvin and his teammates came within one game of the NBA championship in 1978, when they lost at home in Game 7 to Washington's team, which was then called the Bullets.

Later that same year, we had a heartbreaking day when Marvin and his wife packed their things and left for New York. I remember it vividly; waving goodbye to my hero. I quickly learned one of the ugly sides of the sports business ~ that being traded and moving onto other teams is no fun for some of us ~ notably a young nine year old fan.

Ironically, the Sonics won the NBA Title the following year...but IMO Marvin deserved a ring as much as some of the other fellas, as his emergence the year before ~ along with the great coaching of Lenny ~ gave the team the confidence and momentum they carried all the way to the '79 title.

The Sonics teams from 1977-80 are mostly forgotten due to the emergence of Bird and Magic, and then Jordan, that came afterward.

Since 1979, the Sonics never won another title, though they came close in the 1990s during the Michael Jordan years and the Bulls' reign. The team has since relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.

Now Marvin Webster, one of my all-time heroes, has passed...and way too young at 56. How Marvin carried himself outside of the game, his great character, and the impact he had on other lives won't be forgotten...certainly not to this nine year old kid.

The ripple effect of his inspiration and kindness is what helped propel my own involvement as a basketball player. It's part of what inspired my father to coach hoops.

Marvin was a hero in every imaginable way someone can be a hero. He was quiet and humble. He spent time, cared for, and related to the little guy...the little kid next door...and that was only the beginning ~ didn't end there.

He showed up at birthday parties. He freely and gladly gave autographs to my friends. He checked on me as a babysitter would. We laughed together and were silly. I greeted him at the airport when he came back from a road trip, and then drove home with him. I hung out with him on off days. I sometimes wonder if it was real or just a dream.

That was my time with Superman.

The last time we spoke was when he came back into town when he was with the Knicks, 3-4 years later, when I was starting Junior High and entering my teens. He called the house and asked to speak with me on the phone...the conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hey Marvin."

Marvin: "Wow! Listen to you! You're starting to sound like a man!"

Me: (embarrassed) "Oh no, not really. How are things going with the Knicks?"

Marvin: "Well they could be better. It's been a tough season."

Me: "Yeah, it's tough for the team here too...not like the old days. I miss you."

Marvin: "I miss you too."

The conversation from there is spotty, but it continued for a little more.

I just wish I'd had the opportunity to speak with him again...I had thought of trying to reconnect with him online, but didn't know where to start. I wish I could have told him some of these things in person...and reading his comment at the very end of the article this post is linked to only breaks my heart even more.

I have a pair of old John Wooden special edition basketball shoes that he gave me as he was leaving for New York. I wore them for the first two seasons I played a shot-blocking center in 4th and 5th grade.

Boy was he a cool fella. Marvin, you are remembered, and cross my mind every other day at the very least. Thank you. You'll be sorely missed.