Basketball

I had just finished watching Game 6 of the NBA finals – the game in Oakland where the Raptors prevailed over the Golden State Warriors, thus winning their first NBA championship – when I decided to dig a little deeper into basketball and came across a 1939 radio interview featuring Dr. James Naismith. Dr. Naismith told the story of a cold winter in 1891 in Springfield, MA where he was teaching at the Springfield YMCA. He was instructed by the head of the physical education department to come up with an indoor game that would distract the badly behaved young men at the “Y.” He placed a “basket” (peach basket) at either end of an indoor court, and play began with a soccer ball. The baskets were placed out of reach (10 feet) and the ball was passed rather than dribbled. There were 9 players on each team. After each “goal,” a jump ball was taken at the middle of the court, making for a low-scoring game. Naismith named the game “basket ball” and came up with 13 rules; such as, “The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.” (still a rule); and, “No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed …” (based on NBA games, this rule is open to interpretation). It is noteworthy that in 2010 Naismith’s rules were sold at auction for $4.3 million to the billionaire David Booth and wife Suzanne, and subsequently given over to Mr. Booth’s alma mater, the University of Kansas where the rules are on display. That’s Mr. Booth below with the “Rules of Basket Ball.”

Had Dr. Naismith not invented basketball, he is still worthy of our attention. James Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario in 1861. (Yes, a Canadian invented basketball). When he was not yet 10 years of age, his parents died of typhoid fever and he and his siblings went to live with an uncle. An indifferent student, Naismith left high school to do rough work, eventually getting his high school equivalency before entering McGill University in Montreal at the age of 21. While at McGill he played rugby, lacrosse, soccer and gymnastics, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He went on to study theology while teaching physical education at McGill. In 1891, he left Montreal to train as a YMCA Physical Education Director at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA (the school later to become Springfield College). He could have stopped there, with his invention of basket ball.

In 1895 he (newly married) moved to Denver, CO to work as a physical education director while pursuing a medical degree at the University of Colorado. Then, in 1898, he was off to the University of Kansas as an associate professor and to create the university’s men’s basketball program. Ironically, through the storied history of the UK basketball Jayhawks, only one coach has had a losing record – Dr. James Naismith.

But that aside, there is more to the Naismith story. The good doctor volunteered as a chaplain for the Kansas Army National Guard and in 1916 was part of a patrol along the border with Mexico, following a raid by Pancho Villa (That border!! What can one do? A wall maybe?). In 1917 he spent time in Paris during the Great War. Dr. Naismith returned to the University of Kansas, where he served as campus physician and director of athletics until the age of 76.

During his interview Dr. Naismith sounded very proud of the fact that basketball made its debut at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. And well he should. Dr. James Naismith passed away in 1939. I am thinking; maybe when I pass I might like to be bronzed. Sit me on a bench at the golf course. Scare the sh*t out of unsuspecting green fee players.

So far has basketball come?

What started with some imagination in humble surroundings has grown into the second most popular sport in the world (after what we know as soccer, and the rest of the world knows as football). Basketball has become the most popular sport in Toronto, with hockey well down the list, as the Leafs are more than 50 years removed from a Stanley Cup, and with no relief in sight.

As much as I have been intrigued by the NBA final, I am more of a fan of NCAA basketball, especially when its “March Madness” rolls around each year. The NBA was relatively slow to include non-white players, with the first African-Americans appearing in 1950. By comparison, integration of major league baseball began in 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the period leading up to 1947, few African-Americans played basketball at the major college level, with at least one notable exception – Jackie Robinson. Jackie played for UCLA from 1939 to 1941. Besides playing basketball well, he was a champion long jumper (it was called broad jumping when I went to high school – and it was probably wise to change the name), an All-American halfback in football, as well as a baseball shortstop. Here is Jackie as a collegiate basketball star.

And now, almost 70 years after the NBA integrated, African-Americans comprise about three-quarters of the player base.

Watching March Madness this year, and the NBA finals, I am reminded at the level of athleticism that is on display. Players who are equally adept with either hand, whether dribbling, passing or shooting. None more adept than Kawhi Leonard, the Raptor’s leader and the NBA playoffs most valuable player. And now, sadly for Toronto, and all of Canada of that matter, Kawhi has signed a contract with the LA Clippers.

Snakes

That’s River Phoenix as Young Indy in a scene from the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” It was a scene that helped to explain Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes clearly evident in the first Jones’ movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” River, in this photo, was covered in garter snakes – frightening enough, but not life-threatening. In “Raiders,” Harrison Ford as the adult Indy, found himself in a large den of venomous snakes. By the way, for those of you who enjoy doing crossword puzzles, a fear of snakes is known as “ophidiophobia.”

My godmother Doris lived for many years in Inwood, Manitoba, a hamlet about an hour from Winnipeg, the provincial capitol. Doris is no longer with us, but she was special to me, my sister and our parents. When I think of Doris I am reminded of Meryl Streep playing Julia Child and how her voice would rise an octave or two. And it would be difficult for Doris to contain her excitement knowing that the New York Times, on June 16 of this year, had just done a piece on the snakes of Narcisse, Manitoba, just a few minutes from where she had lived. The Times headlined the article, “Tokyo has its cherry blossoms, the Netherlands has its tulip fields, and Paris offers itself. But the Canadian province of Manitoba has a remarkably distinctive springtime attraction too: tens of thousands of amorous snakes writhing around in pits.” In good company obviously, and sounds kind of sexy.

Late May is the mating time for red-sided garter snakes, and Narcisse appears to be the ideal place. The Narcisse snake dens accommodate some 70,000 snakes, and attract several thousand curiosity seekers each year. Among them is a biology professor from Oregon State University, who has come to Narcisse in each of the past 37 years. I’m not sure why one year wouldn’t suffice, but the professor explains that the snakes form a ball, with males surrounding a larger female in order to copulate. Apparently males outnumber females by a hundred to one. Not the kinds of odds I would warm to.

Apart from the 10 days in spring when the snakes are cavorting, there is not a lot going on in Inwood or Narcisse (Narcisse has a gas station and little else). But those ever-enterprising Manitobans – not to be outdone by the French with their Eiffel Tower or the Americans with their Statue of Liberty – have come up with a statue of Sam and Sara to stimulate tourism. As if 70,000 snakes weren’t enough.

And not to forget “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Here is Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones confronting his worst fear. Time to watch the movie again …

 

Cauliflower Soup

I like soup. And I like soup at pretty much any time of year. I don’t have to wait until the fall or winter months. The one thing I like about soup is that it incorporates the veggies I should otherwise be eating. I am not about to munch a carrot or a celery stick, but chopped up and put into a soup … well, they almost become desirable. So here is a great recipe that has as its base cauliflower – quite bland in appearance (possibly the Mike Pence of vegetables) – that turns into super soup.

Start with a head of cauliflower that you have reduced to florets. Toss the florets in a large bowl with a mix of olive oil and cumin (2 tablespoons), crushed black pepper (a tablespoon), and a teaspoon of salt. Place the florets in a sheet pan and roast in a 350 F degree oven for 35 minutes or until the florets show some char. If there is one thing that is as good as a gin martini, it is garlic. There are two ways to deal with garlic in this recipe. It is July here, and friends have provided garlic scapes. These are the stalks that grow out of garlic bulbs.

I chop up the scapes, add oil, and throw them in with the cauliflower while roasting. Alternatively, I take a whole bulb of garlic, cut the top, place in a small ramekin and pour some olive oil over the bulb. Place in the oven with the cauliflower and the end of 35 minutes the cauliflower and the garlic will be nicely done. That’s the hard part.

Once the cauliflower is roasted, place in a slow cooker with two quarts of water and three heaping tablespoons of “Better than Bouillon” veggie bouillon (or chicken bouillon, if you don’t have the veggie version). Put the heat on low, add the garlic (having squeezed all the cloves out of the bulbs; or as the roasted scapes), and add two chopped carrots, a stalk of celery (chopped), a medium onion (chopped), a tablespoon of hot pepper flakes, a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley, a quarter cup of fresh tarragon, a quarter cup of fresh oregano, and lots of crushed pepper. If you don’t have fresh herbs, go for two tablespoons each of the bottled stuff.

When the veggies have all softened, blend the mix with a wand until smooth. Taste and add salt as necessary. Add a cup of cheddar cheese (shredded) and a half cup of asiago (shredded) or fontina (shredded), just to boost the flavour. Get your wand out and blend. Add water or bouillon to get the consistency you want.