Inspiration.

It’s a word used a lot these days, mainly by salesmen and politicians, but at it’s heart, it means an energy or driving emotion that was caused or influenced by an outside agency.

It doesn’t have to be a positive influence. You can be inspired towards acts of hate or destruction. When I think of inspiration, though, for me it is any positive influence that spurred new ideas and concepts. 

When I discussed getting into fishing in the game yesterday, the inpiration for me was being told that it was now easier to get the fishing pets from Crocolisk in the City. My love of pets was the foundation, and the idea that I could get pets that had long eluded me inspired me to begin fishing again.

I got Chuck’s Bucket yesterday. :)

Inspiration comes in many ways, though. Sometimes it’s hard to pin down what had ever inspired me (or you) to follow the paths we have.

I’d like to tell a story about inspiration.

I was inspired to write this from watching The Amazing Race this season. Seeing what’s been going on this season has brought back a lot of old feelings and memories I’d buried away, and I wanted to take a moment out of my life to say a thank you in this form, even though the people concerned will never see it.

I’m a fan of the TV series, “The Amazing Race”. Whether you love it or hate it yourself, I really enjoy the show.

I’ve traveled pretty extensively myself, and I find watching American teams facing culture shock, tackling challenges based on regional and cultural life, and dealing with travel planning challenges to be a truly engaging combination.

As with other reality competitions, I find myself interested only so long as there is still a team or player in the race that I respect or admire. 

Once I no longer like or respect any of the competitors that remain in the race, I no longer care what happens to them, and I don’t watch anymore.

I have only watched three seasons of Survivor. The first one, where I cheered on Rudy Boesch, and the Pearl Islands and All Stars seasons where I cheered on Rupert. I check out the lineup of contestants each season, and so far none of the others held any appeal for me.

But I’m not talking about Survivor, this is about The Amazing Race.

Each season, I enjoy seeing which countries the contestants travel to, what they’ll do once there, and I enjoy it. Often, the competition is without direct nastiness, which I also appreciate. The teams rarely spend a lot of time conniving and backstabbing. There’s some, of course, but not much. There was one season where those idiots that won Survivor were on, and spent their time trying to hurt the other teams, but they didn’t win that season, so I was pleased. 

The season currently underway has been one heck of a fun time for me.

I can explain why in just two words.

Harlem Globetrotters.

I’m sure Cassie had no idea why, when the lineup scrolled by on the season opener, I was jubilant when they announced that two of the contestants were Flight Time and Big Easy of the current incarnation of the Harlem Globetrotters.

I’m all shouting, “Woot! Rock on! Hot damn!” at the screen, and she’s just giving me that Look.

I was overjoyed… but I’ll admit, I was also afraid.

See, the Harlem Globetrotters were one of my biggest inspirations when I was a child. They were a huge influence on me.

And it had absolutely nothing to do with sports.

When I was growing up, a large part of my home life in poor inner city Miami consisted of being told how worthless I was, and how I’d never amount to anything. My mother had custody of me after the divorce, (not the firefighter, that was my step-mother) and she tried to beat into my head that if you weren’t born to priviledge, you were nothing, and never would be. More specifically, that since *I* was not born of a wealthy and priviledged family, that *I* would never amount to anything.

Around the time I was 8 years old, the Harlem Globetrotters came to Miami to host one of their exhibition games, and the church we attended got a supply of tickets and organized a bus to take members of the Sunday School class there.

I went, not really having any idea who we were going to see or what this was all about.

There were several things about seeing the team perform in the arena that really hit me hard.

First, the grace, the amazing beauty of watching them play. Even at the age of eight I was a cynical little bastard, and I knew that nothing that awesome just came easy for anybody. These players were beautiful in action, and Curly Neal was still a vital part of the team. His dribbling, yeah, it really was that amazing. Seeing how incredibly precise they all moved and worked together as a team, the way they made it look easy and effortless, was just astounding.

Second, they did all this crazy stuff on the court, showed the results of what I just knew was insanely hard work, and they were still having fun.

They were that damn good, and they dared to be that good and still were enjoying themselves out there and hamming it up and having a blast

I think it was the first time in my life I’d ever realized you could work your ass off, and do something very difficult, and still have fun doing it. That work or a career didn’t have to deaden the soul. When you’re surrounded by the daily grind of drudge work, and everyone around you is killing themselves to support themselves and their family, seeing that you can work that hard and still have a lot of fun was an eye opener. I had no idea that you were, ahem, “allowed” to enjoy what you did for a living.

Third, these players were all supposed to have come from backgrounds just like mine, crappy neighborhoods, hard streets, no handouts, bleak and depressing. And yet, there they were, stunning a capacity crowd, people in the stands all roaring and cheering them on. They did it on their own, they worked hard, and they achieved success on their own terms, based on their own merits.

It’s a big concept to get through to an eight year old, but it hit me damn hard. I didn’t have to be what I was told. I could dream, and dream big, and I didn’t have to let anybody hold me back or tell me I would never succeed, I didn’t have to believe I was destined to be a failure. They took their dreams and ran with them, there they were right there. And there wasn’t a damn reason in the world why I couldn’t do it too, as long as I started ignoring the people that stood in my way and started believing in myself.

Finally, and the biggest thing to me, they were genuinely nice people.

You’d think that to an eight year old, these towering giants would be terrifying, but after the game they took the time to let kids like me visit with them, get autographs, ask questions, and pose for pictures. And they made a big deal out of us kids, they didn’t act like “Oh, here we go again, damnit, I’ve got a hot date in the bar, let’s get it over with.”

They acted as though spending time with kids was more important for them at that moment than anything else they had going on.

Those guys were so nice, so funny and charming and kind to us kids, it was all just amazing.

I walked away from that exhibition game, not wanting to grow up to be a Harlem Globetrotter, but determined to grow up to be me, whoever the hell that was going to be, and not what someone else told me to be.

As the Rage Against the Machine song goes, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” Hey Esther, that song is for you.

It was one of the most inspirational moments of my life. When I think of how they made so much time to visit with kids after the game, and how nice they were, relaxed and cheerful and friendly and patient. I really can’t say enough about how nice they were.

I really feel that I can credit the Harlem Globetrotters for inspiring me, for helping me to really believe in my heart that you can succeed on your own, that you CAN make a difference in your life, and you can chase your dreams.

I really do think it was then that I started to think of anyone that wanted to put me down, and put me “in my place”, as obstacles to be ignored or pushed through or pushed aside. 

So yeah, I got a big thrill immediately on seeing that two of the current Globetrotters were gonna be on the Amazing Race.

And yes, I was also afraid.

It was a long damn time ago that I was eight years old. All this time, and I’ve managed to hold onto my love of the Harlem Globetrotters, and my respect for the hard work they do, traveling all over the world holding their inspirational exhibition games. It’s been way down in my heart, but all along I’ve had a soft spot for the Harlem Globetrotters. Damn straight.

Seeing that there would be two players competing in the Amazing Race brought back all those old feelings, but it also was filtered through my adult cynicism; time passes, and the stress of game show competition often brings out the true nature of people, right there on camera. What happens if these guys are exposed as hateful or nasty, like so many others are?

If there is one thing that I believe to be true, it’s that there’s no better time to see what someone is really like than when they’re under tons of stress.

I firmly believe that you can snow people most of the time, but when everything is on the wire and the pressure begins crushing you, time is short and you’ve got to act and act now, then that’s when a person’s true nature is clearly seen.

You are, what you do, when it counts the most. Your instincts give you away.

I’m sure nobody ever went on a reality show thinking, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to look like an abusive wife-beater on national TV.”

I’m sure each competitor figured they’d be able to show themselves in the best possible light at all times. But when the crunch came, you see them crack and start tearing at each other, all on camera.

So what will the Globetrotters be like when the shit hits the fan? Will they stand up to my impossible memories of a bunch of the nicest, hardest working guys in the world, or will they have feet of clay and be dicks?

So far this season, they certainly haven’t disappointed me.

Throughout the ups and downs of the race, they’ve both been pretty cheerful, optimistic, hard working and successful. No matter what’s happened, they have faced it all with a smile on their faces. They’ve risen to the challenge and fought hard to stay in the race.

They have that competitive spirit, but they keep it friendly. That’s the amazing thing, the great thing I remember from my youth. Yes, damn straight they want to win, they want to smash through the challenges and win it all. But all along the way, they’ve played as though it’s just as important to them to be nice, friendly, and helpful to the other teams.

Almost as though that’s who they really are.

The episode that aired on Sunday night was my favorite.

During the very first challenge, the Globetrotters started in 3rd, but the cab driver took them to the wrong destination, and they lost some time. Then, on the challenge itself, Big Easy was supposed to open a briefcase, figuring out the clues based on a wristwatch he was given, and he just couldn’t get it.

The combo of the briefcase was the time on the face of the watch, but Big Easy read too much into the challenge, thought it was the time and day of the month, and kept trying the wrong combination.

Each of the other teams came, did it, opened their briefcase and kept going, leaving the Globetrotters in the dust. The other teams even made it look simple, like, “Hey dummy, you can’t figure this out? Bwa hah hah ha.”

You could see the incredible frustration building in Big Easy as everyone else left them behind.

Did he lose it? Did he go into a crying fit, or break down, or get angry, or rage at fate? Did he bitch piss and moan about life being unfair?

No.

No, he got more and more frustrated, yes, but he kept trying to keep himself calm, and work the problem, over and over. He refused to burn out, he refused to give up, and he refused to go nuts and lose his temper.

Eventually, he did get it. He managed to clear his head of what he KNEW the solution had to be, and took a fresh look at it, and got it done.

But now the Globetrotters are in the weeds. My favorite team is sunk unless someone else screws up.

Did Flight Time, his teammate, get all pissed off and hostile at losing so much time, starting out 3rd and ending up dead last, because Big Easy misread a watch? Ware there recriminations and hostility?

No, they’re in the cab heading to the next challenge, and yes they’re worried and they’re hustling to get to the next stop, but the both of them are in there laughing their asses off at themselves for how stupid it was to get hung up on a watch. They were able to laugh at themselves for screwing up, and move on with good humor, and a renewed deterination not to give up.

Hell, I want those guys on my team, I don’t give a shit what it is we’re going to do.

So off to the next challenge, and it’s either build 12 glass hookahs, or measure $500,000 dollars worth of gold on a scale based on the current exchange rate per ounce, an amount that changes every couple of minutes.

I’m watching this with Cassie, as some teams do the gold, and some do the hookahs, and as usual, I’m wincing at the galactic level of ignorance of some people.

This takes the form of me shouting at the screen, “You divide the 500,000 by the amount per ounce to find out how many ounces you need! It’s not rocket science! It’s barely elementary school math! You do know how to divide, don’t you? Holy shit, people!”

Yes, I yell at the people on the screen. I went to movies in Miami. Everyone yelled advice at the screen. No, really, maybe this time the idiots will hear our advice and do it right. What, you can shout advice at the football players on TV in the bar, but I’M the crazy one? Ahem. Okay, let’s move on, shall we?

So the Globetrotters head for the hookas first, take one look at how long it’s taken other teams to get to where they are, and say, “Nah, let’s hit the gold.”

And they’re laughing on the way, saying, “We screwed up telling time from a watch, the other teams must think we’re crazy going to do the math challenge.”

Seriously. They’re laughing at how stupid the other teams must think they are for screwing up the watch challenge.

They get there, and yes I know that what you see on the show is heavily edited. You never really know just how long something takes somebody.

The fact remains, the Globetrotters walked in, asked to borrow a calculator, took a look at the screen, and one of them said, “Okay, so we divide $500,000 by the price per ounce, and start getting the gold on the scale. Here, give me the calculator.”

I’m sorry, it took them about 5 minutes and they were gone. There was no confusion, they looked at the problem and nailed the solution instantly. The other teams (aside from the professional poker players) just stared at the scales in dumbfounded disbelief, and then gave up.

So on they go to the last challenge, still in dead last place, and every other team but one is finished.

The last challenge is simply to go down a tall waterslide.

Now, I’ll grant you, it’s a psychological challenge for some. The waterslide is 6 stories straight down, at a 90° slope. And at the bottom, it goes under a shark tank, so from above, it looks like you’d be in the water with the sharks.

Still, this wasn’t designed to be a nightmare inducing freakshow on Fear Factor. It’s a waterslide for recreational purposes. Of course there’s no actual danger.

The team before the Globetrotters, Mika and Canaan, stop dead at the waterslide.

Mika, it turns out, is both afraid of the water, AND afraid of heights.

Oooookaaaaay. And you’ve never seen the show before? Every season there are water and height based challenges.

I can totally understand being afraid of heights and afraid of water and sharks. I saw Jaws in the big screen as a, what, 6 year old? For a long time I was afraid to swim in pools because I couldn’t see into the deep end to make sure there weren’t sharks down there. Yes, chlorinated pools. With great white sharks. It’s my psychosis, I’ll believe in great white sharks in chlorinated pools if I want to.

And I hate heights too. I’ve been fighting that all my life, ever since the first time I fell off a very high tree branch and busted my arm when I was… you know, come to think of it, six years old was a bad year for me, wasn’t it?

I still hate climbing very tall ladders, ones that are more than two stories, or going up in lifts.

Trying to face my fears is probably the single biggest reason I did rock climbing and parachuting. To face my fears and try and conquer them. So, heck yes, I can perfectly understand being afraid of water and heights. And sharks, too, lol. Being afraid is a lot different than giving in to your fears.  

As I mentioned earlier, things you see on the show are edited. It’s rarely possible to know just how close teams really are to each other. Part of the fun is seeing the start of each episode, when they reveal what each team’s start time is, so you know how far apart they REALLY were when they checked in at the last leg.

In this case, it looked like Mika was refusing to go through the waterslide, and the Globetrotters were coming up fast behind. But I was positive… POSITIVE that the Globetrotters were really about an hour or more behind, and out of the race. Never, never in my wildest dreams did I think it’d take Mika more than 15 minutes to summon up the intestinal fortitude to do a recreational waterslide to stay in the race.

Now, here is where that “show us what you’re really like in the clutch” thing comes into play. Mika refuses to go… and Canaan, billed as her newly dating boyfriend and teammate, grabs her and tries to forcibly throw her into the chute headfirst, while she’s screaming “Oh my god no!”

He tried doing that a couple times, too. Once, she’d almost gotten the courage to go, you could see her just about ready to launch herself down the slide… and he rushed at her and tried to push her to get her going. Needless to say, she freaked and scrambled out of the chute.

Suddenly, the Globetrotters caught up. They made it! Holy crap, they really were that close and got caught up.

But wait! It’s not over yet! The Globetrotters don’t get to cut in line. They still have to wait.

There is a 2 minute delay, starting once the next team has caught up and is in line waiting. The team currently on the slide has 2 minutes to suck it up and go, and only if they don’t, will Big Easy and Flight Time get to take a turn.

And then it happens.

As Canaan tries to psyche up Mika to go, telling her she can do it, go for it… Flight Time starts calling out, “Hell no, girl, look how high up that is! Damn, you don’t want to do that! I know I wouldn’t do it! Think about how high up you are! Do you really want to risk it?”

He starts working on her mind. He starts playing on her fears. He’s good humored about it, he’s not mean, he doesn’t say you CAN’T do it, he tells her she doesn’t WANT to do it. And he’s right.

Canaan just about shits a brick.

Whether it had any affect or not, it works. She dithers for the two minutes, and doesn’t go down the slide. 

Seconds later, two minutes are up, and Flight Time and Big Easy are on the slide and gone, baby, blink and you’ll miss it.

Canaan calls out as a parting shot, as Flight Time hits the slide at a run, “I thought you were a nice guy, but you’re just a piece of crap”.

Now, I can see how Canaan might think that. He was clearly furious that they got passed. I still cannot believe he tried to throw her physically down the slide.

But I was laughing my ass off and cheering at Flight Time.

Working on an opponents’ mind, helping them to feed on their own fears is part of competition. Even friendly competition.

Pushing past your fears is part of competition. Pushing yourself farther than you ever thought you could go. Giving up, giving in to doubt and fear is not how you win.

After sliding down, Flight Time said in the pool he hated making her cry, and he really seemed sincere about it. But it was a competition.

It may seem strange, but I felt that it was perfectly in keeping, and I see nothing wrong with it at all. I certainly don’t think he was a piece of crap. I was laughing and cheering him on… because she had the power, at every moment, to push through her fears and win.

She chose to listen to her fear, and she lost. In the end, she flat out refused to go. She walked back down the stairs the long way.

According to news reports afterward, Canaan said that they were stuck up on that slide for 45 minutes before the Globetrotters caught up, while he tried to encourage Mika to go down the chute. 45 minutes, and no go.

They had the victory in their hands, with all the power to make it happen.

I just don’t ever get any vibe from the two of them that they have a single mean or vicious bone in their bodies. Flight Time seemed genuinely sorry to have taken advantage of the situation, to feed Mika’s fears. But he saw the chance to work on an opponent’s mind to win a game, and I applaud him for it.

I’ll be a sad, sad man if they don’t make it to the final three, but whatever else happens, I’m delighted to see that the tradition of the Harlem Globetrotters being the kind of men that I would want my son to look up to as role models and inspirations lives on.

Even when it comes to recognising fear for what it is… and conquering it instead of giving in.

8 Responses to “Still inspiring, after all these years”
  1. bigbearbutt says:

    Alternative title; Lunchtime Bearwall

  2. Sarabian says:

    Amusing and thought-provoking bearwall.

    Thanks.

  3. Jack says:

    Fun read. Thanks for sharing.

    That is an excellent illustration of the mental aspect in competition. Whether it is physical contact sports, non-contact racing, or table top games. Your mind plays an integral role in how you succeed or fail. And not only does this illustrate Mika’s mental weakness . . . but Canaan’s. I mean, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. If he was there 45 minutes trying to talk her through her fears, that shows a lot of patience, which is its own mental discipline. Those moments he pushed her, physically tried to move her to do something she wasn’t ready to do, were lapses in patience. Lapses in his mental discipline. His own weakness coming through, even if it was exhaustion induced. I’m betting they showed the lapses on TV because those are what make good drama. He may have been very mentally strong. But not strong enough to overcome his team’s weakness.

    Or maybe he’s just a jerk. I don’t know.

    If I’m remembering correctly what I saw 30+ years ago, the Globetrotters were a mental game. I mean, they were physically impressive. Their skill was astounding. But what made them most entertaining were the mind games. The jokes, the good natured teasing. That’s what I most remember about the Globetrotters’ shows. What you describe is totally what I’d expect . . . them working to get inside their competition’s heads. In a good natured way, of course . . . but yeah. Totally what I’d expect, what I’d hope, to see.

  4. Stupid Mage says:

    Competition is competition. Overall I think Canaan was a jerk. I would never physically force my girlfriend into anything she absolutely feared. It shows an incredible lack of respect.

  5. Tesh says:

    I love the Harlem Globetrotters. BBB, you and I have different childhood experiences, but man, those guys (Curly included) were a similar inspiration to my young mind. (I can’t remember how old I was, probably 6 or so). They definitely have a “mental game” aspect to what they do. How could they *not*, being the “basketball magicians” they are? It’s all about making the opponent think one thing and doing another.

    I’d call Flight Time’s tactic there a bit of a verbal head fake. If Mika really wanted to win, she’d have used it to fuel her own resolve. That’s what competitors do.

    It’s heartwarming to see the HG guys still playing classy ball, even if it’s on a different court.
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Incredible =-.

  6. Swish says:

    I agree that in the moment Canaan was losing it, but you can also judge the character of a person by what happens after they royaly screw up. After they had lost that leg of the race and in the post interview he was apoligetic and didn’t blame her at all.

    As far as not being prepared for the possible challenges of the Race I was screaming the same thing. OMG you noob, haven’t you ever watched this show before you tried out. They Always have some swimming, bungie jumping, mental freak out challenge. Why are you even here if you aren’t prepared to do the challenges.

  7. Suxxy says:

    The Amazing Race is dead to me. I used to enjoy it, but that season where the Survivor manipulators were on… no thank you, didn’t watch the end of the season, haven’t watched it since.
    Used to love watching the Globetrotters.
    Hmmm decisions, decisions.
    It probably won’t be shown in Oz for a couple of months, so I have time to ponder my choice.

  8. Morphster of Aggramar says:

    I saw this today and absolutely had to share :) Hopefully Rudy hasn’t tainted your vision of the Globe Trotters. haha
    http://www.theonion.com/content/news/new_harlem_globetrotter_rudy_rude

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