Monday, March 31, 2008

Tiger Tattoos

When you watch more than thirty college basketball games for one team during a season, most of which were blowouts of ridiculous proportions, you inevitably start to focus on some weird details- the types of rituals players have at the free throw line, how much certain coaches and staff members sweat during games, and trying to decode plays certain finger symbols denote are historically popular ones for me. This year I am all about the tattoos. This is one tatted-up group of kids, I’ll tell you what. Every game there’s more and more ink to spot. It’s been a battle just to keep up with everything. Here are some of my favorites.

The most interesting case study of tattoo evolution has come from Memphis’s arguably best player, Chris Douglas-Roberts. While he sported plenty of ink coming into the season, he made some very visable additions this year.

His first in-your-face tattoo was this little number on his neck.

Who is Judy? I’m not sure we’ll ever know. All I know is that unless it’s his mama or his grandmother, I’ll be pretty enthusiastic about watching him in the pros for years to come, waiting for the day I see a close-up of him on TV with a big black bar slapped across his neck.

A few weeks ago, CDR emerged with this new piece.

I’m not sure what this is. A chapter from the Old Testament? A benevolent witch’s spell written on parchment paper? Now when he’s at the free throw line he methodically bends his knees and touches the tattoo a few times with his left hand, a move also executed by former Tiger Steve Ballard in the early 90’s (while it’s doubtful that CDR is directly mimicking this move, it’s a fun nostalgia trip for those of us who remember it from before). I suppose that this is a superstition or luck thing; he’s deriving a bit of strength and skill from the words that are permanently etched all the way down his right bicep, whatever they may be. Coincidentally (or not), the entire team’s free throw shooting is improving massively in the tournament.

Robert Dozier got an interesting new tattoo on his upper left bicep: a simple outline of the state of Georgia, with the words "Georgia Boy" scrolled above and below it. You can kind of see it here.

Despite its relative simplicity, I think this is my favorite of all the Tigers’ tattoos. I am a big fan of state tattoos; Dozier’s is clean, simple, and to the point.

Who would have thought Pierre Niles, famous nationwide for slapping a rowdy UAB fan dressed as Larry The Cable Guy across the face, to be a religious man? He has the prototypical set of praying hands on the inside of his left forearm, as well as the word "SON" going down his right arm, and "GOD" going down his left. The letters are extremely puffy and a little odd, and look slightly like cruller doughnuts- and if you’re not focusing hard enough the GOD looks a bit like GOO. I’m not sure exactly what Pierre is trying to convey with this tattoo statement. Is he a big fan of Jesus, or does he think he’s the second coming? All I know is that I better not knock a guy as big as Pierre too hard, especially since he’s also got the words "North" and "Memphis" tattooed across the backs of his arms. Whoop that trick, indeed.

Shawn Taggart, aka the most underrated Tiger, in my humble opinion, is one of those kids who seems to well be on his way to sporting a billion tattoos that are seemingly unrelated to each other and don’t create a cohesive theme. Nonetheless, they’re fun to look at.

Check out the fist clutching wads of money, the very tired tribal flames, and the 301 on his hand (hometown area code?). He also has a name tattooed on his neck; you can’t see it here, but it begins with an "N". Naomi? Nana?

Curiously, Memphis’s allegedly biggest and scariest thug, Joey Dorsey, has no visible tattoos that I can see. I’m anxiously awaiting a sweet right arm piece with the words "make it rain", accompanied by an entire sleeve of money showering from the top of his shoulder.

And finally, no discussion of Memphis’ 2007-2008 team tattoos is complete without mentioning Derrick Rose, the quietly imposing freshman phenom who has been the missing piece of the puzzle this year for our Tigers. Derrick Rose is terrified enough of needles that he refused stitches for a pretty nasty cut he received over his eye a couple of games ago, but he apparently had no fear of getting lots of work done this year, most noticeably this monstrosity etched on his arm for all eternity:

With that, all I’ve got left to say is: Go Tigers. Thanks for beating so many of your opponents so handily that I had the time to give a shit about your tattoos.


I have been in shock and sort of on emotional autopilot all day long. I think I prepared myself not to feel it if Memphis lost, because it would have genuinely hurt so badly. So now I am just sitting here staring at the walls of my apartment and trying to absorb everything.

This is, so far, the greatest day of my life as a sports fan. Yet all I can manage to do is text message people about beers and vintage dresses and write snarky reviews of Memphis’s fake abortion clinic on

Maybe it’ll sink in tomorrow.

I am going to throw up on my shoes.

In less than ten hours Memphis will take on Texas in the battle to win the South Region in the NCAA tournament.

I think I am going to throw up.

I haven’t been able to sleep well for weeks solely because of basketball. I know this is a sore point of contention amongst my friends in Boston. People either think it’s annoying- because I make plans that revolve around my basketball schedule- or they think it’s cute and quaint because it’s Just So Odd for someone like me to be so invested in something like a bunch of dudes throwing a ball that swishes through a hoop at the perfect moment.

Let me explain it thusly.

My first memory of life is of shopping for the birthday cake on the day of my first birthday party. I was about to be a year old. I loved Bert and Ernie, and so they were to be on my birthday cake. I remember being tiny; I remember everything being huge; I remember holding my dad’s hand as I teetered through the parking lot of the Big Star on Summer Avenue, knowing it was my special day and that I was going to get a cake just for me. I recall looking at the fancy display of cakes, pointing out the one that was mine, and watching my daddy exchange money for My Cake. There’s a blur between then and the happy birthday song, but I remember blowing out the candles while my family sang the song to me.

My second, third, fourth, fifth and beyond memories are all of Memphis Tigers Basketball. Somewhere in there is a memory of my sister being born. In my child mind I rated them all as being of relative importance. For some reason that is beyond my grasp, my memory of meeting my baby sister for the first time is in the same mental file cabinet as watching Keith Lee take Memphis to the Final Four in 1985.

And that is how it goes. My childhood constantly revolved around the Tigers. Every game came on local syndicated television and we watched them religiously. I can still recite the local commercials (anyone remember the commercials for Big Daddy’s Bowling Alley in Poplar Plaza? They had a free dinner for the kiddies! I know this cos I can still picture the fat girl customer stuffing her face with corn from the all-you-can-eat buffet). I memorized starting lineups. I memorized plays. If I hear the announcers (Dave Woloshin and John Albright, bitches!) now on the radio my brain shuts everything else off. Their voices are comforting to me the same way it’s comforting for some people to go to their parents’ houses and cuddle with their childhood teddy bears.

There were many minor players, but as far as the major stuff goes here is the rundown.

Elliot Perry was a little too short to be an NBA phemonenon, but his goggles were cool and he was a fucking star. As a result of his amazingness I copied his style and wore my swimming goggles all over the place from about 1989 to 1991 (this was before contact lenses were the shit, you see), just cos Elliot Perry did it first. I lived too far out in the country to have a basketball hoop, so I wore the goggles Elliot-style and dribbled my ball in circles in the loop of our driveway, doing it so many times that I remembered where each large rock was in our driveway that could send my ball flying into the bamboo bushes or towards the catalpa trees.

Penny Hardaway was obviously the most amazing phenomenon to hit Memphis since Elvis, but he was cooler ’cos he was local and kept it real. The day he announced that he was going to play for the Tigers he got shot in the foot. Not that you would know this, but THAT IS SO MEMPHIS. It was fucking depressing. Plus his grades sucked, so his whole freshman year was spent on the bench. After that wait though it was magic. Memphis went all the way to the Elite Eight during his junior year- what was that, 1992? I remember peeling the shot from Sports Illustrated of David Vaughn going up for this amaaaazing basket out of the magazine and putting it up on my wall. Memphis lost to Cincinnati in their bracket, which was especially painful, but what a fucking year that was.

I remember regularly seeing Coach Finch at Ike’s at Eastgate Shopping Center and, thanks to my mom’s encouragement, waving at him and congratulating him on his good year while he pushed his shopping cart out to his car, politely smiling and nodding at everyone in his path along the way. I remember feeling like I was a part of something special because he thanked me for acknowledging him. I remember how his smile towards me felt genuine, and I remember how when I watched the next Tigers game it felt like I had something to do with it.

I remember my parents screeching and hollering about The Great Name Change, how it would always be Memphis State to them and how their diplomas would always say that. Sure enough, they still call it Memphis State from time to time even fifteen-plus years later. Haters call it Memphis State all they want, but it makes me smile every time I hear it. I remember Coach Finch being unceremoniously fired and how it made the entire city so, so angry. I also remember how Tic Price was the biggest douchebag that the city ever had the misfortune of dealing with, and how it was like the second coming of Christ once the Tigers landed Coach Cal.

I remember watching and watching, but nothing happening. Then I remember the 05-06 year, going to RP Tracks with Lauryn a month or so before I moved to Boston and sitting with her and Hillary and watching Memphis come So Fucking Close to knocking off Duke in the preseason. It was something. I remember watching this mysterious but amazing number 14, this Chris Douglas-Roberts character, and hearing everyone in the bar murmuring, "who the fuck IS this kid?" I remember doing the math in my head. These kids are all freshmen and sophomores. The next two years will be sweet, but 2007-2008 will be their year. Something big is going to happen.

In a lot of ways, Memphis is a crappy city. Segregation is still alive and well, and as a result the crime is out of control. The poverty is sky high and it’s easy to grow up there and have extremely low expectations for your loved ones and yourself. Honestly, I don’t think I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost a friend because a robbery went wrong. That’s a horrible thing to have to say, but it is true. When you are raised in a town like Memphis you’re just set up to either be an incredible survivor via suffering horribly or to be an extremely sheltered and mediocre human being.

If Memphis wins the championship this year, it’s not just about a fucking ball going through a fucking hoop. It is about forcing the entire country to acknowledge what it means for a city in a shitty position to overcome mid-major status, financial obstacles, extreme racism and classism, and eternal underdog status. Memphis Tigers basketball isn’t just about a basketball program at a college in the city of Memphis; it’s a perfect emblem of the city itself. If the Tigers win, it’ll be like we hit the fucking lottery. It means some kids in Frayser and Orange Mound whose parents never graduated high school are gonna get a free ride to the University Of Memphis. It means that our parents and grandparents are going to get to experience something they never thought they would- seeing the Tigers cutting down the nets. It means that all these schools/cities/states that think they’re better than us will have to man up and accept the fact that on a basic human level, we’re all pretty much the same.

Memphis kids are in a class by ourselves. We grew up with our parents forcing their versions of their local hipster bands in our ears constantly, which turned out to be The People Who Fucking Invented Rock And Roll And Soul Music. As a result we have impeccable taste- basically, it’s in our blood to know when something’s good or when it sucks. Right now the entire city is rumbling like the big earthquake is finally settling in under its feet. We all know this is special, even when we’re a thousand miles away from home.

This is big.

I don’t think I’ll have to eat my words in a few hours. This feels real.

Third Time's A Charm

I was at the zoo yesterday with one of the kids and when we stopped off at the tiger exhibit I got a little nervous cos this random grandma next to us was hollerin’ at the kitties. She kept making kissy sounds at the tiger who was sitting and relaxing, trying to get him to turn around and look at her. ’Come here, kitty! Look at me! I wanna see your face! Turn around!" It was so patronizing. Meanwhile I’m all, there’s just a crappy chain-link fence separating us and two really fierce animals. Is this the best idea? I’m not sure I’m ready to throw my body on top of a toddler today in order to ensure his survival. Eventually the tiger did acknowledge her presence by turning his head slightly to the left, then made slight eye contact, turned his back to her, got up and prowled towards the door where the zookeepers leave his pre-butchered tasty dinner.

Memphis is in the Elite Eight for the third year in a row. This is the first year that I have confidence that they’ll run with this momentum. Fuck what the pundits say; Memphis has it going on. I can’t explain it with statistics or anything like that. It’s just feeling. When you’re a fan of Memphis- or hell, just from the city, period- you are accustomed to being a pessimist and expecting the worst from your people. This is the year that things are different. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like there was some sort of a mystical energy guiding my gut instinct right now.

Call it fate. Call it a program, a school, a city getting off of its knees and owning their shit. I have no idea. All I know is that I am ready to be emotionally invested beyond Sunday morning. And I feel like there’s a reason for that.

This is what I’ve been waiting for since I was five years old and watched Keith Lee take Memphis to the Final Four on the big screen TV at my aunt and uncle’s house, thinking he was so huge and amazing and special. I watched Memphis fall to their knees about a hundred times since then, so I know what it feels to get my heart broken in that especially painful basketball way.

I’m pretty certain that It’s Time.

Nerdy Basketball Sentence 1.

Funnier than cheesy softcore porn: watching Bob Huggins and Coach K embracing and whispering into each others’ ears after the WVU/Duke game.

What a couple of assholes.

Part of me can’t wait until March Madness is over and I can resume my normal life in its entirety. Is it terrible that I stayed home last night to try to catch three minutes of Memphis’s cake walk first round game, even though they never even showed any of it beyond like two highlights? Is it equally terrible that I’m considering staying home tonight to watch the Mich State/Pitt game so I can see who Memphis plays next weekend, assuming they get past the Bulldogs (In my house, Mississippi State = "The Bulldogs"; I am massively sad that Memphis has to play them, because the spot in my heart that they maintain is squishy-soft)?

I have too much emotional investment this year. When my friends’ teams lose, I want to help them plan symbolic Viking funerals at Jamaica Pond or down the Mississippi River. When my friends’ teams win, I call or text them to congratulate them. If or when (please, not when) Memphis loses, I’m going to be pretty crushed. It’ll be about the same feeling as being dumped by someone I had really high hopes for going down a long road with. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating.


March Madness Methodology

DISCLAIMER: When reading this blog entry, one should know that I’m completely aware that I’m pretty insane between the months of November and March, and completely off the wall nutso from mid-March until early April.

The art of filling out NCAA brackets is a complicated science. There are many factors to consider when writing your predicted winners on your bracket lines. Here is my methodology, which I have used on and off for the past fifteen or so years of my life. You probably won’t use it, as its science is very specific to the type of person I am: stubborn, old-fashioned, obsessive, fiercely independent, and heavily influenced by geography. That is not the point. The point is that talking about annual traditions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and March Madness is something we should all do more often, as it helps us instill a sense of loyalty to tradition.

The parameters:

First, I make one and only one bracket. If I participate in different bracket pools, I make different copies of the exact same bracket. I think it is unholy to make more than one set of predictions. March Madness is all about who you believe in; even if one doesn’t care about a game or has a difficult time predicting an outcome, one should make a decision and stick to it. Multiple brackets are for wafflers, people who are too scared to make choices.

Second, when making the initial bracket I draw it out myself with a ruler. I do this sometime during the weekend before announcements are made on Sunday. It is very therapeutic and helps me relieve the stress I feel when I think about the possibilities surrounding the University of Memphis’s place in all of this. If it’s a year where Memphis isn’t going to the Big Dance, I am usually feeling pretty bitter and upset. If it’s a year where Memphis is definitely going but their seeding or regional placement is in question (i.e. this year), I am stressed and will take hours to make sure that the lines measure out perfectly, as I am feeling obsessive. If it’s a year where Memphis may or may not be going to the tournament, I am extremely stressed and will take many, many hours to complete this process. I may use pre-printed forms from newspapers or the internet as second copies of my bracket (and to write down my friends’ brackets), but I always use my original bracket as my blueprint, my master plan. This original bracket goes everywhere that I go for the duration of March Madness, and I mark its correctness or incorrectness wherever I hear game updates. By the end of the tournament it’s usually folded into fourths, falling apart, covered in food and beer stains, and completely wrinkled and smushed to bits from traveling around in the bottom of my bag for three weeks.

When Selection Sunday is nigh I try my hardest to be in front of the television when the announcements are made. Like most people, I fill in the initial portions of my bracket as the teams are announced one by one. Usually I’ll go ahead and make some instant predictions, like picking all the 1 seeds to beat the 16 seeds, or knocking off teams that are seeded way too highly. I write my first round of predictions in ball point pen.

For my second round of predictions I usually use a pencil. This way I can erase any mistakes I’ve made. Constant erasing and rewriting usually means my bracket is covered with tiny eraser holes once I’ve made my final decisions. When making my choices I don’t pay too much attention to what sports commentators say, as I rely on my instinct and am usually pretty knowledgeable about the records and styles of play of most of the teams in the tournament. I pay attention to all of the important details, like how the teams have fared later in the season rather than overall, and how previous match ups between teams may come into play. I pay particular attention to the locations where the games will be played. For example, this year a lot of people have Pittsburgh beating Michigan State and then going on to beat Memphis. While I am certainly a pessimist about Memphis’s ability to win tournaments, I wonder how many Memphis naysayers are taking into account the fact that this hypothetical game will be played after Memphis will have played two games in Little Rock, which is a mere two hours away from Memphis and is often referred to as its sister city.

(You may be interested to know that I have never picked Memphis to go any further than the Final Four. I always have a stopping point for their glory. When I decide where that stopping point is, I always feel a huge surge of guilt of a treasonous nature. I feel a twinge of this every time I glance at my bracket.)

I make it a point to finish my bracket by Tuesday night before the play-in game (and yes, I make a prediction for the play-in game), and demand the same behavior from anyone who is comparing brackets or competing with me. If I am having a stressful or busy week, I will predict the play-in game first and finish the rest of my bracket by Wednesday night, as the first games are played on Thursday.

As teams are eliminated, I mark off my wrong choices with a big black marker. When a team I’ve picked to go further than the current game is eliminated, I mark off all future games as well. When I make a correct decision I circle it with the same big black marker (although some years I use a highlighter).

By the time Memphis has been eliminated, as they have been every year they’ve made it to the tournament, I lose a lot of interest in my bracket. I cease to genuinely care about the outcome of the tournament, even if I have a fair amount of money invested in it and it looks like I may win some. The sky gets a little darker. Food doesn’t taste as good anymore. My mood begins to sour. People avoid me. I close my door and throw things. I am bitter for at least two weeks, maybe longer. I lie in bed and remember the best plays of the season, and try to focus on Memphis’s certain and possible entries (if any) in the upcoming NBA draft.

When the tournament is over I compare my bracket with other peoples’, and eventually it gets thrown away. When the year comes that Memphis wins it all, I’ll frame my bracket and put it on my wall. Until then, I don’t want to be reminded of ugly basketball games and seasons that ended in disappointment. I just want to remember the good times.

With that said, GO TIGERS GO. THIS IS YOUR YEAR. For the first time ever, I am picking you to win it all. Don’t prove me wrong.

Anyone who wants to compare brackets with me, send ’em along with your email address and I’ll reciprocate.

About Me

Jamaica Plain, MA, United States