Tuesday, June 26, 2007


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John Prendergast had the funkiest jumper I've ever seen. It would start somewhere down around his hip, roll up the side of his body and be slung whiplash-style somewhere in the direction of the basket.

All this occurred — in defiance of the laws of physics — with the timing and weird natural athleticism that was unique to J.P. For all the herky-jerky spin-move mania that was J.P.'s pigeon-toed game in high school, the kid could ball because he never stopped moving, never got tired and was fearless. And he believed.

These same attributes — plus a healthy dose of moral outrage and big-time smarts — have led J.P. to the summit of human rights activism.

He has spent the better part of the last quarter-century shining a spotlight on the most troubled parts of Africa — tirelessly raising the alarm for those who cannot raise it themselves. From the Ethopian famine to the killing fields of Northern Uganda, Somalia and, most recently, Darfur in northern Sudan — J.P. has borne witness, documented and shouted from rooftops about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims.

J.P. has now written a book with Oscar-nominated actor and fellow activist Don Cheadle. It is called Not On Our Watch.

And I suggest that you read it.

Now I know what you are thinking — because I have had the exact same thoughts:

"Africa? What about all the problems we have right here in the U.S.?"

"Um ... we are at war ourselves."

"Genocide. I mean ... genocide! What could I possibly do that would change something so huge?"

"Africa — the place is hopeless."

We do have urgent crises here. We are at war. And "Genocide" is a problem so huge, so halfway-around-the-world and so nobody-I-know that it is difficult to get fired up.

I read Not On Our Watch and it was stunning. I felt proud to know J.P. and count him as a friend. Ultimately, though, I was moved not by John and Don's remarkable commitment, nor the inspiring efforts of students across the country or even the wrenching photos in the middle of the book — but by a single description in the book:

"Amina ... had fled her village during an attack. Her husband had been shot ... She had two of her children on her back and the other two in her arms as about twenty Janjaweed (the government-sponsored militia) chased her on camels. First they ripped her five-year-old, Adom, from her, and when she stopped running and begged for her child, they told her they would shoot her. So she continued running away from her village that was up in flames. The Janjaweed then tossed Adom into the fire. He was screaming and calling her name but she just kept running."

I have a five-year-old.
How can I do nothing?

Who benefits from my action? I do.
Who benefits from your action? You will.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


The best show on television started it's fourth season last Wednesday and most of you weren't watching. What the hell?
I know. I know.
Denis Leary provides very little gray area. People seem to think he's either brilliant or a total assface. (For the record — I lean well to the former)
But, for the love of God, how can you keep yourself from at least trying a show that is harrowing, hilarious, heady and heartbreaking (sometimes all in the same scene.)
This is Denis Leary's high-water mark — or at least in a dead heat with No Cure For Cancer. As writer/actor of this highwire TV act (I'm going to break the record for descriptive H-words in a single blog) he delivers not only an emotional wallop but a tonic for the recent horrors visited on Irish-Americans who own television sets.
Who else was ready to call in air strikes after suffering through the likes of Madigan Men, Trinity and the goddamn Fighting Fitzgeralds?
Rescue Me has something for everybody.
Why, just in last week's episode alone — there was Tatum O'Neal passionately advocating for the marital importance of a porn stash. The woman's porn stash, no less. There were sexy doings in a Catholic church during Mass — and the participants were consenting adult parishioners. There was a spectacular explosion, firefighting heroics, pity sex, teen sex, gay marriage, substantial weight loss, true love, vomiting, domestic squabbling and at least eight genuine belly laughs.
Watch this show. You're worth it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mr. Porter

I wanted to be Howard Porter. In fact, countless times in our backyard, I was Howard Porter. Howard Porter was my first basketball hero.

On May 19th, he was severely beaten and left for dead in an alley. A week later, he died. He was 58. Although I hadn’t thought of Porter for a solid 20 years, I was shocked. And I grieved. Howard Porter was there at the beginning of a lifelong love affair.

Basketball has been in my bloodstream as long as I can remember. I played in grade school, high school and college. I even hung on for years in rec leagues and pick-up games until I ran out of meniscuses, ankle ligaments and the desire to trash talk middle-aged civil servants. It bonded me to my brothers in a way nothing else has.

I haven’t played competitive basketball in five years. And not a day goes by that I don’t miss it. Basketball was my obsession. And college basketball has been — and remains — my favorite.

Luckily , I grew up in Philly — where the heart of college basketball is located. (It’s not even up for debate, so put a sock in it New York, Indiana and Tobacco Road.)

That heart beats loudest in the Big Five. For the uninitiated, the Big Five includes LaSalle, Penn, Temple, Villanova and St. Joe’s — as well as the most heated rivalry in college basketball — St. Joe’s-Villanova. (Again, don’t even try with Duke-North Carolina, people. St. Joe-‘Nova is about hate… Philly hate. It’s no contest.)

First my sister Pam, then Trip enrolled at St. Joe’s. By default, I became a rabid ‘Nova hater.

But when I was seven years old, all I knew was that I loved college basketball and Howard Porter took Villanova to the NCAA championship game against UCLA. ‘Nova lost 68-62 but Porter was named the most outstanding player of the tournament.

A guy who played basketball three parishes away was the best player in the country. Of course I idolized him. It was 1971. Howard Porter was king. Three-time All American. Sure-fire NBA prospect. Philadelphia folk hero. Then it all fell apart.

He’d dealt with an agent during that magical season, in violation of NCAA rules. Villanova’s runner-up finish was vacated and Porter never received the MOP trophy because that was 86’ed as well.

Villanova turned him out and Porter was never really the same. He went on to a disappointing NBA career, retiring quietly in 1978. He then promptly spiraled into drug addiction.

I don’t really remember the agent scandal of ‘71. I was seven. Howard Porter was larger than life. He was the coolest person in the world. Even as my duty as a ‘Nova hater became a blood oath, I loved Porter. I followed his NBA career religiously even when it slipped into irrelevance.

By 1985 — the year Villanova pulled the greatest upset in NCAA history by beating Georgetown for the title — Porter was a broke, forgotten coke-addled mess living with his mother. He was also completely out of my consciousness. And would be until two weeks ago.

Porter had pulled himself together, gotten straight and become a probation officer in Minnesota. He had become a pillar, a role model. He had faced down the worst in himself and came out the other end better for having gone through it. He may even have lost his life to one of the people he’d been trying to help. The police don’t know yet.

I knew none of this.

Villanova eventually welcomed him back. In 1997 — 26 years after ending the greatest career in school history — they retired his jersey.

A few years ago, Jay Wright, the Villanova coach, stopped practice one day when Porter was visiting. Wright pointed at Porter and told his players, “That right there is Howard Porter, the greatest Villanova basketball player of all time.”

The players all called him “Mr. Porter.”

Once again, he was a man among boys.

Once again, he is a hero.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Greatest Villanova Basketball Player of All Time

To grow up in Philadelphia a basketball fan is to grow up a Big Five fan. And early on you had to pick a team. My team, forever and always, is Saint Joseph’s. And I never, ever root for Villanova, not even on April 1, 1985. You’re either in or you’re out.

For the 1969-1970 season, the first team All-Big Five squad consisted of Corky Calhoun (Penn), Ken Durrett (La Salle), Mike Hauer and Dan Kelly (St. Joe’s) and Howard Porter (Villanova). It was the golden era of Big Five hoops. I can’t tell you how many times Mike Hauer and Dan Kelly hit game-winning, buzzer-beating shots over the outstretched arms of Howard Porter – sadly those shots all came in my backyard and not at The Palestra.

Howard Porter died Saturday, May 26, as a result of a severe beating he had sustained earlier in the month. Porter was a great, great college basketball player who suffered through some personal setbacks to emerge as a community cornerstone in his adopted hometown of Minneapolis. I don’t miss him beating up on my Hawks but I will miss the fact that I won’t get to read more of his on-going community service and his joyful return trips back to the main line to teach the next generation about “Villanova Basketball”.

One final note – this courtesy of Dana Pennett O’Neil’s 5/22 article in the Philadelphia Daily News as she recounted Whitey Rigsby, Howard Porter and his wife watching a Villanova practice a few years ago.

“Jay [Wright] stopped practice, gathered the guys, pointed to Howard and said, 'That right there is Howard Porter, the greatest Villanova basketball player of all time,' and he told them to come and say hello," Rigsby said. "I got goose bumps because there were people who wanted Howard blackballed and this was Jay saying, 'Welcome home.' He had no idea what that meant to Howard, but to do that in front of his wife, it was just a beautiful thing."

R.I.P. Geezer.

Howard Porter (from Satch)

Growing up in Philadelphia, college basketball was a big influence on my life. Many Saturday afternoons were spent at The Palestra watching the Big 5 basketball teams battle it out for City Wide Bragging Rights. To this day, they are still some of the greatest memories that I have.

When your older brother becomes a die hard St. Joe Hawks fan, chances are about 99.9% that you will to. I did. And I learned that as a St. Joe Hawks fan you root for two teams; The Hawks and whoever is playing Villanova.

I was only ten years old when Howard Porter finished his career at Villanova. So the fact that his memory is still so strong in my mind lets you know just what a powerful force he was on the basketball court.

A few weeks ago, I saw the headline:

Howard Porter, former Villanova star, dies at 58.

I admit, after Howard Porter left the spotlight of the Big 5, I really didn’t follow much of what he did. Sure, I knew the stories about his minimal time in the NBA and the drug addiction that followed. But it wasn’t till I read the article below the headline that I found out that Howard Porter survived and triumphed over many of life’s hardships and his own missteps.

The SI.online story wrote:

Porter went missing on May 18 after leaving his St. Paul home. He was found without identification, bloodied and beaten in an alley, a day later. Authorities didn't know at the time that the man brought to the hospital as an unknown assault victim was Porter, and he remained hospitalized through his death. Police are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to a man who had his share of problems, but emerged from a drug rehab program in Minnesota in 1989 and turned his life around. They have no suspects and have not made any arrests, and are unaware if the attack had anything to do with his work as a probation officer for Ramsey County. Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement released by the school. "Since his playing days ended, he has been an outstanding role model for our current players and coaching staff.''

So … what’s the point? What’s the moral to this? Who knows? I sure don’t. All I know is that I’m saddened by the fact that I guy I never met … and whose actions on the basketball court over 35 years ago probably upset me and my brother … and now he has died. This was a guy who fought his demons, and lived to tell the tale. A guy who ended up trying to make the world a better place, and in the end, may be been killed by the very people he was trying to help. I don't wish revenge on those who killed Howard Porter [Don't get me wrong, I hope they are caught & brought to justice]. Instead, I hope that those men and women that Howard Porter helped, I hope that they live on to help others.

Rest in peace in my friend.