Funny what happens when sports come back. My media consumption was waaaay down in August. Or at least compared to the previous five months. Here is what I did knock out.
I remember when this movie was made. Justin Wesley, a recent KU basketball player and brother of former KU great Keith Langford, was cast in the main role as Wilt Chamberlain. A KU professor – Academy Award winner Kevin Willmott – was making the film. A few other notable locals from Lawrence had cameos. But it was a low-budget, semi-artsy film that never got a wide release, so I forgot about it.
Until July, when The New Yorker ran a piece about it. I had no idea the film was on Amazon Prime Video, so I added it to the queue.
It is a charming, well-intentioned film that also comes off as slightly stilted with a touch of cheese to it.
It is the story of how Wilt Chamberlain came to play basketball at the University of Kansas over hundreds of other offers he had, and his experiences during his time in Lawrence. The final 20 minutes are an extended retelling of one of the greatest NCAA championship games of all time, the 1957 game when North Carolina beat Wilt’s Jayhawks in triple overtime. It was a game that colored Wilt’s career forever and kept him from returning to Lawrence over 40 years.
The film plays a little fast-and-loose with the facts. Things that happened one year are pushed a year in either direction. Watching you would think that Wilt left campus immediately after that 1957 loss when he, in fact, played one more frustrating season before jumping to the Harlem Globetrotters for a year before becoming eligible to play in the NBA.
The film is honest in painting a picture of the Midwest in the late ‘50s. Although coach Phog Allen was careful to present Lawrence as an oasis from the racism that Wilt experienced in his previous travels outside Philadelphia, Wilt quickly runs into issues getting served at restaurants, being allowed to sit in regular seats at movies, and so on. But through Phog’s influence, the support of chancellor Franklin Murphy, the desire of the community for the team to win another national championship, and Wilt’s charisma, rules begin to bend for him.
Wesley is not a strong actor, and isn’t given too much. The loquacious Wilt the world would eventually meet is reduced to a man who nods and offers brief comments. But Wesley was a tall basketball player and could imitate Wilt for the action scenes.
As I said, it tries a little too hard at times. But it isn’t terrible. For KU fans, it’s a look at a fascinating point in the program’s history.
There are lots of reasons to love baseball. One of the most romantic is the idea of the small-town professional team, where the community rallies around a group of players who are mostly passing through on their way up or down the minor league ladder. Once upon a time the country was dotted with hundreds of independent teams, playing the lowest levels of baseball and giving countless men one last chance at the game.
By the early 1970s the independent teams had largely been wiped out, replaced by teams controlled by big league teams. Actor Bing Russell saw an opening in Portland as a chance to correct that and fulfill his longtime wish to own a team.
This film reviews his ownership of the Portland Mavericks, an independent, Class A team that played in the Northwest League from 1973 until 1977. The franchise was true to its name. Russell ran the club unlike any other in baseball. He kind of had to; with no MLB affiliation he had to take a different route to build a roster. The team was built on rejects and castoffs. They played with an attitude and freedom uncommon in pro ball outside of Oakland.
To the surprise of nearly everyone, it worked. They won their division in their first season, finished second in year two, and then won their next three division titles. Their success rekindled a love for baseball in Portland, which had seen the AAA Beavers move to Spokane in 1972. Perhaps because of this newfound enthusiasm for the game, or perhaps out of an effort to run Russell out of the league, the Pacific Coast League expanded in 1978 and a new Beavers franchise replaced the Mavericks. Rather than take baseball’s paltry $25,000 relocation fee, Russell sued and won a $250,000 settlement.
This is just a fun, funny movie. It’s a great story, well told. And it makes you want to fall in love with some goofy team that nobody thinks can win.
I had no idea Apple was making a Ted Lasso series, based on the commercials from a few years back for Premier League soccer. Then I read this piece and figured, “Why not?”
Like that article, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the show. Everything about it seems to be screaming “This is going to be terrible!” But it’s not. It is warm and kind-hearted and full of humorous moments. It may be the times we are living in, when every day seems more horrible than the one before, but I think I needed a show like this, that even with characters who are caustic and cynical, ultimately bends back toward empathy and kindness.
I have a huuuuuuge issue with the show, though. Everything we know about Ted Lasso leads us to believe he’s from Kansas. He coached a mythical Wichita State football team to the D2 national title. He wears shirts that represent Kansas City. He mentions KC being home a few times. But he talks like he’s from the south. And Jason Sudeikis is from Kansas City; he knows how we sound! Sure, there’s the classic, Midwestern hick accent that far too many people from my hometown have. But what he’s doing ain’t that; it that of an old ball coach from the Deep South. Maybe he figured since that’s the voice he used in the original commercials he couldn’t stray from it. Alas…
I know I watched this, or at least parts of it, years and years ago. In high school, maybe? Or perhaps college. Something reminded me of it, I saw it on Amazon, and decided to rewatch it.
If you’ve never seen it, it is considered one of the greatest and most influential surfing movies ever. Filmed in the early 1960s, filmmaker Bruce Brown travelled around the world with Mike Hynson and Robert August searching out waves and an “endless summer” as fall and winter descended on America. They surfed in West Africa, likely the first to ever surf there. In South Africa, which had a budding surf culture, they discovered the perfect wave at Cape St. Francis that became a “must surf” spot. They also hit Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii.
The footage is amazing for its time. Well-shot to begin with, it is also crazy that everyone was using long boards back then. Today you see surfers on shorter boards and remaining pretty static on them. Brown, Hynson, and August would all walk their longboards, passing from front to back as they rode waves, which blew my mind.
Brown’s narration is casual and goofy, sounding more like your uncle who thinks he’s super funny while showing family movies. Some of the commentary when they are in Africa is borderline racist, but it was the early ‘60s and I don’t think there was any true ill will behind them.
Man, Mulaney knows how to do a standup performance. This is the second of his specials I’ve watched, and each time he nails the timing of the show. You get people laughing early, slowly ramp up the laughs, and the last 15 minutes should have people crying. In this case, his story of trying to get anxiety meds by faking an issue with frequent urination had me laughing so hard, and crying so much, that S was a little worried about me.
One night I was watching some golf videos or something on YouTube when I noticed this over on the right hand side of the screen in the suggestions. Two-plus hours, and two bourbons, later, I was deeply satisfied with my choice.