In the game of basketball, you can either be the postman or the dog. Activity level and aggression are the engines of performance. Phil Jackson, the Zen master, a man of supreme composure and an unflappable countenance, was, in his playing days, known primarily for his razor-sharp elbows. Forget about the fact that you could build shelving on his planklike shoulders—challenge a rebound and you’d receive some punishment courtesy of ‘bows. Me, I want to be aggressive out there, and before each game I tell myself I in fact will be, and yet something always happens. I loiter at the 3-point line. I don’t take it strong to the hole.
Part of it might be the nature of my show-business job. It’s a pride-swallowing affair on a daily basis. Take umbrage at the many and various insults, degradations, and humiliations you suffer at the hands of agents, studio decision makers, teen actresses, and titleless hangers-on and you will find yourself unable to do business with anyone who gets anything done. Woody Allen says how ‘’moronically difficult" it is to get a movie made, so imagine if you are not a stepdaughter-seducing genius-level Oscar-winning director with 41 films under your belt. Yelling at anyone save an intern is counterproductive. Someone’s Pilates instructor today could be running Sony tomorrow.
It’s generally the best policy to adopt a measured approach to the regular fleecing you receive in business dealings, to ignore the rampant corruption at the legal firm that represents you, and to remark little on your studio executive’s inexhaustible appetite for high-priced hookers and cocaine. Don’t flinch at the invitation to a Scientology smoker—quickly screen Battlefield Earth and speed over to Celebrity Centre International on Franklin Avenue. Bill Maher’s anti-corn-syrup crusade? Toss the Welch’s grape soda and boycott the state of Iowa. If Sean Young wants you to experience the Taos hum, then borrow a stethoscope and pack an Enya CD.
Dignity is obsolete, a remnant of past generations, discussed among the few remaining World War II vets at Moose Lodge No. 1746. And I say let them have it. You don’t see Grandpops Chester bringing together the cast necessary to green-light a picture, do you? Paparazzi aren’t scrambling behind a Range Rover blind to snap pics of him gumming a bowl of split-pea soup at the Ivy, are they?
No, they’re not.
Frankly, I could produce circles around the old man.
So where do I draw the line? At what point do I say to myself, “Were I to cave here, were I to pander to some celebrity, then I have completely failed in every aspect of my moral and ethical development”? I have no idea. However, I can say this: It makes me deeply uncomfortable to call a member of the New York Knicks by his real name when everyone knows him as the once-defining geek on the cornerstone show of ABC’s TGI Fridays lineup. Suspenders, big glasses, a high-octave voice. He has since grown a very sparse mustache and, like a rocker who hates playing a popular song for which he is famous (see Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, “More Than Words”), refuses to be associated with his past. But, when you’re playing against him, he is that character. It’s impossible to think otherwise. Hint: One word, rhymes with the last name of billionaire supermarket magnate Ron Burkle. And, let’s be honest, it has probably brought him much in the way of financial compensation and adolescent groupies. But one thing it hasn’t blessed him with: game. At least, not on the court.
Before our contest, a renowned actor who was recently seen in Crash limped to the sideline, having ruptured his Achilles tendon. B3, our boy-band brother, no longer comes to our games, for precisely that reason. He has been booked on the hit ABC show Dancing With the Stars and can’t risk any physical harm. Needless to say, his good fortune pleased the Captain to no end. More playing time for the rest of the squad.
So, the Pistons versus the Knicks. I am ice-cold and can’t buy a bucket. A Knick yells to his teammates from the bench, “Let him shoot, he ain’t nothin’.” It’s one thing if someone with skill talks trash, or if they have a business credential. The slanderer makes his living as a sometime Hollywood party promoter and a double for Jamie Foxx on films like Miami Vice.
I was clowned by a stand-in.
New York, perhaps the least coordinated of our teammates, went to the Captain and demanded that he substitute for me and play in the second half.
It was your basic Sunday afternoon public humiliation.
The game was tight, tied with two minutes to go, and then we didn’t execute down the stretch. We lost by 3. Bigs stormed off the court, upset at his limited minutes. New York was seen whispering to the commissioner. Nothing causes more dissent than losing.
Later, at our favorite bar in Santa Monica, I sat with a literary manager who was a Steelers ball boy for a decade and has the keenest of sports minds; the Captain; and an actor weighing in at a hefty 275 pounds who is on the Knicks but gets little playing time and less respect. He’s a self-avowed “6 foot 3 inches of mancandy.” He wears enormous brown frames and recently played Guard Number 2 in my independent film. If he’s not exhibiting his ability to remember each and every detail of his collegiate job as a West Palm Beach strip-club bouncer, he’s waxing on about his recent career moves. Last week, he taped an Arby’s spot where he is sitting on a living-room chair and is summoned to the bedroom by a foxy lady. She purrs, “You know what’s on my mind?” and crosses her legs, which are webbed in fishnet stockings. He answers, “The two fish fillets for $4.” It is the only victory in his world that truly matters. “Was it competitive?” we ask. “When you look like this, it’s like clubbing baby seals,” he explains. We lost, and that sucks, but how can you not drink to success like that?