LOS ANGELES, May 10, 2012 — To watch Serge Ibaka play for the Oklahoma City Thunder is a cross between witnessing pure, uninhibited athletic ability and having a brief flirtation with an extraordinarily, heartfelt passion for the game that seems almost surreal to the average fan. At times, he does things with ease that don’t seem quite humanly possible, leaving us in a state of awe and questioning our own perception of reality for a moment or two.
A shot-blocking mixture of legends, Bill Russell and Dikembe Mutumbo, blended with Kevin Garnett’s impassioned hunger for the game, Ibaka has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in a league of basketball royalty. Two years after joining the talented Oklahoma City team, filled with imposing scorers and audacious playmakers, Serge has carved his own niche as one of the league’s leading shot blockers, thus having the fans affectionately nickname him, “Iblaka.”
Ibaka is destined for what could only be described as an accelerated path to superstardom, which brings about the subject of his quiet sense of humility and lack of prima donna attitude. With Serge, there is no grand entrance, no helicopter flight into the home games, no extra fanfare needed.
Humble in Basketball, Humble in Life
He is happy to sign autographs and take pictures, even at those times that would surely inconvenience the rest of us mere mortals. So I had to ask him how he maintained this perfect sense of humility and levelheadedness. “This is what I have always been taught. The coaches taught us to be humble in basketball. It’s been engrained in me.”
Serge’s long-time manager, Pere Gallago says, “He appreciates the good moments and knows that hard work brought him to this situation, so he’s going to keep fighting to achieve his goals without forgetting where he comes from.”
Forgetting where he comes from would be nearly impossible for Ibaka. Brazzaville, Congo has long suffered from civil unrest, enduring brutal wars and constant violence. In one year alone, over 10, 000 people were killed in Brazzaville, 100, 000 were internally displaced, 70% of the residents lived at or below the poverty line, and 40% of the nation’s children did not attend school. While this country has suffered a near humanitarian catastrophe for many years, it does not receive the media coverage that many other African nations do. This is where Serge’s project with UNICEF comes into play.
Ibaka has become a proud “Champion for UNICEF.” He works hand in hand with the UNICEF U.S. Fund, which is in charge of the UNICEF Congo activities and is running a program in the capital, Brazzaville, to give support, education and a future to street boys and girls. Over 50% of the reported street children are orphans and lack basic human need, schooling, and social development. This program serves the basic daily needs of the children and also provides recreational activities for them that will allow them to be reintegrated into normal society. Ibaka says, “I want to give boys and girls opportunities for education and a good life. They deserve much more in life than they have.”
The Plight of the Congo Is Ibaka’s Concern
Once you are able to grasp the severity of the situation of the country in which Ibaka grew up in and you wrap your brain around bits and pieces of the hardships he has dealt with and overcome in his very young life, you quickly begin to comprehend the aura of mental toughness and extreme humility that radiates from the depths of his being. You also begin to understand his deep-rooted love for the game that is carved into his very soul and flows through his veins every second of the day.
I ask, “What would you do if you weren’t playing basketball? In his very distinct, French accent, he replies, “I don’t know…I can’t imagine my life without basketball. It is a part of me. It’s what I know.”
In a post-Jordan era, where flamboyant play and impressive dunks are commonplace, there has to be something extremely special about a player to make him stand out. In Ibaka, fans see a player who puts it all out there every night: all of his energy, passion, whatever it takes to win.
In this, they also find a player who seemingly hits a certain level of euphoria during play. One who isn’t playing into the crowd, but is truly taking in the raw emotion of the game and allows the crowd to feed off of his own energy at times. Emotion like this doesn’t come from a million dollar contract or even playing in front of stadium full of adoring fans. It comes from love.
NBA Lockout Made Ibaka A Better Player
Growing up Ibaka played basketball whenever and however he could. He played in the streets, with broken shoes and scraped knees, morning to night. It didn’t matter. This was love. “We played because we loved the game. I didn’t grow up knowing anything about the Draft or ever thinking I would play in the NBA. I played because I loved basketball.”
After a 161-day NBA lockout, Serge Ibaka came back to the States a much tougher player. Joining fellow NBA players, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Pau Gasol, and Marc Gasol, Ibaka led the Spanish National team to a gold medal in Eurobasket 2011. When asked if he thought that the lockout helped Serge evolve as a player, manager Pere Gallego responded, “Yes, no question. He gained experience playing at higher level in Europe and playing for such a big organization like Real Madrid.”
Ibaka isn’t a player focused on individual achievements, but rather a team player whose drive will propel a team to an NBA Championship. With a will to succeed and a mindset that doesn’t accept “no” as an answer, Serge has only caused his fan base to develop an awe-inspired curiosity about what his future will hold.
“Will we see you play for Spain in the 2012 Summer Olympics?” I ask. With no hesitation, Serge answers, “Yes! You will see me there!”
In every great player and great man, there must be a certain sense of level-headedness and humility. In the course of our interview, Serge Ibaka never ceased to amaze me with this factor.
When I asked him what big things we could expect in the future, he simply replied, “Every morning when I wake up is a big thing for me. It is a blessing and I am thankful.” And this, my friends, is a moment in which life, love, and basketball become intertwined for a much greater purpose than we can possibly ever understand.
What do you get when you combine a hit-making MC, a stage full of incredible talent, an amazing production, and insanely great musical collaborations? The answer is: Drake’s Club Paradise tour.
Drake says, “Club Paradise has been something that I’ve crafted, it’s like a meeting place for fans of the music that I’ve put out to really see the songs come alive.”
Not only is the Club Paradise Tour a place for fans to see their favorite music come to life, but it is also a rather interesting fusion of the Take Care MC’s ideas coming together in one masterful production. “This summer run is the one where I said to myself, okay, it’s been awhile since there’s been a tour where you can come and hear pretty much anybody that has one of your favorite songs or anybody that has a song that you listen to on the way to the club or in the club,” he continues, “So what I wanted to do was overextend myself a bit from a budget and production standpoint and give people an absolutely stunning show from top to bottom and that’s what this Club Paradise tour is.”
The megastar intends to give concert goers a night that they will never forget, revealing, “With the stage, with every act that comes out, something about the stage changes. So when French, who’s the first performer, starts, the stage will look one way, and then Meek will come out and it’ll look different… it’s an ever-evolving stage to get to the headlining act, which is myself. It’s going to keep people’s attention.”
Drake has not only brought a superstar lineup to the stage in the Club Paradise Tour, he is setting himself apart from the norm with a show that is more of a “festival” experience. “On this tour, I encourage people to get there early because it’s more of a festival vibe if anything,” he explains. “It’s outdoors, it’s summertime. If you’re coming to see the Club Paradise tour, it should be a day. You go, you eat lunch, you make sure you’re well-fed. You start drinking early and you start having fun early and you come see your favorite acts. We’ll go all the way from 6PM to 11PM together. That’s what’s different about it. It’s a longer experience to me. Especially for summertime.”
Out of the hit making performers that are joining Drake on the Club Paradise tour, rapper 2 Chainz is expected to be a fan favorite. “I think he’s gonna conquer on this tour,” Drake admits. “I know that some of [the performers] are at very early stages in their career as far as being exposed to the world and getting bigger. Guys like French and guys like Meek, who are really exciting to people, and they’re building their fanbases. And then you’ve got guys like Waka, Cole and myself, who have been in this position for awhile but definitely know how to get up on that stage and give the people what they want.”
The fans who predict some amazing musical collaborations coming together on this tour should hold on tight. The Cash Money star says, “I guess it’s safe to say now, anybody I didn’t have a song with before, I have a song with now. I made sure of that. Along with this tour, fans are also going to get some exciting new musical material that will probably end up dropping a few days before the tour so that we can perform it on tour.”
“Maybe the last few nights it’s a collaboration show,” Drake continues. “Maybe we do all our songs onstage together… Making exciting moments for people. You’re looking forward to the moment where me and French do ‘Stay Schemin,’ or me and Meek do our song together that we have, or me and 2 Chainz do the record that he’s about to drop, his first single for his album. It’s summertime, it’s the time for new music.”
After the tour stops, a new album can be expected in the near future. As usual, the music evolves with the man. Drake says, “I am at a very, very different place than I have ever been which is very focused on myself. I’m really focused on my health, my body, my mind. I really want to be the very best I can be…inspired by people. It’s going to be a very interesting album definitely.”
LOS ANGELES, May 4, 2012 — The suicide of former NFL player Junior Seau leaves speculation as to whether or not this was the result of another player suffering from repeated head injuries in the league.
The death of NFL great, Junior Seau, has left a community grieving and sports fans across the country in shock. The suicide of the 12 time Pro-bowler, on Wednesday, is the fourth death in a string of suicides among former NFL players over the last several months.
Seau’s death, following that of Terry Long of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andre Waters of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears, has only opened yet another door in the ever-evolving discussion on the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries involving athletes, especially those in the NFL.
The Duerson Findings
On Monday, Boston University researchers announced its findings on the brain of former NFL player Dave Duerson. The results proved that Duerson’s brain had developed C.T.E. (or Chronic Traumatic Encephalophy), the same trauma-induced disease discovered in 20 other deceased players.
Much like Seau, former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson, was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on February 17. Duerson had included a handwritten note to his family: “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”
In the months leading up to his death, Duerson complained of his deteriorating mental state to close family and friends. While his suicide surprised many, his desire to help his fellow players was a shock to no one.
Since 2006, the former Chicago Bears standout served on a six-member panel that considered claims for disability benefits filed by former NFL players. In 2007, Duerson stood before a Senate subcommittee and stated that he questioned whether players’ cognitive and emotional struggles were related to football.
The Effects of C.T.E.
In October of 2010, Junior Seau was arrested on charges of domestic violence and only a few hours later was injured after driving his Cadillac Escalade off of a cliff in Carlsbad, California. There was never any true explanation for his erratic behavior and it was certainly uncharacteristic of a man described as a “local hero” and a “league icon.”
While the connection between Seau’s behavior and subsequent suicide are all speculative and unsubstantiated at this point, there is most certainly a pattern similar to that of other players suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or C.T.E.
It is a progressive degenerative disease that has been found to be caused by repeated head injuries. The symptoms of C.T.E. can include: dementia, headaches, tremors, confusion, aggression, and depression. While research groups, such as the one at Boston University, are actively pursuing testing for living patients, C.T.E. can only be determined post mortem via brain autopsy.
Repeated head injuries disrupt the balance of the neurochemicals in the brain. This has been proven to take a toll on the mental and emotional health of those affected by the condition. Over time, the brain has difficulty recovering from the imbalance, leading to a worsening or permanent condition.
The effects of C.T.E. could be a very probable link to the unexplained behavior of both Seau and Duerson. The reasoning for their suicides can only be speculated, but perhaps with further studies we will have a better grasp on the condition that these players are dealing with in their everyday lives.
Changes in Play
It has been reported that researchers from Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy have requested Junior Seau’s brain for examination. There have not been any conclusive reports of repeated head injury to Seau throughout his career, but as a lineman for 20 years, the likelihood of repeated head trauma is high.
This situation combined with that of the recent “bounty” scandal, involving the New Orleans Saints, and the current “concussion” lawsuit against the NFL, involving over 100 former players, only begs the question of what the league will do now.
Last year, the NFL donated $1million to the Boston research group after acknowledging the long-term effects of football related head trauma. NFL Commissioner Roger Gooddell has instilled harsh penalties against the New Orleans Saints involved in the bounty scandal. Even with changes in safety and regulations, will that be enough?