Basketball Blues and Brotherhood: Remembering Mike Maloy

Mike MaloyEvery February, I celebrate Black History month in the lessons I teach. I know what a travesty it is to be left out the history books by the powers that be. I owe a lot to my African American teammates who overlooked my skin color during our time together. Shared passions, common goals and interdependence out weigh prejudice. But nowhere was the bond greater than when I moved to Paris and joined the expats ball club.

It doesn’t matter if you are blue, green, orange, purple or female when you are flying solo in the Euro basketball league. Only a fellow American can appreciate our love for the game and understand the isolation of living in a foreign land 4,000 miles away from home.

When I first started coaching high school ball at international schools, women coaches were rare, but my male contemporaries – players recruited to play in Europe and who stayed on – accepted me with open arms. At the American School of Paris, Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French Basketball, took me under his wing in the international coaching “brotherhood.” Another mentor, Mike Maloy, like Henry broke down racial barriers, and left his mark in Austria.

Mike, a tall lean guy with an endearing personality, winning grin and a raspy, heartbreaking bluesy voice, never belied the bitterness that a lifetime of discrimination could create.

He was so non judgmental and unassuming. You would never know by talking to him that he put Davidson College on the map of the NCAA basketball, dominated in the Austrian pro league and sang lead with Boring Blues Band in the Viennese music scene.

Under the leadership of the legendary Coach Lefty Driesell, Mike became the first African American to play at the small southern, predominately white Davidson College where the New Yorker worked as hard to fit in as he did to rebound. In 1967 Mike also became the first African American to pledge SIGMA CHI fraternity, an action that created scandal within a system that had a long-standing tradition of discrimination.

In 1970 Mike was drafted by the Boston Celtics. In 1976 he became the first African American in the Austrian league. He again overcame intolerance and went on to win four national titles with UBSC Wien Basketball team before becoming a successful coach in the league.

In Austria, Mike admitted the he started to enjoy the game again. “It wasn’t about money. It was about chillin out and getting my head straight. I kept staying another year.”

That line echoes the sentiments of dozens of former American players that have befriended me during my decades of living abroad.

After his untimely passing, American International School of Vienna (AIS) named the high school basketball gym in his honor. And it was on his court that I remembered him best.

My fondest memories of Mike were seeing him at international tournaments, sitting at the bar sipping beer after a game, ever ready with a pep talk.

Once while lamenting getting beat out of the final, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?

“Wrong? With your tiny, lil’, raggedy team you got no business being in the same gym with goliath – I saw you coach your skinny butt off to get into the semis.”

When many seasons later, my lil’ raggedy team from Geneva snatched the Sport Council International School (SCIS) championship from the 7-time champion AIS on their home court, I thought I heard my old buddy laughing from the rafters.

“I told you so, girl.”

Thanks for believing in me, bro.

This one is for you.

Ten Tips for Survival When Sidelined by Back Pain

DSC00183I am back. I missed my friends out in the global blogosphere. When I logged out before the holidays, I did not intend to be away so long, but s*** happens.

Especially when you have a bad back. I am only a sneeze away from a catastrophe. Some people who have never suffered from back pain, poo poo the idea that back pain can be so incapacitating, but once it happens to you, you know.

Was it one too many cross Atlantic flights, too many basketball road trips, too many holiday cookies, who knows? But due to a major flare up, I was out of commission. I struggled to endure my school day. Every free minute I wasn’t preparing lesson plans or school reports, I spent lying flat or in therapy – deep tissue massage, spinal adjustments, thermal baths.

Stretch, walk, teach, rest, repeat.

Take one crooked old spine and an arthritic neck, add two herniated lumbar disks, three compressed dorsal vertebrae, and what do you get? One heck of a backache! My body has undergone a lifetime of trauma. Bad back is an understatement. Yet if you look at me, except for the basketball player slouch, from ducking through too many low French doorways, you’d never know, how I struggle to remain upright and shuffling forward. For any of you who suffer from chronic back pain or an occasional flare up, I put together a few tried and true tips.

  1. Never jump out of bed – flop on the floor first and roll like a ball
  1. Stretch – at regular intervals. Legs against wall, arms stretched overhead in L shape for a full body stretch.
  1. Exercise – walk, swim, bike but avoid high impact sports.
  1. Avoid sitting
  1. Limit computer time – strains your neck, shoulders, and wristsDSC00182_copy
  1. Take rest breaks flat out – stash a yoga matt under the couch, in the kitchen, at the office
  1. When it hurts too much to stand upright, crawl (preferably on carpet,) to loosen the SI joint and hips
  1. Use heating pads, thermal baths, body pillows, heat lamps, cold packs
  1. Do whatever you can to keep mobile
  1. Then ice baby ice!

A lifetime of hard hits, accidents, and high intensity competitive sports has left me fragile, but I am not broken. As long as this ol’ heart keeps ticking, I will fight to put one foot in front of other. I have tried every alternate therapy out there to avoid undergoing the knife.

Why not opt for surgery? I have too many weak links. Do you know anyone moving around with a total spinal fusion?

Nooo, give me my chiropractors, masseurs, physical therapists. From all my research and experience this is one area where integrative medicine and non-surgical intervention have the best long-term results.DSC00178_copy

That said I am always looking for the newest, non-invasive cure all. Next summer, if I can save enough money, I may head back to Wisconsin to my all time favorite chiropractor to try deep tissue, heat laser therapy. He and his brother use this to treat elite athletes including those giant cheese heads in the green and yellow jerseys. Hey, if it is good enough for the Greenbay Packers, it may work for this crazy, headstrong gal who got sacked one too many times in the game of life.

What is your best trick for coping with a bad back?

Terrorism and Refugee Crisis Separate Issues

3200As part of a French-American family living in Switzerland, I recently wrote about the impact deadly attacks in Paris had on my family and friends. My heart was equally shattered after the latest assault on my homeland, the San Bernardino massacre.

Each day new stories evolved about terror in the streets. As France entered a state of emergency and Brussels shut down, our worries escalated. In Europe where everything is a stone’s throw away, we fear for families and friends living in the nations’ capitals.

After the recent attacks, the backlash against the refugees is alarming. European countries build higher fences. American governors refuse Syrian refugees in their states. Do they even know a Syrian? Do they understand that the basic tenets of the Muslim religion, are based on the same beliefs as those of Christianity or Judaism?

Muslim does not mean radical. Syrian is not synonymous with terror.

The FBI insists the biggest threat is not immigrants: it is homegrown extremists. The majority of terrorist’s attacks are not conducted by “refugees from afar,” but by disillusioned youth from within our cities who fall prey to malevolent manipulations of jihadist leaders.

Europeans wonder why American states would forbid “foreign” refugees, yet support the right of any US citizen to carry weapons purchased at the nearest corner shop. Are our fears rational? Why would Americans worry more about being blown up by radical suicide bombers, when they are more likely to be gunned down in the crossfire of gangs, or murdered by deranged lone wolves? We no longer live in the Wild West. Do we really need AR-15 semi automatic assault weapons in our daily lives? And if so, what does that say about our society?

As we gathered in cozy homes, around the soft lights of our Thanksgiving table filled with enough food to feed an army, did we stop to think what it would mean to flee for our lives? Exhausted, starving, hopeless, and helpless.

We all live in fear knowing that somewhere, at any time, another attack will happen. But we must NOT let our fears override compassion and supersede tolerance.

In a blind attempt to thwart the next attack, we beef up security in public places. In this invisible war, we feel vulnerable. We are vulnerable. But in our vulnerability, should we fall prey to prejudging people?

Our daughter, who grew up in an international environment, said it best:

“Like everyone, I was shocked and horrified by the Paris attacks. I am French, I was born in Paris and we lived there till I was 9. My dad’s side of the family is all still living in France, so I will admit that the news hit me differently than reports of other disasters; it felt more personal. But the suicide bombings in Beirut, Baghdad, Nigeria (and so many other before these) were no less evil, the loss of lives no less tragic.The suffering of hundreds of thousands of people, forced to flee their country and finding they have nowhere to go, is no less real and no less deserving of our attention, just because they have brown skin or wear a hijab. When we cannot show compassion across borders, be they national, religious or racial, then we are letting the terrorists win.”

My prayers go out to the families of the victims of the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and other places, from the streets of Chicago to the cafes in Cairo, to the hotels in Mali or the villages in Nigeria where lives have been shattered by violence.

Yet I plead for peace. Our biggest challenge today is to remain openhearted. Most refugees are victims, not perpetrators. They are often the first victims of terrorism.

Centuries ago when our ancestors, fleeing for freedom from persecution, settled in the New World, the Natives Americans saved us from starvation by sharing the first Thanksgiving feast.

RegugeesWe are all immigrants.

Paris Under Fire – State of Emergency

8xvDxBJA_normalYesterday evening, we did not watch TV…
We woke this morning to the alarming headlines: Paris Under Fire, President Holland Declared State of Emergency. In the deadliest attack since WWII, over 120 people were slain simultaneously during terrorist attacks at 6 different locations in Paris. Like most people our first reaction was disbelief, then horror, then concern for the safety of our family and friends living in Paris.

We have personal ties to Paris, a place we called home for over a decade during the 80s. Our children were born in the City of Lights. Our French family members still reside there, as do old friends. Terrorists tarnished the image of gay Paris when they gunned down young and ordinary people on a leisurely Friday evening dining at local cafes, listening to a rock concert and watching a football match.

Stunned as we watched the newsreel unfold, I insisted, “Call him.”

One of my husband’s best friends and family live within a stone’s throw of the targeted local restaurants, Little Cambodian, La Belle Equipe, and Carillon and Casa Nostra cafés and the Bataclan, the celebrated concert hall where the greatest number of victims were methodically slaughtered among the 1500 spectators of an American rock band performance.

When our friend answered the phone, we both breathed a sigh of relief; his apartment was situated in the center of the deadliest attack on French soil.

“My wife and I have breakfast every weekend at the Bataclan cafe,” he told my husband.

During the night of terror, gunshots and sirens flared outside their apartment, a night of despair knowing their 3 daughters were out in town, unable to get home until early hours of the morning.

The attack was systematic and precisely executed. The greatest massacre occurred in the Marais, a trendy district in 11th Arrondissement. It is traditionally a Jewish area: our friend is of Jewish descent. It might not be a coincidence that the Marais was targeted.

When the revelers tried to escape the concert hall out the back door into the alley, a man armed with a Kalashnikov was waiting to gun them down. Video footage shows other young people hanging for the windows in attempts to flee.

Within the hour other kamikazes attacked outside the Stade de Paris in St.Denis, a stadium packed with 80,000 football fans watching France against Germany. Luckily that assailants were unable to enter the arena or the death toll would be far worse.

Waves of sadness wash over us, making our hearts heavy and limbs weak. As in the aftermath of 9/11, we are reminded it no longer matters if it is an American trade center, a French concert hall, a Russian plane, or an Egyptian resort, all of us who value democracy including peaceful Muslims are at risk.

Our initial reaction of concern for the safety of our immediate family and friends offers no relief in knowing they are okay, instead a free-floating anxiety, unnerving impotence and imperceptible grief reigns.

A noxious fear permeates our souls. Our only certitude is knowing that regardless of our nationality, race or religion, we are all vulnerable in the age of terror. Though we may not be related by blood nor share the same language and culture, we are united by our respect for freedom and democracy.

Today our beautiful City of Lights is plunged in darkness. Liberty, equality, fraternity must prevail.

Happy Halloween Shake Dem Bones

HalloweenHalloween is one of my favorite holidays. When I was a child, I ate bags full of candy in one sitting and then stole from my little sisters’ stashes. This year I plan to dress up as a skeleton. My limbs are aching, but I keep shaking cause dem bones were made for dancing.

Anyone who suffers from chronic illnesses and injury can relate to crushing bone, joint and muscle pain. This old carcass has carried me across the globe. Broken, bruised, battered, the bones on my slender frame have taken a beating. I hit a brick wall chasing a basketball, flipped off a bicycle careening downhill, and flew out of a car crashing out of control on an autoroute.

I can no longer remember a day without pain, but the secret to outsmarting the soreness is to keep moving. Anyone plagued by any of the myalgias knows that everywhere hurts. Joint pain in the knees, hips and shoulders reign, then migrate to the ankles, wrists, fingers, toes and infiltrate every spinal notch where muscles and ligaments attach to the vertebrae.

I don’t have a flexible cell in my body, but I dared to learn yoga in my fifties. I still can’t touch my toes, but I keep trying and that makes all the difference.

Jim's walking sticksI follow the examples set by my eighty-four year old dad who walks daily even though his legs are tingling and heavy from neuropathy and my Grandpa Coach Mac who defied the odds by continuing to help coach college football in his late 80s and early 90s.

As soon as my feet hit the ground in the morning, I start humming Dem Bones to keep me going.

As kids we sang Dem Bones, which we thought was a funny children’s song, designed to teach us the parts of the skeleton. However, Dem Bones, is actually a popular spiritual, composed by African American, James Weldon Johnson, and inspired by Ezekiel 37:1-14.

skeletonToe bone connected to the foot bone

Foot bone connected to the heel bone

Heel bone connected to the ankle bone

Ankle bone connected to the shin bone

Shin bone connected to the knee bone

Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

Hip bone connected to the back bone

Back bone connected to the shoulder bone

Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone

Neck bone connected to the head bone

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Boo! Now scare those old limbs into action. Celebrate the season. This Halloween put one foot in front of the other. Join those pint sized ghosts and goblins creeping and peeping around your neighborhood. Get up. Get moving. Shake your booty. Dem bones were made for jiving.

Happy Halloween to you and all the cute lil’ pumpkins in your life!

Sneaker Chic Fashion Finally Catches On

thumb_IMG_0322_1024When you stand nearly 6 feet tall, and suffer from sciatica, jumpers knee, and hammertoes, sneakers are your best friends. I wore high heels once in my life- at my wedding. Big mistake! At the aisle just before exchanging vows, the Frenchman hissed, “If you complain about your aching back once more, I am out of here.”

I’ve always been a trend setting, do-it-myself, kick butt kind of girl marching to my own beat.

Fashion finally caught up with me. Sneakers made a comeback and top models, movie stars and celebrities are wearing them down the red carpet.

Sneakers aka athletic shoes, trainers, kicks, tackies come in umpteen designs – low top, high top, slip-ons, wedges, air soled – and are made out of every kind of fabric: synthetic, leather, and textile like canvas.

In a mind-boggling selection, you can pick from Vans perforated black, Steve Madden leopard print, or retro look Nike Vintage Waffles, platforms and wedges. Big heels stuck on sneakers? Not for me, but then I never needed that extra leg length.

In the sixties, we had two choices – black or white, canvas Converse All-Star Hi-Tops, or those flimsy PFlyers. Now Converse All Stars come in every color of the rainbow.

Today you can pick from the top-selling classic brand names to every kind of cool from Vans slip-ons to Nike florals. All are guaranteed to make you jump higher, run faster, and hike longer. A sneaker design exists for every activity under the sun: biking, boating, walking, cross training, skate boarding, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, tennis, aerobics, and others. One day I bet a weight loss shoe will help you drop pounds by just tying up the laces.

I don’t own a pair of dress shoes; I have kicks for every occasion. My collection consists of twenty some pairs spread across two continents. Most of which I never wear because they make my back hurt due to tender toes and high arches. On a whim when I tried to switch brands, I bought purple trimmed Nike’s, turquoise Adidas, and fuchsia Reeboks. They always ended up at the back of the closet. I am most at home in ASICS.

At last, fashionable footwear made for comfort can be paired with leggings, jeans and even skirts. Black and white Adidas, Sketchers Sweet Spots, Forever 21 Floral Slip On and Converse All Star Plaids are the rage. Top independent shoes companies with names like IPath, SeaVees, Pointer Footwear, Newton, Scora, Supra, Black Spot, Under Armour, Etnies, Superga, Visvim, and Clae are in vogue. Don’t feel bad, the only ones I’ve heard of are New Balance and Under Armour.final four

Since Michael Jordan’s signature epic Air Jordan, elite athletes have elevated the tennis shoes to lofty levels. Finally in 1996, much to my joy, Nike launched Air Swoopes, named after the female basketball star Sheryl Swoopes. National sports heroes in every country have their signature shoe. Switzerland’s Roger Federer’s Zoom Vapor has long been a favorite of tennis players. For a retro look, designers also brought back tennis shoe models from Arthur Ash and Yannick Noah’s (French father of Chicago Bulls star center, Joakim Noah) playing days.

Countless brands lead the global scene. ETQ Amsterdam, the Netherlands footwear, is at the peak of the luxury sneaker culture. Kahru, which means bear in Finnish, makes original and running shoes. Fred Perry, an English menswear brand, turns the sneaker into high fashion. Norman Walsh Made in England has the British flag as a logo. Le Coq Sportif, founded 1888, is one of the oldest brands. It’s named for the French national team symbol, a rooster. Diadora’s Italian brand and Etonic’s, founded in 1876, are also making a comeback.

But I am a simple gal, my go to shoe – ASICS 180 gel cross trainers. With my funky feet finding a shoe to fit is as likely as seeing an elephant hanging out in the North Woods.

High heels take a hike. Give me my tennie kicks any day.