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Special Bonus Newsletter for Paid and Free Subscribers: 3 Articles That Were Just Nominated for Journalism Awards
“What I Think About LeBron Breaking My NBA Scoring Record”; “Why We Love Kobe Bryant: He Took the Shot”; “Jordan B. Peterson’s DIY Cult”; With New Introductions to Each Article
Last week, the Los Angeles Press Club nominated this Substack newsletter for five National Arts & Entertainment Awards. One was for Journalist of the Year (Online) and another was for Columnist of the Year (Online). That is very exciting for me, and I hope for you subscribers, who are the reason I do this in the first place. The other three nominations were for the articles I’ve included here today that were published during the last year. I’ve also included an updated introduction to each to share some thoughts I’ve had since the articles first were posted.
If you’ve been debating about becoming a paid subscriber, maybe this will help you make that decision.
“What I Think About LeBron Breaking My NBA Scoring Record”
New Introduction: A few words about envy. Since LeBron broke my record, people have asked online if I’m envious of LeBron, not just for breaking my record, but for being a billionaire and major social influencer. After all, had I played a decade or so later, I would have been able to amass his wealth and influence. Even the father of Greek tragedy, Aeschylus warned, “It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.”
Yes, I envy LeBron, but no more than I envy the way those kids can dance in videos I post. I envy the first page of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, one of the most graceful and skilled novel openings I’ve ever read. I envy Stevie Wonder’s musical genius. I envy Sarah Silverman’s sense of humor. I envy the way Aaron Judge can hit a baseball. I envy the generosity and compassion of people I read about every day.
But that little twinge of envy allows me to appreciate them more and inspires me to strive harder each day to be better at the things I can actually be better at. (No home run hits for me.) Envy is just a daydreaming sport, not something I take seriously. Fantasizing doesn’t mean I regret my life. Quite the opposite: I’ve had it better than most. I have loved and been loved. That allows me to genuinely appreciate the achievements of others. Like those of LeBron James.
I begin everything I write with a lot of apprehension because I know how hard it is to translate complex thoughts and intense emotions into the exact words that accurately express those thoughts and emotions. But this article I approach with even more trepidation because I really want to get this right. It’s important to me, to basketball fans, and to the legacy of a great player (not me).
First, the facts: LeBron James passed my scoring record and now is the leading scorer in NBA history. It takes unbelievable drive, dedication, and talent to survive in the NBA long enough to rack up that number of points when the average NBA career lasts only 4.5 years. It’s not just about putting the ball through the hoop, it’s about staying healthy and skilled enough to climb the steep mountain in ever-thinning oxygen over many years when most other players have tapped out.
It’s also about not making scoring your obsession. Otherwise, you’re Gollum and the record is your Precious. The real goal is to win games so that you win championships because you want to please the fans who pay your salary and cheer you on game after game. Fans would rather see you win a championship than set a scoring record.
It’s also about making sure your team gets their moments to shine and thrive and pursue their own greatness. A record is nothing if you used other players’ careers as stepping stones just for self-aggrandizement. For me, I strove to play at the highest level I could in order to be a good teammate. The points—and the record—were simply a by-product of that philosophy.
I think LeBron has the same philosophy.
Second, my reaction: In the months leading up to LeBron breaking my record, so much was written about how I would feel on the day he sank that record-breaking shot that I had to laugh. I’d already written several times stating exactly how I felt so there really wasn’t much to speculate about. It’s as if I won a billion dollars in a lottery and 39 years later someone won two billion dollars. How would I feel? Grateful that I won and happy that the next person also won. His winning in no way affects my winning.
Third, the context of it all: In Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s character explains chaos theory in which a small event can have a ripple effect to create something much larger: “A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking, and in Central Park, you get rain instead of sunshine.”
That’s what I think has happened a few months ago when two NBA legends flapped their wings and a tsunami of reaction washed over the basketball world.
The first wing flap came when LeBron James, who was on the verge of breaking my NBA scoring record, was asked what his thoughts were about me and what kind of relationship we had. His answer: “No thoughts, and no relationship.” Ouch. I’ll return to that in a moment.
The second butterfly making it rain is my long-time friend and ex-teammate Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He opined on a podcast that, “If I got to say it, we got to be honest. And the fact that it’s a dude that’s playing for the Lakers, too… I think it’ll be a hard pill to swallow… I think he thought he was going to have [the record] forever.” Double ouch.
How Magic Got It Wrong
I love Earvin, and after forty years of friendship, he knows me pretty well. If he publicly announced that I had suddenly shrunk to 5’2”, even I would be tempted to believe him. But, in this case, he was very, very wrong. I don’t blame him for thinking that I might be bothered because he knows how competitive I used to be. And, if someone had broken my record within ten years of me setting it, he would probably be right. I might have hobbled out of retirement just to add a few more points to my record.
But that isn’t me today. I’m 75. The only time I ever think of the record is when someone brings it up. I retired from the NBA 34 years ago. For the past 20 years, I’ve occupied myself with social activism, my writing career, and my family—especially my three grandchildren. If I had a choice of having my scoring record remain intact for another hundred years or spend one afternoon with my grandchildren, I’d be on the floor in seconds stacking Legos and eating Uncrustables.
Sorry, Earvin. I love you, brother, but this time you got it wrong. I’m not the grumpy grandpa on the porch yelling at kids to stay off my lawn. I fret much more over picking the right word in this sentence than in my record being broken.
Why I’m Thrilled That LeBron Broke the Record
Whenever a sports record is broken—including mine—it’s a time for celebration. It means someone has pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible to a whole new level. When one person climbs higher than the last person, we all feel like we are capable of being more.
For me, the inspirational power of sports is best explained in a scene in the 1985 film Vision Quest. In it, Elmo, an aging fry cook at a hotel, explains:
I was in the room here one day, watchin’ the Mexican channel on TV. I don’t know nothin’ about Pelé. I’m watchin’ what this guy can do with a ball on his feet.
Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in—upside down and backwards. The goddamn goalie never knew what the fuck hit him. Pelé gets excited. He rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around over his head. Everybody’s screaming in Spanish. I’m here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying. [Pause.] Yeah, that’s right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings up to a better place to be, if only for a minute . . . Let me tell ya, kid—it was pretty goddamned glorious.
That is the magic of sports. To see something seemingly impossible, reminding us that if one person can do it, then we all somehow share in that achievement. It is what sends children onto playgrounds to duplicate a LeBron layup or a Steph Curry three-pointer. Or Mia Hamm inspiring a whole generation of girls to come off the bleachers and onto the field. Millions of children across the country pushing themselves toward excellence because they saw an athlete do something spectacular and they want to do it too. Or at least try. That same kind of drive is behind many of humankind’s greatest achievements.
And it’s all exceptionally glorious.
Here’s the main reason I don’t care that much about my record being broken: I’m no longer focused on my basketball legacy as much as I am on my social legacy. I’m not trying to build a billion-dollar empire, I write articles in defense of democracy and advocating on behalf of the marginalized. (Maybe the billions will roll in eventually if I write a really, really great article.) I also am deeply involved in my charity, the Skyhook Foundation, which treats disadvantaged kids to week-long STEM education in the Angeles National Forest. That and my family are all I have the energy for. (Did I mention, I’m 75!)
Why LeBron and I Haven’t Had a Relationship
LeBron said we don’t have a relationship. He’s right—and for that I blame myself. Not for anything I did, but perhaps for not making more of an effort to reach out to him. By nature I have never been a chummy, reaching-out kind of guy (as the media was always quick to point out). I’m quiet, shy, and am such a devoted homebody that you’d think I have agoraphobia. I like to read, watch TV, and listen to jazz. That’s pretty much it. For the past 15 years, my focus has been less on forming new relationships than on nurturing my old friendships with people like Magic, Michael Cooper, Jerry West, and so on.
I think the main reason that I never formed a bond with LeBron (again, entirely my fault) is simply our age difference. I established my scoring record in 1984—the year LeBron was born. When he started to make a name for himself, I was already pretty removed from the NBA world. Except for certain gala events, I was just like any other fan, watching games on my TV in my sweatpants while munching on too many unhealthy snacks.
That disconnect is on me. I knew the pressures he was under and maybe I could have helped ease them a bit. But I saw that LeBron had a friend and mentor in Kobe Bryant and I was just an empty jersey in the rafters. I couldn’t imagine why he’d want to hang with someone twice his age. How many do?
Why I’m Happy That LeBron Broke My Record
I have written many articles lavishly praising LeBron. In 2020, I wrote an article for Sports Illustrated describing why LeBron deserved to be named Sportsperson of the Year. In the article, I wrote, “Part of being a hero is to have both the modesty to feel unworthy of such a heavy word and the strength to accept the responsibility that comes with others looking to you to be that hero. What is a hero but someone who stands up for those who can’t? Who embodies our cherished ideals of sportsmanship: fair play, hard work and compassion? That pretty much describes the LeBron James I’ve watched and come to know since he was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft and was named Rookie of the Year.”
Regarding whether or not LeBron is the GOAT, I wrote, “Lending weight to the vocal GOAT herders is the fact that LeBron is closing in on my NBA record for most points scored: 38,387. LeBron is about 4,000 points behind, but I was an elderly 42 when I retired and he’s a sprightly 35. He averages about 2,000 points a season, so in two years he could break my record. How does that make me feel? Excited. I expect to be there if and when he does it, cheering him on—as I know he will be on that day in the future when someone surpasses his mark. Breaking a sports record is a celebration of the human drive to push past known limitations, to redefine what we are capable of. It is an acknowledgement that humans have the capacity to always be improving, physically and mentally.” (Earvin, did you not read that article?)
My good opinion of LeBron has grown in the two years since I wrote that. His passion for social justice and bettering his community has only increased—and his athleticism has soared to a whole other level of performance.
While it’s true that I have taken a couple minor jabs at him over vaccine protocols—which in my mind was the kind of nudging one teammate does with another—I know that LeBron is too accomplished, mature, and savvy to hold a grudge over something so petty. That’s why I don’t want my fans to in any way tarnish or equivocate his enormous achievement. This is all about LeBron doing something no one else has done, about scoring more points than anyone has been able to in 75 years. There are no “yeah, buts,” just praise where it is rightfully and righteously due.
Bottom line about LeBron and me: LeBron makes me love the game again. And he makes me proud to be part of an ever-widening group of athletes who actively care about their community.
Why We Love Kobe Bryant: He Took the Shot
New Introduction: Kobe Bryant wasn’t a martyr. He wasn’t a saint. He made mistakes. But I think the reason why so many people still love him is that he acknowledged his mistakes, his challenges, and his stumbles—and each time he came back stronger. He embodied the struggles we all face in our journey through life.
He was the definition of a fierce competitor. No one worked harder to hone his skills. Sometimes that made him frustrated with other players who he thought weren’t as committed. Sometimes it made him less of a team player. But I admired his ability to constantly evolve as a player and as a person. He adapted because he wanted to be the best version of himself, not just for the fans, but for his family.
I miss Kobe, which made writing this article especially difficult. But also especially important.
Many professional athletes are admired, praised, and cheered by the public for their inspiring athletic prowess. We want to soar like them, but the closest we can get is buying their jerseys, teeth whiteners, and video games. We drink their paid-endorsed energy drinks, eat their paid-endorsed fast food, and get in loud arguments with friends about how necessary they are to the team’s success.
Sadly, most of these famous athletes are as temporary as snowmen, adored during their season, but just a fond memory when they melt away from the sport and are replaced the next season by a newer, younger, and springier model.
But some athletes are so special that they represent more than their athletic achievements. They inspire not just admiration, but genuine affection—maybe even love.
Kobe Bryant was such an athlete. He was such a man.
Many other tributes will discuss his impressive list of basketball accolades, awards, and statistics. You can go to Wikipedia if you’re interested. Or a sports bar. There’s only one Kobe statistic that fascinates me. Kobe twice led the NBA in scoring and in 2006 he scored 81 points in a single game, putting him right behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game.
But those aren’t the stats I’m interested in.
This is: Kobe Bryant missed the most career field goals in NBA history. He missed 14,481 times.
To me, that statistic is the foundation of his greatness as an athlete—and one of the reasons our affection for the man transcends our admiration for the athlete.
Let me explain: Some people—not just athletes—are motivated in life by the fear of losing. They strive and hustle and push because they don’t want to fail. That fear of failure is often rooted in anxiety about how they will look to others. They see themselves only as they are reflected in others’ eyes.
However, the great ones are driven not to win, but to exceed their own expectations. The goal is to strive to reach one’s fullest potential—and sometimes push beyond what even they imagined that potential might be. Winning is not the goal, it’s a happy by-product.
Kobe Bryant holds the record for most missed shots in NBA history. To some that’s a bad thing. To me, it means he wasn’t intimidated by missing, by losing, by failure. He didn’t hesitate by worrying, “What if I miss? What will the coaches think? The team? The fans?” He acted like the ultimate competitor: he took the shot.
To take the shot is to embrace failure and success at the same time. To miss so much and yet feel confident enough to shoot again and again embodies the best qualities of human beings: to imagine something beyond what is, beyond what you’ve ever been able to do, and to strive to make that a reality, no matter how many times you fail.
We love Kobe because he wasn’t afraid to take the shot. As an athlete. As a community member. As a parent. As a man.
Jordan B. Peterson’s DIY Cult: When Malicious Nonsense Passes for Worldly Wisdom
New Introduction: Whenever I watch a movie or TV series in which characters are revealed to secretly be part of a large cult, and they suddenly turn against their friends and colleagues, my first reaction is that it’s unbelievable because the cult’s beliefs are irrational, silly gobbledygook. You’d have to be a complete idiot to buy into the half-truths, vague cliches, and empty promises. Then I remember the massive followers of Trump, Andrew Tate, and Jordan B. Peterson.
I have little tolerance for lazy thinkers, especially when they are as massively influential as Peterson. Since this article first appeared, Peterson’s public pronouncements have gotten even more scattered and rambling. His standard technique of invoking random studies and history tidbits that sound smart, but are rarely directly related or have any causation, remains compelling to those easily swayed. Propaganda incites passion in order to override reason. That’s his scam.
It is a symptom of our culture’s vulnerability that we don’t demand more of our “intellectual” influencers. Social media allows their words to spread faster than they can be logically refuted. Then it’s too late. The damage is done. But maybe, if we look harder at how people like Peterson gained such influence, we can stop the next one.
Jordan B. Peterson is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. He has announced his bold decision to publicly martyr himself—like all good cult leaders—by choosing death over retracting a recent tweet that got him suspended by Twitter. “The suspension will not be lifted unless I delete the hateful tweet in question,” he announced. “And I would rather die than do that.” Death wasn’t one of the options in Twitter’s terms of service agreement, but Peterson is nothing if not self-importantly melodramatic. He sees himself as a cultural lightning rod absorbing the charged bolts of wokism that is setting ablaze traditional values. In reality, he’s just an embittered crank.
I’ll return to the silly reason for all his pearl-clutching theatrics in a moment. (There will be a big surprise when I do.)
First, we need to understand why when Jordan Peterson says something—even something as juvenile as the tweet that got him suspended—it’s important. Pied Piper Peterson has a large following of cultish devotees that are deeply influenced by his words. He has 4 million followers on Instagram, 2.1 million on Twitter, 1.5 million on Facebook, 5 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, and his books have sold millions of copies. He is guru to many disaffected young white men who feel under attack just for being born male and white. He articulates their self-doubt, anger, and frustration. If only Uncle Jordan’s hearty bro advice wasn’t so lazy and superficial.
Now his infectious influence has spread even wider, becoming a pandemic of bad ideas and limp thinking. He recently joined fellow conservative gadfly Ben Shapiro’s (see my article about Ben Shapiro here) Daily Wire+ where their ads describe Peterson as “The smartest mind in western civilization” and “one of the most important minds in history.” That’s taking hype to a dizzying new level, a little like proclaiming Fifty Shades of Gray as the greatest work of literature ever written.
As to why I refer to his followers as cultish: the essence of a cult member is to embrace someone’s teachings and opinions without rigorous critical analysis. To be fair, cultish loyalty is common among all religions, political parties, and sports teams. We’re all guilty of it sometimes. People want to belong to something that makes them feel free, moral, smart, and safe among like-minded. Often they are willing to trade away actual freedom, morality, intelligence, and safety in order to feel that way. Your basic blue pill versus red pill scenario from The Matrix: the red pill shows you reality and the blue pill allows you to live in blissful ignorance.
Jordan B. Peterson is the blue pill.
Why Peterson Was Suspended from Twitter
The target of Peterson’s ire that got him suspended is actor Elliot Page (The Umbrella Academy), who has so rattled Peterson’s noggin that he’s unable to remember Page’s name. Apparently, it’s pretty easy to confuse a Ph.D., bestselling author, and “smartest mind in western civilization” when you give him two choices: Elliot or Ellen. Okay, I know he’s just playing his cranky old grandpa on the porch griping about new-fangled ideas that are sending this culture “to hell in a handbasket.” (Yes, he really used that phrase.) Still, his faux confusion is so lame.
Here’s what he tweeted: “Remember when pride was a sin? And Ellen Page just had her breasts removed by a criminal physician.” Twitter suspended him for hate speech, which he responded to by posting a rambling, huffy video ending with Peterson saying “up yours, woke moralists—we’ll see who cancels who!” His anger still not sated, he posted another pseudo-academic video warning of the dangers of Twitter, citing arguments and studies that had been presented years ago—all widely known during the time he was using Twitter to promote himself and screw the dangers. He’s like someone who just got dumped by his girlfriend and immediately posts how she was a lousy girlfriend the whole time and he’s lucky to be rid of her. It’s a tamer version of revenge porn.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around “Remember when pride was a sin?” That’s a pretty moralizing statement for him to later berate “woke moralists.” That’s so Peterson: to endlessly complain about others moralizing while he’s moralizing. As if only he has the right to proclaim which morals are proper (talk about pride being a sin!). Then he warns Twitter that he’s going to cancel them (which sounds pretty godlike prideful). And, of course, his insistence on deadnaming Elliot Page (calling him by his former name) because, to him, people don’t have the right to choose their names or gender roles.
Why? Because to Peterson, transgender kids are being groomed to deny their true gender identity and Elliot Page, with his washboard abs and confusing new name, is leading the children astray. Peterson offers no credible proof of this grooming (studies he’s cited have been easily refuted by many experts). But he knows that in a climate where 40% of Americans believe President Biden didn’t win the election despite no proof to the contrary, he can “win” the argument just by saying it often enough to his uncritical followers.
Fifty years ago, when I chose to convert to Islam, I heard a lot of the same complaints that Page faces. People thought I was influencing Black children away from Christianity, that I was ungrateful to the country, that I was insulting my Catholic upbringing. In fact, I chose a religion that took me back to my African roots rather than the religion that the slaveholder who owned my ancestors followed. I felt more like Me. Some people then—and still today—refuse to call me by my legal name, as if they should have the power to determine my identity. That’s just another form of slavery.
Why Peterson Shouldn’t Have Been Suspended
Here’s the surprise I promised: I agree with Peterson. Not about what he wrote, which is offensive, ill-informed, and childish—akin to scribbling obscenities on the bathroom stall in middle school—but we must draw a clear line between hate speech and hateful speech. Hate speech promotes violence and biased actions against groups. Hateful speech spews irrational anger that is hurtful. Granted that line can get fuzzy because hateful can quickly become hate, but it’s important that we are vigilant in making that distinction so as not to quash free speech. His comments were more buffoonish than hate and he should have the right to be a buffoon.
I also agree that Twitter was too quick to pass judgement. And the complete autonomy with which judgement is passed without specifics is like being judged by Russell Crowe’s ditsy Zeus in Thor: Love and Thunder. Social media giants are omnipotent beings who feel no responsibility to justify their decisions. They need to have the process be more transparent to the public.
Why Peterson Should Be Abandoned by All Good People
Much of Peterson’s fame and infamy is the result of YouTube debates he does with other YouTubers, mostly with people that agree with him. On those occasions when he debates people who don’t agree with him, his tactic is similar to Ben Shapiro’s: name-drop famous writers and thinkers, keep changing the subject so he never has to fully defend his position, throw out irrelevant facts and studies so he sounds smart. You would be hard-pressed to know what Peterson’s thesis is during a debate.
In his debate with secularist Matt Dillahunty, Peterson kept straying from the question at hand so much that Dillahunty’s frustration as he kept trying to bring him back to the point was evident. Peterson knew he couldn’t logically win so he just talked about whatever popped into his mind.
I don’t care for debates—whether on YouTube or presidential. They are designed purely for entertainment value and to get more subscribers who already agree with them, not to clarify complex issues. Someone mentions a fact or statistic but there’s no time to look it up to see if it’s a legit study or fact. So the process has the veneer of reason when it’s mostly emotion.
I have seen some debates in which Peterson was so outmatched that I was embarrassed for him, especially those with Dillahunty and neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris. He would ramble pointlessly only to have his fans comment how he “destroyed” the opponent, which is a testament to the inability of his followers to distinguish logic. They think because they can’t understand what he’s saying, he must be really smart. The reason they can’t understand him is because there are so many logical fallacies he uses: slippery slope, false dilemma, name-calling, poisoning the well, and so forth that they should be used in critical thinking classes as examples of what not to do. That’s why one columnist referred to him as “the stupid man’s smart person.”
Peterson Doesn’t Like Women
I know. Bold accusation. But you only need to watch this video to see his open hostility to interviewer Helen Lewis, who is polite and respectful. Just watch the first ten minutes and every time he interrupts her take a shot (no, don’t, because you’ll be drunk in five minutes). During this interview, he repeats his claim that there is no patriarchy in Western culture, which is refuted by most sociologists and anthropologists. When pushed by Lewis to support this claim, his reasoning is “Cuz I said so.” (By the way, studies show that men consistently interrupt women.)
Peterson quit Twitter in May 2022 after the backlash from his tweet about Sports Illustrated’s plus-size swimsuit model Yumi Nu. His opinion: “Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.” That sounds less like “The smartest mind in western civilization” and more like frat dudes cackling about her photo over beers. If you can read that tweet and still choose to follow him, then congratulations, your grooming is complete and you now have no critical thinking abilities left.
Two points need to be addressed. First, even if he wanted to make a larger point about beauty standards in Western culture, why do it in such a cruel and insulting way? Ridiculing a woman for her looks doesn’t lead to insight—nor is it the behavior of anyone most people would want to associate with. Starting his vitriol with an insincere “Sorry” is what middle schoolers do. Second, he’s making an unsupportable claim that there is only one unchanging standard of beauty—and he’s the guy in charge of deciding what that is. Pretty damn authoritarian, Jordy. Not to mention historically inaccurate.
Peterson’s Utopia of Idiocracy
Peterson's homespun homilies mixed with dense academic jargon lures his unsuspecting followers into junk thinking. Like Trump and all other grifters exploiting their followers for the money, they portray themselves as outsiders (millionaire outsiders) and martyrs (though they sacrifice nothing), all while telling their audience exactly what they want to hear.
That's dangerous for them--and for the country.