Hasta La Vista, Baby!

 It’s been twenty-eight years since Mexico’s National Team has advanced into the quarterfinals of FIFA’s soccer World Cup. El Tri, as they’re endearingly known to their fans, the best fans in all of world football, according to many European nations, has a history of being agonizingly close on several occasions. Their most recent loss to the Netherlands in the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup was especially heartbreaking, mainly because Mexico was clinging to a 1-0, advantage well into the final and most taxing minutes of the game. After being nothing short of superb for fifty-plus minutes, and nursing this very small but precious lead deep into the game, Mexico, as they’ve done many times before, experienced a mental letdown just yards from the finish line. To all watching, they looked every bit of an eager team destined to win its first ever World Cup crown. In the end, however, they could not hold their 1-0, advantage, and the Dutch limped away with a 2-1 victory, as millions of Mexico fans shed tears mixed with green, white, and red face paint. What happened this time? What went wrong for Mexico? In simple terms, the Dutch came to play football—for ninety-minutes.

Ironically, the worse thing that could’ve happened for Mexico was scoring the first goal. The early lead prompted them to sit back defensively, surrendering the fruitful attacking play that had earned them the goal in the first place. Dutch tails were up at this point, as the final thirty-minutes of the game saw the Netherlands march into Mexico’s defensive third, time after time, earning a total of ten corner kicks in twenty-minutes.

Sitting back after a goal is nothing new. We often see it at the club level with teams like Chelsea and AC Milan “parking the bus” at the mouth of the goal to preserve their one-goal leads. But this is the World Cup, and coaches and players alike have to adjust their tactics and style of play to make room for changes that other teams will make when they are behind.

In simple terms, Mexico’s rookie coach was outdone by the Louis van Gaal, one of Holland’s most avid proponents of the Total Football playing style of Ajax and the Dutch national team of the 1970s. Miguel Herrera, having never coached in a game that had so much riding on it, and neither did his staff, did not have the experience and knowhow to preserve the win. Van Gal, on the other hand, was playing the violin on the sidelines, frantically, but still playing a recognizable tune.

Herrera’s first mistake took place in the 61st minute when he brought on Javier Aquino for Giovanni dos Santos, the Mexico forward that gave El Tri the 1-0, lead. It was a substitution that had Mexico fans scratching their collective scalps. Giovanni had done nothing wrong, certainly nothing that constituted a substitution, especially in the 61st minute when the game could’ve potentially gone into extra-time. He had been holding the ball well, waiting for his attacking players to join him. He had Holland’s defensive quartet on their heels, and if they were not physically guarding him, they were definitely mentally aware of his presence. In football, the mental aspect is key, and the longer you are on the minds of a defensive squad, the better.

Aquino brought none of this to the game, as he proved to be the first step back in Mexico’s demise. In fact, it was Aquino who stood idly on the top of the eighteen box, guarding nothing but shadows, as he watched Wesley Sneijder launch a rocket off his right foot and into the back of the net for the Dutch’s equalizer in the 88th minute. Point number one to Van Gaal.

It got worse for Mexico when Van Gaal decided to use his coaching expertise. Realizing that Sneijder was producing very little from the lone center midfield position, Van Gaal brought in left-winger Memphis Depay for Paul Verhaegh in the 56th minute. Verhaegh was playing in the attacking and holding midfield position for Holland, and he was lost. Depay is not a center midfielder. He plays on the left wing, but this position was already occupied by Dirk Kuyt, an intelligent attacking player with experience at the highest levels. Knowing that Kuyt is as versatile as they come, Van Gaal sent Kuyt to the center midfield position to accompany Sneijder. Memphis then filled Kuyt’s position. Now, this may have seemed like just another substitution, but to me, this was the move of the match.

All of a sudden, Sneijder was free of the responsibilities of running the center midfield position, a job that he could now pass onto Kuyt. He was now allowed the freedom to roam the field much in the way Messi does for Barcelona, and to find his space and give the Mexico defense fits. As it turned out, it was Sneijder who equalized for Holland, and it was Aquino who watched him score. Point number two to Van Gaal.

But even before Van Gaal made his move, Herrera made things easier for Holland. In the 75th minute, Herrera yanked Oribe Peralta in favor of Javier Hernandez. Now, normally this would’ve been an acceptable substitution. Afterall, Hernandez is a poacher that can score big goals and make things difficult for opposing defenses, although he had been on somewhat of a drought before the Croatia game. But Mexico did not need an attacking player at this time—not with a 1-0, lead with fifteen minutes to go! Herrera succumbed to Javier Hernandez’s incessant complaining about not being in the starting eleven. Herrera felt that he had to play Hernandez simply out of custom, because Chicharito is Chicharito. It made no sense, and Mexico paid dearly for this particular substitution.

Herrera is probably banging his head. He now knows that he should’ve substituted Peralta for another holding midfielder or a player with pace and physicality, like Marco Fabian, a player that could’ve accompanied Carlos Salcedo and sit right in front of Rafael Marquez and Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez as another defensive line of protection. Fabian could’ve also given Mexico the counter attacking threat they lacked in the last fifteen-minutes of the game. He went with Chicharito, instead.

Hernandez could not hold the ball, as he had limited touches due to Holland’s sustained attack, and nor did he have any chances at goal. In short, he brought nothing of value to the game, nothing that could’ve helped Mexico.

Van Gaal finalized his attack with another big switch. This proved to be the dagger that stopped Mexico’s heart. Van Gaal brought on seldom used attacker Klaas Huntelaar for Robin Van Persie. Van Persie was not himself, showing nothing of the flare he displayed against Spain. Nevertheless, he’s a player that you seldom replace because he can be deadly from one moment to the next. However, Van Gaal saw that Van Persie’s tank was dry and went with fresher, younger legs in the midst of stifling heat and humidity. In short, it was Huntelaar that scored the game-winning goal for Holland in the 94th minute. With no dynamic players on the field for Mexico, and all substitutes already used, Mexico was all but eliminated before the game had ended.

Another point worth noting is that Mexico was caught completely off guard by Holland’s refusal to settle for extra-time. We’ve seen it many times. Teams get a late equalizer and then sit back to wait for extra-time or to go into penalties. It’s almost like an unwritten agreement teams have with one another. “Ok, you tied us. There’s two-minutes left to play. Let’s agree to suspend our attacks and go into extra-time and maybe penalties. We’ll let our goalkeepers decide the outcome.” Holland looked at the clock and saw that the referees had awarded six-minutes of compensation time, mainly due to “cooling breaks” and injuries. They continued their attack. A fatigued Mexico team looked on in disbelief as Holland broke the unwritten agreement to let up their attack. Final point to Van Gaal.

You can’t blame Herrera for everything. He isn’t the one playing, but there are many things that should’ve been discussed during the days leading up to this game. Coaches, at this point, have to think outside the box and plan for the best and the worst. This wasn’t a group stage game. This was a knockout game, and Mexico was knocked out by an experienced coach and experienced players, players that are no strangers to crucial matches.

Herrera is new. There was no doubt that he was going to run into trouble. A team can only run on emotion for so long, and this is what Mexico was relying on. They have a fiery, passionate coach, and as a Mexico fan, I love this about him. He brings his emotion and passion to the game and it has infected his players. Teams need this, but in the end, the game is football, and teams have to play football. The Dutch played Total Football, and they took the total victory.

England National Team

It’s disappointing to see England ousted from the competition. They have one of the most exciting domestic leagues in the world, a league brimming with technical skill and talent. Unfortunately, English players are not key figures in these areas. England’s national team is suffering from something of their own making, and unless they curtail the number of foreign players allowed to play in their domestic league, England will never know success on the world stage. Suarez, the Uruguayan striker who today single-handedly ripped out England’s collective heart, plays in the English league for Liverpool. He’s arguably the best player in this league, and there are many more foreign players near the top of this list. Tim Howard is perhaps the best goalkeeper in England, and he’s American. Kompany, Manchester City’s stalwart defender, is Belgian. The list goes on. Germany, a few years back, put restrictions on foreign players in their league for the same reasons that are plaguing England. They recognized that their national team was suffering and made moves to their domestic league’s foreigner policy. England must do the same.

The Church of Grandpa

I hated going to church, and when I hit eleven-years-old, I had enough. I thank my grandfather Santiago for helping me with my spiritual crisis. He’s dead now, but his influence lives within me.

The Catholic Church scene never spoke to my adolescent senses. After birth, I was unwillingly ushered up the alter steps of St. Anthony’s Church in San Gabriel. It was my baptism, and it was done without my consultation. From what I was told, my parents held me down as the priest submerged the back of my head into a bowl of holy water. I’m sure I cried while the Father recited a blessing over my convulsing body. I would cry now if this happened to me, and I’m in my forties.

I stayed away from church as long as I could, attending only one someone got married or died, which, nowadays, seems to be the same thing. Luckily, my parents were casual Catholics themselves, practicing only on the big days like Easter and Christmas and Ash Wednesday.

On weddings and during wakes, we attended church only to find ourselves kneeling, sitting, kneeling, standing, knelling, sitting, standing, kneeling, and finally sitting. It was actually a calorie burner, which is probably why people always go to breakfast after mass.

Just getting dressed to go to church was a pain in the ass. Everything was forced on me: getting out of bed, taking a bath, combing my hair, tucking in my shirt. The good, hand-me-down clothes I received annually from my cousins were worn on church days. It was nice stuff, but it didn’t’ compare to the torn baseball jersey and ripped corduroys I was used to. The discomfort is traumatic because I had to sit for a whole hour or so in clothes that just didn’t feel right, and it was on my mind the whole time. I was supposed to pray at church, and I did! I prayed to God to let me get home and change and never come back.

Of course, the ride to church was always tense and somber. The happy anticipation of going on family outings was completely absent. Instead, I was heading to a place where I knew for certain I didn’t want to be. In looking back, it seemed nobody in my family wanted to go, either. My dad was always cranky, my mom felt rushed, and I fought with my siblings to and from church.

I started to come of age and was finally allowed to watch certain movies like The Omen and The Exorcist. These movies skewed my perception of churches and religion. These movies had scenes of angry priests, tormented souls, and statues of Jesus that cried blood! It was pretty scary, too.

All of a sudden, I found myself sitting in the creaky, wooden pews in St. Anthony’s staring for long periods at the face of the giant Jesus hanging on the cross behind the priest on the alter. I’d look intently into his eyes to see if he was going to blink or if a drop of blood was going to run down his cheek. I watched, certain there would be movement of sorts. He never moved.

Strange things did happen, though. On more than one occasion, and from out of nowhere, From nowhere, my brother and I would fly into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. I’m not talking the giggles. I’m talking about wild bouts of mania, evil sounding laughter, like Vincent Price stuff. It hit us hard, and we could do nothing to stop it. There was nothing to laugh at, too, which is why it was even stranger. We laughed so hard that our stomachs would ache and tears would well up in our eyes. It was as if we were possessed. My mom tried to get us to shut up, but we couldn’t. We’d look at her and just start laughing even more. Then my dad would give us a warning with his eyes and we lowered the volume. If we were told to go outside until we calmed down, we never returned.

I felt guilty about laughing, especially after my mom would say, “Dios te va castigar.” I didn’t want to go to hell for laughing. It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t stop laughing.

At eleven, I wanted to sever my ties with the church. I was annoyed and angry with my mom for practically dragging me to church every Sunday. I felt I was at the age where I could more or less decide in which direction I wanted my spiritual beliefs to head. I was almost a teenager! There was football on Sundays. I didn’t need to go church.

We were living with my grandparents while I was rebelling against religion. The drive from St. Anthony’s in San Gabriel to my grandma’s house in Rosemead wasn’t very long, but it always seemed to take forever to get there. I was the first one out of the car when we got home.

On this particular day, my father hadn’t gone to church with us. The Raiders were playing, and there were other NFL games on which he had money riding.

In my father’ absence, I was naturally braver and more willing to rebel against my mom. As soon as she parked the car, I burst out, bolted up the porch, opened the door, and walked straight to the downstairs room I shared with my bro. I changed my clothes and climbed back up the steps and headed straight to my grandpa’s room. He was my best friend, and I wanted to see what he was doing. As usual, he was sitting in his brown, leather recliner, reading Siempre, a Spanish political magazine he bought weekly at the Mercado in Boyle Heights.

I was still bothered by our church excursion as I jumped on my grandpa’s bed. I was on my stomach with my hands on my face. I looked at him while he read. Finally, I asked, “Grandpa, how come you never go to church?” I asked him in Spanish. My grandpa didn’t speak English. He may have understood it, but I never spoke to him in English. He had lived in Los Angeles more than half his life, and he never bothered to learn. All he knew was “Take it easy,” and he learned this from the Eagles’ song. “Mijo, take it easy,” he would say to me whenever I left.

He rested the magazine on his lap and looked at me with a sly smile, as if he had been waiting for someone to ask him this very question. “No tengo que ir al iglesia para hablar con dios, mijo. Puedo hablar con el en el bano, en la cocina, en mi cuarto. No tengo que ir al iglesia. Hablo con el aqui.” This was his response my question, and I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic. He repeated it again, but this time a little differently. I was stunned. I had never heard anything more divine. Never had anything made so much sense to my impressionable ears. It was actually pretty liberating.

I calmly walked out of grandpa’s room to find my mom. She was in the kitchen with my grandma. “Mom,” I proudly yelled. She didn’t look my way because she was mad at the way I had been acting at church. “Que quieres!” my mom snapped back. “Grandpa said that I don’t have to go to church. He said I could talk and pray to God in the bathroom, in the kitchen, or in my room. I’m not going to church anymore. God is here,” and I pointed at my heart. I was stoic. I stood there and waited for her to say something. What could she possibly say in response to my grandpa’s wisdom? “Mira este carbon!” my mom said to my grandma. My grandma was smiling as she continued her work on the stove.   My grandma didn’t go to church either, at least not very often. My mom turned to face me. She had a knife in her hand. “Grandpa ya esta grande. Puede hacer lo que quiere. If I want you to go to church, you’re going,” my mom retorted. She turned back to cutting vegetables.

My mom was the authority figure, and she was right. I had to do what she asked. However, I think my words affected her. I wasn’t forced into going to Sunday mass anymore after this. But my mom made one last effort to get me involved with the church.

At thirteen, she enrolled me in catechism classes at St. Anthony’s. Classes were held behind the church in the classrooms. Every Tuesday, again without my consultation, I attended communion. It was a strict environment, but it was easy to see that the other kids hated it, too. Nevertheless, I made an effort to listen. I still remember the prayers. I remember my first confession, too. I’m sure I lied to the priest and left out the bad stuff. I told small lies to other adults, so would I be honest with a guy I didn’t even know? The most fun thing about catechism was break-dancing in the hallways. The nuns chastised the hell out of me for doing it, but I couldn’t help it. The linoleum floors were ridiculously shiny and smooth. They were perfect for backspins.

The World Cup for Newbies

Excitement is surging as football fans, worldwide, anticipate the start of the 2014 World Cup, which will take place in Brazil in less than three-days. Passion and patriotism for participating countries and teams will reach maniacal levels, and we are sure to hear of an entire country’s labor force come to a halt on the day the their team plays.

Then there’s the U.S. Here in the States, football is football, while across the globe, football is soccer. Although an estimated 3.2 billion people, or 46.4 percent of the Earth’s population watched the 2010 World Cup, including a significant number of Americans, there are still too many in this country unfamiliar with the tournament, its history, and its global significance. But it doesn’t have to be so! Let me present to you a newbie’s guide to the planet’s greatest sporting event: the World Cup!

The World Cup is a tournament which is played over the span of four-years, making it the longest tournament in all of sports. It takes four-years to complete because almost every country on Earth participates. With this many countries involved, determining a winner in two or even three-years is nearly impossible.


The long, qualification stage of the tournament is intercontinental, rather than intra-continental. For example, in order to qualify for the World Cup, the U.S. National Team had to play home and away games versus every country in North America and the Caribbean. This includes Jamaica, Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Canada, to name a few. Games played versus countries from other continents are known as “friendlies” or tune-up matches, games usually played to measure new players and to try-out new tactical systems and attacks. They also bring in substantial cash. Because of the duration of the qualification phase, often times coaches are fired and older players are dropped and replaced for younger blood.

Then there’s the “intercontinental phase” of the competition, which lasts three-years. This phase includes group stages, knockout stages (lose and go home), home and away games to ensure fairness, tiebreakers, if needed (see Mexico). Along the way, winning countries advance deeper into the tournament. Smaller countries like Cuba, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Scotland, and Panama often experience difficulty in qualifying for the World Cup, as they must compete against the bigger countries from their respective continents. Once this long and grueling phase of the competition is completed, the tournament is left with thirty-two national teams (countries), representing the seven continents.

The World Cup

The final phase of the tournament is known as the “World Cup.” This is what will  billions across the globe will spend their time watching for the one, full month. It consists of thirty-two, still standing national teams. These teams will head to the host country to play the final games of the tournament. This year’s host country is Brazil, a country many consider the Mecca of football. Brazil is expected to win this year’s tournament, as the country’s national team boasts some of the most electric players in the world. Brazil has lifted the Cup five times, more than any other country.

These thirty-two active teams are placed into groups of four, eight groups in all. Intercontinental rules no longer apply. Country names are placed in a lottery and drawn randomly. This ensures fairness, but it also creates the potential for volatile early matches between powerhouse countries. One such match already stirring up frenzy is the one between Italy and England, scheduled for June 14. Both teams have hallowed football histories, as well as rabid fans. The group stage is also dangerous. It’s almost tradition for one of the eight groups to be randomly comprised of two or even three extraordinary national teams, team that are favorites to advance deeply in the tournament and even win it. This group is referred to as the “Group of Death.” The group that the U.S. was drawn into in this upcoming Cup is this year’s Group of Death.

Group Stage

In the initial group stage, right before the knockout rounds, each team will play a round-robin tournament within their respective group, three games for each country. A win is awarded three-points, a tie is awarded one-point, and loss is given nothing. Once group play is finished, points are accumulated. The two top teams from each group, the ones with the most points, move on to what is known as the “knockout stage” of the tournament. Sixteen national teams will continue. From this point on, it’s win or go home.

The Knockout Stage

This “knockout” rule is now in place for the rest of the tournament. The field will dwindle to eight teams (quarterfinals), then four teams (semi-finals), and then two teams (World Cup Final). A game to determine third and fourth place finishers takes place a day or two before the actual championship, but it’s a mere formality, equivalent to American football’s Pro Bowl Game. Nobody cares.

There it is! I hope this has given you a broader understanding for what is about to go down! This year’s favorites include Spain, Germany, Holland, France, and, of course, Brazil. My money is on an African team, maybe Cameroon or Ghana. An African team has never lifted the trophy, but with immensely talented teams, this could be the continent’s year.

Enjoy the world’s most popular sport. Enjoy the Beautiful Game!


There’s No Such Thing as Magic

There’s No Such Thing as Magic

The insensitive delivery of two words put an end to my obsession with the Los Angeles Lakers. It was 1984, and I was a pimply, semi-rebellious, thirteen-year-old eighth grader at Garvey Intermediate in Rosemead. I had already taken a hit from a joint, but that’s another story.

The Lakers were my team, and together we were experiencing the glory of the 1980’s! But as is life, adolescent infatuation gave way to heartache. Now and then, during bouts of nostalgia, I’m transported to those times, and my love for the Lakers and the ecstasy I derived from  watching them compete is played out all over again, all the memories accompanied closely by the echo of those two words. And then it is clear: once, a long time ago, I was a hard core Lakers’ fan. 

The breakup was tragic, for sure, but what made it worse was that at the heart of the tragedy, the two people responsible for breaking my heart were two of my boyhood heroes: Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It may sound dramatic, I’m aware, but sports are dramatic and athletes are dramatic. I have every right to be dramatic.

I, along with my classmates, was nearing the end of my tenure at Garvey. There would be no more kissing Tami Duran’s soft, untrained lips, and there would be no more fondling Bernadine’s unfamiliar, uncontaminated, barely formed breasts. My middle school years were dissolving

Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to be among the few academically eligible eighth graders left standing as the school year wound down. The school was teeming with fuck-ups, but as a reward for maintaining good academic standing, those of us who survived were treated to a Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns basketball game at the Fabulous Forum of Inglewood. The school called it the “Eighth Grade Trip,” but we called it “Fucking Awesome!”

I ran all the way home with the permission slip flailing in my hand. Most of my friends were going, too. We were all ecstatic—Alex, Cesar, Julius, Daniel—we were finally going to catch up-close looks of “Magic”, Kareem, “Big-Game James,” “Silk Man,” Nixon, McAdoo, and Cooper! I didn’t know what I had done to deserve this, but it was happening. I was going to see the “Greatest Show on Earth.” And on this special night, my little brother Juan was my co-pilot. My little sister Erica was too young still. Plus, I don’t think she’s a basketball fan, anyway.
The night began with a chartered bus ride from Garvey Intermediate to the Fabulous Forum. The supervision was loose, save for a teachers that did their best to keep an eye on us.  At the game, Mr. Higgins, one of the math teachers, spilled Miller Draft all over his Magic jersey. He was drunk by halftime. The bus teeming with energy and anticipation.  It was special, and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thirty-minutes into the raucous ride, the lights which gleamed atop The Fabulous Forum served as a beacon to let us know we were near. And then there were more

lights and a bustling crowd and general fanaticism, and then I was sure that I was in the midst of something big and that magical things awaited us inside.

The Forum itself is a monument—ancient and historic— our Stonehenge, our Coliseum. The biggest building I had been in up to this point was Memorial Hospital, where I was born. My thirteen-year-old heart was trying to escape my chest.

The Lakers were the team of the 80’s. No one could dispute this. And it was no coincidence.  We had two of the best players on the planet in Magic and Kareem, and these guys had the finest supporting cast since The Godfather. Michael Cooper was the best “Sixth Man” in the league, and Pat Riley was the embodiment of God and Hollywood. We were all Hall of Fame. We also had the best basketball announcer in the history of the N.B.A. Chick Hearn narrated every basket, every free throw, every layup, and every “Coop-a-Loop” for us Angelenos. There was no cable yet, and no pay-per-view, so we caught every game on T.V. On most evenings, our dials were turned to channel 9.

My mouth must’ve remained agape for the entire time after I entered the arena. There were banners everywhere! Giant, purple and yellow Lakers banners and flags and strobe lights and more banners hung from the rafters. People were screaming, music was blaring, and the Lakers Girls were shaking their collective asses at midcourt.

This was all pre-9/11, so security at The Forum virtually non-existent. Everything was more American. My brother and I basically had unlimited access to the Forum’s floor. We walked into the tunnels where the cheerleaders were warming up. We got up to the edge of the court and saw both teams in the middle of their pre-game shooting and warm-up drills.  The entire scene and the placement of its props and characters were sharp, colorful, and well-rehearsed. Even the echo of the ball bouncing off the court sounded professional. The scene was a poem and we were watching it being written.

Our heroes had yet to hit the court. We knew they were in the locker rooms preparing for their entrance. We were ready, too. We waited anxiously at courtside, biting down on our fingers.  It was difficult to wait, though, and when it proved unbearable, I prodded Juan to keep moving so that we could continue exploring the Forum’s hallowed grounds.

There was something exciting to see at every turn. We walked up and down every flight of stairs, and we walked around the entire court, passing closely by the Lakers’ bench, hoping a player would toss us a towel like Franco Harris did to that kid in the Coca-Cola commercial. We were everywhere. Then we spotted a darkened corridor, a tunnel that was somewhat hidden under the stands. Tip-off was only minutes away.

My brother and I worked our way toward the tunnel. It didn’t take us long to realize that it was the tunnel that led from the locker room to the court. We saw it on T.V. It was the Lakers’ tunnel! There was nothing surreptitious about how we got there. We simply walked in its direction and acted like we had business there. We were following the light at the end of the tunnel. We were deep into the players’ area, near the locker rooms.

I had no idea this part of the arena would be my Theatre of Pompey. Standing outside the locker room doors and a few feet away from the corridor’s exit were Kareem and Magic. Life was imitating life. My heroes were standing in front of me, just a few feet away! I was grinning maniacally. My brother didn’t seem too impressed, but he had pushed up awkwardly close against me. He was nervous, too.

I had a pen gripped tightly in one hand and three sheets of lined paper clutched in the other. I was convulsing and as I stood there, eyes bulging and mouth ajar. I gripped the pen tighter, and made sure the paper was still in my other hand. It was my move. My brother walked a little behind me, taking baby steps, crouching a little as if we were approaching tigers in the wild. I took notice of my steps. They seemed heavy and lacking the confidence they usually exhibited. I was about to take a huge chance with two of my idols—I was a ball of nerves—but this risk had to be taken. I needed autographs. I needed proof.

Kareem and Magic saw us. How could they not? We were two bug-eyed, grinning, trespassing Mexican kids. Magic and Kareem’s eyes were on us we came towards them. Magic had two Lakers cheerleaders with him, one under each arm. Kareem, too, had a pair of Lakers Girls under each of his arms. The two were like skyscrapers in purple and yellow Lakers jumpsuits, and the cheerleaders resembled tiny birds protected in their enormous wingspans. But there we were—all eight of us—characters in what was to be a defining scene in my life. Like I said, I know it’s dramatic, but this was the 80’s. Everything was dramatic then. Madonna was months away from masturbating on stage in a wedding dress. It was a wicked time.

I walked up to Magic first. It wasn’t a tough decision. He was the best. I walked up close to him and strained my neck to look up to his face—I probably came up to his ankles.  “Magic, can I have your autograph?” I said. I was smiling so hard it hurt, completely confident that he would grab both pen and paper and give me his autograph. He glanced at me, not making eye-contact, and said, “Later kid.” He quickly turned away and continued his conversation with the two cheerleaders. The girls continued to throw their heads back in laughter, laughing at everything that came out of these guys’ mouths.  I was about a foot from Magic. I remember looking at his face, and I remember his smile. He had big teeth. I was so close to him that my hand brushed against his warm-up suit.

His refusal hurt my heart. I turned away from Magic and pivoted towards Kareem. I was a foot from him, too. I knew he would give me his autograph. “Kareem,” I said in a pathetically hopeful tone, “can I have your autograph?” I was standing directly in front of him, on my tippy toes, my arms extended fully upwards, pleading with body language that he would snatch the pen and paper and make my dream come true.

He looked down at me for a quick second, barely acknowledging my presence and said, “Later, kid,” in the same lazy, fucking tone as Magic. All six resumed their fake conversation, laughing together as if we had not been there.

The walk out of the tunnel was difficult. I was as dejected as I’ve ever been. I looked back one last time just to be sure that these two assholes were serious. Magic’s neck was tilted way back in laughter, and his big, fat mouth was wide open, and his fake and ridiculously white teeth were showing all over his goddamned face. Kareem’s arms hadn’t even budged. He held on to the girls as if they were the only things keeping him standing. We exited, and I my love for the Lakers was left behind.

“Later kid.” These words were still echoing in my mind. “Later kid.” They were coming over The Forum’s P.A. system. The words followed me on the bus ride home, too. When I awoke the next morning, “Later kid” was the first thing I heard.At school, I asked Mrs. Deckoff a question, and I could swear she said, “Later kid.”

I was comatose for the remainder of the game. I don’t even know which team won. I solemnly managed to get a few of the Phoenix Suns’ autographs. It wasn’t difficult. They were nice and generous. I even got Larry Nance’s autograph. But these were The Suns. Of course they were nice. What other option do you have when you’re team is in the basement. I threw the autographs in the trash when I got home.

From that day on, I never felt the same about the Lakers. Coincidentally, at the end of the basketball season, the Clippers sailed into town from San Diego. Los Angeles was their new home, and they became my new team.  I bought season tickets, right behind the basket. At the time, they were nearly given away because the Clippers barely resembled a team.  Still, I supported them. I still do.  I my fondness for them is stronger than it was for the fondness I felt for the Lakers. I don’t entirely hate the Lakers. I just don’t really care too much for Magic and Kareem, that’s for sure

I heard someone say that you should never meet your heroes. I should’ve heeded this message.