Bob Schwartz

Tag: basketball

Jack Cristil: The Voice of God is Gone

Jack Cristil Biography

There are two ways you might know Jack Cristil, who died this weekend at the age of 88. But maybe not.

If you’re from Mississippi, or an SEC sports fan, you know him as the The Voice of Mississippi State football and basketball for almost sixty years, until his retirement in 2011.

If you are a member of the Tupelo Jewish community, where Jack was an essential part of Temple B’nai Israel for almost that long, you know him, more or less, as The Voice of God. In addition to his leadership roles in the congregation, Jack frequently led services. Most of us have heard clergy and lay people at the pulpit with some memorable voices and presences. Jack stood above them all. That perfectly modulated baritone, driven by his deep and unshakable faith, gave us all the play-by-play for a different sort of game, season after season.

That extraordinary voice would mean nothing without the man behind it—just a trick of vocal cords and breath. But Jack’s mind and heart were even bigger than that voice. Which is why when he spoke on the radio or at services, or in the more intimate setting of a meeting or conversation, you listened. Some people get our attention by the way they say things, and Jack could get anybody’s attention. But others keep our attention because of what they say, and even more, who they are.

In case you still think that Jack was not so well-known or important, see the above book cover from a biography of him. You may not have heard of Jack or of the author, veteran Mississippi journalist Sid Salter. But the man who wrote the Foreword to Jack’s biography is a little more familiar—a Memphis-based writer named John Grisham.

And if that’s not famous enough, here’s a photo of Jack interviewing Elvis:

Jack Cristil and Elvis

Jack is gone, but anyone who has heard that voice, even once, will hear it forever. One of Jack’s favorite bits in services was to ask the congregation to turn to a particular page in the prayer book and to indicate having done so by being seated. Today, we indicate our love and respect by standing up. We hear you, Jack.

Ukraine: What’s Happening on the Weak Side?

The weak side in basketball does not suggest weakness. It is the part of the court away from the ball. This doesn’t mean that the players there are weak or that the action there is unimportant. On the best teams, there can be almost as much happening on the weak side as there is on the strong side. Players may be running around, positioning themselves to take advantage, either by scoring or by taking away the ball. On the lesser teams, weak side players sometimes seem to drift aimlessly, or just stand around, depending on someone else to somehow work it out. If you don’t have the ball, what else is there to do?

We know exactly where the ball is in the current Ukraine crisis. And we know exactly who has the ball. The question is what the players on the weak side are doing. Are there plays carefully diagramed by the coach, practiced for just such a situation? Is there a player away from the ball, away from the basket, just waiting to heroically steal and drive all the way down court? Or are the weak side players drifting, trying to remember plays they once learned or improvise new ones?

The shot clock is running.

The NBA And The Buddha: Discourse On The Loving Kindness Of The Player Formerly Known As Ron Artest

Just yesterday on an NBA broadcast, former Los Angeles Laker superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson stumbled over the name of current Laker star Ron “Metta World Peace” Artest. Those quote marks for Artest are imprecise. Magic is not Johnson’s real name; it is simply the nickname accorded to him for his achievements on the court. Metta World Peace is Artest’s legal name, since he changed it in September 2011.

Over the course of his career, the adjective most often used to describe Mr. World Peace is “eccentric.” Whether or not people keep track of these things, he may have had more different numbers than anyone in NBA history; his current number 37 is the number of weeks that Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was at the top of the charts.

Beyond eccentric, he has been involved in a number of infamous altercations. In April, his elbow to the head of Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden caused a concussion, and resulted in World Peace’s seven-game suspension. (The speculation that Harden’s beard, which is one of the most splendid in all of sports, may have set World Peace off is unsupported.)

Earvin was dubbed “Magic” for his abilities, following a high school game that featured his triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists. NBA player Lloyd Free got the nickname “World” growing up in Brooklyn, because of his skills going to the basket, including his 360-degree turns. In 1981 he made it official by changing his name to World B. Free.

Metta World Peace did not get his name by acclamation. It was presumably chosen to reflect something about the man and the player. World Peace seems pretty obvious. But what about Metta?

Metta is a Pali word used in Buddhism. It means kindness, friendliness or compassion. The text known as the Metta Sutta (The Buddha’s Discourse on Loving-Kindness) is one of the oldest in the Buddhist canon, and is recited daily by many Buddhist monks and lay people. Here is one of many translations of this beautiful and essential work, by Sharon Salzberg:

This is what should be done
By those who are skilled in goodness,
And who know the path of peace:

Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways,
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born—
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.

Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

To move from one branch of Buddhism to another (the Metta Sutta belonging mainly to the Theravada, Zen being part of the Mahayana), it seems we are faced with a Zen koan, a paradox aimed at confounding our thinking into beyond thinking:

How and why would a man known for fits of violent confrontation take the names Metta and World Peace? Is it aspirational, a reminder to him of an ideal to reach or not reach, even as he was inflicting pain? Is it instructional, forcing people to look up and find the Metta Sutta, for the benefit of themselves and all beings? Or is it, as with all koans, never meant or able to be solved, by Ron Artest, Metta World Peace, or anyone?

May all beings be at ease!