Thursday, June 2, 2022

CELTICS, WARRIORS, FLYING, AND ROBYN

                           CELTICS, WARRIORS, FLYING, AND ROBYN

I never flew in an airplane until I joined the Marines at age 27. Since then, I’ve flown around the country and around the world—everywhere from Afghanistan to Korea to Kuwait to Norway to Panama. But being 6-feet-4, I find long flights to be tedious in confined spaces that are almost as uncomfortable as Fenway Park’s grandstand seats.

An option for people of size is to fly First-Class—kind of like being in those spacious luxury suites high above those tiny Fenway Park grandstand chairs. The problem is that First-Class seats are pricey—like those luxury suites—so I never traveled First-Class.

But for a recent coast-to-coast flight, my spouse Beth—who is much smarter than me—did some math and purchased First-Class tickets to fly us from Orange County to San Francisco to Boston on Alaska Airlines. A birthday present. The extra space was heavenly. The complimentary libations along with the delicious steak would ease the pain of the “red eye” flight.

We laid over at San Francisco International Airport where Beth pointed out an Alaska Airline lounge for First-Class passengers. That would be us!

I followed Beth into a wondrous realm heretofore forbidden to traveling schmucks like me. The lounge was spacious with artwork, fireplaces, couches, a wonderful buffet, and a beautiful bar with free drinks. The latter got my attention, especially when I noticed the bar’s TV tuned to an NBA playoff game. It turned out to be the Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors (obviously the local favorites) and the Dallas Mavericks. It was Game 4 of a series in which Golden State had a 3-0 lead.

While waiting for an extra-large Merlot, I couldn’t help but notice a woman in distress at the bar watching the game. A Maverick three-pointer pushed a Dallas lead to around 30 points. The Warrior fan uttered an expletive and dropped her head onto the bar. I felt a need to comfort her.

“Hey! It’s okay,” I counseled. “I’m sure your Warriors will win when they come back here to the Chase Center. Then hopefully, they’ll play my Celtics in the NBA Finals.”

Boston and Miami were then tied at 2-2.

“You don’t understand,” said the fan, whose name turned out to be Robyn.

“I do understand,” I replied. “I’m a basketball guy, a sports management professor, and a sports columnist. You’ll be fine.”

My extra-large Merlot arrived, and I turned to leave when Robyn elaborated.

“You don’t understand,” said the Warrior super-fan. “I bet $200 that Golden State would win four straight. I got 30-1 odds. Now $6000 is going down the drain.”

“Oh. Now I get it.” I responded. “I had the Bengals in the Super Bowl. But not for $6000.”

Then some bar patrons whooped it up. The Warriors were making a run. The lead was down to 20.

“Can you keep standing where you are?” asked Robyn. “I think you’re good luck. Don’t move.”

Many sports fans, especially gamblers, are superstitious. I understood.

A Warrior “three” cut the lead to 17 and the Mavs called time out.

Robyn then talked about her Warriors.

“Everyone thinks we’re all about Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson,” said Robyn. “But there’s so much more. Like Jonathan Kuminga. He’s having a good game. Do you know that he’s only 19 years-old?”

After the timeout the Warriors made a steal and a Kuminga hoop cut the lead to 15.

“Don’t you dare move!” said Robyn.

I glanced across the lounge and saw Beth eyeing me, no doubt wondering why I couldn’t stop talking to this chick at the bar, despite having received my extra-large Merlot. I beckoned her and she approached Robyn and me.

“I’m good luck,” I explained to Beth. “I have to stay here.”

Beth knows I’m good luck. She laughed. (Thankfully!)

A Warrior hoop cut the lead to 11. Time-out Mavs.

“If the Warriors win, Robyn gets $6000 and she’ll give us a thousand. Right Robyn?”

Robyn laughed. (Thankfully.)

Beth was intrigued.

After the time-out the Warriors made a steal and the 19-year-old Kuminga hit a three-pointer, cutting the lead to eight!

High fives all around as the bar area erupted. Thousands of dollars were headed our way.

“I love traveling First-Class!” I yelled to Beth.

But alas and alack, the Mavs held on for the win. And then it was time to board the plane to Boston.

“I’m sure your Warriors will win Game 5,” I said to Robyn. “And I have a feeling my Celtics will win in seven games and our teams will meet in the NBA Finals.”

And so it came to pass. The Warriors and Celtics are battling it out in the NBA Finals.

(I just hope Robyn didn’t bet on another Warrior sweep.)


Jonathan Kuminga


                                                                            Robyn





Sunday, March 13, 2022

A UKRAINIAN ORPHAN AND AN AFGHAN-AMERICAN ACTOR

 

A UKRAINIAN ORPHAN AND AN AFGHAN-AMERICAN ACTOR

by Mike Moffett



Young Fahim Fazli and the young Ukrainian


Veteran Hollywood actor Fahim Fazli knows how to cry in front of a camera, but the tears he recently shed in front of his television set were real.

Fazli was watching video of a Ukrainian boy bawling his eyes out as this victim of Russian aggression crossed the border alone into Poland. The young lad was now a refugee, not knowing if or when he’d ever return home. The poignancy of the moment struck a chord with Fazli, as earlier Russian aggression had once turned him into a refugee. Hence the authentic tears.

Fazli was 12 when the Soviet Union invaded his native Afghanistan in 1979. His mother was a mid-wife for Afghan President Haffizullah Amin. After Amin was murdered by the Russians, Fazli’s mother Fahima was alerted that she was on a Communist hit-list. With no time to lose, Fahima fled the Afghan capital of Kabul, along with Fazli’s two sisters, Almara and Mina, and a brother, Suhail. Fahim stayed behind with his father Jamil and another brother, Hares, hoping to also escape later.

Sadly, it would be years before Fahim learned of his mother’s fate. In the meantime, he, his dad, and his brother adapted to the Soviet occupation.

“But we didn’t call them Soviets,” recalled Fazli. “We just called them Russians.”

Young Fahim engaged the Russian soldiers and even learned some Russian, all the better to eventually counter the occupiers. His linguistic gifts would later serve him well.

By 1983 the time came for Fahim, Jamil and Hares to escape as well. A Russian noose was tightening around the rest of the Fazli clan, and so Jamil decided to try find out what happened to the rest of the family—from whom they’d heard nothing for four years. Dodging Russian patrols and attack helicopters, the three Afghans, aided by a guide named Abdul, made a harrowing escape east through the Hindu Kush mountains. Eventually they got to Pakistan where they joined millions of expatriate Afghan refugees.

They shared contact information with the American Embassy in Islamabad and pleaded with officials to help them find Fahima and the two sisters and brother. Were they alive or dead? In Pakistan, India, or some other land?

Soon the truth was discovered. Fahima, Suhail, Almara, and Mina were alive! They’d made it to America where they were told that Fahim, Jamil, and Hares were dead. A magical phone call reunited the family emotionally, if not physically.

A real reunion would take a couple more years. President Ronald Reagan fought to open doors for Afghan refugees and in 1985 the Fazli family reconnected for a joyous celebration in Virginia.

“It all taught me the most important lesson I would ever learn,” recalled Fahim. “Have faith. Never give up.”

Eventually the Fazlis moved to California where Fahim learned English, studied American history, and became a citizen. He was now positioned to pursue his dream of acting. Against all odds he eventually earned a membership in the Screen Actors Guild and embarked on a Hollywood career that would see him involved in over 50 film and TV projects, while working with Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Have faith. Never give up.

Fahim was initially typecast as a bad guy. Movie buffs will recall him roughing up Robert Downey Jr. in an Afghan cave in the first Ironman movie. Many more rolls were to follow, to include American Sniper with Bradley Cooper and the Academy Award winning Argo with Ben Affleck. He’d later move on to more sympathetic roles, such as Tariq in Rock the Kasbah, which also included Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, and Kate Hudson.

But it was while cultural-technical advisor for Charlie Wilson’s War that Fahim’s life took a dramatic turn. The movie was based on the true-life story of a Texas congressman who arranged for the secret funding of an Afghan resistance movement that eventually expelled the Russians from Afghanistan. That project allowed him to get to know Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ned Beaty, Amy Adams and others. But it was Charlie Wilson himself who encouraged Fahim to return to his native land to help in a new fight against Taliban extremists, against whom American forces were engaged in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

And thus it came to pass that Fazli qualified as a certified interpreter so as to return to Afghanistan to translate for U.S. forces. At age 43 Fahim put on an American uniform, the only Screen Actors Guild member to leave Hollywood to go into harm’s way after 9/11, following in the footsteps of Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and other luminaries who’d left Tinseltown to fight for their country in another war, against similarly evil enemies.

Eschewing a safe job translating for high-ranking officers and officials in the relative safety of Kabul, Fazli asked for the most dangerous job in Afghanistan, serving as an interpreter with the United State Marines in volatile Helmand Province. There the charismatic actor was quite effective at bringing together Afghans and Americans. Fahim made people laugh, which was an anathema to the extreme fundamentalists. So in 2010 the Taliban put a price on his head.

That’s when I met Fahim at a Marine outpost in Delaram, in northern Helmand Province. On special USMC assignment as a lieutenant colonel, I’d heard of Fazli’s exploits and met him at a special event involving the district governor. Fahim and I exchanged cards and stayed in touch.

That summer Fazli and his battalion (Third Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment) returned safely to America. Remarkably, 3/4 did not lose a single man during its many months in Afghanistan—thanks in part to Fahim. I eventually caught up to him in California and we discussed doing a biography that would do justice to his remarkable journey. Hollywood’s top military actor and advisor, Dale Dye, saw potential in our proposed project and his Warriors Publishing Group made Fahim’s dream of a book a reality—FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actors Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back. Our book earned critical acclaim and won the Gold Medal for “Top Biography” from the Military Writers Society of America. It inspired several script adaptations and Fahim’s latest dream is that his story will become a movie, thus bringing his inspiring real-life journey full circle, back to Hollywood.

All of which brings us back to Russian aggression and the terrified young Ukrainian boy, now a refugee.

“Seeing that little boy all alone and crying as he crossed the border gave me such flashbacks,” said Fahim. “Where was his mother? Had the Russians killed her? I could so relate to his anguish. My heart broke.”

But Fazli’s emotional distress also reinforced his profound gratitude that fate led him to reunite with his family in a safe country where amazing dreams of freedom—and Hollywood—came true.

“I love America,” said Fazli. “That’s why I wanted to give back and that’s why I put on a uniform. We have such a beautiful country here that is hard to truly appreciate without having spent time in other lands.

Like war-torn Afghanistan. Or embattled Ukraine.

The little Ukrainian boy’s tears of anguish prompted Fahim’s flashbacks and his own tears, tears that rolled down his cheeks and into a beard that is now flecked with grey.

But Fahim’s own journey gives hope that someday there might also be tears of joy for the likes of the little boy—such as were shed when his own family reunited in America.

“Have faith. Never give up.”

#####

(A former professor and retired Marine Corps officer, Mike Moffett is a author and columnist. He is currently serving as a State Representative in the New Hampshire legislature.)







Fahim Fazli, Mike Moffett, and Joe Kenney atop Mt. Washington, which has been considered as a film site for a Hindu Kush escape scene for Fahim's film project. 


Actor Bill Murray "devouring" the award winning book FAHIM SPEAKS on the set of ROCK THE KASBAH in Morocco. The book was co-authored by Fahim Fazli and Mike Moffett. Fazli had a significant role in that movie, which also starred Bruce Willis and Kate Hudson. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

RUSSIAN SPORTS BOYCOTTS?

 

RUSSIAN SPORTS BOYCOTTS?


So Chinese dictator Xi Jinping asked Russian dictator Vladmir Putin to hold off on invading Ukraine until after Beijing’s Winter Olympics. Putin generously postponed the bloodshed to accommodate his Communist buddy’s request.

Interestingly, Russian tanks subsequently got bogged down in March mud that was frozen in February.

Xi owes Vlad bigtime on this one.

Also interestingly, in 2014 Russia waited until after the February conclusion of its 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics before invading and taking Crimea away from Ukraine. What’s past is prologue.

In the wake of Russia’s horrendously bloody 2022 Ukrainian invasion, sanctions and boycotts of all sorts were imposed on Moscow. These will cause much pain. Time will tell how effective they’ll be. But sanctions don’t impact dictators as much as many wish. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein laughed off sanctions that targeted his regime. Until such time as the dictators themselves actually go hungry, they’re apt to thumb their noses. At least until their natives get very restless.

So what about the numerous Russian sports sanctions now in place? Consider the decision of FIFA and UEFA to suspend Russian national and club soccer teams from all international competition “until further notice.” Ouch! Or as Putin might say, Ой! (Oy!)

Those favoring such sanctions ask how we can possibly conduct business as usual with such countries. Germany’s 1936 “Nazi” Olympic example is often cited as a cautionary tale, the lesson from which being that we should not bestow legitimacy upon bestial regimes.

Those 1936 Berlin Olympics were cited by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 when he declared a boycott of Moscow’s Summer Olympics. A Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made business as usual impossible.

(Although 1980’s Lake Placid Winter Games did take place that February, the highlight of which was the American ice hockey win over the Soviets. “Do you believe in miracles? YES!")

While athletes who’d trained and chased Olympic dreams for years were embittered by Carter’s 1980 decision, most folks understood and supported his actions. Over 60 other nations joined the boycott. But there were consequences, such as Soviet payback in 1984 when the Russians and their satellites boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. The Soviets cited security concerns and American “chauvinistic sentiments” that whipped up an “anti-Soviet hysteria” in the U.S.

Sure.

The only east bloc country to buck the Soviets in 1984 was Ukraine’s neighbor Romania, whose athletes received a thunderous ovation when they marched into the L.A. Coliseum. Interestingly, the athletes from Communist China received a similarly warm American reception as they marched into their first-ever Olympic competition.

(At the time Ukraine was an unhappy member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It broke free at the end of 1991 when the USSR imploded.)

Will Russians participate in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics? Time will tell. Athletics greatly enrich the human experience while connecting cultures so the sports world is much poorer when innocent athletes can’t compete due to world politics.

While the biggest victims of Russian aggression are obviously the Ukrainians, the Russian people are also needlessly suffering in many ways—to include innocent Russian athletes. A united front by those Russian athletes would matter. But it takes a lot more courage to protest by “taking a knee” in Russia than it does in America.

Still, could high profile Russian sports heroes assert themselves and change the world?

Do you believe in miracles?

Yes.


The American Olympic ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union 
in February of 1980 was rated as the top sports story of the 20th Century.
(FanPop)


Thursday, December 30, 2021

GILLETTE STADIUM AND OUR FOOTBALL PATRIOTS

  

GILLETTE STADIUM AND OUR FOOTBALL PATRIOTS

My first excursion to a New England Patriots NFL game was way back in 1979. Then teaching at Groveton High School, I made the long journey to Foxborough with the GHS soccer coach to watch the Patriots crush the Colts 50-21. The next day the Boston Globe ran a major story about drunken and lawless fan behavior accompanied by numerous arrests in and around Foxborough and Shaefer Stadium.

This, of course, invited comments from our fellow GHS faculty members.

“We should have known you guys would cause big trouble down there!”

We pled innocent.

Shaefer Stadium was a no-frills edifice built in 1971 for a mere $6 million. It later was renamed Sullivan Stadium after the team owners. When the Sullivans sold the team it became Foxborough Stadium. The last game played there was in January of 2002—the infamous snow game when Adam Vinatieri kicked a last-second 45-yard field goal in a blizzard to force an overtime against Oakland. It was arguably the greatest kick in NFL history. Vinatieri then kicked another field goal to give Tom Brady and the Patriots a 16-13 win. They went on to win their first Super Bowl.

The team moved to Gillette Stadium the next year, which cost a lot more than $6 million. Actually over $325 million. But the next 20 years saw an unprecedented run of football success at a true jewel of a stadium. It’s probably the only major stadium that’s not located near a major highway, meaning that Pats fans must plan accordingly and get to Foxborough early on game day.

And so it was that N.H. State Representative Tim Lang and I headed to Foxborough on Dec. 26 to watch the showdown between the Patriots and their AFC East rivals from Buffalo—the dreaded Bills.

We got to within three miles of the stadium when we were stuck in the inevitable traffic jam. We paid $40 to park on a homeowner’s lawn and hoofed it the rest of the way to the stadium.

Even at my age I still love the energy and excitement of a big game in front of 65,000 fans with millions more watching on television.

Despite the cold. And the COST.

If you haven’t been to a Pats game lately, then brace yourself and get out a credit card. All the seats cost at least $135, and most cost much more than that. If the Pats end up hosting the AFC Championship game on January 30, then the cheapest ticket will cost $516. Heaven knows what the choice seats would go for. 

But that January 30 scenario became unlikely after the Bills beat the Patriots. Buffalo led throughout—although the Patriots made it interesting when they cut the lead to 26-21 in the fourth quarter. But Bill quarterback Josh Allen then hit tight end Dawson Knox for a late score to seal the Pats’ doom. Final Score: 33-21, Bills.

Neither Allen nor Pats quarterback Mac Jones had great passing stats. But Allen led his team in rushing and even scored a touchdown. A mobile quarterback creates so many opportunities as opposed to a QB like, well, Tom Brady, who never moved all that well. Though Brady may well be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), imagine how much better his record and stats would have been if he could have scrambled a bit.

Anyway, Tim and I had reasonably good seats near the field on the 30-yard line. But I didn’t realize that the fans stand there throughout the game. Tiring! Although as I’m over 6-foot-3 watching the action wasn’t a problem for me. Tim, however, is a bit shorter.

At halftime we scanned the stadium and saw two empty corner seats at the very top of the upper deck behind the west end zone. The two worst seats in the stadium.

“You want to check them out?”

“Sure.”

It was a long and difficult journey but after ascending many ramps, passageways, and stairs we made it. The wind was blowing hard up there on the two worst seats at Gillette, but at least we didn’t have to stand up to see the field. And, as a “Man of the People,” Tim wanted to hang out with the non-pretentious fans in the “cheap” seats.

“How much did you pay for your seat?” Tim asked a fan who was sitting next to the two worst seats at Gillette.

“Only $135!”

(I couldn’t help but to think back to my first game at Fenway Park, when I paid $2 to see the Red Sox beat the Indians.)

Of course, being social media aficionados, Tim and I shared Facebook photos and videos of our Gillette sky-views from the stadium’s worst seats.

Oddly, there were consistent responses to our posts.

“You guys are at the Patriots game? That’s definitely TROUBLE!”

We pled innocent.


(Mike Moffett and Tim Lang at their seats at Gillette Stadium's 30-yard line.)


(Mike and Tim's original seats, are circled in red, seen from Gillette Stadium's worst seats.)

Saturday, November 6, 2021

RICO AND “The REST of the Story”

 


RICO AND “The REST of the Story” 

Everyone has stories and one of mine involves Red Sox great Rico Petrocelli—an All-Star infielder who played with the BoSox from 1965-76.

A few years ago, Methuen Construction Company of Salem, N.H. invited me to participate in a panel discussion on leadership for its employees. The other panelists were Rico and former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick.

My comments focused on my Marine Corps experiences and I brought several copies of my book FAHIM SPEAKS, which I’d co-authored with Hollywood actor and USMC interpreter Fahim Fazli—whom I’d met in Afghanistan. Afterwards Rico offered to sign a baseball for me if I’d sign a book for him.

As a 12-year-old I’d watched Rico shine in the 1967 World Series which saw the St. Louis Cardinals beat the BoSox in seven games. Rico helped force Game 7 with two home runs in Game 6 and he’d always been a hero. The notion of one day sharing a dais with Rico and then autographing a book for him would have been unimaginable for that 12-year-old watching Rico’s World Series heroics.

My remarks included some sports talk and Rico subsequently invited me to bring a friend to golf with him at Sky Meadow in Nashua. I took him up on his offer and brought Plymouth State baseball coach Dennis McManus with me to Nashua for a memorable sports outing with the Red Sox legend, who paid for everything while regaling us with baseball talk during golf and afterwards.

And Rico actually read my book, as evidenced by his astute questions and comments.  What a class act he was, to give us such a great day and new sports stories to share.

Then, as radio great Paul Harvey used to say, there’s also “The rest of the story.”

Fast forward to autumn, 2021. I received a surprise message from a friend asking if I could somehow connect her with Rico Petrocelli. She explained that she was helping care for a paralyzed neighbor in hospice. Her suffering patient's passion was the Red Sox and Rico was a favorite, as evidenced by the Petrocelli photos adorning his quarters. Was there any way Rico could do a “shout-out” to her beleaguered neighbor?

I replied that I had Rico’s phone number from that earlier encounter. I contacted the Red Sox great and passed on her entreaty and shared her contact information.

My friend later contacted me and tearfully explained that Rico not only did a “shout-out” but actually made a surprise visit to her stricken neighbor’s home. Then it was my turn to tear up. For someone as busy as Rico is to find time for such a trip was very inspiring and a wonderful reminder of how simple gestures by some can create priceless memories for others.

The greatest Red Sox player ever, Ted Williams, was famously irascible and profane. But the Splendid Splinter had a softer side, as evidenced by secret trips he’d make to hospitals to comfort youngsters in dire straits—under the condition that no one speak of his visits outside of family.

I didn’t ask Rico’s permission to write about his visit to Bristol, N.H., because à la Ted Williams, I’m sure he’d ask that I not.  But sometimes—especially nowadays—we can all use a little inspiration and a “good news” story.

So thank you, Rico Petrocelli, not only for those long-ago October 1967 World Series homers but also for that November 2021 “Grand Slam” you hit for a special Granite State fan.

And to again paraphrase the great Paul Harvey: “Now you know the rest of the story!”

#####

Photo 1)  Sports columnist Mike Moffett, former Red Sox great Rico Petrocelli, and retired Plymouth State baseball coach Dennis McManus at Sky Meadow Country Club in Nashua.




Photo 2) Mike Moffett with Rico Petrocelli at 2016 leadership panel discussion.



Monday, June 28, 2021

Moses and basketball’s “Promised Land”

 

Moses and basketball’s “Promised Land”


  •        

    During his time at Plymouth State, Jean-Pierre was a lightning-quick guard who once scored 53 points in a game.

  • Moses Jean-Pierre, shown recently in Kigali, Rwanda, is helping to promote basketball in Africa. Courtesy photos


A social media devotee, I recently saw a Facebook post from Kigali, Rwanda, authored by former Plymouth State basketball star Moses Jean-Pierre. He was there doing work for the NBA-Africa hoop league — of all things and of all places.

Intriguing.

A subsequent FB message to MJ-P led to a phone conversation where Moses shared some pretty cool b-ball news. But before sharing the hoop gouge, a bit of history …

In the beginning

As a Plymouth State University sports information director three decades ago, I once produced a promotion piece highlighting Jean-Pierre’s hardcourt exploits. It was entitled “Moses is Leading Plymouth’s Basketball Panthers to the Promised Land.” The flyer had a photo and listed Jean-Pierre’s accomplishments, awards, and stats.

A favorite MJ-P memory was of a home game against the University of Southern Maine where Moses scored his team’s last 21 points in regulation to force an overtime from which the Panthers emerged triumphant. MJ-P finished with a record 53 points.

I particularly loved Jean-Pierre’s bounce passes. When opponents would double-team MJ-P, no-look bounce passes to teammates would set up pretty scores. So while Moses was certainly a scorer, he was also a team player.

Moses would indeed lead the Panthers to a “Promised Land” when Plymouth advanced to the ECAC Finals in 1994.

The son of Haitian immigrants, MJ-P grew up in greater Boston and graduated from Cathedral High School — where he is enshrined in the CHS Sports Hall of Fame. (He’s also a Plymouth State Hall of Fame inductee.)

Moses went to Maine Central Institute for a post-graduate year where he caught the attention of Plymouth State coach Paul Hogan, who convinced the six-foot speedster to come to “The Home of The Panthers.” The rest is history, a history which included a record 2000-plus career points.

Now director of athletics and head men’s basketball coach at NHTI-Concord, Hogan recalls MJ-P fondly.

“Moses could dominate a game at both ends of the court,” recalled Hogan. “His defense was exemplified by quickness and ball pressure. Offensively, his ability to penetrate and push the ball was extraordinary. He was an easy player to coach but incredibly hard for opponents to strategize against. And most importantly, Moses loved to win.”

MJ-P went on to play professionally in Turkey and Britain and was on the NBA’s radar screen when a knee injury ended his professional hoop aspirations. So Moses redirected from the hoop world to the entertainment world. He developed new skills in the areas of booking and promotions and eventually became road manager for comedian Michael Blackson. He also co-owned an Atlanta lounge for over six years. But while you could take MJ-P out of basketball, you couldn’t take basketball out of MJ-P.

Going international

So that history segment brings us to Kigali. How did Jean-Pierre come to make that Facebook post from an African venue so distant from Boston, Plymouth or Atlanta?

“I’d returned to New England a few years ago and saw that fellow Plymouth State grad Eric Wilson was doing some sports outreach to Haiti focusing on rugby,” explained Moses. “I wondered if maybe basketball could be included in the mix. I sent him a message and eventually, we partnered up.”

The result was Hoops for Haiti, an international sports initiative in MJ-P’s parents’ homeland that not only supported basketball in that impoverished nation but also created a potential conduit to bring Haitian hoop aspirants to America to pursue their basketball dreams.

Moses’ entrepreneurial inclinations also led him to create JP12 Sports and Entertainment, which among other things involves scouting for basketball talent — an endeavor for which MJ-P is particularly well-suited, given his basketball skills and feel for the game. He later contracted as a scout for Zambia’s Unza basketball team that competes in the NBA-Africa league — which is sanctioned by FIBA, the international basketball governing body. Moses is helping to strengthen the loop’s NBA ties.

Jean-Pierre met league president Amadon Gallo Fall of Senegal at a hoop event at a Brooklyn Nets facility. Like MJ-P, Fall had played American college ball — at the University of District Columbia — and soon Moses was involved with NBA-Africa itself. Hence the Facebook post from Kigali.

While many associate Rwanda with the horrific genocide associated with the 1994 civil war there, Moses lauded the state of the country today.

“Kigali is now a clean, modern city,” explained Jean-Pierre. “And there are definitely players with NBA potential playing in Africa.”

MJ-P added that traveling to and from Kigali involves patience and endurance but that he enjoys his new role as an international basketball ambassador of sorts.

“Fortunately, most of the people I deal with speak English,” he said.

Sports bring people together from all nations. Subsequent friendships and business relationships increase cross-cultural awareness and appreciation while countering the currents of conflict and prejudice. Every player that Moses brings from Haiti or Africa to America — the Promised Land — becomes, like Moses, an international goodwill ambassador.

And the more such goodwill ambassadors we create, the better our world becomes.

One bounce pass at a time.




Educating Ed on Easter

 

Educating Ed on Easter

As a legislator, columnist/blogger, educator, and quasi-raconteur, I enjoy back-and-forth regarding sports, politics, movies and more. But I generally avoid getting into religion. Still, as someone who feels that vibrant religious communities with their associated values and activities are important parts of a healthy society, I sometimes get “cognitive dissonance” about avoiding the topic.

Some might call it “conscience.”

Which brings me to a friend I’ll call “Ed.” He’s a non-believer with whom I have conversed about religion. Being a former Marine, I once asked Ed if he believed Marines had esprit de corps.

Charges dropped against owner of Craigue and Sons in federal court

“Of course,” said Ed.

What does it mean?

“French expression meaning “spirit of the corps,’” replied Ed. “A common feeling of pride and purpose that motivates a group. Sure, Marines have it in spades.”

Can other groups have it?

“Sure. Teams, clubs, organizations. If they have good leadership and common goals.”

So you believe in this esprit, or spirit? Even though you can’t see or touch it?

“Yes,” laughed Ed. “Of course.”

Can a religious group also be animated or motivated by an esprit de corps, like Marines or teams or clubs?

“Why not?” said Ed.

So what if religious folks claim they’re motivated by a special esprit de corps that they refer to as a holy spirit?

Ed is silent. Having already acknowledged the existence of an intangible esprit, he won’t use the English word for it. He saw where I was going. To admit the existence of a Holy Spirit — which is what some religious folks refer to as an animating esprit that inspires them—is essentially to admit the existence of God, in that some Christian doctrines describe the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity, or God as spiritually active in the world.

Without listing names, there are many transformative figures throughout human history who, clearly inspired by a certain esprit (Holy Spirit?) have provided humankind with lessons, parables, belief structures, and inspiration to live good and productive lives. And happy ones too.

Countless surveys and research document that the religious are more generous and happier than non-religious. With exceptions of course. But the data is out there. Google away.

I ask Ed to consider the incredible good work that programs like Catholic Charities do around the world – effectively and efficiently. What do atheist charities do? Might Ed be happier if he donated wherewithal or energy to one of the many wonderful religious charities?

“I pay taxes,” says Ed. “The government does a lot of good work.”

Of course.

“And I don’t need to go to church for a spiritual experience. I can get that by climbing a mountain.”

But isn’t that a bit narcissistic? Isn’t there strength in numbers and value to being part of a group or community animated by an esprit/spirit to do public good and help people?

Ed laughed.

But at least he didn’t get personal. A challenge for some of us when we summon up the nerve to talk about religion or values is that we must brace for personal criticism.

“Who are you to talk about this stuff, given all your foibles, flaws, and sins? And what about all the hypocritical religious people who do bad things?”

Sigh. Some require an unattainable measure of perfection from the inherently imperfect before engaging about religion — a measure not expected from others.

But we drift away from our historical religious roots at our own peril. Witness the growing coarseness, alienation and violence that seem to accompany America’s increasing secularization. New Hampshire is rated as the least religious state. It also features about the highest rate of substance abuse. A correlation?

History is replete with religious conflict. True. As well as plenty of anti-religious violence. After the horrific French Revolution, Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral was converted by the secular to what they called a “Temple of Reason.” After the horrific Russian Revolution, official atheism shut down the churches. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ridiculed religious influence, asking “How many divisions can the Pope deploy?”

Funny thing though. Notre Dame Cathedral eventually returned to religious splendor. And churches are now open all over Russia – even if some are closing in Concord. The Holy Spirit can be ridiculed, quashed, or denied, but it’s apparently eternal as it provides hope and inspiration for individuals and communities to pursue kinder, gentler paths.

Easter Sunday is April 4. A chance for Ed to pick out a church and perhaps witness some real “esprit” first-hand!