Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The joy of being an international -- and local -- sports fan

Chelsea Blues / Champions of the English Premier League.

What a week it's been to be an international -- and a local -- sports fan.

Let's see: Between the end to the marathon English Premier League football season in the U.K. and the start of the fortnight-plus French Open tennis championships in Paris on Sunday; the thrills and chills of the Stanley Cup in North American professional ice hockey; the slam dunk excitement of the NBA Conference Finals in American professional basketball; and the roar of the engines and the checkered flag of the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, there's been a little something for every sports fan to enjoy this week. Add to the mix, Major League Baseball with its pennant races taking shape here on my home soil, and there's just not enough hours in the day to watch everything being shown on TV or now made available for viewing via our smartphones.

But it's been fun trying.

Thanks to the difference in time zones between California where I reside and the rest of the world, it seems there's sporting events going on at all hours of the day and night. And, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, I've been able to intelligently discuss international sports like English football with enthusiasts throughout the U.K. and beyond, and French Open tennis with like-minded friends throughout Europe and North Africa, from countries such as Belgium, Serbia, Algeria and Tunisia.

Recently, on my Facebook timeline, I posted:

"Congratulations to the Chelsea Blues on winning the 2014-15 English Premier League title. On Sunday, Chelsea closed out its championship season with a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge thanks to a pair of goals by Loic Remy. In the first half, Didier Drogba as carried off the field to a hero's welcome by his teammates after playing the first 30 minutes in his final Chelsea match. After the final whistle, Chelsea was presented with the Premier League trophy. The Blues won the EPL by eight points over Manchester City. Cheers."

A day later, a friend from Ivybridge, U.K., replied: "I'm amazed at your knowledge of Premier League football, Michael, especially Chelsea. I'm a lifelong supporter!"

As it turns out, I've been a Chelsea fan for about the past five years or so, thanks to some longtime sports fan friends of mine in Seattle, which is as much an international football hotbed as any city in the U.S. Additionally, I like the team's colors (royal blue); the charismatic personality of the club's manager, José Mourinho; and, I think their home pitch that's located in a borough west of London has a pretty cool name, Stamford Bridge. Plus, the Blues' roster has a nice mixture of international (Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard, Willian) and English-grown talent (John Terry).

As EPL matches have become more available on American TV -- here, they're broadcast on NBC Sports Network, making international football a weekend staple -- it's easier to follow the Blues and to watch other English teams, too. I think there are a lot of international football fans in the U.S. that follow the Premier League and I know others elsewhere in the world that are supporters -- a friend of mine in Morocco is a fan of Chelsea-rival Arsenal -- and, of course, interest also peaks during World Cup years, too.

Thanks to the EPL's increased exposure in America, watching Chelsea and other teams like Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur has become a nice way to enjoy weekend breakfast for me. Being on the West Coast, matches start as early as 4:45 a.m. (where it's eight hours later in the U.K.) with most of the best matches shown at 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. my time.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic /
He's favored to win his first French Open championship.
Meanwhile, the nine-hour time difference between San Francisco and Paris means the French Open tennis begins airing on ESPN2 at 2 a.m. while much of the West Coast is still asleep when it's 11 a.m. at Roland Garros. Heck, on the East Coast it's only 5 a.m., which is still awfully early to be watching sport on TV. The second Grand Slam event of the calendar year is being broadcast over-the-air in the U.S. by ESPN2, TennisChannel and NBC and on mobile platforms via WatchESPN, so there's plenty of tennis available to watch around the clock, live and on replay. And, thanks to the Internet, I've been able to keep up with the French Open via ESPN. com, Sports Illustrated (, (an impressive world sports daily based in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. that I recently became acquainted with thanks to their tennis coverage), and in print via The New York Times. 

By all accounts, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win his first French Open title that is played on red clay, which would complete a career Grand Slam for him. Speaking of tennis, I contribute to and participate in some tennis chat groups on Facebook. One is comprised mostly of European and North African fans, many who are supporters of Djokovic and Roger Federer; another that's worldwide and vocal and made up of passionate fans of Rafael Nadal, the nine-time French Open champion; and a third consisting of loyal fans of Tunisia's Malek Jaziri, the top Arab player in the world.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors / NBA MVP.
Closer to home, the NBA and NHL playoffs have been playing out day-by-day like a blockbuster motion picture drama the past month. On Tuesday night, LeBron James, nicknamed "the King," punched his ticket to the NBA Finals for a fifth straight year as he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in a rout. Locally, I have a vested interest in our hometown pro basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, who simply have been the best in the NBA this season. They boast both the most valuable player of the league in Stephen Curry as well as one of the brightest coaching minds in the game in Steve Kerr.

The Warriors, who closed out their Western Conference Finals series against the Houston Rockets with a satisfying 104-90 victory at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Wednesday night, are just four victories away from winning their first NBA championship in 40 years.

When I wrote about Kerr and the Warriors in December, I noted that their early-season success was a work in progress that had the potential to become a best-seller.  I still believe it, and the team has become the darlings of both the Bay Area and the basketball world. Beating "King" James in the NBA Finals would be a fitting ending to what has been a truly remarkable season.

No matter what the sport, enthusiastic sports fans are the common ingredient. Thanks to modern technology and social media that allows us to watch and follow sports 24/7, there is no better time than now to enjoy being an international -- and local -- sports fan.

Photos: Courtesy of Chelsea Football Club Facebook page; Roland Garros Facebook page, Golden State Warriors Facebook page.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Botticelli to Braque: Highlighting the great and the familiar

Sandro Botticelli / The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ 

Sandro Botticelli was one of the most celebrated artists of the Early Renaissance, which was known as a golden age of artistic painting in Italy. His 1485 masterpiece, "The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child," welcomes museum-goers to the "Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland" exhibition on display at the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco through the end of May. 

Sir Henry Raeburn /
Skating on Duddingston Loch.
The depth and breadth of "Botticelli to Braque" spans more than 400 years of artistic production and the 55 paintings shown in the red-walled Herbst Exhibition Galleries highlight works by many great and familiar painters from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. In addition to Botticelli, the collection includes masterpieces by Diego Velázquez, Johannes Vermer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Sir Henry Raeburn, Frederic Edwin Church, Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

The lender of these impressive works of art is the Scottish National Art Collection, which has linked three Edinburgh institutions that contributed to the show: the Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

There is always a lot to learn and absorb from seeing any art exhibition, and I became fascinated from the very beginning of "Botticelli to Braque" after viewing "The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child". Afterwards, I researched Botticelli's tempera and learned this: The Italian painter drew inspiration from the work of Filippo Lippi, and it's unusual because he painted his masterpiece on canvas not wood and the Christ Child was rarely portrayed asleep.

"This variation could be interpreted as a reminder of Christ's death," according to, the National Galleries of Scotland's website. "His future suffering for Mankind may also be symbolized by the detailed plants and fruits. The red strawberries, for example, may refer to Christ's blood. They also complement the beautiful rose bower which forms an 'enclosed garden', a symbol of the Virgin derived from the Old Testament Song of Solomon."

Johannes Vermeer / Christ in the House
of Martha and Mary.
Meanwhile, of the 36 paintings by the Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer that are known to still exist in the world, "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" is the largest one and the only one that illustrates a biblical subject. Vermeer is one of my favorite artists and I looked forward to seeing his contribution to the "Botticelli to Braque" exhibition. After all, any Vermeer is worth seeing.

Vermeer (1632-1675), who was regarded as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age, was known for painting quiet human interaction, and in "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" (ca. 1654-1655), he depicts the story of Saint Luke's Gospel (10:38-42) that tells of Christ's visit to the sister's house.

According to, "Christ praised Mary's willingness to sit and listen to his teachings, unlike Martha who was preoccupied with housekeeping. The strong play of shadow and light, the characterization of the figures and broad handling of paint were probably inspired by the work of artists from Utrecht, who in turn were influenced by Caravaggio's art."

Rembrandt van Rijn /
Self portrait, aged 51.
When the "Botticelli to Braque" exhibition opened in March, San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker wrote: "An art historian might plot many lines through the selection of paintings on view, tracing the secularization of subject matter, or the evolution of patronage. But the show's most entwining intellectual thread may be the very question of representational fidelity.

"Why, besides the clerical demand of compelling faith, did what we think of as realism matter so much that it brought forth prodigies of depiction such as Vermeer, Rembrandt and Diego Velazquez?"

Baker's conclusion: "Take any direction through "Botticelli to Braque" and prepare to be blindsided by artistic miracles."

Photos: Courtesy of

Friday, May 15, 2015

In celebration of reading and writing for a cause, a Berkeley library becomes a literary café for a day

Tomorrow, I'll be participating in the WriterCoach Connection's seventh annual Read-and-Write-a-Thon. Beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing for 10 consecutive hours, volunteers, students and supporters -- including yours truly -- will share their love of the written and spoken word in the Library at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley. 

Imagine a library transformed into a literary café ... 

This will be my third Read-and-Write-a-Thon.
At around 9:20 a.m. Saturday morning, I'll be reading from The Children of Willesden Lane, a memoir of music, love and survival, written by Mona Golabek, which became a one-woman play that recently enjoyed a successful run at the Berkeley Rep earlier this year. 

A backstory ...

As many of you know, since 2013, I've been involved with WriterCoach Connection, a non-profit program now in its 15th year. I'm one of more than 700 volunteers working one-on-one with middle- and high-school kids. We are now coaching in 11 schools throughout the East Bay. It's a remarkable program, winning rave reviews from teachers as well from kids. 

This year, I have been working individually with a variety of seventh and eighth grade students at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley. My students represent a microcosm of the school's student body -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic -- and of the city of Berkeley, too. It has been a uniquely rewarding experience to see my students become more critical thinkers and confident writers.

My goal as a writing coach is simple and straight-forward, yet heartfelt: to help strengthen a student's writing skills and help them develop their ideas. And, through the use of positive encouragement and showing care, I believe I am making a difference in each student's educational development.

We believe all students can discover the power and richness of their own voices and learn to communicate their ideas with clarity, confidence and pride. Most important to me is that WCC gives more than 2,200 students undivided, positive attention, and for many of those students, it's the only time they ever get that from an adult.

In my first Read-and-Write-a-Thon experience,
I read an essay by humorist Calvin Trillin.
This year marks my third year to participate in the Read-and-Write-a-Thon. Two years ago, I read from humorist Calvin Trillin and last year I chose a baseball essay by Roger Angell. The Read-and-Write-a-Thon is our major fundraiser of the year and helps bridges the gap between what the program costs and what we can raise from school budgets and grants. And this is where you can help:

I'm writing to ask if you might support me, our readers, and this wonderful program by sponsoring our Read-and-Write-a-Thon.

If you can help, please go to, click on the Read-and-Write-a-Thon banner, and you'll land on our fundraising page.

Whatever you can give, thank you so much for keeping us going. Those 2,200 kids, my fellow volunteer coaches, and dozens of sainted English teachers thank you, too. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Stephen Curry: MVP season is summed up in passionate 'thank you' speech to his teammates, family and fans

Stephen Curry / A unique combination of talent and humility.

Watching Stephen Curry win the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award this week -- the league's highest honor -- reminded me of the values of shooting, screening, cutting and passing he's shown throughout what has been a truly remarkable season. Curry, who stars for the Golden State Warriors, my hometown team, was the best player on basketball's best team.

Curry, the Warriors' first MVP since Wilt Chamberlain won in 1960, is a sharpshooting guard on a team that won a league-best 67 of 82 regular season games and is 5-1 in the playoffs so far. He is part of a very deep and very well-coached team, the marquee player that Golden State has built its team around.

Curry's memorable season statistics were dazzling and reflected his value to his team. He was sixth in the league in scoring (23.8 points per game), sixth in assists (7.7 per game ), third in three-point shooting (44.3 percent), first in free-throw shooting (91.4 percent), and fourth in steals (2.04 per game).

At a press conference in an Oakland, Calif. ballroom in front of about 500 friends, family and teammates on Monday, the diminutive (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) Curry shared the lessons that perseverance, faith and confidence played. He took the time to thank each of his teammates individually in his MVP speech and choked up when he talked about his father, former NBA guard Dell Curry, as his role model.

Among the words which Curry's Warrior teammates used to describe him: genuine. And Steve Kerr, his coach, called Curry a unique combination of talent and humility. "The way he carries himself, his demeanor," said Kerr.

Curry said he would donate his MVP prize car to the East Oakland Youth Development Center.

Among the highlights of Curry's speech, which focused on the importance of team:

"We’ll remember this year no matter how it finishes, really.  But we have a huge goal in mind this year, and we’ll be able to talk about it for years to come.

"Every time we think of this moment we’ll talk about it and moments that hopefully will happen in a couple of months, it will all mean so much to us. How much sacrifice we’ve put into it, how much work, just the consistency that it takes to get to where we are.  It takes all 14 guys.  You can’t have one bad apple in this equation, and we don’t.

"So we’re truly grateful.  I’m grateful to have this team behind me.  This is not possible without you guys.  I want everybody to get a fingerprint on that so I can remember who I rolled with during this year, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

"All right.  I’ve been long‑winded, but this is the last part.  I’ve talked about faith, passion, and the drive with the guys that I’ve been around and the guys that surround me every single day.  But a part of that is having the will to succeed.  Knowing that you’ve put the work in and have the confidence to let it show.  What I tell people is be the best version of yourself in anything that you do.

"You don’t have to live anybody else’s story.  Sometimes people make it seem like you have to have certain prerequisites or a crazy life story in order to be successful in this world.  But the truth is you really don’t.  It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you have or don’t have, what you lack or what you have too much of, but all you need to have is faith in God, an undying passion for what you do and what you choose to do in this life, and a relentless drive and the will to do whatever it takes to be successful in whatever you put your mind to."

Finally, after nearly 40 minutes, Curry summed up his speech by sharing a bit of advice and wisdom from the heart:

"Make sure you live in the moment and work your butt off every single day, and I hope I inspire people all around the world to just be themselves, be humble, and be grateful for all the blessings in your life.  I’m truly honored to be your MVP this year.  Thank you very much."

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images.