Monday, January 27, 2020

My Tribute to Kobe Bryant

I obsessed over finding statistics to demonstrate that Kobe Bryant played basketball better than anyone not named Michael Jordan; I obsessed over labeling him “the best basketball player on the planet.” Kobe inspired me more than most others inspired me.

Why Kobe? Actually, I can no longer remember the reason I adored him. It’s like how you remember great speeches for how they made you feel as opposed to their words. I don’t know why I loved the dude; I just know watching and thinking about Kobe made me feel ambitious and amazed.

Now, I don’t care about labels or comparing people. Winning isn’t that important to me, either. Kobe still inspires me, though, just probably for different reasons: his seeming focus and drive to improve himself. A few years ago, I read current NBA player Buddy Hield’s essay, The Secret I Learned from Kobe. Hield had gotten the opportunity to practice with Kobe. They poured themselves into the work for two hours. Before parting ways, Kobe turned to Hield and said, “You know, when I was younger I’d have come back in the afternoon and done the other half of the court.”

I love that. If I need some motivation to focus on my work—or really, to focus on any task I’ve chosen to pursue, however mundane—I can still conjure up an image of Kobe and get a boost.

Once, I nearly purchased his t-shirt jersey. That was in my mid-twenties at a time when I was studying men’s fashion. I didn’t complete the transaction because wearing a shirt imprinted with another man’s name seemed silly. But Kobe died yesterday, and now I wish I’d purchased that shirt so I could honor him.

I’ve been thinking a lot about honor lately. Two weeks ago, my essay about my love for sports published. Really, I think the essay is about how I feel compelled to honor sports for how they helped me when I most needed to be helped. To fully honor sports, I also must keep them in my life. I hope that essay resonated with readers, including those who care little about people who get payed to throw balls.

I think the concept extends to other applications. Like, last week I vacationed with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year. He and I had bonded over severe illness when we were teens. We sometimes talked until dawn about isolation and fearing telling others about our illnesses. For a decade or more, I needed him. I no longer need him, in a similar way as I no longer need sports, yet I try to maintain our bond, in part to honor what it meant for me when I most needed to be understood.

And so now I write this tidbit about Kobe Bryant, not because I think it's more important than the thousands of other Kobe tidbits you can read, but because I wish to honor what he meant to me at one point in my life.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sports Are More Than Just Sports

As published in Elephants and Tea

When my new girlfriend Anie said, “Why are sports important to you?” I thought, that’s like asking why I value wearing socks. Dressing each morning, like watching (and following, discussing, and planning my life around) sports, is just something humans have done since the advent of knitting. When Anie asked me this in March, days before the University of Virginia men’s basketball team began its run to the national championship, I had no answer.

“I like the Capitals,” Anie continued, though she needn’t have even said more. I understood: Anie, too, watched sports. But only when not doing anything else. She wouldn’t choose watching the Caps over other activities. She wouldn’t schedule her time around sports.

We were walking to her condo from Astro Lab, an airy brewery in Silver Spring, Maryland, where we’d sipped India pale ales as the hockey game blared on the lone TV plastering the back wall. We left before the overtime period because I wanted her all to myself. Was that the first time I quit on a sporting event I’d committed myself to? I felt okay about the breach, which left me wondering why sports were so important to me. ...keep reading Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Words by ruBENstein Newsletter - Fall 2019

I published the sixth edition of my newsletter, Words by ruBENstein. Check it check it check it or subscribe to it!

In this newsletter, I share my two most recent stories plus an oldie but goodie, my most popular social media post, and one story and life lesson from one of writing's greats.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Hot Summer of Benjy

As published in Teen Cancer America's Calling Out Cancer

My older brother JD burst through the front door at 11 p.m. carrying three cardboard boxes, the exterior shells to heaven on my tongue. He said the large one held a 14-inch Domino’s Hawaiian pizza, and the elongated ones held cheesy bread and hot wings.

Perfect timing. I’d tired of watching fireflies and playing Donkey Kong 64 on this summer night in 2000, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I’d even felt ready for bed, but stayed up extra minute after extra minute in hopes my delivery-driver brother would make my wish come true.

Late-night pizza was as much my fantasy as alone time with Britney Spears. Or perhaps the pizza held a higher ranking because I knew how to eat pizza but didn’t know how to converse with girls.

JD hadn’t paid for this dream to come true. He said this food was from the collection of pizzas and sides not fit for customers, and thus free for him and other employees. That food had burned in the oven or their pineapple bits weren’t spaced perfectly or they were manhandled being put into the boxes. That’s what he said. I knew the truth, though. This glory now sitting on our wobbly kitchen table in Manassas, Virginia, stemmed from a clause in his employment contract that read, “You may mishandle food at a frequency greater than never yet less than often and then deliver it to your younger brother.”

I ran upstairs ...keep reading The Hot Summer of Benjy

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