Friday, June 25, 2010

What's In A Loss?

I didn't know Steven Lazarov particularly well, so it's odd to say I was a blood relative of his.  He was my mom's first cousin, the son of my grandfather's brother.  Our age differences precluded a more personal relationship at a young age, even though our visits to Memphis, Tennessee always included visits to Great Aunt Rozelle's and Great Uncle Sidney's for a day of swimming, good food and fun.  Steven was rarely there for those gatherings as he was 16 years my senior, so I got to know his younger sister Cheryl a little bit and hardly knew Jan and Ronald until recently.  I'm embarrassed to say that my initial note of condolence did not include Jan -- that's how distant we've become. 

So how did I know Steven Lazarov?  I knew that when our family needed him most, after the deaths of my grandmother and grandfather, he was there.  This is when I got to know him.  He didn't always seem to know what to say to make us feel better, but his presence was enough.  He felt for us and for our entire family's loss.  And he came multiple days to sit shiva with us and made it clear that family for him was of the utmost importance.

I know that in the last 10 years or so Steven's health was a constant battle, such that he had and survived a heart transplant.  It was no easy task, yet he fought through the recovery and got back on his feet again.  During that time, he took an even greater interest in his family, and began circulating an email meant to bring together our expansive family of distant uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews into a group again.  The Lazarov family was quite a prominent and large family in Memphis, and since the loss of the the original nine brothers and sisters, the kids have, well, let's just say time, many disparate interests, and an international economy does a number in spreading family all over the globe.  Steven worked diligently to put this email out monthly, letting us know of family simchas and goings on, and sadly, informing us with the not so easy news that someone was in the hospital, ill or had passed on.

At the same time, as I understand it, he had recovered his own life, and took to traveling as much as he could.  He had a lovely girlfriend, Jo Ann, who I had a chance to meet only once on their visit to Ojai.  He wasn't loud or showy, but a soft-spoken kind man who seemed to place family as a very high priority in a way few of us do these days.

His loss to our family will be felt by all, if for no other reason than he was our connector.  He was the link in an extensive chain that kept the Lazarov family together (and there are many branches of families from the Lazarovs - the Notowich's, Abraham's, and so many more.  He brought us all a little closer to relatives, some of which we didn't even know we had, and some whom we have still never seen in person.  Yet, we're connected because of his desire to make it so.

It is ironic in some ways that a person you knew sporadically, rarely had day-to-day thoughts of, can immediately impact your life the moment they are not there.  Steven may not have been present in my daily happenings, but now the question of who will take charge of keeping our family together becomes a big one indeed.  The truth is all people are connected, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.  We all affect each other, and Steven's loss will affect me and many others besides his immediate family.  I will miss him. 

To Jan, Cheryl, Ronald and of course Great Aunt Rozelle, my condolences.  I wish I could be there as Steve was for us, to stand with you during this difficult time.  My apologies that I can't be there physically, but know that I am thinking of you right now and with you in spirit.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Donovan saves Dempsey from being goat extraordinaire

Shot after shot.  Opportunity after opportunity.  Clint Dempsey must have felt like he had a lead boot on his striking foot.  After his goal was disallowed in the 21st minute due to a controversial offsides call, which in itself would have Dempsey draw the ire of fans if he had actually been offsides (it was close) -- Dempsey had golden opportunities in the 42nd minute, in the 57th minute twice, and in the 90+1 minute.  All of his shots either missed goals by mere centimeters and were saved, and his opportunity in stoppage time, deflected by Algerian goalie Rais M'Bolhi, ended up on the right boot of Landon Donovan for the factoring tally.

Dempsey found space many times, and for some reason the U.S.'s only other player to score goals in two separate World Cup appearances could not deliver.  His touch shot that struck the right post in minute 57 followed by his firing his own rebound wide and high of an open net had announcer Ian Darke proclaim the moment as sheer agony.  And for Dempsey it had to have been, for the 27 year-old mid-fielder knows that in the upcoming elimination rounds, bones like that have to be buried if the U.S. is going to move deeper.

Perhaps the match's unsung hero was replacement Benny Feilhaber, who entered the game at halftime, replacing Hercules Gomez, and immediately made his impact felt.  Besides distributing the ball well, Feilhaber created his own opportunity down the right wing with move in on goal, only to have his shot deflect of M'Bolhi's left leg as the Algerian goalkeeper dove to stop what he anticipated was a cross. 

Rest assured, Landon Donovan is not only the hero of this country today, but of Clint Dempsey as well.  For as many great games as Dempsey has had for the U.S., had this one ended up as it seemed destined to, in a draw, this was probably one he'd want to forget.

Friday, June 18, 2010


In a sport that for many Americans is simply superfluous, the United States took hold of the door and opened it to a new destiny for the first time, only to find out that destiny has a doorman and his name is Koman Coulibaly.

With less that four minutes remaining, a free kick garnered by Josi Altidore's sprint forward was translated by Landon Donovon into a brilliant scoring chance that Maurice Edu didn't miss.  His one-timer zipped past Samir Handanovic for the second time in less than ten minutes, shocking the world.  Set plays, the difference maker in many World Cup challenges, has always been one, among many of past U.S. teams' weaknesses.  But Donovan proved that he can provide dazzling re-starts, the kind of which European and South American players claim their deserved reputations.  And today's match against Slovenia calmed all criticism in that regard, with Donovan placing opportunity after opportunity in front of his U.S. cohorts.

Coulibaly's call, now being labeled as an offsides whistle, could hold water if it weren't for the fact that the offending player, Michael Bradley was being marked by his defender with what can only be called the 'bear-hug' technique.  It's a lesser known tactic, one of which usually draws the referee's ire and results in a penalty kick when it takes place in the penalty box.  Thus, if anything, the worst the U.S. should have received was that.  The fact that the ball went over Bradley and laid onto the awaiting foot of Edu, who promptly planted it into the net is simply adding insult to injury.

The U.S.'s door to destiny still isn't closed yet though.  With two points, and the chance to defeat Algeria Wednesday, the U.S. could still advance with five points in their Group.  Let's hope those same Algerians put England to the test today.


It was ironic, perhaps in a way it had to be in order for anyone to believe it. The Hollywood kids, raised in sun, the pomp, and the flash of show business' back yard, accused of being all style, but not much else, out-muscled and simply overtook the Beantown, street-toughened, injury-ridden Boston Celtics team and prevailed. Boasting a player known as the greatest closer in NBA history, Kobe Bryant played hero basketball most of Game 7, and came up short.

Instead the other Lakers rescued him and themselves, to get their 16th title, finally defeating the Boston Celtics in a Game 7. It was Lamar Odom, playing an inspired third quarter, driving to the hoop for a contested layup, ripping down offensive boards. Then in the fourth quarter, it was the old standby, Derek Fisher, knocking down a heart-crushing 3-pointer. It was Ron Artest again, hitting a crucial three-point shot from 26 feet away when Kobe Bryant couldn't find daylight.

But of all people, it was the oft-maligned Pau Gasol, the soft one, drawing fouls and sinking a semi-blocked shot that mightier men would have lost into the crowd when it mattered most. Gasol's move on Rashid Wallace to the hoop was inspired, garnering him an advantage in position as he had done all night with his seven foot frame. But help arrived in the form of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who swiped and connected with the ball as Pau leapt to the rim. But the "soft" Gasol, forced his arms forward as he descended, and perhaps a microsecond before his feet touched the ground, he willed the ball in. The Lakers were suddenly up by six with just 90 seconds remaining on the clock.

Bryant shot and shot, but could not shoot the Lakers into contention. His 6-of-24 night and 0-of-6 three point shooting would have made him a goat if not for the fact that he's a shooting wunderkind; the kind of player who can singlehandedly keep his team afloat, as he proved in Game 5.

There was no doubt the Lakers could win a game where they controlled the tempo. The question posed by everyone was could the Lakers win a game where the physical stylings of the Celtics was at play. And it was a stifling Lakers' defense, one that had been notably absent in several games, that made every Celtic shot a contested one, while the Celtics found themselves struggling to keep the Lakers off the free throw line.

In the end, it may have been the loss of Kendrick Perkins that altered destiny for the Lakers. One of the true big men at 6-10, 280, the large-bodied Perkins' absence cannot be overlooked, as his six rebounds per game average may have figured in a game where the Celtics were outrebounded 53-40. In the last Celtics win, Perkins added seven total rebounds, four on the offensive side of the floor.

Kobe Bryant may have been named the MVP of the series, but he wasn't the MVP when it mattered most. It was the supposedly soft Lakers team, one that finally put to rest any doubts about whether they could close out their franchise-long nemesis, the Boston Celtics.