Dreams from my own la la land

jw_lsa_bball001-rw1The author drives to the basket in a game between La Salle and Central at Rhode Island Junior College, now the Community College of Rhode Island, in February 1978. Providence Journal file photo. Column published in the Providence Journal, January 15, 2017.

Lying on my side at 6:30 a.m., I look out my bedroom window at a tangle of tree branches against the gray dawn sky before surrendering to the bliss of an REM slumber – and, it turns out, a few special moments at the TD Garden.

In my dream, I am playing basketball for the Boston Celtics. Fifty-six years old, 5 feet 8 inches, and on my game, I deliver a no-look pass to Al Horford for a slam dunk, drop a three-point bomb with Steph Curry in my face, and streak on a breakaway after picking Kevin Durant’s pocket.

But then, as often happens in my dreams, everything goes slo-mo. My legs turn to rubber, and I feel like I am hefting an orange wrecking ball to the hoop. My layup caroms off the side of the rim, as does my put-back attempt. I try again – and, bizarrely, the ball morphs into an unopened bag of Light ‘n Fluffy egg noodles that drops softly through the net just as the horn sounds. The crowd goes berserk. I pump my fist – in my dream and, apparently, in my bed because suddenly I am awake.

“You O.K.?” my wife, Deb, asks, lying next to me. I notice the morning sky has brightened.

“Never been better,” I say, laughing.

My dreams are rarely so triumphant. More often, I am like Danny in the movie “The Shining,” running away from an ax-wielding madman. Or I am roaming the hallways at La Salle Academy, trying to locate – without success – the classroom for an exam I must pass to get my high school diploma.

The word “dream” possesses an interesting duality. On one hand, it describes the images and emotions passing through our minds as we sleep – from the ordinary to the outlandish. On the other, it references our goals and aspirations when we are awake.

“Dream” derives from the Old English verb “dremen,” which meant “rejoice; play music.” That makes sense when you consider how often the topic has been mined in popular song – from Arlen and Mercer’s “This Time The Dream’s On Me” to Wilco’s “(Was I) In Your Dreams?” A 60s pop band from Britain went one step further, calling themselves Freddie and the Dreamers.

In the charming movie musical “La La Land,” Emma Stone’s character, Mia, sings about her inspiration for becoming an actress – a beloved aunt who once leapt without looking into a freezing Seine River: “She captured a feeling, sky without ceiling, sunset inside a frame … Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.”

Dreams usually leave us questioning what prompted them. Freud famously said they were the fulfillment of a wish. Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” had a more physiologic explanation for the ghostly visit of his former business partner, Jacob Marley: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”

I subscribe to Freud’s theory to explain my Celtics dream. As a 12-year-old, I spent hours in my basement mimicking Pete Maravich’s dribbling wizardry. I fantasized about making it to the NBA, despite my woeful shooting mechanics and less-than-promising genetics – Mom was 5 feet 1 inch and Dad was 5 feet 7 inches.

“You can’t bounce balls all your life,” my mother said one day when I came upstairs. Sure enough, six years later, after two or three tryouts for the team at Brown, the buzzer sounded on my basketball dreams.

Recently, sleep brought me more REM absurdities: I’m on a cruise – actually, the Block Island Ferry – and Bruce Springsteen is performing on the top deck. But I’m stuck in steerage, like Jack Dawson in “Titanic.” I finally sneak my way upstairs and catch a glimpse of the Boss and the E Street Band before being whisked away by a bouncer. I trip, and now I’m falling overboard in slo-mo …

I awake with a start beneath a sea of covers, and the spirits in the night are gone.

Rooting for the Green Bay Heat?

Forward Gordon Hayward of the oddly named Utah Jazz during a game on Nov. 5 in Denver. AP PHOTO

Forward Gordon Hayward of the oddly named Utah Jazz
during a game on Nov. 5 in Denver. AP PHOTO

As published in the Providence Sunday Journal, November 15, 2015.

When the Los Angeles Lakers play their next game at the Staples Center, a fan sitting courtside might wonder: Where are these lakes, anyway?

In Minnesota, it turns out.

Before the Lakers moved to L.A., they were the Minneapolis Lakers. That makes sense. Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” When the franchise migrated to California in 1960, it left the lakes behind — but not the name. So for more than 50 years, in a place known for its lack of rainfall, people have flocked to see a team identified with bodies of water almost 2,000 miles away.

Here in New England, our team names present no such disconnect. The Patriots and Revolution reflect our colonial past, and the Celtics honor the region’s large Irish-American population.

The original owner of Boston’s professional hockey team, Charles Adams, wanted a name that conveyed speed, agility and cunning. “Bruins” delivered the hat trick. The name also lent itself to brown and yellow uniforms, which just happened to be the colors of the owner’s grocery chain. When Adams’ team skated, it was subliminal advertising on ice.

“Red Sox” became an official name in 1907, as the club adopted red as its color and featured a red stocking on the front of the players’ jerseys. In 1933, when George Preston Marshall moved his fledgling professional football team, the Boston Braves, to Fenway Park, he changed the team’s name to “Redskins” to align with the Red Sox. Four years later, the Boston Redskins became the Washington Redskins. So, interestingly, the colors and name of the Red Sox played an early and unwitting role in the controversy that surrounds the Redskins’ name and logo today.

The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t alone in maintaining a name at odds with a club’s locale.

The Baltimore Colts were named in recognition of that city’s rich history in horse racing. Indianapolis, where the Colts relocated in 1984, is famous for racing too, but the focus is on a different type of horsepower — the kind that propels Indy cars at speeds up to 225 miles per hour.

British Columbia is home to a large grizzly bear population, so naming a National Basketball Association team the Vancouver Grizzlies made sense. Keeping the name after the franchise moved to Memphis? Not so much.

New Orleans’ original NBA franchise produced one of my favorite team names: the Jazz. The non-plural noun stood out and conveyed the improvisational beauty that basketball can produce. But when the team moved 1,700 miles northwest, it committed a technical foul for name weirdness: Utah Jazz?

Next thing you know, the Heat will move to Green Bay and remain the Heat.

Relocation doesn’t always create naming mismatches. The San Diego Rockets became the Houston Rockets, and the new combination was a perfect fit. Houston is home to major aerospace companies and the Johnson Space Center.

Here in Rhode Island, the names for most of our college teams are traditional enough: Brown Bears, Providence Friars, Rhode Island Rams. That’s not the case at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In contrast to the fierce mascots at many universities — Go Tigers! Go Hawks! — UCSC teams are represented by the lowly Banana Slug, a 6- to 8-inch bright-yellow mollusk that slides around the forest floor in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At one point, a chancellor tried to change the name to something more conventional — the Sea Lions. But in a student vote, the Banana Slug prevailed.

In 2008, ESPN named it one of the 10 best mascots in college basketball.

Go Banana Slugs!


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