Basketball / Sports “Magic” on a Legendary Scale: The Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry

steph-curry-sneaker-sales-451x676[1]Today’s sporting world offers the public virtually continuous entertainment and diversion. On rare occasions, the viewing public is treated to sublime performances in sport that touch the very perfection that athletes continually strive to achieve. Such performances are long remembered by those within the sport and those of us on the sidelines who are fortunate enough to glimpse them. Most fortunate of all are those privileged to have witnessed the event in-person.

Today is game four (best of seven) in the first round of NBA championship play. The Golden State Warriors are up three games to zip over the Denver Nuggets. In the second quarter of game two, a few days ago, I witnessed on my television screen what can only be described as pure, poetic, basketball “magic” on the court as the Warriors steamrollered the Nuggets throughout a full quarter of perfect team basketball to take an insurmountable lead.

I have witnessed many a basketball game during my eighty-one years on this earth, but never have I seen such brilliant play by five-on-the-floor. Only one other time have I been similarly impressed watching basketball, and that was in the late nineteen-sixties while witnessing, via television and Chick Hearns’ legendary game commentary, John Wooden’s great UCLA teams garner their many NCAA championships by virtue of nearly perfect play-execution that left even formidable opponents flat-footed on the court.

This year’s version of the Warriors features the all-star nucleus that carried the team to their previous NBA championships: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Curry and Thompson remain all-time/all-star shooting guards while Green continues as one of the greatest passers and defensive talents in the history of the NBA. All that in addition to his key role as team spark-plug and floor leader.

Amidst the overall excellence of the Warrior’s roster, one player stands out, and that is Steph Curry who has brought to NBA prominence the three-point shot – often from far-afield. Curry is already the career leader in three-point production; in recent years, he has led the NBA in free-throw percentage (approximately 92%) in addition to being a formidable ball-handler and lay-up artist. I do not know of any finer shot in basketball than Curry’s fluid free-throw stroke. When he launches the ball, it arcs toward the hoop like a guided missile honing-in on its target. It is always thus, whether the Warriors are comfortably up by twenty-points at the time or whether the basket must be made to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Steph Curry is a hall-of-fame player already, well before his career is over.

To coin the infamous television commercial offer for some handy kitchen gadget: “But wait, there’s more!” The “more” for the Warrior roster comes in the person of young Jordan Poole, playing his first year as an NBA starter. This young star is already playing at a skill-level that equals that of his team-mentor, Steph Curry. A significant portion of the recent game-two magic that I described earlier in this post came from Poole. Young Jordan has proven that anything Curry can do on a basketball court, he can do at least as well – and, sometimes, even more spectacularly. Poole even recently wrested the league free-throw percentage leadership from Curry. In the span of just this one, current season, Poole has morphed from a talented young, but inexperienced player off the bench to a polished all-star starter. He makes plays that require the television viewer to resort to a rewind/replay of the game recording to fully comprehend “just how did he do that?” The only thing left for Poole to prove is that he can become the go-to player over multiple seasons who consistently comes through when the game is on the line; that is the special Curry attribute that truly separates Steph from other extremely talented players in the NBA, past and present. Reports have it that Curry has generously taken an interest in mentoring young Poole; the similarities in their game, their mature attitude, and their work-ethic convince me that those reports are true. Poole already plays like a Curry clone, but consistency over time and demonstrated accomplishment like an NBA championship or two are needed to complete the picture.

I recently told my twelve-year-old grandson, Luke, how lucky he and older brother, Matthew, are for having seen Steph Curry play basketball for the Golden State Warriors. They and their parents have attended at least two Warrior games in person within the past year or two and have long been faithful fans. Linda and I caught son-in-law Scott’s enthusiasm for the Warriors several years ago and have also become faithful fans, although we have never been to a game in person.

I would ordinarily say that it will take some time for the likes of a Steph Curry to come along again except for the fact that Curry may already be playing with him when Poole takes the court. Time will tell.

I will remember Steph Curry for a long time (I may have only several years left at my age!). I recall when he first surfaced with the Warriors some years ago. He seemed a promising young player, but I recall no early superlatives. I do recall that he had weak ankles which led to a few very disabling ankle-sprains that sidelined him for significant periods and seemed to threaten his future. I recall thinking: “too bad this young kid may not be able to establish a career for himself!” Imagine that.

Screen Shot 2022-04-23 at 11.36.21 PMIn quiet moments, I often fondly recall other great athletes who I have seen in person. On December 8, 1957, my father took me to my first big-time athletic event: the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Colts led by all-time great Colts quarterback, Johnny Unitas, and receiver Lenny Moore. Y.A. Tittle was the 49ers quarterback along with Joe “the jet” Perry and peerless Hugh McElhenny as running backs. Tittle was knocked silly at the end of the game, and Stanford rookie quarterback John Brodie came in to throw a winning touchdown pass to McElhenny who took it into the left side of the end-zone with only thirty seconds left on the clock as the stadium erupted. That wonderful first exposure to big-time sports took place at the old Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. I can still visualize that winning touchdown in my mind’s eye as if it happened yesterday. The above photo captures that game-winning moment at Kezar stadium almost sixty-four years ago (in case my memory ever goes bad). Note the fans on housetop roofs!

Pancho Gonzales 003_PSIn 1958, I was learning the game of tennis, and I saw Pancho Gonzales play Lew Hoad at San Francisco’s Cow Palace arena, up-close-and-personal. At that time, Gonzales was undeniably the best tennis player in the world, and Hoad was Australia’s best amateur-turned-professional challenger that year on Jack Kramer’s famous pro tour. I also remember that event as if it were yesterday – especially the fury and power of the tennis played by the enigmatic Gonzales. I still have the signed program from that event: I’ll never forget how I got Pancho’s autograph that evening. During the preliminary match between Aussies Mal Anderson and Ashley Cooper, I noticed a tall, man with swarthy complexion dressed in slacks and sport coat standing in the open aisle behind our seating section. He stood there, alone, as any number of people walked by, intent only on their destination. I watched him for a full minute thinking that this man bore a resemblance to the pictures I had seen of Pancho Gonzales. I finally mobilized great courage, got out of my seat and worked my way to where he stood watching the match. I asked, “Are you Pancho Gonzales?” He nodded, so I handed him the tennis ball I had foolishly brought along in hopes of a possible autograph. He frowned at the fuzzy ball and murmured, “Bring me something I can write on.” I hustled back to where my father and I were sitting and grabbed my event program. I handed it to Gonzalez, and he laid a fine signature on his full-page picture and handed it back to me. In a minute or two he was gone, most certainly to the locker room to ready himself for the featured match with young Lew Hoad during which he dominated play while methodically dispatching Hoad. I have no doubt that Pancho was attuning himself to the vibes of the arena during that preliminary match. Apparently, I was the only person to identify him and pierce his anonymity. Time has not dimmed my memory of that evening one bit.

My sport in high school was track – specifically, running the high and low hurdles. I was also fascinated with the high-jump, although not good enough to compete in that event. In 1960, I took a date to the well-attended Olympic Trials Meet held at Stanford Stadium. I felt privileged to witness a world-record high-jump of seven feet, three and three quarter inches by John Thomas. Two years later, in 1962, my father and I attended the legendary U.S.A. / Soviet Union track meet also held at Stanford. Valery Brumel raised the new high-jump world record to seven feet, five inches at that meet – another unforgettable sports milestone I was privileged to  witness along with eighty-thousand cheering fans in packed Stanford Stadium!

In 1988, the Calgary Winter Olympic Games featured one of ice-skating’s greatest competitions, ever. The local favorite from Sunnyvale, California, Brian Boitano and Canada’s Brian Orser were evenly matched in the men’s competition and Germany’s Katerina Witt was the odds-on favorite for the women’s event. Boitano made skating history that night by skating a perfect and stirring performance while winning gold. Only a very slight slip by Orser separated his fabulous performance from Boitano’s. The intriguing Ms.Witt took gold for the women with another memorable skate. Several weeks afterward, the entire Olympic ensemble of skaters toured the country showcasing the exact skating routines performed in Calgary. Linda, I, and our two young daughters had tickets for the show at Brisbane’s Cow Palace arena, south of San Francisco. I recall the excited anticipation we had as we drove north up highway 101 that evening. We were not disappointed. It was magical – virtually an encore performance of that memorable Calgary competition featuring some of skating’s all-time greats, at their very best. We drove home that evening bathed in the realization that we had been privileged to see, in person, such combined athleticism and artistry; we knew then that we would never forget what we had just experienced, and we never have!

There were other, similar occasions involving sports figures and memorable performances over the years, many from our years of following Stanford football – some fabulous players and memorable games in the eighty-thousand seat confines of the old Stanford Stadium.

Ninety-nine percent of all that we experience from the world of sports quickly fades from memory, and rightly so. Some small portion of the remaining one percent will stay with us, indelibly, whether it be in the form of great athletes themselves or great athletic performances. At the age of eighty-one years, I have seen many athletes come and I have seen them go, but I will never forget the truly great ones and their finest exploits. To have watched them over the years via the miracle of technology is a most satisfying experience. To have witnessed them in person is, indeed, no less than a rare privilege.

Steph Curry resides within that one percent category of indelibly memorable athletes. Go Steph, and go Golden State Warriors!

Our Family’s Identical Twin Sister: Finally Meeting Her Face-to-Face

Yes, we have identical twin sisters in my family, and I was finally able to meet “the other one” after many years had passed. The “sisters” were born in the mid nineteen-seventies, but their linneage extends back to the late-thirties. I met the “other twin” earlier this month at my sister’s home in Atlanta, Georgia, and here she is:

twin-sister_ed

Below, is her identical twin sister who has resided in our home since nineteen-seventy-five. These two, the only ones in existence, were brought to life by my father in the nineteen-seventies.

lady-on-glass_1

Mother nature never produced identical twins more alike than these two: all that differs are the background colors and picture frames.

I had long known of this other twin’s existence, but I do not recollect ever seeing her since the time my father gifted the twins to my wife, Linda, and my sister, Karen. During our visit with Karen in Georgia this month, I noticed “yellow-twin” hanging in her bedroom, just as “blue-twin” is prominently displayed in ours.

The original painting-on-glass, dating from the late thirties , was exactly like ours – with the same blue/turquoise background. After decades above my parents’ bed, it hung in my sister’s bedroom after Dad passed away in 1992. Before long, the painting literally dissolved as paint separated from the smooth glass back-side.

I will finish this post by attaching my earlier post explaining the heritage of these identical twin sisters and the family legacy left behind by my talented father.                                                      

The Blog of Alan A. Kubitz                                                           June 27, 2020                                                       

The Painted Lady (on Glass)

Yesterday, I attended to something that long begged attention. I finally put on display a precious family heirloom, a unique work of art from the imagination and talented hands of my father, Alfred Kubitz. I call her “The Painted Lady.” It now hangs regally on the wall above my wife Linda’s large dresser mirror.

lady-on-glass_1

There is a story behind this image. To begin with, this art-deco rendering of “The Painted Lady” resides on the back of its protective glass, not on any traditional artist’s medium under glass. The composition, itself, was created in the nineteen-twenties or early thirties by an unknown (to me) artist. I vaguely recall conversations many years ago with my father that leave me with the impression that he first saw this image in one of the magazines popular during his teen-years – perhaps Cosmopolitan or Vogue? The art-deco flair of the rendering must have tweaked Dad’s significant artistic sensibilities, and this led him to produce his original painting-on-glass version which was the prototype for what is illustrated, here, in my post.

Going way back to my earliest recollections, I vividly recall the original painting hanging for many years in my parent’s bedroom. Likely, my father painted it in the mid-to-late nineteen-thirties and proceeded to gift it to my mother after their marriage on July 8, 1939.

Fast-forward to approximately nineteen seventy-four when signs were apparent of paint separating from the back of the glass on “The Painted Lady.” With retirement on the near horizon after thirty-two years at United Air Lines, my father recognized, in his deteriorating painting, an artistic/technical challenge as well as a small business opportunity for his retirement years. The challenge? To produce “replicas” of his artistic tour-de-force. Simply photographing the image and printing copies was not what he had in mind. The challenge of reproducing “The Painted Lady” on the back of glass and offering such unique works of art for sale to the public at a price only three or four times what the market might fetch for a fine photographic print – that was what he had in mind. In the spirit of “preserving” his original concept, these highly unique offerings were to be an affordable improvement on his original “Painted Lady” in two major ways.

First, the delicate black outlines of the original would be even finer and truer than Dad had been able to lay down on the glass by hand. Despite the difficulty, he did a fantastic job on the original, years ago! Second, the recreations would use art-quality, modern paints applied to the back of a glass surface ever-so-lightly etched for optimal adhesion of the paint, thus guaranteeing decades of life for the image.

Dad worked out a process that would meet all these objectives and result in a striking work of art. As I recall that process, the black outlines and the several colors would be silkscreened onto the glass in a series of layered steps. What you see pictured at the beginning of this post is one of the original prototypes (actually a finished/perfected product) of the process described, here. Dad designated this “Copy #1” on the back.

Lady on Glass_3_Crop

Dad presented this beautiful treasure to my wife, Linda. Here is his birthday gift inscription to her, penned in his own hand on the back:

My sister, Karen, also received one of these treasures from Dad. Hers is identical to Linda’s, except for a yellow background rather than the original blue as reproduced on our Copy #1. We called Karen and husband Jon cross-country the day before yesterday with congratulations on their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary. I asked Karen about Dad’s original “Painted Lady” which she had kept after choosing from the keepsakes he left behind when he passed away in nineteen ninety-two. Alas, Karen informed me that the original “Painted Lady on Glass,” like her creator, was no more. Much of the original paint had finally come loose from the glass after all those years, rendering her “lost.”

Although my father may have created one or two experimental prototypes before crafting the two copies I have described, here, I do not recall seeing any. I do recall finding in recent years some of his process documentation for the project: I hope I still have his papers somewhere in my files. Recalling my father so well, I am certain that meeting the technical challenge of creating these modern versions of his early work while preserving his artistic concept of “The Painted Lady” for others to see were more satisfying to him than the prospects of any potential commercial venture. He decided not to go forward with the latter.

It pleases me to know that at least two copies, offspring if you will, of the original “Painted Lady” live on to remind us and our descendants of my father, his craftsmanship, and his artistic legacy.

The 1918 “Inverted Jenny,” THE Airmail Postage Stamp

The very first United States Airmail postage stamp was issued in 1918. It came in three versions utilizing a common design featuring a Curtiss Jenny bi-plane, the workhorse of early U.S. airmail efforts. The six-cent was printed in orange, the sixteen-cent in green, and the twenty-four cent in a dual color combination of carmine-red and deep blue; that latter issue is where this story begins.

A single “inverted Jenny” stamp sold at auction for $1,593,000 on November 14, 2018. An entire sheet of 100 stamps was erroneously printed in Washington D.C. at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in May of 1918. Printing these stamps was a two-strike process because of the dual coloration. The “mistake” resulted from an inversion between the two engraved and inked plates. In the world of philately, or stamp-collecting, the inverted Jenny occupies the top rung of desirable/valuable stamps. Top valuations in any collecting endeavor result from a high overall ranking in three major categories, namely: desirability, rarity, and condition.

Desirability: The 1918 twenty-four cent airmail Jenny is inherently colorful and attractive. Importantly, the stamp symbolizes the advent of U.S. air mail service. This Post Office driven effort, in turn, led directly to the organization of fledgling “airline” mail carriers and the creation of defined air routes and points of service. These shoestring-operation contract airmail carriers transported small mailbags in the cramped compartments of open-cockpit bi-planes like the Jenny.The formal establishment and operation of those fledgling airmail routes were long “a-work-in-progress” for the Post Office Department (aka the POD). Soon, the struggling contract mail carriers allowed paying passengers to hitch-a-ride among the mailbags, under cramped, uncomfortable conditions. From such inauspicious beginnings, was born today’s vast commercial airline industry. All this future promise was originally and heavily subsidized by the then barely-older air mail enterprise. The air mail service, literally and figuratively, got commercial aviation off the ground in 1918. The history of the United States airmail is both a colorful and important story. The original open-cockpit airmail pilots rightly proclaimed their profession a “suicide club.” There was no more demanding and dangerous occupation than flying the mail at night and in all manner of weather. Beginning in 1925/26, Charles Lindbergh became one of those who earned their flying spurs by carrying the mail – perfect training for his memorable solo trans-Atlantic flight on May 20, 1927. The 1918 Jenny stamp issue symbolizes a monumental event in the progress in this nation, and that only adds to its desirability among collectors.

Rarity: History records that only one sheet of 100 inverted Jenny stamps “escaped” from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and made its way into the public domain. That sheet was purchased on May 14, 1918 at a Post Office just down the street from his New York brokerage office by William T. Robey, a stamp collector/enthusiast. Robey had been informed by a friend of the new stamp issue to be released for sale that day, and when he asked to purchase a sheet of the stamps later that day, the postal clerk at the window reached under the counter and, presumably without noticing its “discrepancy,” produced the famous sheet of Jenny-inverts. One glance, and Robey immediately realized the potential rarity of that sheet and his possible great, good fortune. Without a word to the clerk, he promptly laid down $24 for the sheet and headed out the door. It very quickly became evident that Robey’s sheet of 100 inverts was unique, probably the only one accidentally produced, and, certainly, the only one that managed to escape the scrutiny of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Robey’s potential great good fortune was now fact, given that no other inverted sheets were extant. Word had quickly gotten out about the printing error and the sheet of inverted Jennys. That disclosure undoubtedly had a profound after-effect on the Bureau’s quality control process. Anyone who collects stamps or coins is well-aware of the long-standing efforts taken by the Bureau and the United States Mint to prevent such production errors from getting into circulation. Imagine the temptation of someone on the inside to “accidentally” produce a single sheet of stamps with a similar discrepancy – one with considerable value to collectors!

Condition: Valuations on any rare collectible are much higher for prime specimens. That holds true, in general, for the standard issue, twenty-four cent Jenny stamp today. There is, or course, a premium for unused/uncancelled examples, as well as for more-picky characteristics such as the centering of the printed image on the perforated paper base.

Collectors are averse to images which touch the perforations on the stamp. Even faint traces on the gum side of the stamp indicating it was carefully hinged (archivally mounted) in a collector’s album has a negative effect on value in comparison to mint condition, never-hinged, examples. Experienced collectors in any venue fully realize it is always wise to “buy the best condition” you can possibly afford. The added premium at the time of purchase will invariably appreciate tremendously as time passes and the time comes to sell. Today, the twenty-four cent Jenny stamp in very fine or mint condition will sell for between twenty-five dollars and sixty dollars for the better specimens – not bad for an original investment of twenty-four cents in 1918.

A Fascinating “Centering” Corollary re: the Twenty-four Cent Jenny

We have just discussed the importance to valuation of good image centering relative to a stamp’s perforations. Here is a weird corollary to that concept which pertains only to the twenty-four cent duo-color stamp. When the blue Jenny image is struck on the sheet slightly offset from the carmine-red frame produced by the initial plate-strike, this results in a “fast” Jenny, a “slow” Jenny, a “low” Jenny, or a “high” Jenny stamp. Somewhat surprising is the fact that these stamps, which result from poorly aligned engraved plate strikes, are much preferred by collectors over perfect examples. I suppose this counter-intuitive situation is best explained by the argument that the famous inverted Jenny is but an extreme example of engraving plate misalignment. Welcome to the wacky world of collecting…anything. I prefer the Jenny image well centered and flying “nominally,” although I would love to have an inverted example!

The following two pictures illustrate how a slight plate misalignment (the second example) can produce a sightly “fast” and noticeably “high” flying Jenny image. The image offset corresponds exactly to the misalignment of the red/blue alignment markers at the top. The greater the misalignment, the greater the price premium the stamps will fetch from collectors!

A few final comments and observations:

-William Robey was aware that the Post Office was planning to issue this new air mail stamp within a few days. He wrote to a fellow stamp collector: “It might interest you to know that there are two parts to the design [of the twenty-four cent stamp], one an insert into the other, like the Pan American issues. I think it would pay to be on the lookout for inverts on account of this.” How prescient can one be? Four days later, Robey had his superb rarity – a lone sheet of 100 inverts.

-After purchasing the invert sheet at the postal window, Robey asked to see several more sheets. Those that the clerk produced were all normally printed, and at this point, Robey disclosed to the clerk the error on his purchased sheet. The clerk hastily excused himself to make a telephone call – undoubtedly to report the error sheet to authorities. Later that day, Robey was visited by two postal inspectors who attempted to confiscate the invert sheet. Robey refused their demands, arguing that he purchased the sheet fair-and-square. If there were any more inverts printed, they never made it beyond the Post Office. Extreme rarity of this variation was thus virtually insured, a very fortunate fact, indeed, for Mr. Robey – and for stamp collecting.

-William Robey quickly sold his sheet of one hundred inverts on May 20 for $15,000, a lot of money back in 1918. By the end of that same day, the sheet had already changed hands, yet again, for the price of $20,000 to a Colonel Edward Green. For the early holders of these 100 inverted Jennys, there was a tricky gambit to negotiate. On one hand, it would be prudent to take the time necessary to shop for a buyer willing to pay top dollar (remember: no rapid internet listings, back then). On the other hand, if one waited too long to sell, additional inverted sheets might be discovered, greatly blunting the rarity and value of the 100 stamps! The third owner (in a single day) of the precious sheet of stamps, Colonel Green, felt little such angst to quickly make a decision, given that he had inherited fabulous stock market wealth from his mother. Green proceeded to “subdivide” the sheet of 100 inverts into blocks of various sizes leaving many individual stamps for the remainder of sales. This was done to optimize the overall value of the sheet of 100. Green was not a careful custodian of his treasure-trove: some of the inverted Jennys were badly compromised through poor handling and storage over the years prior to the later disbursal of his collection in the early nineteen-forties.

I hope this post has provided an informative peek for you, my readers, into one of the most interesting and colorful episodes in the entire universe of collecting!

A Kix Cereal Box-top and Fifteen Cents for a Genuine Atomic Bomb Ring!

I recall as if it were yesterday: I had collected a Kix cereal box-top, enclosed fifteen cents, and sent away for an atomic bomb ring! Promotions involving cereal box-tops were common back in the mid to late nineteen-forties, but this one was special – this one really tweaked my boyish enthusiasms!

The ad beckoned: See Real Atoms Split to Smithereens Inside Ring!

This mail-order offer dates to approximately 1947/48 when I was a seven-year old living in Chicago, Illinois. That would have been approximately two years after the world first heard of the atomic bomb and its use on Japan.

Within a week after mailing in my money and box-top, I began badgering my mother every afternoon: Did my ring arrive in the mail, today? I distinctly recall my agony-of-waiting as the elapsed time went well beyond three weeks. Finally, a little brown box arrived at our Wrightwood Avenue address, and I was beside myself with happiness as I unpacked the jaunty little finger-bomb with its polished metal nose and snappy red-plastic tail assembly which could be removed to reveal a glass-covered “viewing chamber.”

A small sheet of directions told how to condition the “radioactive” material inside the viewing chamber by exposing the ring to a bright light and then retreating to a dark environment (my mother’s closed pantry) in order to view tiny scintillations of light in the viewing chamber – the result of atomic activity.

I recall that the scintillations were there, for sure, but that they were not brightly visible. It took a bit of “peering” to reveal them.

Nonetheless, at age seven, I was thrilled with the atomic bomb ring-thing even though the more sinister aspects it represented were lost on me and, I suspect, on most Americans who were busily forging a new future after the devastation of World War II. Atomic energy and nuclear weapons had only recently been revealed to the general public; this little ring represented the excitement and mystery of the “new” technology in the eyes of the public.

I fondly recall sending for many such cereal box-top/mail-order offers when I was a kid: the excitement of ordering the newest treasure, and the agony of waiting for it to arrive are still vivid in my mind’s-eye even as I approach eighty years of age…and I am glad to still have such vivid recollections! Of all the mail-order offers I recall sending for as a youngster, none of them can surpass my fond memories surrounding the Kix atomic bomb ring. Sometimes, in life, little things can mean a lot.