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Brain Drain

March 01, 2004
March 01, 2004

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March 1, 2004

Pro Basketball
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Brain Drain

Some minds are steel traps. My mind is a lint trap, retaining
only useless fluff, so that I know why .406 is important, but not
why 1066 is. If you were to remove, with a flourish, the top of
my head--like the silver dome from a serving tray--what you'd
find underneath is potluck: batting averages, song lyrics,
palindromes, advertising jingles, trivia questions, jersey
numbers and movie dialogue. They're all strewn about the
ransacked room of my brain, which resembles, in content and
cleanliness, Oscar Madison's office.

This is an article from the March 1, 2004 issue Original Layout

I can't tell you the atomic number of magnesium, but I can tell
you the uniform number of Manny Sanguillen (35), who hasn't
played big league baseball in 24 years. The only poetry I've
committed to memory is a Hormel hot-dog jingle from the Metrodome
that goes, "Great for lunch, great for dinner/You will be a
wiener winner...." My brain, in short, has made bad choices, and
those choices now define me thusly: Can't quote Kerouac, can
quote Caddyshack.

If only sports fans could do a mental spring-cleaning, clearing
out the clutter that accumulates every year, we might make room
for better things. I'd like to cite, off the cuff, the wisdom of
Isaac Newton. But where would I stow the wisdom of Nate Newton,
the 335-pound ex-Cowboy who once said of blocking William (the
Refrigerator) Perry: "If we rub up against each other the wrong
way, we'll start a grease fire"?

That quote is always in there, in the disorderly desk drawer of
my brain, beneath a chronological list of World Series winners,
the proper spelling of Krzyzewski and the lively names--"Swede
Knox"--of long-retired NHL referees. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
takes 30 seconds to recite, but I can't recite it. The Sugarhill
Gang's Rapper's Delight takes 15 minutes to recite, and I can
recite it, verbatim.

I wish it weren't so, for all of this really does keep me up at
night. I lie in bed and listen, against my will, to trivia. It
runs through my head like mice through the attic. Counting sheep
might help. But instead I count uniform numbers, going from 1 to
10 as easily as: Bernie Parent (1), Tommy Lasorda (2), Harmon
Killebrew (3), Bobby Orr (4), George Brett (5), Julius Erving
(6), John Elway (7), Joe Morgan (8), Gordie Howe (9), Fran
Tarkenton (10).

And then, like a practicing pianist returning down a scale, I'll
count backward from 10 to 1, drawing a deep breath before
thinking: Sparky Anderson (10), Bobby Hull (9), Cal Ripken Jr.
(8), Phil Esposito (7), Stan Musial (6), Johnny Bench (5), Earl
Weaver (4), Jan Stenerud (3), Derek Jeter (2), Tracy McGrady (1).

Other nights I'll assemble a basketball team consisting entirely
of players whose surnames start with A--say, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
Paul Arizin, Ron Artest, Ray Allen and Alaa Abdelnaby--and pit
them against a lineup entirely of B's: Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor,
Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant and Bill Bradley.

Sadly, my train of thought is a local: It makes all stops. Thus
I'll find myself contemplating which team would win, the A's
(coached by Red Auerbach) or the B's (coached by Larry Brown) and
whether Zaid Abdul-Aziz and Ruben Boumtje Boumtje each requires
two roster spots. And so it will go, through the entire alphabet,
a single-elimination tournament that generally ends around dawn,
almost always with a collection of J's--say, Michael Jordan,
Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Sam Jones and Richard Jefferson,
coached by Phil Jackson--prevailing. Except for the undermanned
I's, with their exhausted roster of Allen Iverson, Marc Iavaroni,
Dan Issel, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Darrall Imhoff, no team ever
returns the same lineup.

If I could delete these files, and free up memory for other
things, I would. I've never forgotten since becoming a baseball
fan that Aurelio Rodriguez has all five vowels in his first name
or that Ed Figueroa has all five vowels in his last name. But I
did forget last week--when meeting the former surgeon general of
the United States, Dr. Antonia Novello, in Washington, D.C.--to
zip my fly.

How many gigabytes on the hard drive of my mind are monopolized
by knowing that E-8 is the scorecard notation for a
centerfielder's error? And are those the bytes I might otherwise
have devoted to recalling where I parked my car on NBA All-Star
Saturday, after which I spent nearly an hour walking around the
manifold parking garages attached to the Los Angeles Convention
Center, only to find the rented Ford Taurus in--sigh--row E-8?

My two passengers, Sue Bird and Rebecca Lobo, looked at me with
pity and contempt, knowing that I could instantly conjure their
UConn uniform numbers but not the number of a boundless garage in
which I'd left my car three hours earlier.

There's a scene in Jaws in which Richard Dreyfuss pulls, from the
belly of a dead shark, a license plate, an old boot and a crushed
beer can. That garbage-filled shark is my brain--never yielding
the location of my car keys but rife with random refuse that
won't biodegrade until I do: the score of Super Bowl IX, the
roster of the '86 Celtics, the phone number of my first
apartment. I have only to reach in and retrieve these things,
though why on earth would I ever need to?

Beyond that, I cannot tell you anything about the human brain.
Unless you mean wrestler Bobby (the Brain) Heenan. Him I can't
forget.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

I'd like to cite, off the cuff, the wisdom of Isaac Newton. But
where would I stow the wisdom of Nate Newton?