Kevin Porter, Jr


I declare Scoot(2000) in gratitude for the genius of Kevin Porter, Jr.

Houston has the greatest sports heroes. First a boy who became a man and champion by living The Dream. Then we had a boy who dreamed an impossible dream and then conquered all the legends of baseball!

Next up, we got a kid who is the NBA’s worst nightmare! KPJ The GOAT-killa!

After an awful period in sports and life in general, I needed some inspiration. On April 29, 2021 Kevin provided it.  Kevin did something miraculous, and I wrote a story about it.

Kevin, we saw what we saw. Houston had a job opening for a hero, and you are the perfect candidate. I’m all in for KPJ.  I don’t want anybody else.

Kevin is a basketball genius. He knew better than to talk or tweet about his troubles. Didn’t mean he didn’t have something to say. He said it in the loudest way.  

That’s the kind of hero we love in Houston. A hero who knows how to tell the rest of the world to sit down and shut up. Just ask David Robinson. Ask Charles Barkley, after you give him a kiss. Ask any of them fools booing Altuve.

Kevin, Hakeem Olajuwon took The Rockets to the Finals in his second year. Harden won 6th Man and took OKC to the finals in his third year. Magic Johnson got Finals MVP as a Rookie!

I stake:

Rockets gonna win a championship!

KPJ is the MVP!

The Dream had a whole city behind him. He came here as a young man, and we watched him grow. We believed in him. He was ours! If we expect miracles from our heroes, we must believe!

It’s our job to get behind KPJ in the same way. I believe you can do it. I’ve seen you do it. It’s on Rockets-nation to support you like we supported The Dream.

Kevin, the secret to achieving your dream is simple. If you have a dream, imagine it, and then commit to it. Then believe it. It’s that simple. Believe you can do it. I believe you can.

Those that believe with me, please join me in appreciation on KPJ.  

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Content Block 1 – 9/25/2022

Excerpt from Brandon Awbrey’s asimov:

Collecting Responsibility

While I’ve never had that special thrill that supposedly comes with viewing a masterpiece in person, I’ve tried. Maybe if I’d gone to an art museum before cell phones, it could have worked. People elbowing me out of the way to snap selfies apparently has a dissonant effect on my Zen. This is not to imply I don’t believe there is something special. There must be.

For my fiftieth birthday, my brother gave me a basketball signed by Hakeem Olajuwon. I’m not a collector, I’m a travel light kind of guy, but it was a very thoughtful gift, and I was surprised and grateful. I took that ball out of the glass case, and a feeling swept through me. I felt like I had just carried my team as a 6th seed, on the road through the Western Conference battleground of the Mailman’s Jazz, Sir Charles’s Suns, and the pretender MVP’s Spurs, making every MVP voter cringe at the ridiculousness of their selection. I’d just faced a young and arrogant Orlando Magic team in the finals and sent the goofy young villain, Shaquille O’Neil and his pack of dwarves back home to Disney in four games straight, a sweep and championship repeat, leading to coach Tomjanovich’s celebratory declaration for the ages, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”  This changed Houston’s tagline of Choke City to Clutch City forever.

Is that the same feeling that art lovers get when standing in front of a masterpiece? If it’s half the feeling I felt with the ball in my hand, I get it. The question is what separates collectables from pieces of history? Does my basketball deserve a place in a museum? I don’t think so, but Olajuwon has a place in the basketball hall of fame, and his genius will live on in Houston’s memory for generations. Thinking about it led me to remember another piece of history I’d lost.

In the summer of 1985, I attended a NASA summer camp, where I had my first exposure to programming on Apple IIs. I wasn’t a computer geek, but I did have an aptitude, and it served me well, for years later, I would make my living coding. The teacher running the camp was June Scobee. Her husband, Colonel Dick Scobee, was an astronaut who had been pilot of a Space Shuttle Challenger mission the year before and was slated to be the commander of another Challenger flight in the coming winter. At the end of the camp, our class of middle-schoolers got to meet Colonel Scobee. It was a big deal for a kid who had grown up in Space City, Texas to meet an astronaut who had already been to space in the shuttle. I bought a postcard of an earlier Challenger launch and Colonel Scobee was gracious enough to sign it for me.

On January 28, 1986 Dick Scobee, along with six fellow astronauts, including civilian school teacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed when Challenger exploded 41 seconds after liftoff. It was the “where were you when JFK was shot?” moment for my generation. I was a freshman in high school. I was stunned. It was the first time America had lost astronauts during a flight. Class was subdued, teachers were shocked. We crowded around the televisions that had already been wheeled out for us to watch the first teacher in space. Some of the teachers made half-hearted attempts to tell us not to look at the explosion. We had to look.

Later in the day, President Reagan cancelled his State of the Union address scheduled for that evening and spoke to the nation in the afternoon from the Oval Office.

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

I kept that postcard in a plastic sleeve. I’d shown it to a few people back in the day, but somewhere along the way, I lost track of it. I regret losing the postcard, but why? I’m not sentimental and not a collector. I remembered Challenger; it was one of the most memorable days of my life. Did the postcard have value? It doesn’t matter, I wouldn’t sell it if I found it. I’m sure Colonel Scobee signed thousands of autographs before and after he’d signed mine.

I don’t know if autographs were a thing back then, because both paper and ink were expensive. Would an autograph Francis Drake gave a street urchin before his last voyage to Panama be valuable if it survived history until today? You bet it would. If he’d signed an actual photograph of his ship that would probably be worth more than old Mona Lisa.

My postcard wasn’t special because Colonel Scobee signed it. It was special because of how he touched my life, and because of his sacrifice. I felt bad not because I lost a collectable that might be valuable, but because I failed at my responsibility to preserve the memory of a hero, a genius of exploration. I failed both my ancestors and my descendants in my responsibility to keep a small piece of history alive.

Throughout history, the basis of money has been gold. Throughout history, gold’s utility has primarily been ornamental, and no matter how you twist it, that utility is vanity.[1] The jewelry industry wants us to believe the more you spend on gold, the more you love someone, and we all know that is ridiculous. It is always vanity, and I think the right amount of vanity is good for both individuals and for society.

Vanity is a motivator – use it correctly, who knows, you could be President. What price is too high a price to pay for vanity? I think gold is too high a price. How many lives have been lost and how much of our planet have we destroyed in this chase of vanity? Gold has destroyed entire civilizations and killed or enslaved hundreds of millions of souls.

I’d originally gone down this path of thinking, because while I’d worked out the basics of a metric of value system based on physical artwork, I’d struggled with some inconsistencies. For instance, what separates fine art from decoration? Why is one object a silly collectable, or an antique, and another a historical artifact? I was also struggling with the unfairness of valuing artists that produce physical art over those whose media is essentially digital. Musicians, writers, photographers and even basketball geniuses. I was struggling trying to create a value system from something, in all honesty, I didn’t personally value that much.

I thought of the basketball gift. I liked starting with a sports analogy and contrasting that with my postcard. Modern currencies, fiat and crypto, aren’t really relatable to most people, because they are difficult to understand. So is the art world. Few people, even the wealthy, can fathom paying more for a painting than it costs to send a kid to college. More people can relate to sports, and we can all imagine getting paid what professional athletes get paid. Virtually all people use money, few understand it, and this leads to a disparity of value. People who count every penny live in the same society and supposedly under the same rules as people who throw around millions on vanity and sometimes pure waste.

I’d already crossed the threshold of making the holders of artwork a   commitment of responsibility, not ownership. This was a technical decision, because I needed to keep the responsibility domain clean of property, so that the responsibility domain could act as equalizer between different tastes and cultural biases and provide a common metric in asimov.

Then I realized, it is the responsibility itself that we should value. The people who are responsible for keeping genius alive reflect the value of that genius to humanity at large. The more people who are willing to be responsible for something, the higher the appreciation of the object or legacy.

I had this eureka moment on April 29th, 2021, on my after-dinner walk. It was the eve of my firstborn’s birthday, which is likely why the basketball birthday gift crossed my mind. I’d worked this through in my head and felt like I had something of substance that I could turn into a workable system.

As I neared the end of my walk, a cynical thought hit me. When I received the basketball gift in November, James Harden had just demanded to be traded. It was a gut-punch, in the middle of the pandemic, the Rockets in the NBA bubble had kept me optimistic. What followed was the season from hell. They did trade The Beard, and in return got a star player on the mend they traded only two months later. There was still hope, the Rockets had gone on a 6-game winning streak, but then the Rockets best young player got hurt, and they went on a losing streak of 20 games. At that point in April, I had watched the Rockets lose 37 of the last 43 games. For Rockets fans it was absolute hell. I’m thinking, hey little brother, thanks for the gift. He’d tricked me into objectifying The Dream, and perhaps that was the greatest sin against the basketball gods. I got home and watched the game, the Rockets versus the Bucks, heavyweight of the East.[2] I watched, like I watched every game of the losing streak, doing my penance, now with an even heavier heart after realizing my sin.

The Rockets were down 17 points in the second quarter. They got it down to 8 points by halftime, but I’d seen this film before. In the second half something miraculous happened. Kevin Porter Junior, a player we’d acquired for wooden nickels as a bizarre ricochet effect of trading James Harden, caught fire. Kevin, just twenty years old, was a brilliant southpaw guard who had potential to be a star. He’d just been through an embarrassing public incident in Miami where he’d might have saved his teammate’s life. As if to confirm the maxim, No good deed goes unpunished, the NBA suspended him for a week for COVID protocol violations. The first game back, against the fellow bottom feeding Timberwolves, he scored only two points in a nauseating loss. That night against the Bucks, Porter was unconscious, destroying the defensive juggernaut with ease. He ended up with a box score of 50 points and 11 assists, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record 50/10. He beat the previous title holder, LeBron James, by three years.

This story would be better if after my walk, I’d gone and held that signed basketball, trying to absorb some of The Dream magic, and somehow channeled that through my television back to the Toyota Center and into the soul of Kevin Porter. But I didn’t. Porter stepped up big because he did what stars do when they’ve had a bad game and been talked about in the media. He played ball.

Figure 1 – June 2014 Sport’s Illustrated Cover

You might wonder, where am I taking this? Am I casting some voodoo spell of writing reality? Perhaps. Don’t believe stuff like that works? I refer you to the June 2014 Sport’s Illustrated cover story entitled, “Your 2017 World Series Champs,” with a picture of Astros rookie George Springer on the cover. In 2014 the Astros were the worst team in baseball, having been through five losing seasons. I was a fair-weather Astros fan. The thing about losing basketball – games tend to finish quickly. Not so much with bad baseball. I grew up in Houston, but I benefited from Nikola Tesla’s benevolence, specifically AC powered AC and ice-cold refrigeration. It takes a real die-hard Texan who can handle her heat, humidity, and humiliation raw, somebody like my mother, who watched every game in every one of those Astros losing seasons. The cover of Sport Illustrated was satirical, at best, to the poor and downtrodden Astros fans in the summer of 2014. Think how it must have felt to the players.

Dodgers fans, I’m sure you know what happened next. Guess who won the 2017 World Series? You got that right. The Houston Astros will eternally be the 2017 World Series Champs.

Yes, there is more to the story. There was a sign-stealing scandal and MLB suspended some managers and took away some draft picks, yet the Astros retained the title much to the consternation of sore losers everywhere.[3]

While passing through LAX before the pandemic, I had one of the happiest moments of my life when I passed a guy wearing the shirt above. He was the stereotypical picture of a SoCal surfs up dude, long dirty blond hair, scruffy beard, a dark tan, cool shades, and beads. I’m thinking, dude, you’re wearing my colors. Did you really think this through?

And the irony, from Hollywood of all places. “There’s no cryin’ in baseball,” is the relevant line here. The cheating has always been there. It’s part of the Hollywood kindled mythology of baseball, “If you build it, he will come.” and “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Yeah, keep crying Dodgers fans. You heard of the Curse of the Bambino? Just wait until you catch a touch of the Curse of the Altuve.

What our currencies represent is what we value. For many of us, what we value is material. We like houses, and cars, and electronics. The trappings of wealth. We don’t value the same things that much of the world does, like clean water, or nutritious food, or access to basic health care, even though much of the human population struggles daily just to provide these things for themselves and their children. We lose our ever-loving minds over things like stocks, crypto-currency, and political scandals, without ever thinking about how wealthy we really are. Wealth is property and it is valued because we have lost the very ability to value basic sustenance and security. I call it the king’s gold. The kings of old could not fathom the toils of the masses. Kings would send poor men and their sons to die for their gold and land and even spices and tea. And to this day nations rich and poor will kill for the king’s gold. Be it gold, or oil, or land.

Ten thousand years in the future, what will be the more valuable treasure? Da Vinci’s engineering drawings, Drake’s last letters, Scobee’s autographed postcard, or The Dream’s signed basketball?

Da Vinci and The Dream were professionals with talent and were paid handsomely with the king’s gold. Sir Francis Drake certainly had imagination, daring and bravery but was a servant of a queen and a slaver.

Da Vinci drew pictures of flying machines, Olajuwon wore rockets on his uniform, and Drake sailed around the world in service to a queen he worshipped. Colonel Scobee voluntarily strapped himself into an aircraft attached to a tank filled with 1.6 million pounds of liquid hydrogen and oxygen and lit a candle. He did this twice.

Colonel Scobee served no master. He volunteered to become an astronaut. Shamefully for the rest of us Americans, there was very little glory left in space exploration by 1986. Scobee started out as an enlisted engine mechanic in the Air Force, working his way through school while raising a family, becoming an officer and a pilot, then risking his life over the skies of Vietnam in combat. He became a test pilot and then joined NASA as an astronaut. He spent his entire adult life in service to his country. He sacrificed his life in the pursuit of an ideal. He will forever be a genius and a hero.

Challenger was a tragedy, and many questioned the expense in terms of human lives and taxpayer dollars. After a thorough investigation and corrective action, in September of 1988 Discovery returned to space. NASA flew 110 more missions after Challenger, and while we lost Columbia during reentry, we never lost another shuttle during launch. We launched dozens of satellites, performed thousands of scientific experiments, built the International Space Station, and spawned a private space industry. There are no billionaires in space without the sacrifice of the crew of STS-51.

History becomes myth when the details are forgotten. I think it’s a fallacy to think that myths are more powerful than history. The magic – the inspiration – is much more powerful when there is evidence that it happened. This simple fact is the dividing line between mythology and religion. Religious stories are all powerful when they are believed to be history.

Masterpiece, postcard or basketball – responsibility for the memory of genius, real or perceived, is what gives these objects value.

These are ideas I value. While it’s unlikely that anybody else in the world values these geniuses in the same manner and proportion that I do, there are enough that share my appreciation of these geniuses individually. This is how asimov can work as a common value system. Just about everybody values genius of some kind, and for the totally vapid there is plenty of vanity out there to treasure.

This is a uniting value system. It’s about finding common ground.

When Dennis Rodman went to North Korea, the media made it out like it was joke. He shared a value with Kim Jong Ill, and I share that same value. We three all value a rebounding genius. Dennis Rodman as ambassador to North Korea isn’t as outrageous as some think. He has a much better chance of relating through real shared values than any diplomatic fool we could send over there.

Genius is what you are willing to be responsible for. That responsibility reflects your own values.

I’ve been intentionally divisive for a reason. I could have easily written this from the point of view of a native of Los Angeles or New York. Lame, because how hard is it to be a Lakers or Yankees fan? Hometown has value, and it should, because how constructive is it to hate where you are from? National pride has value. Asimov is a global currency, bound to no single nation, yet most of the genius I’ve written about are American, by birth or by choice. I don’t think America is perfect, we have many geniuses, but we have more than our fair share of idiots and have taken vanity to historical levels.

The divisiveness is simple. It is what I value. I might get called some nasty names passing through LAX wearing my Altuve jersey. If I ever show my face and Rockets colors in Madison Square Garden, I will probably get my ass kicked, or more likely, spat upon. Next time I try to go to Canada, I’ll probably get detained at the border and be forced to listen to Tom Sawyer on a loop, eyes pried open ala A Clockwork Orange and forced to watch curling. And while I’m a peace-loving person, nothing to kill or die for, no war and all that, if I happen to cross paths with John Stockton down at the Wal-Mart, I might have to stick my leg out for an old man trip, it would be a bit of instant karmic justice.[4]

Here’s what isn’t going to happen.

The Mayor of Los Angeles is not going send a mechanized brigade of troops to Houston, surround Minute Maid Park and forcibly take a shirtless José Altuve hostage. New York City is not going shell downtown Houston with nerve gas and send a squad of SEALs to replace The Dream’s sculpture in front of the house he built with a statue of Spike Lee. The British are not going nuke Austin in 2023 after Governor McConaughey signs his first executive order declaring all members of Led Zeppelin not honorary, but actual Texans.

We’re not going to war over genius. If we do, we have failed as a species.

As my fictional Da Vinci said, “All the paintings in the world are not worth one single human life.”

Sure, we’ll have idiots who set fire to public transportation when their team wins a championship. We’ll have lunatics who’ll murder a genius in cold blood and sit and wait to be caught while reading a book by another genius. We’ll have vain criminals who rob banks and post their exploits on Instagram. If we value what is good, the genius of our species, then maybe we won’t have so many criminals and the lunatics might be seen as people who need help and not discounted for their deficiencies but valued for their perspective. The idiots, that might be cosmic law. For every Nikola Tesla, the universe needs a prime number of idiots to balance out the fundamental force of imagination. Exactly like dark matter.

[1] Gold has industrial, commercial and medical uses. Wikipedia says less than 10% of gold production goes towards industry.

[2] And three months later, NBA World Champion Milwaukee Bucks.

[3] For those with me so far, but fear I risk alienating too big a population with my rhetoric, it is strategic. The Foundation is an engineered system and based on statistical science. For every single Astros hater out there, there are 1,301 baseball lovers who absolutely despise the Dodgers. The fact that the Asterisks went through the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Dodgers to win the World Series means that feat has the greatest statistical reach, as there are no teams universally hated by more fans. One of the highlights of my adult life was my 2019 Vacation to NYC, where I wore my “Houston Rockets 93-94 NBA Champions” T-shirt every day. I heard it from Knicks and Yankees fans alike, got called every name in the book, most of which made me even prouder to be from Houston. I didn’t get my ass kicked, not once. I attribute that to my natural Texas swagger. My wife attributes it to the repulsive shielding effect of wearing the same shirt for 120 hours straight.

[4] Karl Malone gets a pass, he’s from Louisiana. Old man or not, I’m almost certain he could still kick my ass.