I’m finally back. However, even though my CD is scheduled to be released April 14, and I have five upcoming recitals during April and May, my “handlers” told me it’s not real until I post a blog. So here it is.
I was instructed to say how exciting it is to return, how I look forward with eager anticipation to my recitals, especially my first one in Jacksonville, and so on. Doing what comes most naturally to me, I decided to ignore my handlers completely and write about – the Cleveland Cavaliers!
One might ask why a “piano player” is writing about professional sports. First, it’s in my DNA. Most Lithuanians love basketball. It’s virtually the national sport in Lithuania. There are currently at least three Lithuanian players or players of Lithuanian heritage in the NBA: Nick Stauskas (Sacramento Kings by way of the University of Michigan and Toronto, Canada), Donatas Motiejunas (Houston Rockets), and Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors). There were other very successful Lithuanian NBA players in the past: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cleveland Cavaliers), Arvydas Sabonis (Portland Trail Blazers and NBA Hall of Fame), and Sarunas Marciulionis (San Francisco Warriors and NBA Hall of Fame). Marciulionis was the first European player to have success in the NBA.
Second, I grew up on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and quite frankly that should tell you all you need to know.
I played a lot as a kid, including a stint on my junior high school team, and stopped for about fifteen years when at age 19 after blocking a full court pass during a pick-up game at the Case Western Reserve University gym with my index finger. I suffered ligament damage. I played in adult leagues for a couple of years when in my mid-30’s and haven’t played since but follow the sport closely.
Last night, after finishing my workout at the gym – how else will I be able to properly play the octaves from Liszt Funerailles and keep up with Lang who I believe is getting whipped into shape by LeBron’s personal trainer – which included the dreaded free weight squats, I sat down to eat dinner – chili and a beer with cantaloupe and peanuts for desert – and watch the Cavs play the Spurs. I thought I would watch just part of the game because I had to practice. The game was unbelievable – probably the best of the NBA current season – as the Cavs prevailed in overtime, 128 to 125, and finished well after midnight. Kyrie really had it going in vintage “Uncle Drew” style. His ball handling was phenomenal and caused several Spurs players to stumble while attempting to defend him. He was swishing threes while falling backwards and with defenders draped over him.
The Cavs were down by 10 in the late stages of the game. With 4.3 seconds left, after a good defensive sequence by the Cavs, the Spurs secured the offensive rebound and were immediately fouled. Kawhi Leonard, an 80% free throw shooter, went to the stripe and bricked both free throws! The Cavs rebounded, called time out. LeBron inbounded the ball with 3 seconds left and “Uncle Drew” swished the three! The rest was history.
My thought after the game was that the Cavs still have a lot of work to do. They appeared to me to have superior talent but the Spurs ran a superior system. The Cavs won by individual brilliance and phenomenal shot-making and “hero ball”, something which a team can’t rely on to win consistently in the NBA. The Spurs hit high percentage shots that were created by good ball movement. Also, why is Kevin Love, a talented post player, constantly camped out on the three point line? Why can’t they get him more touches in the paint? Similarly, why don’t they post-up LeBron? With his touch and athleticism, he would be practically unstoppable down low.
Yes, it’s only a game but at the same time it’s more than a game. Pat Riley doesn’t seem to get it. LeBron returned to the Cleveland area for many reasons but an important one was that he wanted to use his stature to do something constructive for the city.
For example, it might not be generally know that LeBron’s foundation brought Lang Lang in last October to perform at an Akron area high school and speak and interact with students.
Cleveland is often looked upon disparagingly by residents of the East Coast and often the butt of jokes. Remember the line form the “Dark Knight Rises” about Commissioner Gordon: “Gordon’s wife took the kids and left for Cleveland”, that is, “She must be crazy, could anyone possibly imagine a worse place?”
Perhaps East Coast residents should be aware of the fact Clevelanders look upon New York City as a remote eastern suburb of Cleveland where general living conditions and striking economic inequalities have forced the administration to put a police officer on virtually every street corner and subway entrance of Manhattan. Indeed, if you have recently visited New York City and looked at Manhattans’ traffic flow, you no doubt noticed that the predominant vehicle is the taxi cab closely followed by the police car. How often do you see an evicted renter plaintively ask his or her landlord, “But where is the humanity?”
Imagine what would happen to New York City if economic conditions forced them to reduce the number of police. It would be like a scene from the end of the “Dark Knight Rises”, or perhaps, Paris of 1789.
In all seriousness, it is great to be back and I hope to be doing many creative things. My DVD, Back – Vytautas Smetona Returns, not to be confused with my CD, Vytautas Smetona, All the Way Back, will be released shortly. It features three tracks, including a brief one called “At the Bar” which you can access on these pages where it is simply called “Back”. It features a tired looking “piano player” at a not-too-nice looking lounge playing the blues and being abused by the patrons, one of whom blurts out, “He can’t play”. Maybe we should do a follow-up called “At the Gym”. The possibilities with this one can really get the creative juices flowing.
Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoy the music!
With heartfelt regards,