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FROM FIRST AND SPRING

Turning 'Crash' Right on Its Head

An Editor's Note

April 23, 2006|Rick Wartzman

When I graduated from an all-boys prep school in Baltimore, each member of my class was asked to list in our yearbook his ambition for the future. Most of the responses were predictable:

"To be wealthy." "To be famous." "To be a doctor." "To have a harem." My own goal, however, has proved especially elusive: "To touch the rim."

By all rights, it shouldn't be so hard. I stand about 6 feet tall. And I play lots of basketball, so I have ample opportunity to display a little hang time. The problem is that I don't have any hops.

This deficiency was hammered home when I read Kemp Powers' article on Cliff Kravit of Beverly Hills, who is poised to become the American godfather of parkour, a sport that involves "flipping and leaping . . . across the city, using edifices as tall as 100 feet as catapults" ("No Strings Attached," page 22). Now, that's some serious vertical.

Still, despite the profound difference in our physical abilities, there is one part of Kravit's game that I can relate to. Parkour can be a solitary pursuit. But Kravit, Powers writes, helped introduce here "the notion of . . . parkour as a group activity." The result is that he has gotten to know "black kids from South-Central, Middle Eastern kids from the Valley, Asian kids from Orange County."

And so it is with my Sunday morning basketball game. We gather faithfully at John Burroughs Middle School: white guys like me, blacks, Asians and Latinos, all united by our love for hoops. "People come from so many different backgrounds," says Eduardo Hewitt, a 27-year-old African American who works as an aide to City Councilman Bernard Parks and is one of the Sunday regulars. "The camaraderie--there's nothing like it."

Segregation in L.A is complicated. Latinos and Asians tend to live in "pretty diverse and integrated environments," says Philip Ethington, an urban historian at USC and an expert on the issue. But many whites, he adds, "have retreated to the fringes of the metropolis," west of the 405. And the black community is not as well integrated as the others. As a whole, says Ethington, "it's a mixed bag."

My basketball game, by contrast, is simply mixed. All kinds of guys, all getting along. It's "Crash" turned right on its head. Compared with most pickup ball, "we don't get in as many arguments," says attorney Doug Choe, 41, an Asian American who helped found the game about a decade ago. "It's a little more civil."

In "City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles," Mike Davis asks: "Will the boundaries between different groups become faultlines of conflict or high-voltage generators of an alternative urban culture led by poly-ethnic vanguards?" I don't know about vanguards. But where I play, the shooting guards are pretty good.

I recently wrote about how I find neckties horribly suffocating. But it was my wife who choked at my reference to a "$200 mauve yoke." She quickly noted that my most expensive tie cost no more than half that amount. So, please, let the record re{fllig}ect: I was knot even close.

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