I return from my longest hiatus from blogging. These days, words like ‘writing’, ‘publish’, ‘manuscript’ and ‘paper’ have a different meaning in my life and they are seldom used in a leisurely context. Graduate students are not paid very much, but what we are given in over-abundance are chances to bitch, moan and complain until we start getting annoyed with other grad students who do the same. Laboratory life moves on while me mutter curses under our breath, swear revenge on instruments that never seem to work when you need them most, plot elaborate schemes to start a blood feud with someone who messed up your experiment and day dreaming about reviewers and editors spending the rest of their lives in medieval oubliettes until they accept your paper without questions.
It’s not all about morbid fantasies though. The flexible work schedule (at least in my group) is a perk and so is the warm and generally pleasant climes of Atlanta. I did try to relish every opportunity to exploit the low fuel prices here and drove two-thirds the way across the country, but a historically bad blizzard in New Mexico smothered my R&R plans. How we managed to escape from the snow and frost is a story for another day – especially since it seems to get more adventurous and death-defying as the memory grows older.
In less exciting times, I have picked up a new hobby of listening to podcasts; a throwback to the radio era. I appreciate the opportunities it affords me to enjoy content while not having to devote my visual attention all the time. I also find that podcasts are a better way of sustaining your attention while driving than listening to music. My subscriptions vary between comedy, sports, pop-culture to just plain absurd. The last category is the one that led me to write this post.
Last year, around August, I heard the news that Kobe and Shaq had cleared the air on their now notorious feud. As a Laker fan, it is tough for me to not reminisce about the good ol’ days when Shaq was carving up other centers and Kobe was lighting it up from the perimeter. They were the most dynamic duo in NBA history and along with Magic-Kareem and Jordan-Pippen, they are a lock for one of the greatest one-two punches in basketball annals. But things didn’t always seem peachy and after the debacle of the 2004 Finals, the duo were split. To their credit, they found success individually, and of late have been nothing but complementary of each other in public.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Shaq had a podcast on podcastone.com and this was the venue for their reunion. I listened in to the recording one day and really enjoyed the two of them talking about their past and share stories about their Laker days. Particularly in light of how Kobe’s career has come to a disappointing culmination, it was a bitter-sweet moment for the Laker fan in me.
Apart from the conversation, I noticed that the podcast had a generally pleasant vibe where Shaq and his co-host John Kincade had an excellent on-air rapport and that neither of them took themselves too seriously. The conversation topics would always be light-hearted and Shaq would put his trademarked humorous twist on everything ranging from basketball to racially-charged incidents. I have always believed that the reason why Inside the NBA on TNT is the best TV show is that Shaq and Charles Barkley have built up enough equity with the American public that allows them to make off-the-cuff comments that are seldom misconstrued. People generally like them and even if they disagree to their views, they understand that there is no malicious intent behind their strong positions.
I caught up with the previous episodes of ‘The Big Podcast with Shaq’ over the next few days and became a regular listener on Mondays. The segment that brought the most laughs consistently was called ‘Borderline’ which was organically conceived when one of them said something which could have been classified as ‘borderline offensive’. So every time that happened on air, Shaq would yell out ‘Borderline’ and the guys would get a good laugh out of it. Soon it became a running segment where they would play audio clips that involve comments that were unintentionally borderline and funny. This varied from news anchor fails, commentator gaffes, clips played out of context and interviews where folks would say something asinine. The word ‘Borderline’ morphed into the podcast equivalent of “Shaqtin’” – two terms to describe public embarrassment that were coined by Shaq.
I had started following Shaq, his co-host and his producer on twitter. One fine day before the Thanksgiving week, I saw a tweet where John asked anyone who is interested in playing a game on the podcast to tweet the producer, Rob Jenners. So I tweeted him and he got back to me asking me if I can wait by the phone at 4:00 pm. I didn’t even check my schedule and I said yes; all the while being extremely pessimistic that this had all the build up towards an epic letdown. Nevertheless, I waited near the phone and to my elation, I got the call around 4. It was Rob and he told me, ‘Stay on the line, Krishna. Shaq will be with you shortly’. By then I was smiling ear-to-ear and eagerly waiting to talk to the big fella.
The game that they were playing was called Buzzer Beater. The idea is Shaq and John would each give these ‘cryptic clues’ to a listener and they would have to identify what they are talking about. I was mentally prepared put my bachelors and master’s degrees in engineering to good use. I had a sinking feeling that if they asked me anything about rap/pop music or college sports, I was a sitting duck. But to my greatest surprise and slight embarrassment, the category was ‘Fast Food Chains’. It’s almost as if Shaq knew me!
I will link the podcast below so you can listen to the exchange for yourselves (I come in around the 49:40 minute mark). Shaq heard my name, discerned that I am Indian and said he wants to team up with me because “Indians are smart”! Hooray for positive stereotypes. So anyway, I go on to do well in the contest and John’s listener counterpart fell apart in the clutch and that helped me and Shaq win the game! Maybe Shaq and KC are the next Shaq and Kobe, amiright?!
I ‘won’ an autographed picture from Shaq and was sent to my home a few weeks later. Shaq calls himself the Black Godfather and prefers the Spanish translation for added effect. I have never been an autograph hunter but that looks like a great one to start with!
So I get my 15 seconds of fame and some bragging rights with my friends. It has also come in handy as a conversation starter – “So the other day I was talking to Shaq and… Oh did I not tell you already?” #humblebrag and all that.
This past Friday, I was having a spectacularly craptastic week where none of my experiments went to fruition and I couldn’t wait for Friday to be here. But Murphy’s law struck and one of my over-the-weekend experiments had failed and leaked all over and I was called in to fix the situation. I had to rush to the lab at a moment’s notice and was frantically making my way to the lab when I saw one other than the Big Diesel across the street. At first I thought I was trippin’ but nope it was him alright. He was walking (on the street like a regular person!) in the same direction as I was going. The expression on my face is akin to the one Laura Dern’s character had when she first saw the dinosaur in Jurassic Park (that metaphor is apropos to this situation I hope). I yelled out “Borderline” and he heard it and laughed and looked up from his phone. I said “Shaq! I was on the podcast a few months ago and we played buzzer beater” and he said “Oh! That was you? I remember you.” He proceeded to give me a fist bump and then walked on. I have never been a fan of selfies and on top of that I was so completely star-struck that it didn’t even cross my mind. I just went to the lab, cleaned up the experiment and all I could think of was how I will never wash the hand where Shaq gave me the dap!
I always thought that if I am ever around celebrities I will always play it cool and act normal. I guess not. It was my first real celebrity encounter. I had seen Mohanlal up close during a quiz competition where he was the chief guest. My friend yelled out ‘Laletta’ and he turned around and looked at us. On my first day at USC, while taking a walking tour of the campus with my roommate, we fortuitously ran into Amir Khan at the USC Cinematic School. I had seen Sachin play in an IPL game and the closest he got to us was when he fielded near the boundary and I watched Kobe (and a very young and then little-known Steph Curry) play in front of Jack Nicholson from the nose-bleed section at the Staples Center. As far as big celebrities go, no-one gets bigger than Shaq! The moment got to me and I was caught Shaqtin’!
In the end, this made for a fun story to tell my friends and get me back into blogging after a prolonged rut. Kobe has always been my favorite Laker player, but off-the-court, I think Shaq is the boss. His antics on TV and the podcast are good for solid laughs and as a celebrity he is always been a huge supporter of community initiatives. Shaq and Chuck have the best on-screen personalities for any athletes and NBA fans are lucky to catch them on TV every week during the season. Turner doesn’t do live audience tapings for Inside the NBA. If they did, I’d be pitching a tent outside the gates until they let me in – considering that Studio J where they tape the show is literally right across the street from Georgia Tech.