Category: Spotlights

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Hugh Laurie

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He’s one of the most accomplished television actors of the past decade, appearing in numerous award-winning shows and programs on both sides of the Atlantic, but it’s easy to forget that Hugh Laurie took the long road to become an international star.

After all, he basically got into acting by accident.

The youngest of four children, Laurie was born on June 11, 1959, and grew up in Oxford, England. His parents, Dr. William George “Ran” Laurie and Patricia Laidlaw Laurie, were of Scottish descent. The elder Laurie (1915-1998) was a well-regarded general practitioner and a former rowing champion who represented England at the 1948 Summer Olympics.

Hugh, meanwhile, attended the Dragon School in Oxford during his pre-teen years; he admits today that he was a horrible student who preferred smoking cigarettes and cheating on French vocabulary tests. Laurie then went on to the world-renowned Eton College, where he competed in rowing and also played percussion in the school orchestra. Upon graduation, he moved on to his father’s alma mater, Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Like his dad, Laurie was a gifted rower and therefore felt the pressure to live up to his family name. He studied archaeology and social anthropology while at Selwyn, but was eventually forced to give up rowing after contracting a case of mono.

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Shortly thereafter, Laurie fell into the Cambridge Footlights. Founded in 1883, the Footlights are the oldest comedy club at the university and have produced many hilarious talents, including Monty Python members John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idle, as well as Jonathan Lynn, creator of Yes, Minister.

While training with the Footlights, Laurie became friends with his future long-time comedy partner, Stephen Fry, and got romantically involved with future Oscar winner Emma Thompson; they remain good friends to this day. Laurie and Thompson were president and vice president of the Footlights, respectively, during their final year at Cambridge (1980-81).

Upon leaving Cambridge, Laurie, along with Fry, found success on a variety of BBC programs, including Blackadder. Co-created by fellow Cambridge alum Ben Elton, Blackadder is a collection of satirical period-piece sitcoms featuring numerous recurring characters, and it gave Fry and Laurie plenty of chances to show off their skills.

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Shortly thereafter, the duo got their own sketch comedy show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, which ran from 1989 to 1995. Widely considered a BBC cult classic, Fry and Laurie’s show helped them reach new heights in the UK, later leading to their hit show Jeeves and Wooster, an adaptation of the famous P.G. Wodehouse stories. Laurie often got chances to show off his musical prowess on TV, as he is a gifted pianist and guitarist who also plays the drums and the saxophone.

However, on the other side of the pond, Laurie was practically an unknown – which made it all the more surprising that he was tabbed for the title role in the medical procedural drama House.

Nearly all of us have seen at least one episode of House, so it’s very difficult to look at the show with fresh eyes, as audiences did back in 2004. Laurie played Dr. Greg House with such precision and perfection from the get-go, enthralling audiences worldwide. In fact, Laurie’s American accent was so convincing during his audition tape that executive producer Bryan Singer had no idea that Laurie wasn’t American until they met in person.

In addition to becoming one of the highest-paid actors on TV, Laurie’s skills finally caught on with an American audience, who only vaguely remembered him from his brief turns in 102 Dalmatians and Stuart Little. The character of Dr. House was so mean-spirited and complex, and critics were consistently impressed with Laurie’s chops. The actor took home two SAG Awards and two Golden Globes for his portrayal of House. And in 2011, Laurie received a Guinness World Record for being the most watched actor on television.

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Laurie admitted that the reason he took the role of Dr. House was because of his own father’s profession, once claiming that he felt slightly guilty for earning far more money than his dad ever did by playing a “fake doctor” on TV.

“I had a long-term reverence for medicine because I hero-worshipped my father, a former doctor, and because I admire doctors. I admire study, empiricism, and rational thought,” Laurie remarked.

However, he clarified that his late father would be “appalled” by the character of Dr. House.

“My father was an endlessly polite, generous and soft-spoken man. He was no pushover, but he would never hurt, shock or outrage people just for the hell of it. At the same time, I hope he would be entertained and see that science and logic are like a religion to House. He’d approve of that.”

Since the mammoth success of House, Laurie has pursued his musical career more consistently, recording two full-length blues albums and touring worldwide. He’s also popped up in other acclaimed shows, including a recent, well-received stint on HBO’s Veep, and took home another Golden Globe just a few weeks ago for his appearance on the BBC’s The Night Manager.

Laurie is currently starring on the Hulu original series Chance, playing a pessimistic neuropsychiatrist who is drawn into the dark underbelly of San Francisco while attempting to help an emotionally disturbed patient who suffers from an abusive husband. The intense, suspenseful show is based upon the novel by Kem Nunn – who also co-produces the show – and co-stars Lisa Gay Hamilton and Ethan Suplee.

Laurie remains best friends with Fry, who was best man at his wedding and godfather to his kids. He and Thompson are also close, with Laurie co-starring in Thompson’s universally-praised adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in 1995. Laurie returned the favor in 2001, having his daughter star in the film Wit, in which she played a younger version of Thompson’s character.

In his free time, Laurie loves playing music of all kinds and is a well-known supporter of the Fulham Football Club. He is also a motorcycle enthusiast, having incorporated these elements into the character of House, and has published two crime novels. In addition to his recreational hobbies, Laurie supports several charities and is a notable patron of Save the Children (his sister, Susan, is on the Board of Trustees).

Laurie currently resides in London with his wife of 27 years, Jo; they have three grown children – Charles (age 28), William (age 26), and Rebecca (age 23).

 

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Billy the Kid

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If you’ve lived in New Mexico for any amount of time, you have to have heard of Billy the Kid (1859-1881). As someone who spent the better part of four years in the Land of Enchantment, it’s hard to argue with that.

Any Wild West historian worth his/her salt can tell you all about the legendary outlaw simply known as Billy the Kid. And that’s exactly what he was – a legend. To that end, there have been dozens of poems, documentaries, and live-action movies about Billy, most notably the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, starring Kris Kristofferson as Billy and James Coburn as Pat Garrett.

Still, many people, even experts in the field, know very little about Billy other than a few facts and information handed down by oral tradition and folklore. In fact, the above photo is the only surviving depiction of the man.

Some people – both Western historians and Billy’s own contemporaries – are divided over who he actually was. In some circles, he’s known as a vicious killer and thief who was part of a growing violent epidemic in post-Civil War New Mexico. Others believe that Billy was simply a punk kid who fell in with the wrong crowd and never killed anyone for the fun of it. And still others viewed Billy as a cunning, suave marksman – noted for being a charmer, a talented dancer, and a folk hero. In modern terms, say a combination of James Bond, Batman, and Clint Eastwood.

So what DO we know about the mysterious Billy the Kid? Let’s find out.

The first thing that you need to know about Billy the Kid is that his name wasn’t Billy. He was born September 17, 1859 in New York City and his given name was Henry McCarty. He was raised Catholic by his Irish-American mother Catherine, and he had a younger brother, Joseph (born 1863).

Very little is known about Billy’s father, other than the fact that he died when Billy was very young. Shortly thereafter, Ms. McCarty and her boys moved to Indiana, where she met and fell in love with a man named Henry Antrim. The family moved around to several places before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1873. Ms. McCarty married Antrim shortly thereafter, and then moved the family again, this time a few hundred miles south to Silver City, New Mexico.

Unfortunately, Billy’s mother passed away a year later from tuberculosis. Billy, by now age 15, started working for a lady named Sarah Brown in Silver City. Brown took him in after his mother’s death, while Billy’s brother remained with Antrim.

In 1875, Billy and a friend robbed a local laundromat, stealing clothes as well as two pistols. Billy was charged with theft and put in jail, but escaped two days later and fled to his stepfather’s house. Soon after that, Billy fled again to the Arizona Territory, where he worked on a ranch and developed a gambling habit. The following year, a respected rancher named Henry Hooker took Billy in and gave him consistent work as a cattle wrangler.

Around this time, Billy befriended a man named John Mackie, an ex-Army cavalryman who had become a small-time horse thief following his discharge. The two men began stealing horses from soldiers at nearby Camp Grant.

During one of these incidents, things turned violent. On August 17, 1877, Billy got into a verbal altercation with Francis Cahill, a blacksmith who had become increasingly suspicious of Billy. During a poker game, Cahill attacked Billy, and after a brief struggle, Billy shot Cahill, who died the next day. Billy was taken into custody by Camp Grant authorities, but managed to escape again.

Billy stole a horse and attempted to return to New Mexico, but was attacked by Apaches on the way back, who robbed him and stole his horse. A tired and dehydrated Billy managed to walk several miles through the desert to the home of John Jones, a gang member who lived in Pecos Valley, New Mexico. Billy stayed at the Jones home and recuperated for awhile before catching on with a band of cattle rustlers. By this time, Billy began using the alias “William H. Bonney” to avoid catching unnecessary attention from newspapers and authorities in his adopted hometown of Silver City.

Billy eventually went back to honest work as a ranch-hand in Lincoln County, New Mexico, working for an Englishman named John Tunstall. Tunstall and his friend, a lawyer named Alexander McSween, were locked in a feud with three prominent businessmen: John Riley, James Dolan, and Lawrence Murphy. This trio were intimately involved in local politics and were suspected of shady dealings with various authority figures in Lincoln County.

In early 1878, on behalf of Dolan, county sheriff William Brady attempted to claim $40,000 of Tunstall’s property in order to repay a much smaller debt owed by McSween. Tunstall, sensing danger, warned his ranch-hands (including Billy) to guard the property and prevent the sheriff’s men from stealing any horses or cattle.

On February 18th, Sheriff Brady assembled a posse and attempted to force Tunstall off his land. In the process, Tunstall was shot and killed, starting what eventually became known as the Lincoln County War.

Two days later, Billy and a couple of his associates went to the local justice of the peace, John Wilson, and obtained murder warrants for Sheriff Brady. While attempting to do so, Billy and his friend, Dick Brewer, were ambushed by the sheriff’s posse and imprisoned. This caught the attention of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rob Widenmann, who freed Billy and Brewer on February 23rd and, in turn, locked up Sheriff Brady’s men.

After his release, Billy joined the Lincoln County Regulators and attempted to avenge Tunstall’s murder. On March 9th, two of Tunstall’s alleged killers, Bill Morton and Frank Baker, were shot dead. A month later, during an ambush at nearby Blazer’s Mill, Brewer and Sheriff Brady were also killed. A warrant was then issued for the arrest of numerous parties, including Billy.

By now, McSween was the leader of the Regulators, who were nearly 60 strong. They occupied the town of Lincoln on the night of July 14th, surrounding the town for several days. The new sheriff, George Peppin, dispatched several sharpshooters to kill the Regulators at the local saloon, but it backfired when Charles Crawford, one of the snipers, was shot by a Regulator named Fernando Herrera.

A furious Sheriff Peppin requested help from Colonel Nathan Dudley of nearby Fort Stanton, but Dudley refused. On July 19th, McSween and the Regulators were attacked at their lodge by Deputy Sheriff Jack Long, who burned the house down. As Billy and the Regulators retreated, McSween was shot and killed by Robert Beckwith, who was then shot by Billy.

Billy and three surviving Regulators regrouped outside of town on the Mescalero Apache Indian Agency. However, when a local bookkeeper was murdered on August 5th by a Lincoln County Constable, the Regulators were framed for the crime.

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On October 5th, U.S. Marshal John Sherman met with the new governor of the New Mexico Territory, Lew Wallace. A Union officer during the Civil War, Wallace was intent on restoring law and order to the dangerous New Mexico landscape. In their meeting, Sherman informed Wallace of a number of pending arrest warrants, including for a one “Billy the Kid.” Due to widespread political corruption in Lincoln County, Sherman had been unable to indict the people involved in the conflict.

In November, Governor Wallace issued amnesty to anyone involved in the Lincoln County War following Tunstall’s murder earlier that year. However, the pardon did not apply to anyone who was under indictment for a crime, so Billy was still a wanted man.

On February 18, 1879, Billy and a friend of his were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A local attorney, Huston Chapman, was murdered and his corpse set on fire while Billy and his friend were forced to watch. Later, Billy wrote a letter to Governor Wallace, offering information on Chapman’s murder in exchange for amnesty. Billy met with Wallace in person on March 15th, with Wallace offering full amnesty to Billy if he testified before a grand jury. Soon after, Billy turned himself in to Sheriff George Kimball.

As agreed, Billy provided information about the Chapman murder, but as the weeks passed, Billy began to question Wallace’s motivations. Believing that the Governor had double-crossed him, Billy escaped the jail on June 17th and decided to lie low for several months.

In January 1880, Billy shot and killed a man named Joe Grant (allegedly in self-defense) at a saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. By now, Billy had joined a new posse and they were still causing trouble in the area, causing headaches for the new sheriff, Pat Garrett.

Garrett had been given a bounty on Billy’s head from Governor Wallace himself. Two days before Christmas 1880, Garrett captured Billy and his posse and took them to stand trial in Santa Fe. On the way there, the group was mobbed by rowdy locals attempting to kill Billy and his men. After arriving in Santa Fe, Billy was interviewed in the jailhouse by a reporter from the Las Vegas Gazette. The reporter took note of Billy’s relaxed demeanor, to which Billy replied that he didn’t believe in being pessimistic and that he would have the last laugh.

While in jail, Billy wrote Governor Wallace again, asking for clemency, but to no avail. In April 1881, Billy was transported to stand trail in Mesilla, New Mexico. After two days of testimonies, Billy was found guilty of murdering Sheriff Brady – the only conviction of any combatant in the Lincoln County War. On April 13th, Billy was sentenced to hang. He was moved once again, this time back to Lincoln.

On the night of April 28th, Sheriff Garrett was out of town. Deputy Bob Olinger and his colleagues were out at dinner, leaving a lone deputy, James Bell, to watch Billy.

Billy requested to use the outhouse, and Bell agreed. Somehow, on the way back to the jail, Billy freed himself from his handcuffs and knocked Bell over, before grabbing his revolver and shooting him in the back as he fled. Billy’s legs were still shackled, but amazingly, he was able to hobble into Garrett’s upstairs office and arm himself with a shotgun. Olinger, who had heard gunshots from across the street, approached. Billy called out, “Look up, old boy, and see what you get,” before shooting Olinger in the head. Billy then freed himself from his leg irons, stole a horse, and fled town.

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Three months later, Governor Wallace placed a new bounty for Billy’s arrest or death. After hearing rumors that Billy was in Fort Sumner again, Garrett and two deputies left on July 14th to question Pete Maxwell, a friend of Billy’s and the son of a prominent landowner. Late at night, Garrett was questioning Maxwell when Billy unexpectedly entered the room. Due to the poor lighting, Billy did not recognize Garrett and called out, “Who is it?” Garrett, recognizing Billy’s voice, shot him in the chest twice, killing him.

Garrett was eventually given the bounty by Governor Wallace, but rumors began circulating that Garrett had ambushed Billy and killed him in cold blood. Feeling a need to set the record straight, Garrett told his side of the story in his book The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, published in April 1882. It remains one of the few definitive chronicles of Billy’s life.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Emeralde

I recently had an awesome opportunity to catch a performance from Emeralde, a band fronted by two friends of mine. I saw Emeralde at Bogie’s Restaurant in Agoura Hills (roughly 45 minutes west of where I live). The band, fronted by pianist/composer Mark Gasbarro and vocalist/lyricist Margie Russomanno, features a versatile mix of contemporary pop, blues, and funk, with a large backing group.

Emeralde was founded in 2014 by Gasbarro and Russomanno, who had collaborated on numerous prior projects.

Gasbarro, a native of Pittsburgh, is an accomplished pianist, composer, and orchestrator, having worked on numerous award-winning films, including several from Pixar (you can find him on IMDB).

Meanwhile, Russomanno has released five solo albums in both pop and contemporary Christian styles; she is also a talented artist/graphic designer.

Emeralde features a wide variety of songs in their catalogue, from slower, down-tempo ballads to upbeat, funk-infused pop jams. I’ve always had a soft spot for modern pop with a retro feel to it, and if you also like that, you’ll probably enjoy Emeralde as well. They have CDs available on both iTunes and their website (www.emeralde.com), including their most recent full-length album, Wind and Shadows. As mentioned previously, Russomanno has also had a noted solo career, which includes the albums Sticks & Stones and All I Need (both of which are also on iTunes).

Both Gasbarro and Russomanno are active in the music ministry at the New Life Church of the Nazarene, located in the San Fernando Valley. You can find them at their respective websites (www.markgasbarro.com and http://www.margierussomanno.net). In addition to music, Russomanno has her featured paintings and graphic design projects featured on the site. When not working on composition projects for film, Gasbarro also keeps busy as an adjunct professor of composition at Azusa Pacific University.

ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT: Mitch Wishnowsky

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When Mitch Wishnowsky was growing up, he had never seen or held an American football. Born and raised in Gosnells, a southeastern suburb of Perth, Australia, Wishnowsky was no different than any other kid in his neighborhood: he wanted to play Australian rules football.

In Australia, there are four different codes of football – soccer, rugby league, rugby union, and Australian rules football – and the most popular one in Perth is Aussie rules, or “footy.” Wishnowsky played a lot of footy as a kid, and showed promise, but never really saw himself playing at the professional level.

At the age of 17, Wishnowsky left high school a year early in order to start work; he had been offered an apprenticeship as a glass installation specialist. Several of his friends began showing him NFL games and explaining how American football was played. On the weekend, Wishnowsky and his friends would occasionally play pickup games of American football at their local park, but their style of play was very rudimentary. They only ran a few plays and just wanted to have a good time.

Wishnowsky still played Aussie rules, too, ending up on the reserves list at the Perth Demons, a local semi-pro team in the West Australian Football League. Still, he was never quite able to draw enough attention from AFL scouts.

After a couple of years, Wishnowsky eventually grew tired of his job and began to consider exploring other professional and educational opportunities. Eventually, he caught wind about ProKick Australia, a training academy for aspiring punters run by former Aussie rules footballer/NFL punter Nathan Chapman.

Chapman’s program is well-regarded around Australia; they select numerous Aussie kids – mostly from footy backgrounds – and help them to transition into American-style punters. To date, Chapman estimates that over 60 ProKick alums have been placed at various colleges in the US. Wishnowsky contacted Chapman and was instantly sold on the idea. He committed to the program and started the long, grueling process of becoming a college football punter.

As good of a track record as ProKick had, Wishnowsky was still worried that he wouldn’t get picked up by an NCAA school right away. Still, he worked hard and soon enough, scouts began inquiring about the 6’4″, 220-pound Aussie.

Wishnowsky eventually made his way from sunny Perth to equally sunny Santa Barbara, California. He got a scholarship punting for the Santa Barbara City College Vaqueros in the fall of 2014, averaging a solid 39.8 yards per punt that year.

Eventually, Wishnowsky got the attention of coach Kyle Whittingham of the University of Utah. The Utes offered Wishnowsky a scholarship and he enrolled in January 2016 with big shoes to fill: he had to replace two-time All-American and two-time Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett, a fellow ProKick alum.

However, Wishnowsky brought a different set of skills to the table than Hackett did – both on and off the field.

Hackett stands only 5’10”, 180 pounds and was highly-regarded for his quick release and kicking accuracy. However, he will admit that Wishnowsky has the superior leg and athleticism:

Mitch has an uncanny ability to hit the ball much harder than most punters. His strengths do not lie with his accuracy; instead, he chooses the most direct route, high and long. I concede defeat when asked who is the stronger and more powerful punter….we have very similar, and yet very different, punting styles.

Off the field, Hackett became a media darling with his dry Aussie one-liners and tongue-in-cheek demeanor. Wishnowsky, comparatively, is a man of few words.

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Upon accepting the 2016 Ray Guy Award for his efforts, Wishnowsky was asked about the amazing track record that Aussies have as college football punters. He simply replied,  “You can roll out, and you can hold onto it for longer. It is changing the game of college football.”

Indeed it is. Utah made history with Wishnowsky, becoming the first school ever to have multiple Ray Guy winners. That makes it four in a row for ProKick too — Hackett won the award twice and Memphis’s Tom Hornsey won it in 2013. And as if that wasn’t enough, Wishnowsky beat out two other ProKick alums to win it all in 2016 – Cameron Johnston of Ohio State and Michael Dickson from Texas. Wishnowsky expressed congrats to his fellow countrymen and runners-up in the 2016 Ray Guy competition.

“No hard feelings. We’re all good mates,” he said with a grin.

Wishnowsky finished the season ranked second in the nation in punting, averaging 48 yards per kick, and won national punter of the week honors three times this past season. He was also named a unanimous first-team All-American.

The scary part? Wishnowsky has two years of eligibility left.

“I suppose I’ll just try to better myself next year,” Wishnowsky says. “I feel like I can get strong, maybe just show a bit more versatility. I wouldn’t mind getting a fake punt on the way at some stage.”

Hey, why not?

ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT: Steven Adams

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have been pegged as legit NBA playoff contenders this season, led by the sensational Russell Westbrook, who has more triple-doubles this season than the rest of the league combined.

But as eye-popping as Westbrook has been, there’s another star who’s been a big key to the Thunder’s success: a dry-humored, tattooed, and mustachioed Kiwi named Steven Adams.

At 7 feet, 250 pounds and wearing a size 19 shoe, Adams has always been big. He comes from a very large and very athletic family – he has 17 older siblings and half siblings. His brothers average 6’9″ and his sisters average 6’6″. One of his sisters, Valerie, is an Olympic qualifying shot-putter.

And today, Steven himself is one of the NBA’s most consistent big men – just entering the prime of his career at age 23. Alongside Westbrook, he’s become a big-time star in Oklahoma City, a metropolitan area where Thunder basketball is the highest-attended sport by far.

But Adams grew up about as far from Oklahoma City as you can imagine.

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Adams hails from Rotorua, a small lakeside city of about 58,000 in the North Island of New Zealand. Adams’s father, Sid, was a retired Royal Navy officer who drove a logging truck, and his mother was a Tongan. Growing up in a blended family was a challenge – Adams’s dad fathered 18 kids by five different women – and things changed rapidly when Sid Adams passed away of stomach cancer in 2006. Steven was 13 when he lost his dad, and like many kids in that situation, he started acting out, skipping school, and getting into trouble.

“When I lost my dad, that was a big hit for me,” Adams recalls. “I didn’t have that parental guidance, and I kind of took advantage of it. I decided not to go to school a couple of times; to go when I felt like it. I always lied to my brothers and sisters. They eventually found out.”

Concerned, Adams’s older brother, Warren, took him in and let him live in his own apartment in the New Zealand capital, Wellington. Warren encouraged his little brother to try playing basketball and got him into a good local school for that very reason.

Despite his size and athleticism, Adams hadn’t considered playing basketball up to that point. He tried track and field, following his sisters’ lead, but didn’t really see basketball as a big opportunity. (While basketball is growing in popularity among Kiwis, it still pales in comparison to the massive fanbase for sports like rugby union and cricket.)

Although he wasn’t super passionate about playing hoops originally, Adams showed some raw potential and impressed his coaches enough to get a scholarship to the lucrative Scots College, an all-boys’ school in the Wellington suburbs.

Adams did well enough on and off the court to get the attention of scouts at regional tournaments. In May 2012, he was named MVP of the New Zealand Under-21 National Tournament, and also wowed scouts at the World Youth Championships and the FIBA Oceania Under-17 Championships. He represented New Zealand’s Under-19 National team several times.

Adams caught the eye of Jamie Dixon, an assistant coach for the University of Pittsburgh. Dixon had played with several of Adams’s brothers, as well as Kenny McFadden, a New Zealand-based basketball development officer. Dixon fell in love with Adams’s physical style of play and light shooting touch. He was sold.

“He had some brothers who were substantially older than him, and that’s how I knew about him,” said Dixon. “And his coach was also a guy I played with, so yeah, it was all about the relationship, knowing him and knowing his brothers. We knew how good he was. Other people didn’t know because he obviously didn’t play much in America.”

But Adams still had some areas of his game that needed polishing. He spent a year working on his fundamentals at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Now NCAA-eligible, Adams moved to Pittsburgh to start his collegiate basketball career in 2012.

In his lone season in a Panther uniform, Adams earned a spot on the All-Big East Rookie Team, averaging a very solid 7.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in only 23 minutes per game. NBA scouts were a fixture at Pitt practices and games, eager to get a glimpse of the Kiwi phenom.

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After his freshman season, Adams declared for the NBA draft and was picked #13 overall by the Thunder.

At first, Adams wasn’t expected to do much. Still very raw by NBA standards, he didn’t average many minutes per game – and when he did play, he was mostly relied on as a shut-down defender.

But Adams never quit and soon began clawing out more playing time in a crowded rotation, sharing time with veteran front-court players like Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, and Serge Ibaka. Eventually, Adams started becoming a major factor, outmuscling defenders for rebounds and beating them low on defense in the paint.

Adams continued to blossom in the 2015-16 season, the first under OKC coach Billy Donovan. Last season, Adams averaged a healthy eight points and 6.7 boards per game, with a .613 field goal percentage. He drew much more attention as a dangerous presence in the front-court, drawing more fouls and double teams.

The Thunder lost two major pieces from last year’s team – Kevin Durant, who left for the Golden State Warriors as a free agent in a landmark move – as well as Ibaka, who was traded to the Orlando Magic in exchange for three other players, including emerging guard Victor Oladipo. Now, OKC is a team built around the intensely competitive Westbrook, who’s having a career-defining season.

But the Thunder saw continued potential in Adams, who’s still young and hungry. Adams signed a new contract right before the season started – a four-year extension worth $100 million.

“The deal might seem outlandish to those who haven’t fully adjusted to the NBA’s new economy. Yet if Adams’ growth curve continues to trend upward, he will swiftly become one the NBA’s bargain deals,” remarked Jon Hamm of Bleacher Report.

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Adams continues to develop excellent chemistry with Oladipo and Westbrook. The trio has become a well-oiled machine and are hoping to lead OKC deep into the playoffs this season. Adams has also developed a rapport with his backup, 6’11” center Enes Kanter. Their similar facial hair and deadpan senses of humor have earned them the nickname of “the Stache Brothers” and made them both fan and media favorites.

Steven Adams has blossomed into an outstanding and durable center in a modern-day NBA that has become more fast-paced and less reliant on the dominant big men of years past. But Adams hopes to continue to keep opponents on their toes with his quiet intensity and work ethic.

Not bad for a young Kiwi who has only played basketball for 10 years.

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Jørn Utzon

The Sydney Opera House is widely considered to be one of the greatest architectural marvels of the modern era. It’s become an instant icon of Australia, defining the city of Sydney and enthralling everyone who sees it. When you think of Sydney (and Australia as a whole), you think of the Opera House.

I recently had a chance to take a (almost) two-week trip to Sydney, during which I took a guided tour that ended at the Opera House. It truly is a magnificent site, but to my surprise, the story behind the structure is even more interesting than the building itself.

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Historians have consistently marveled at Michelangelo’s Biblical paintings atop the ceiling of the fabled Sistine Chapel. Much like the Sistine Chapel ceiling, it’s remarkable that the Sydney Opera House was ever completed.

In 1957, the government of New South Wales commissioned a worldwide design contest – over 230 designs were given for the construction of a new opera house to be located at the edge of Sydney Harbour. Some of the world’s most renowned architects submitted designs, but in the end, the winner was a dark horse – a 39-year-old Danish man by the name of Jørn Utzon.

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Utzon was born in 1918 as the son of an architect for the Danish Navy. He graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1942. When the Nazis invaded and conquered Denmark, Utzon fled to Sweden, where he worked with fellow architects and developed numerous other influences, including the renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Utzon even vacationed to Mexico in 1949, where he marveled at the ancient Mayan pyramids. Upon the end of the war, Utzon returned to Denmark and built an open-plan house for himself, while also continuing to travel.

At the time of his selection for the Sydney Opera House, Utzon had designed several buildings in his native country and had won six previous architecture competitions – still, he was an unproven commodity, having never built anything outside his home country.

Utzon’s design for the Opera House was little more than a sketch drawing, but the contest judges were extremely enthusiastic about his vision, saying that it was “genius” and that they couldn’t endorse anything else. Joseph Cahill, then-Premier of New South Wales, was skeptical at first, but recognized the enormous cost of the project. Concerned that potential delays could dampen local enthusiasm for the Opera House, Cahill brought Utzon to Sydney to start the construction.

Ove Arup & Partners, a British engineering firm, didn’t have adequately detailed drawings to work with, and they encountered problems almost immediately due to Utzon’s bizarre-looking design. Columns had to be rebuilt, there were frequent delays due to inclement weather, and so the project was almost immediately behind schedule and over-budget. The situation was further complicated when Premier Cahill died of a heart attack in October 1959.

This temporarily put a damper on the project, but construction plodded along for the next few years. In 1961, Utzon brilliantly found a solution for the unique elliptical shells, replacing them with sphere-like individual shapes that would form a perfect circle if all assembled together. Utzon’s vision for the interior of the Opera House were even more ambitious, and even his construction team would occasionally be baffled by his plans. Utzon was basically relying on technology that hadn’t even been invented yet.

In 1965, the project hit a wall. Newly-elected NSW Premier Robert Askin and his Minister for Public Works, Davis Hughes, were shocked at how long the Opera House was taking to build and were none too keen to continue the expensive undertaking.

Hughes was constantly harassing Utzon about his design and went out of his way to question his competency. Hughes consistently complained to government officials about the project, which was nearly two years behind schedule and several million dollars over budget. The shells of the exterior were almost completely finished by this point, but the interior sets were still extremely challenging to build the way Utzon intended.

Eventually, a burned-out Utzon submitted his resignation to the NSW government in 1966. He packed up his family and moved back to Denmark, vowing never to return. The Opera House was finally completed several years later, but Utzon’s interior designs were scrapped in favor of a different layout that was deemed more visually appealing (although it ended up being far more expensive).

In 1973, the Sydney Opera House was finally opened and dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II – a decade behind schedule and 99 million Australian dollars over-budget.

Utzon was not invited to the premiere, nor was his name even mentioned during the ceremonial speeches. He never returned to see his masterpiece, despite several invitations from the (now-contrite) NSW government.

In 2003, Utzon was awarded the Pritzker Prize (architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize). One of the judges, Frank Gehry, commented:

Utzon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinarily malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country.

Utzon, suffering from numerous health problems, passed away of a heart attack in his sleep on November 29, 2008. He was 90 years old. Less than 18 months before Utzon’s death, the Opera House had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Several years ago, also before his death, Utzon was finally officially recognized when the Opera House constructed the Utzon Room, a private room inside the structure overlooking Sydney Harbour. Utzon politely declined an invitation to see it, but he released a public statement emphasizing his gratitude:

The fact that I’m mentioned in such a marvelous way, it gives me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t think you can give me more joy as the architect. It supersedes any medal of any kind that I could get.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: John C. McGinley

'The Commies' Comedy Central Awards-Press Room

John Christopher McGinley has become a major film and television star in the past few decades. After many years of bit parts and supporting roles in acclaimed movies, the native New Yorker hit it big in 2001, starring in the TV medical comedy Scrubs, playing the irascible Dr. Perry Cox. Since then, McGinley has kept his foot in the door, continuing to star in many different genres of movies, as well as other TV projects. Today, he is one of Hollywood’s big-time supporting players.

Born in Greenwich Village, NYC, McGinley grew up in an Irish-American family as one of five kids. His father, Jerry, was a stockbroker and his mother, Patricia, was a schoolteacher.

McGinley primarily grew up in Millburn, New Jersey, and as a kid, his first love was sports; he played wide receiver for Millburn High School and considered studying broadcast journalism in college. After entering Syracuse University, McGinley fell in love with acting and eventually transferred to NYU’s acclaimed Tisch School of the Arts. Following his graduation in 1984, McGinley mostly worked on Broadway and off-Broadway productions, as well as a brief stint on a soap opera.

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The next year, McGinley was an understudy to John Turturro on a production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, where he was discovered by a talent scout working for director Oliver Stone. Not long after that, McGinley was cast as Sgt. O’Neill in Stone’s Platoon, which ended up winning four Academy Awards. It was the first of many collaborations between Stone and McGinley; to date, McGinley has appeared in five films directed by Stone.

Following the massive success of Platoon, McGinley appeared briefly in other major films, such as David Fincher’s Se7en and 1996’s The Rock alongside Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, and Ed Harris. McGinley also made a brief, but noteworthy appearance in the 1991 action classic Point Break.

McGinley’s best known film role might be as the clueless efficiency expert Bob Slydell in the 1999 cult classic Office Space. The film, directed by TV comedy veteran Mike Judge, was only a modest success at the box office, but quickly became a crowd favorite and McGinley is frequently featured in some of the movie’s most memorable scenes.

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In 2001, Scrubs became an instant hit on TV as part of the ongoing medical series phenomenon (ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House, etc.). But Scrubs was markedly different from those other shows, mixing goofy comedy, outrageous fantasy sequences and poignant drama into an critical and audience favorite. McGinley threw himself into the role of Dr. Cox, a rebellious, cynical attending physician who serves as reluctant mentor to a group of residents and interns. Cox is ruthless 90% of the time in the show, but occasionally has deeper moments of vulnerability.

McGinley got the role of Dr. Cox during a difficult time in his life. Scrubs premiered in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (McGinley’s brother worked in the World Trade Center that day and only narrowly escaped). At home in L.A., McGinley was recently divorced and trying to raise his four-year-old son, Max, who has Down Syndrome.

In the midst of all this, McGinley had to help lift a fledgling TV series into immediate success. But it all worked out in the end, with Scrubs earning its place in 2000s pop culture lore and lasting for nine whole seasons.

McGinley embraced the challenge of portraying a damaged and sarcastic character.

“I just thought that a guy like Cox would teach with three tablespoons of dirt and a tiny pinch of sugar,” he said. “Otherwise, he was just a prick, and I didn’t want to just play a prick.”

The actor also greatly appreciated the authenticity of the show, as Scrubs was filmed in a vacant former hospital in North Hollywood.

“I think one of the best things about shooting in a defunct hospital is the authenticity of it,” McGinley remarked in an interview. “It reminds me of when we were in the Philippines shooting Platoon. You didn’t have to pretend you were in the jungle – you damn sure were!”

Since the end of Scrubs, McGinley has been keeping busy, both on and off screen. Since Max’s birth, McGinley has donated time and money to the National Down Syndrome Society and serves as their national spokesperson. He also works with the Special Olympics and attempts to raise awareness for all people with intellectual disabilities. In 2011, he received the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award by the Global Down Syndrome Society.

McGinley is the happy husband to Nicole Kessler, a yoga instructor, whom he married in 2007. Since then, he has become father to two daughters, Kate and Billie Grace. His son Max is now 18 and continues to inspire everyone else in the family with his kindness and enthusiasm.

In his free time, McGinley is an avid golfer and surfer, and is also a big supporter of the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. These days, you can currently catch him on IFC’s horror-comedy Stan Against Evil, in which he plays a disgruntled ex-sheriff who reluctantly teams up with his replacement in order to fight off a demon invasion in small-town New Hampshire.

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