Royal Family: Leland Race Wrestles with Becoming Worthy of His Father’s Name

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A small crowd has formed outside the entrance of the Harley Race Wrestling Arena, a squat warehouse on the outskirts of Troy, Missouri. When Harley’s 32-year-old son Leland Race unlocks the door at 3 p.m., about four dozen people, almost all men between ages 25 and 50 in ballcaps and T-shirts, shuffle through a hallway and past the ticket window, where each of them happily hands Leland $30 in cash on the way to the arena floor. There, at a long table in front of a wrestling ring that flirts with the low steel rafters, sit two World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famers.

Tonight’s event is billed as “The Night of the Dragon,” and at 63, guest of honor Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat still has biceps that stretch the threads of his black T-shirt; his face is smooth and youthful beneath a shock of silver hair. Steamboat welcomes the fanboys with the exuberant “How are you today?” expected from a longtime “baby-face”—pro-wrestling parlance for “good guy.” He answers questions and reminisces about matches past as he signs original-packaged action figures, magazines, replica championship belts, and even a pair of folding metal chairs, and smiles wide for smartphone snapshots.

Beside Steamboat, 73-year-old “King” Harley Race slumps in a wheelchair, the result of a 30-year career spent as a heel, or bad guy, being tossed and body-slammed onto concrete floors and long folding tables like the one upon which his steel-reinforced forearm now rests. From head to toe, his body contains at least as much metal as does the golden National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Championship belt he held eight times in the 1970s and 1980s, now propped up like a nameplate on the tablecloth in front of him. His strawberry-blond curls have thinned; the peacock tattoos on his once-massive arms are wrinkled, blurred, and faded to blue.

And yet his hard gaze and grimace are somehow every bit as intimidating in person as they were on TV during his prime as a tough-as-a-turnbuckle antihero. He barely speaks beyond a gruff “You’re welcome”—that is, until his Sharpie begins to run out of ink.

Jason!” he bellows in a gravelly tone that echoes around the arena.

At this moment, it seems, the only motion in the building is Leland, instantly answering his father’s summons with two new markers in hand. Jason Leland Race bears little resemblance to his father. Bald and wide-eyed, bearded, with a slight overbite, he’s smaller in stature—a lean-but-athletic 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds—than the barrel-chested 250-pound patriarch looking on from the faded fight bills on the wall. Leland does share his father’s middle name, his passion for wrestling, and his marrow-deep conviction that Harley Race was and is the greatest there ever was or will be—at everything. The son leans over his dad’s shoulder, scribbles out a few lines to ensure that the new pens work, and then slips into the background as the autograph line chugs along and the nostalgia machine keeps churning.

Leland runs to the office to oversee ticket and merchandise sales, then off to the bathroom to stock up on toilet paper and soap. One moment, he’s back in the locker room seeing that the wrestlers, his students at Harley Race Wrestling Academy, have everything they need; the next, he’s using a plastic funnel to fill ketchup bottles at the concession stand. All the while, Leland is trying to focus on his own match, tonight’s main event, against the villainous “Superstar Steve” Fender. With the legendary Steamboat guest-refereeing and his father looking on, tonight is another chance for Leland to shine. Winning the bout is important for his storyline, sure—it will set Leland up for a shot at regaining the World League Wrestling heavyweight title that he lost six months ago. But more crucial is winning the crowd—projecting his baby-face persona, Leland “The Legacy” Race, not just through words and the famous moniker but also by putting on a show. By executing the flips, dropkicks, arm bars, and body slams with the technical proficiency that old-school fans associate with the surname and a bone-rattling impact that will make even the most hardcore aficionados wonder for a moment whether it’s not real. To show that 14 years of paying dues in these cramped small-town sheds and gymnasiums and tents has made him ready for the top rope, the WWE and the worldwide stage The King conquered and has long since abdicated. To prove that he’s worthy of the name Race. That he’s not just…

Jason!”

The autograph line is spent, the arena now empty but for a skeleton crew setting up rows of metal banquet chairs. Leland grips the handles on the back of his father’s wheelchair and rolls him toward the front office. The son pops open a can of Diet Coke and sets it beside the butt-filled ashtray on Harley’s desk. Here, The King will eat a loose-meat sandwich, smoke Marlboro Lights, and wait while Leland prepares for what they hope will be a sellout crowd.

 

Read the rest at stlmag.com

‘The Hurt Locker’ Back at Home

EODThe call comes in around 8 p.m. on Richard Swann’s military-issued flip phone. (“Old school, you know?” he jokes. “The government doesn’t want to buy us any new technology.”) It typically sits silent in its charger for weeks at a time in the living room of Swann’s home in Dallas, Georgia, a small town about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta. Still, Swann is hardwired to answer it, rushing from his 7-year-old daughter’s room, where, on this Thursday night, he’s cut short a debate over bedtime. He knows every call, however infrequent, could be a matter of life or death.

When Air Force Master Sergeant Swann was deployed, as he was for tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, these calls would come in three times a day. A land mine had been hidden in the sand, or an improvised explosive device (IED) had been stashed in the trunk of an abandoned car on the side of the road. His job, and the job of his fellow explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) airmen, was to put on a protective bomb suit and delicately disarm and remove the (sometimes literally) ticking threat —like a stateside version of The Hurt Locker

Stateside, Swann and the 94th Civil Engineering Squadron from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, on the outskirts of Atlanta, face a very different threat. While they’re equipped to deal with a domestic terrorist act such as the Boston Marathon bombing or the Oklahoma City bombing, the vast majority of calls stem from everyday citizens who’ve stumbled upon weapons of long-ago wars — forgotten souvenirs from a tour of duty in Europe, Vietnam or the Middle East, “cool stuff” purchased from Ebay and Craigslist or relics found on rural Southern farms and pastures that were once battlefields. A typical example: Back in 2013, construction workers breaking ground on the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta inadvertently dug up a Civil-War era cannonball, which turned out to be a live round containing gunpowder and ball bearings.

Swann grabs his government flip phone and finds a quiet corner. Opening the aged device, he hears the voice of his superior officer. A man was spotted with an ordnance on the side of Panthersville Road, a rural byway just outside Dallas, mere minutes from where Swann now sits. The rest of the information is scant and vague: A military artillery round. Potentially live

The airman gives his wife a quick hug and kiss before running out to his Corolla, where he keeps a go-bag of combat boots; basic tools, like a Leatherman, knives and screwdrivers; and a flame-retardant flight suit that he now zips over his jeans and T-shirt. Swann backs the Toyota out of his driveway and heads out into the chilly October night.

Read the rest at wearemel.com

Open Mike: In the Booth With Moon Man Mike Shannon

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It’s 10 minutes until the first pitch, and Mike Shannon, bespectacled, hunched over a copy of the Miami Marlins’ spring roster in the broadcast booth, is working on the name of today’s opposing pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen.

“How do you pronounce this guy’s name?” Shannon says in his gravelly timbre.

Way-in. Chen,” says fellow broadcaster Mike Claiborne, seated to Shannon’s left. “Like way in on the infield.”

Way-in. Chen?”

“Right.”

“Just want to make sure we’re on the same page,” says Shannon.

When Shannon first started broadcasting, 44 years ago, a mispronunciation, a malaprop, or a colorful quip was acceptable, even endearing, to a like-minded regional audience. Shannonisms such as It’s raining like a Chinese fire drill! and I just want to wish everybody a Happy Easter or Happy Hanukkah are popular, if not necessarily PC, cocktail shorthand in St. Louis. But today, when the play-by-play can be streamed digitally to Chen’s native Taiwan and every sentence can be replayed, dissected, and decried on social media, global listeners expect the spot-on elocution of a Joe Buck or Dan McLaughlin. A slip of the tongue or cultural insensitivity here or there could get a young broadcaster in trouble. “Now whatever you say has to jump over six different hurdles and go through five different filters,” says Buck. “It’s taken some of that personality away.”

At 76, Shannon’s personality is more outsized than ever—hurdles and filters be damned. This morning, he showed up at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, before 9 a.m. for an afternoon spring game, the seat of his black corduroys covered in dust that couldn’t quite be swept away with his hand. He carried a paper cup of coffee and a red plastic shopping bag containing his black-rimmed reading glasses; copies of the The New York Post, The Palm Beach Post, and the Daily Racing Form; and four warm bottles of water. (Despite frequently slurring into the late innings about “cold frosty ones,” Shannon never drinks while broadcasting.) He huffed up four flights of stairs to the press box—both a moment of quiet from an elevator full of Cardinal fans whom he loves but who all think they know him and a quick workout for an ex-jock who underwent heart surgery three years ago: “Two birds,” he says, “with that stone. Heh-heh-heh.”

Once in the booth, he cracks wise to Claiborne about the “decimal” level of the PA rock music rattling the windows. (“This guy works at a disco, somewhere.”) He laments the absence of the Pilates ball he’s sat on for almost a decade to keep him in motion and allow him to exercise between innings. And when he learns thatSt. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold tweeted at 9:03 a.m. that today’s starting first baseman, Matt Holliday, has been scratched from the lineup because of tightness in his lower back, Shannon waits about an hour for confirmation by way of more traditional means—a call from a team gofer from the clubhouse to Shannon’s flip phone—before adjusting his lineup card. (“The whole f—ing thing has changed. Oh man, what a mess.”) Then he dutifully walks down the hall to inform his Spanish-language broadcast counterparts. “Que paso?” he says, in a hard Midwestern accent. “I only want two cervezas,” he says, joking. “Heh-heh-heh.”

By the time first pitch rolls around, even though it’s only an early spring training exhibition, Shannon is at the edge of his uncomfortable chair, almost sticking his head out the press-box window, feeding off the energy of the fans in red packing the stands below. “History could be made every time I go to that ballpark,” he had said previously. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Now on the air, Claiborne introduces Chen and the first three Cardinal batters: “Brought to you by Sapaugh Motors…where everyone leaves happy.”

“Happy, happy, happy,” says Shannon. “You know who sang that song?”

Claiborne: “Uhhhh…Pharrell?”

“You’re right on,” says Shannon, “and right on it today, too, is this weather. It is really…magnificent down here, today. We have some cloud cover. It’s gonna be up near 80, and the wind is blowing in from right field as Chen fires the first pitch of the day, and it’s a steeerike called.”

Read the rest at stlmag.com.

 

One Square Mile: Feather, Fin, and Fur Taxidermy Studio

taxiBeth Johnson believes that every life has a story. Among the nails, pins, knives, and other tools scattered about her workbench lies the colorful, limp-necked carcass of a parrot. Johnson doesn’t know the bird’s name, but she knows that it was a beloved pet for 22 years, that it died of natural causes, and according to the hand-written and blood-smudged ticket, the bereaved owner wants Johnson to give the animal in death what it rarely took in life—flight. That’s Johnson’s job, as she sees it. To, in a way, honor the creature’s existence. She knows that some people think taxidermy is inhumane or at the very least revolting. With the former, Johnson respectfully disagrees; with the latter . . . well . . . she admits it’s not for the squeamish. Today, as her coworker cleans deer skins with a paring knife, giving the air a sweet, gamey tinge, Johnson slices open the bird’s bright yellow belly, inserts a foam-and-wire form, and stitches birdy back up, skillfully concealing the seam beneath the feathers, which she preens with large tweezers. She began learning the craft 26 years ago when, as a fed-up schoolteacher, she answered a “help wanted” sign in the Lithonia yard of what she later learned was a taxidermist. There she practiced skinning and stuffing what seemed like every creature that once walked, crawled, swam, or flew. She also learned to be a storyteller. “Anyone can hang a deer head on the wall,” she says. She prides herself on researching an animal’s habitat and staging wildlife scenes. Her showroom is a library of vignettes, including a timber wolf leaping over a barbed-wire fence and a bear cub pawing at a beehive, complete with insect exoskeletons dotting the mammal’s snout. Of course, she’ll mount antlers and hog heads for hunters who just want a trophy. She also does pet cremations. But some clients, like this parrot’s owner, want something more. And so Johnson lovingly fluffs the bright blue tail feathers and spreads its lifeless wings.

This article originally appeared in Atlanta magazine. 

Twelve Hours a Slave: Why one man spends his spare time re-enacting America’s ugliest era

hamSitting on a stump beneath an old oak tree, beside a weathered barn in Sharpsburg, Maryland, a black man in a homespun woolen shirt and threadbare breeches butchers a turkey with a dull blade. His name is Marvin Greer; he is 29 years old. Around him, seven other African Americans, all of them wearing the period garb of freemen and liberated slaves — cotton dresses, straw hats and antique bonnets — go about the business of preparing breakfast for a dozen white men in blue Union uniforms who are bivouacked just downstream, a 19th-century tintype come to life.

Greer rode a bus 14 hours from Atlanta to participate in this Civil War re-enactment deep in the mountains near Maryland’s border with West Virginia, hard against the Potomac River. It’s breakfast time, and he’s part of the cooking detail. Bacon and onions sizzle in a cast-iron skillet along with apples and yams; a tin pot of coffee boils over, releasing fragrant plumes of smoke into the morning air.

A graduate of traditionally black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Greer has embraced history as more than just a major. Currently a part-time employee of the Atlanta History Center, he is paid to dress up as a slave and re-enact Southern history. Recently he landed a full-time job at Colonial Williamsburg, where he will exchange the garb of a slave for the knee-breeches and waistcoats of a freeman. As a site supervisor, at the Williamsburg, Virginia, theme park, Greer will be charged with integrating the African-American experience into the 18th-century programming.

On this warm September morning, Greer is on his own time, pursuing what many would consider an unusual hobby. He spends his weekends trekking to battlefields across the Southeast. Sometimes he shoulders a musket as an enlisted man in the Union Army — which employed freedmen as soldiers in the War Between the States. Other days, he’s simply a laborer, bearing witness to the approximation of history.

Today Greer is playing a real historical figure named Scipio Africanus, who was born free in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in the mid-19th century. When the Civil War broke out, according to Greer’s research, Africanus left his family to become a body servant to Captain Francis Adams Donaldson of the 118th Pennsylvania, part of the U.S. force pressed into action by Abraham Lincoln to fight against the rebels. On this day 153 years ago, the 118th was pursuing Confederate forces along this route as they retreated southward from their defeat on the bloody battlefield in nearby Antietam.

Though Africanus likely never kept a journal — one has never been found, and his ability to read and write was probably limited, Greer says — he is mentioned in Donaldson’s meticulously kept logs, which state that Africanus was here with the captain more than 150 years ago. The diary contains only a passing description of Africanus as a “sassy nigger,” so in order to fill out the servant’s spitfire personality, Greer has incorporated elements — vernacular, backstory and even posture — of other freemen he’s researched from the area and time period. For instance, Africanus most likely would’ve camped with the other African Americans, most of them newly liberated from a nearby plantation.

The turkey starts to crackle in the pan. “There’s an upside of being in a Union camp,” Greer says with an amused smile, stirring the mix with a corroded two-tine fork. “They eat a lot better than the Confederates.”

Read the rest at wearemel.com

Basso Profundo: How a college football standout became an international opera star

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Morris Robinson is trying to lay low, something that’s never been easy for him. If anyone failed to see the 6-foot-3, 300-plus-pound vocalist lumbering through the lobby of the Woodruff Arts Center an hour ago in black ostrich-skin boots, tuxedo pants, and untucked maroon T-shirt, they certainly heard his voice. Or rather felt it—a sonorous “Hello! How’s it going?” to the doorman at Symphony Hall that seemed to make the walls, the carpeted concrete floor, even the humid air waver like a tuning fork.

Tonight Robinson’s bass is even deeper thanks to some congestion—the onset of what he fears is a cold. That’s why he spent the afternoon resting alone in a darkened Buckhead hotel room instead of surrounded by family at his home in Tyrone, just 35 minutes south. And it’s why he sequestered himself in a cramped dressing room in the bowels of the Woodruff, where he periodically cleared out his pipes with bursts of la-la-la’s, doh’s, and rolling Italian rrrrr’s that made the white-tied instrumentalists start as they passed. And it’s why now, minutes before showtime, Robinson is backstage pacing, size-15 boots falling heavy on the hardwood to and from the stage door, where he keeps peeking out at the packed house. “I’m going to own the room,” he says to himself. “When I walk out, I’m going to take control.”

The sweat is beading on his shaved head. This is a rare show in Robinson’s hometown, a recital to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, his sixth performance in this building as artist-in-residence for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Many of the people out there are friends and family. Some remember him as DeRhon—his middle name—the boy who sang in church but set aside music to play football, becoming an All-American lineman at the Citadel, before moving north to embark on a career in business. Maybe they’ve heard something about the man who, in his 30s, rediscovered classical music and left the world of corporate sales to become an opera singer.

It’s time. Robinson takes a last swig of lukewarm water and straightens his jacket. He clears his throat one final time and quickly blows a kiss to the sky, to the one lifelong fan who isn’t here—the mother who seemed to know all along that her son’s voice was meant to stir the masses.

Read the rest at atlantamagazine.com

Unique boxing program brings empowerment to Parkinson’s patients

DSC_1602Nobody uses the wheelchair accessible parking spot in front of Rock Steady Boxing. It’s Thursday morning, and the rest of the parking lot is full at the industrial park just northwest of Indianapolis.

Inside the gym, a gaggle of about 30 people clad in workout clothes lines up along the apron of a boxing ring. Forty-year-old men are elbow to elbow on the ropes with women in their 80s. Black, white, truckers, retired military, housewives and musicians. Some of their hands are taped, ready for the starting bell. Many of them wear a different shade of the same Rock Steady T-shirt, back emblazoned with the slogan “Fight back.”

All of these fighters have a common, insidious foe: Parkinson’s disease. If any of these patients were trying to straighten a stooped posture or still a trembling limb for the sake of their classmates, Kristy Rose Follmar quickly diffuses any pretense. A drill sergeant with short red hair, broad shoulders and a sleeveless navy T-shirt that reads “COACH,” Follmar addresses her pupils as “Parkies,” shorthand for people with Parkinson’s disease. Her voice echoes in the metal rafters high above as she orders the class to spread out across the concrete floor and stretch.

“Shake everything out!” she says. Then a smile: “On purpose!”

“You’ve got to laugh about things,” Follmar later says. “It gets pretty heavy at times.”

Heavy, as in a man falling and the entire class cheering him on as he crawls back to his feet. As in a husband coming to class with his stricken wife to be her “corner man,” working out alongside her and helping her face this relentless and progressive attack on her nervous system. As in regulars suddenly not showing out of shame or frustration or depression, or because the disease has temporarily — or finally — prevailed, as it inevitably does.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be confronted. In this gym, Follmar and her team teach people how to fight — literally. Ten years ago, Follmar helped start the first Rock Steady, a non-profit gym that preaches the use of repetitive, non-contact boxing training to improve Parkinson’s patients’ strength and coordination to help them stave off this unrelenting disease.

The idea has been contagious. What started with six members in a cramped Indianapolis shop has spread to 36 states and Italy, Australia and Canada.

When the stretching is done, Follmar walks over to the stereo and pushes play on an ’80s and ’90s R&B mix. As Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” comes on, she sets the digital timer for four-minute rounds. She slips on a pair of red punching mitts and slaps them together.

“All right, Parkies,” she says. “Let’s go!”

Read the rest at espn.go.com

Can Brad Stevens Put the Celtics Together Again?

 

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It’s Saturday night in Las Vegas, and the NBA Summer League is in full tilt. There’s none of the pomp of the regular season—that’s the appeal of this brief showcase—but the Thomas & Mack Center, on the UNLV campus, is still packed with well-known faces. Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is standing at the entrance. Former All-Star and current Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd patrols the baseline. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is courtside.

The pavilion’s setup is so intimate—it’s essentially a high school gym decked out with a pair of HD video boards—that the only thing separating the coaches and scouts from the fanboys and autograph hounds is a thin line of police tape, cordoning off a small section of reserved seats.

Summer League is a chance for NBA teams to evaluate young talent, and on the court tonight are the Celtics’ rookies, second-year hopefuls, and undrafted free agents. There’s just one twist: This ragtag group of inexperienced unknowns might as well be Boston’s 2015–2016 opening-night roster. Three years removed from the Big Three era—Ray Allen departed in 2012, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013, Rajon Rondo last year—the Celtics have the fewest marquee players of any major Boston sports franchise. None, in fact. Instead, the most recognizable Celtics brand name is, on this Saturday night, sitting in the lightly policed VIP section with his son. Four rows up, seated amid the easily identifiable NBA professionals talking on their phones and taking notes in their team-issued polo shirts, the man and his son are recognizable only for their utter banality: The boy is decked out in Boston green and white, glued to his team at the edge of his seat, while his father tries to strike up a conversation with a man sitting beside him.

The pair’s presence seems so out of place that it catches the attention of an usher, who approaches the dad and asks to see his team credentials. The father doesn’t seem surprised. He calmly lifts the plastic tag at the end of his lanyard to show the usher: “Brad Stevens. Boston Celtics.”

It’s hard to imagine Doc Rivers or Phil Jackson or even Golden State’s Steve Kerr getting carded at an NBA venue—and certainly not without a flash of annoyance or fluster of indignity. But Stevens takes it as a matter of course. Not getting recognized happens to him almost every day, and not just on the road. It happens when he’s boarding a plane at Logan, out with his family near their home in Wellesley, even grabbing a bite around the Garden smack in the middle of Celts-crazy Boston. Rare is the day that passes without the slender, 6-foot-1 coach going unrecognized. “I don’t think I’m overly recognizable,” he’ll say, running his hand over his clean-shaven cheekbones.

This could be a problem. If the ushers don’t recognize your head coach—the man team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has handpicked to whittle a band of young unknowns into NBA playoff contenders—then it’s a good bet he’s not famous enough to put on the cover of the media guide. And if not Brad Stevens, then who?

It’s not just Stevens’s face that blends into the scenery. His whole approach to coaching is based on deflecting attention. He hardly ever yells at his players, doesn’t stomp and carry on from the sideline. The only time he talks about himself is when he’s assuming blame for the mistakes and subpar play of his crew of misfits. It’s precisely the meek and humble demeanor you’d expect of a former Division III point guard and coach from a tiny private college in Indiana dropped into a locker room of NBA-size egos. “In college, you’re coaching young men who haven’t accomplished anything, and they have to adapt to you, mostly,” says Stevens’s friend Mike Krzyzewski, the iconic Coach K who has won five NCAA championships at Duke, and guided two pro-stocked U.S. national teams to Olympic gold. “Professional athletes are men—that’s what they do. If you’re smart, you’ll adapt to them.”

So far, Stevens’s adaptation has yielded a combined 99 regular-season losses in two years. To be sure, this Celtics team is a rebuild. Everybody understands this. And everyone acknowledges that in the midst of the carnage, Stevens has been able to carve out a few symbolic victories. Last year, he engineered a late-season hot streak—overcoming a flurry of personnel shifts, including Rondo’s departure, by deploying his tireless preparation and vast basketball IQ—and led the Celtics on a spirited 20–11 run to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was impressive, but only to a point. If there was any faint hope that Stevens’s shoddy Celtics could compete with playoff-caliber NBA talent, it was wiped out when LeBron James and the actual stars of the Cleveland Cavaliers dispensed with Boston in four straight games and sent them home.

As Stevens leans back into his seat in Vegas, he’s looking at a bench of players who cannot win it all. If Boston is ever going to regain a legitimate place at the playoff-season party, it’s going to need superstars—and a coach who can command and control them. Young players eager to make their mark on the league, at bargain-basement prices? Mid-level talent looking to impress a true contender and jockey for a trade? These are the guys who will play their hearts out for Brad Stevens—which makes Ainge a genius and Stevens the perfect man for the moment. But what’s the long-term play? Teams tend to take on the personalities of their leaders. Phil Jackson was the mystic Zen master. Pat Riley was the firebrand; Gregg Popovich, the grizzled yeoman. Can Stevens’s everyman routine provide the energy it’s going to take to win banner number 18? Or is he just a stunt driver, taking the bumps and keeping the seat warm while Ainge pieces together a championship machine—and then hires a bigger name to drive it across the finish line?

Talk to Stevens now, and you’ll hear platitudes about selflessness and team play. It wasn’t always that way. In his childhood imagination, Stevens was the one with the ball as the game clock expired at Assembly Hall, home of coach Bob Knight’s Indiana University Hoosiers. In the floodlights of his parents’ suburban Indiana driveway, he’d coordinate daylong pickup games with neighborhood kids. In the unfinished part of his parents’ basement, the only child dribbled around chairs while watching worn-out videos of IU games. He wasn’t dreaming of exerting his egoless mentorship from the sideline. The young Brad Stevens had his heart set on basketball stardom.

Read the rest at Boston magazine

 

One Square Mile: Dixie Speedway

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In the pits, 73-year-old Nancy Roland, poker visor down and a Marlboro Light dangling from her lips, pushes an ice scraper across the hood of the race car, sweeping off chunks of orange clay. Thirteen-year-old Will Roland steps out from behind the trailer, zipping up his black-and-red fire suit. He slips on his helmet and climbs behind the wheel of the number 22 Roland Tire Crate Late Model. The engine roars to life—400 horsepower rattling 2,300 pounds of car and 95 pounds of driver. Mark Roland, Will’s father and crew chief, leans in to shout a few words of advice before sending his son onto the oval alongside men twice and even three times his age. Will raced quarter midgets—essentially souped up go-karts—from age five, but this is his first full year in late model, on the dirt where speeds approach 100 miles per hour. As the cars rev their engines for the qualifier, the PA booms: Wheel to wheel. Hub to hub. Doorpost to doorpost. Here we go! Will pulls away early, but he falters on the penultimate lap, coming in loose and high to turn two, leaving an opening for the surging number 87 to attempt a pass. The two cars come within inches of contact as they accelerate into the straightaway. Will holds him off, barely. Pacing at the fence, Nancy pulls a fresh cigarette from her red fanny pack. She remembers the wreck at Rome that retired her son, Will’s father. That nightmare recedes as her grandson takes the checkered flag. “He won! He won!” Back in the pits, Will removes his helmet and climbs out of the car, stepping over the glittering decal for Roland Tire, the family business back in Jasper that is his birthright should his NASCAR dreams fail to materialize. He needs to tell his dad that the track is getting slick and that they might want to attach the spoiler to the car before the next race. But not before getting a congratulatory kiss from his biggest fan.

This article originally appeared in Atlanta magazine. 

One Square Mile: Frolona Farm

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Josh Davis is a farmer. His life is moving things from place to place: Hay from field to barn. Feed from barn to pasture. Cattle and hogs from pasture to slaughter to CSA or wholesale. This morning his maroon Dodge Ram crunches up the steep gravel drive, carrying his 15-month-old daughter, Ona—bleary blue eyes, tousled blonde hair, and one orange moccasin missing from a plump foot—to the remote white clapboard farmhouse with the tin roof where his sister waits to babysit. His wife is out of town on business, leaving Davis to tend to the livestock and the land. Davis’s great-great-great-grandfather, a subsistence farmer, won claim to this clay in the Creek Land Lottery in the 1830s. His descendants built the house in 1890. Davis’s childhood bedroom was upstairs, with a picture window overlooking 1,500 verdant acres specked with timber, pigs, and cows. All he saw back then was emptiness. “I left immediately after high school with no intention of ever coming back,” he says. He fled to college, got an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Louisville, but became disillusioned with academia. Got a marketing job that he lost in the Great Recession, and reluctantly came home in 2009. He found local markets hungry for grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork. He discovered a tether he didn’t realize was there. “There’s something about being here and working this land,” he says, walking among the herd of cows who’ve come lowing for food. “Besides, if it’s not me, no one else will do this.” As soon as Ona is old enough, she’ll be bouncing beside him in the farm truck, bounding over this red earth, calling pigs and feeding cattle. “I don’t see how she couldn’t get a love for this place,” he says, knowing full well that when the time comes, she’ll move wherever she wants.

This article originally appeared in Atlanta magazine.