Smile Politely

Beware the Giant Tigger

Man, what a weird weekend.

I’m still not sure what I learned about Illini basketball, or humanity. I think I feel optimistic about both. I’m not sure which is more odd. Actually, it’s not Illini basketball in particular that’s odd. It’s the NCAA.

I was having a beer with Cliff Paul (the elder) when his smartphone chirped. It was Darius Paul’s Tweet, announcing his transfer to Illinois. I hadn’t asked Cliff about his son because I figure people will tell me things if they want me to know. But now that it was news, and semi-official, I asked. “Did you not know it was happening?”

He didn’t.

Cliff said he had a feeling about it, but Darius told him the Illini coaching staff wanted Darius to keep quiet about it. That’s how strange NCAA rules are. Even your dad is out of the loop.

Terri Berardini arrived, and we moved to a table, just a couple of feet away. Cliff forgot his phone on the bar, but a dapper Septuagenarian picked it up. “Is this yours?” he offered. Cliff thanked him.

We got settled at the table, and Don Berardini joined us. “Did you hear what that guy said to me?” chuckled Cliff. “He said ‘I give wonderful massages.'”

Compared to NCAA rules, that comment doesn’t seem nearly as strange. It is 2013 after all. Jason Collins just came out.

My dear, late, friend Big John Brooks was, like Cliff, a big, black, gentle giant.* I learned from John that there’s something about a huge, strong, black man that flips a switch in certain libidos. So it’s not the first time I’ve witnessed The Mandingo Swoon at a local watering hole.

Still, it’s not what you expect from an even-more-elderly Judge Smails.


The Kiwanis Club did a fine job, but Saturday’s Illini basketball banquet was disappointing in three ways. First, Myke Henry wasn’t there.

Myke is right up there among Dominique Keller and the fraternal twins Bill Cole & Mike Davis — the funniest, friendliest Illini I’ve had the pleasure to foist a shitty camera toward. That goes for Kevin Berardini, too. He arrived last at the bar with his roommate Jake. Kevin’s seeking to follow the C.J. Jackson route: finishing his degree here and his eligibility at a smaller school, where he can play basketball rather than only watch it.

The second reason for disappointment: Awards banquets are boring. There’s no way around it. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It’s people reciting lists of names.

There were a few bright spots. Brandon Paul energized the crowd, fresh back from Florida and his first foray into professional sports. Paris Parham was good too, despite being eaten alive by seasonal pollen.

The third disappointment was watching Mike Thomas and John Groce champion Tigger, propounding his merits.

You do not want to emulate Tigger. Tigger is immature, irresponsible, dishonest, and reckless. It’s much better — as I wrote five years ago in my inaugural Poetry in the Motion column — to Be Eeyore

John Groce’s childhood bedroom was decked out with Winnie-the-Pooh themes. But maybe he’s unfamiliar with the real stories. So I’ll reiterate, in a nutshell. The hero is not Edward Bear. The hero is you. In this case, you is Christopher Robin Milne. I, who am telling you these adventures, am Alan Milne.

Of the adults I’m telling you about, only Kanga demonstrates wisdom and compassion. Eeyore is wise, but he’s world weary.

Owl is a blowhard, a stuffed shirt. Rabbit is a parody of British class consciousness and hereditary military ineptitude.

The other characters are children. Roo and Tigger are the youngest. Piglet is younger than you. You and Pooh are the same age, but Pooh is not as clever as you are. I teach you to treat Pooh with kindness, and to recognize his warm heart while forgiving his shortcomings.

John Groce should emulate Alan Milne. He considers himself a teacher. He’d be best served by encouraging his players to emulate Christopher Robin, to recognize human tendencies, to avoid common pratfalls.

Then they, like Chris Milne, can help everybody else around them to get better.

We all have problems. Nobody’s problems are sui generis. Alan Milne employed caricatures to personify typical human shortcomings and patterns of behavior as a way to teach his son. That’s why a web search for Winnie-the-Pooh + Seven Deadly Sins turns up so many hits.

Those of us who are a little bit older have seen these patterns a few times. We don’t panic. We’re old hat at dealing with sloth, gluttony, pride and, inevitably, lust.

Thus, when the Septuagenarian left the bar and whispered, “room 419” to Cliff, we all held our laughter until the old man was out of earshot. The holding was especially hard on Cliff, who had a full bladder. He’d spent the hour avoiding a Larry Craig moment.


*Cliff is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and licensed to carry a concealed weapon. So I recommend against testing his gentleness.

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