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(Public domain, hopefully? Let us know if this is a problem)

After the fact, he would simply refer to the performance as “beautiful” in an attempt to deflect accusations of controversy in the face of a divided nation. A few months after that, around the change of the calendar, he would roll out his true protest, the finest electric guitar symphony ever conceived, in what would end up being the only showcase for his talents that were actually on his terms. He would be dead within the year, nobody the wiser.

But in this moment, at 9 am the morning after the damn thing was supposed to end on the saturated grounds that were never as good as they looked on film long after the fact to the millions upon millions who were nostalgic for something that never was, he was free. He hoped only for as much as that for everyone else. Fifty years ago today, at right around the time this post is publishing, Jimi Hendrix played the longest set of his career at Woodstock, a sloppy, convoluted mess which nevertheless gave us an interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that has confounded and inspired ever since.

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Franck Fife/AFP/Getty

Two years ago, my oldest, not older, brother brought up a point I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since[1]. He was thinking about patriotism, and how it presents a weird proposition when an American athlete does something extraordinary on a grand stage, and you aren’t especially proud of what your country has or is capable of accomplishing as you see it. Borders are troublesome in their very existence, and trying to adhere to them is a worry of people who can afford homes within their borders, or people who aspire to

In fairness, as someone who was born here and has no connection to my heritage other than the aspirational and that which is skin tone-related, I’ve been a lot more Republic of Ireland-forward than he has, but I think I get it, to some extent – the United States isn’t the greatest breeding ground for pride in anything you like unless a lot of people like yourself enjoy it, and even then, it can be a dogfight.

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Courtesy of Forbes

Charlotte, North Carolina, my home and where the Carolina Panthers reside (for now), is currently undergoing massive upheaval as a result of a tax revaluation by the Mecklenburg County Tax Assessor’s Office. This is the first revaluation since 2011, and Charlotte has only continued to increase in its population to the tune of roughly 54 people a day. This population growth coupled with a lack of supply in housing stock (both affordable and otherwise) has led to the kind of real estate speculation that spells disaster for working class neighborhoods. 

The Tax Assessor’s Office reported that commercial property jumped by an average of 77% while residential jumped by an average of 43%. As a result, people are making tough, kitchen table decisions like appealing their revaluation or moving before a property tax rate is set in July. The revaluation has turned an affordable housing crisis into a nightmare with horror stories of affected neighborhoods devastated and residents despondent with the choices ahead of them. 

There was a story released this past Thursday that one major fixture of the region is also feeling the squeeze: David Tepper’s Carolina Panthers. 

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Courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment

The idea that Magic Johnson had, I’m guessing, was simply that adding the best player in basketball – whatever that means – to a 35-win team might just be able to push the door open on a Western Conference playoff picture that it has not entered since 2013.

In a vacuum, this makes sense, being that LeBron James had led his various, sometimes-oddball teams to the NBA Finals in each of the prior eight seasons. For what Zach Lowe refers to as “the junior varsity conference,” LeBron was the final boss, and the Finals boss, for longer than erstwhile running mates Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas have been in the league.

In hindsight, what has happened was, or could have been, plain to see. LeBron had interests beyond basketball; the Lakers had interests beyond developing (admittedly big name!) young talent; LaVar Ball had interests beyond Lonzo Ball. These things happen.

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You have options. Before the start of every new sporting season, dedicated fans take a step back to join casual onlookers just catching up in assessing offseason developments, visualizing the year ahead, prognosticating to pass the time. There are bland press releases to read, rehearsed transcripts to read into, social media posts to pick apart. Media sources both official and otherwise get paid to distill this pile of corporate-backed bollocks into coherent season previews with scripted narratives to follow for your benefit so you can regurgitate it to uninterested parties as the smartest, least likable person in the room when the topic of conversation finally comes around. I know what these previews will say. So do you. This is the ritual.

But there are alternatives. That’s why you’re here.

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Graphic by Brian Kraker

Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.

Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.

As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.

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