7up: Lebanese Superfans of Basketball, Miles Away From Ordinary
Is The Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Some people see the glass half full. Others, half empty.
I like to celebrate that there are more than two types of people in the world. Some see the glass as a glass — a design, a shape, a color. Others see how the glass was made, born of fire and sand with a fine craftsperson. As a young girl, I saw the shining sun beam its way into my family’s warm Los Angeles home through the green glass on the windowsill. I learned to read early. I also loved design and form from an early age. I loved the font of the 1970’s cookbooks my mother cherished to create delicious meals for our family. One of my first visual memories is a round clock above the fridge on our glorious white-walled kitchen.
In Los Angeles, my parents were proud transplants from San Francisco, my birth city. They were also migrants to California from Lebanon, their homeland. My family’s book-filled home had room for anyone to try my mother’s famous Lebanese delights, her experiments with Asian spring rolls, miles from familiar in Beirut, or her latest creations from Western Living Sunset magazine’s pages as she explored new things, to create a cuisine with influences from her homeland and her readings of this new land, California.
At the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) campus we called home in the 1970s, college basketball was a huge part of my parents’ assimilation into California life. We cheered Bruins basketball, with Marques Johnson and his teammates on the court, I was a two-year-old, close by in the stands, cheering “Go, Marcus, go!”
At home, off court, special weekend brunches included savory za’atar bread hot out of the oven with a treat, to share and pour liquid delights from an emerald-tinted 7up bottle for Lebanese Breakfast.
The green glass of my childhood was a soda bottle on which I saw the font of the brand “7UP” and a wordy inspirational message on the green 7-up bottle with yellow letters reading “LEGENDS LEGACY” and honoring John Wooden, the fabulous coach of the unstoppable UCLA Basketball men’s team in the early 1970s.
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
-John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach
One side of the glass features a tiny font of sunny bright yellow victory, listing the national championship games UCLA had won between 1964 to 1975.
Under Coach Wooden, Marques Johnson won a national championship in 1975 with the UCLA Bruins. We missed some of the fall games that year, because we went to Beirut, Lebanon, far from UCLA, but home to the glorious American University of Beirut, where my father’s university doctoral research combined with his desire to return home to his motherland, Lebanon. I marked my third birthday in 1975 in Lebanon. Meanwhile in Marques Johnson’s UCLA senior year, he earned multiple national player of the year awards. My parents desire to be closer to home where my father could pursue research on Middle East politics in the heart of cosmopolitan Beirut triumphed for our trio.
Though the desire to be home would remain, the reality was a civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. We needed to evacuate.
In 2021, I am spending Christmas in Iceland. There is some debate about the new Holiday Kolas on the market in clear glass bottles.
In October, 2021, in Iceland, I captured some photos of a modern 7up bottle. What does a green bottle look like in a black and white image? How does the winter sun of Iceland create unique highlights and reflections in color?
7up Photo by Tanya Sleiman, 2021
Marques Johnson’s sophomore season started in 1974.
The year I returned from Lebanon, Johnson helped lead the UCLA Bruins to Coach John Wooden’s 10th and final NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship. Wooden retired from coaching after the season. Gene Bartow became the head coach. And my family prepared to move to Lebanon from California. A minor April 1975 incident was worrying back home in Lebanon. War was brewing, but my parents did not know.
We returned to Los Angeles with a stop in Canada while we waited for our visas to enter America again.
A glass is a glass. It is what you do with it that matters! I am so grateful my parents took their very difficult year of migrating in 1975 into a lesson in resilience. Like Coach Wooden, they saw the importance of trying your best, and evolving.
As his playing career ended under Coach Wooden, Marques Johnson got into the entertainment business, acting in small roles in many films, including Love and Action in Chicago, Blue Chips, and Forget Paris.
Filmed on location in windy Chicago, Illinois, and near Marcus’s college basketball courts in sunny Venice Beach, California, Snipes and Harrelson play street smart ball hustlers on a mission to succeed. Marques Johnson’s character Raymond in Venice Beach has now iconic lines in this sports comedy classic.
Just a few minutes on screen, the trio of men sparring in Venice Beach remain a fan-favorite moment today. A remake might be in the works. That is a film I’d love to see in theaters!
Nostalgia in a Glass: Julebrus or Christmas Soda
Red or Brown? Raspberry red Julebrus and champagne-flavored brown Julebrus is a favorite Norwegian sweet soda for Christmas. The color and hue of the bottle combine to helping the customer know what is inside. Adults can give their favorite kids a nostalgic sugary treat, while staying safe from similar colored alcoholic beers for the holidays, ales crafted just for Christmas, and often brewed with orange and cinnamon.
The current coach of the NBA Golden State Warriors was once a ball boy on the 1970s’ courts of UCLA College Basketball.
The ball boy grew up to be an incredible NBA player and coach. His father, Malcolm, was my father Doha’s college advisor.
As a ball boy, Steve Kerr’s California neighbor in the 1970s was Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California, and a Hollywood Actor.
As the President of the USA, Ronald Reagan mourned the loss of Steve’s father, Malcolm Kerr, at the hands of terrorists.
It was with the greatest shock and sadness that we learned early this morning of the death of Dr. Malcolm Kerr, the president of the American University of Beirut. He was a highly respected member of the academic world who, as president of the American institution in Lebanon, worked tirelessly and courageously to maintain the principles of academic freedom and excellence in education. His work strengthened the historical, cultural, and academic ties between the United States and Lebanon and other countries of the Middle East. Dr. Kerr carried on a family tradition — he himself was born in Beirut to parents also dedicated to the service of mankind.
-Ronald Reagan, USA President on January 18, 1984
Some believers might see the men with guns as heroes. I see them as cowards. January 18, 1984, in Beirut, men pretending to be students at the American University in Beirut used weapons to murder Dr. Malcolm Kerr because he represented a voice of democracy and diversity, and was a threat to their political paradigms of control.
Basketball can be a diversion, or a lifeline.
“Basketball went from a passion to nothing less than a survival tool.”
- Stephen Douglas Kerr, American Basketball Coach
Steve Kerr’s 2021 biography by Howard Cooper is entitled simply, Steve Kerr: A Life. In a separate essay, I will write about how Steve overcame the loss of his father Malcolm. And how Steve’s mother, Ann, built a university center to promote peace after the death of her husband, a fellow educator like Ann. I know the lessons Stephen Kerr learned from Coach Wooden include the importance of trying your best, and evolving.
In a worldview that is black or white, full or empty, life can seem a zero sum game. For too many on this planet, there is not enough water to go around, let alone a sugary drink for breakfast or a holiday. Yet, humanity can evolve. I believe we can do better, and work together, and raise a glass to our success. When the designers and dreamers of this world also take a seat alongside the geopolitical decision makers, we are all enriched. Sometimes, a slogan like “Just Do It” is easy to adopt. “Make Lebanon Politically Diverse and Equitable” is not as catchy as the MAGA slogan of a certain political movement emblazoned deep into a certain colored hat in a certain nation.
Self-help books argue to change your view, try seeing the world through different colored glasses. But can the glass itself change by swapping rose-colored spectacles for dark shades?
Let us look around at the beauty of things that have more than one side. “Motherhood” through different artists’ eyes can be portraiture, sculpture, poetry, or a sweet lullaby to get a child to sleep. My father’s favorite Arabic poem is about Mothers. My favorite, also in Arabic, is by a different author. I am my father’s daughter, but I have my own tastes. Mahmoud Darwish’s “To My Mother” poem opens with nostalgia for the bread and coffee and tender touch of his mother. Politically, it is important to note, he was not in a New York bohemian cafe penning his ode. He was in an Israeli prison, arrested by the State of Israel, for his political beliefs. With his straight hair, wire-rim spectacles and dapper blue blazer, Mahmoud Darwish looked more like an intellectual than a terrorist. But in the eyes of the state of Israel, he was a threat. Penned from jail, his “To My Mother” ode is seen by some as a tribute to his motherland, Palestine, as the metaphor of the mother poem. I bet if you asked his proud mother, she would would have an opinion on the subject of his musings; without her, the world would be without a true poet.
As a filmmaker, I am exploring the mother love of an Icelandic female artist who had no children, and the photography of a New Yorker who captured children at play in New York, and had no children of her own. For my own daughter, I hope she will know that even if I never tell her how a 7up bottle equals basketball, or the death of Dr. Malcolm Kerr, she will see my pride in her pursuits of her unique taste. Here’s to a glass of Icelandic soda far from home in California. We are evolving, and I am doing my best, just as my mother and father did, far from the familiar, and miles away from the ordinary.