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A toast to The Graduate

Special to Page 2

I'd invite Vince Carter by the Cooler this morning, but I don't have a private plane to get him under the fluorescents. Nor do I offer any sheepskin scrolls documenting academic achievement. I could play "Pomp and Circumstance" on the pan flute, but I doubt that'd lure him.

Vince Carter
Vince Carter celebrated his graduation, but ...
(Check out this aside: The Lebanese guy who runs the corner market by my apartment was working some pan flute music at the Spinal Tapesque volume level of 11 the other day. I shouted over it, and asked him who it was. He shouted back, in broken English: "The greatest pan flutist of all-time. From Egypt. He is dead now." I said: "Zamphir?" He was blown away. I just put my six-pack of Bud on the counter and smiled, thanking American television for those late-night commercials for that $9.95 album. But I digress.)

So anyway, today I'll just take me a Dixie Cup and shun the Sparkletts. I'll fashion a little origami and make a little tiny graduation cap. I'll steal the tassles out of my boy Johnny's cubicle -- and when you wonder where he got them, don't think graduation, think Gold Club -- and hang them off my little graduation cap. I'll put it all on top of the Cooler.

It's my little tribute to the Dunkin' Diplomate himself -- Air Canada.

Let's be honest: Your first take on hearing that Carter was attending graduation ceremonies at Chapel Hill the morning of Game 7 was this -- What is he, nuts? Dude, how many times can you play in a Game 7? You can graduate from Anywhere U. anytime you want! Just have your agent call for an honorary degree!

Besides, I graduated from a large public university. While I adored my time there and wouldn't change it, let's get to brass tacks: The commencement ceremony, involving 6,000 of your closest friends, is about as intimate an encounter as a half-hour with a $25 hooker. (Not that I'd know. I've just got friends, you know.) OK, you want a G-rated analogy: The commencement ceremony is about as intimate as riding a New York subway at peak hours, staring at dispassionate big-city faces, lost in the netherworlds of headphone-pumped music.

Vince Carter
... he couldn't celebrate a Game 7 victory in Philly later Sunday.
So, I was thinking: Vincenzo, what are you doing? You're getting paid a lot of Canadian rubles to win this game for a team whose jersey looks like a cereal box. You can get that diploma in the mail, and get room service at the Philly Marriott on Sunday morning, all the while watching "The Sports Reporters."

Then I ran the situation by my girl. Her answer was as emphatic as Carter's poster job on that French dude back in Sydney.

"What are you, nuts?" she said. "Of course, he should go to the graduation. How many kids today think education is a joke? How many people can take as public a stand as he is for discipline and perspective and doing the right thing? He's my new favorite player. Now loan me $110, so I can go buy a Raptors jersey."

Out of the mouths of babes.

I thought about it. She's right. Besides, the guy was back in Philly by noon. Tip-off was at, what, 5 p.m.? Shoot, man, Carter could still get that room-service club sandwich, and take a couple of naps while watching "The Perfect Storm" on SpectraVision.

The only thing he missed was "The Sports Reporters."

Not a bad trade, V.C. Way to go, dude.

Forthwith, the List of Five is dedicated to mortarboards everywhere:

1. My new nickname for Shaq
Shaquille O'Neal
Even against the NBA's best, Shaquille O'Neal looks like he's playing on a Nerf hoop.
Speaking of guys who go back to graduate from college -- what is there not to like about Shaq Daddy? I've been watching him closer these days; you know, what with my NBA regular-season boycott over. In Saturday's Game 1 at San Antonio, I watched the dude get it down low, then I watched him turn and dunk.

My only thought as the lightbulb went off: That's how I used to play Nerf basketball! I was talking on the phone with my boy T.C., and he knows his nicknames. He was the one who slapped "Teen Wolf" on Jason Kidd, and if you've seen the flick, and seen Kidd, you don't need any other explanation. He agreed. Shaq is Nerf; Nerf is Shaq. It's done.

2. My startling revelation about Danny Ferry
I remember when Ferry looked like Wally Cleaver. Now he looks -- and I mean this -- like a thinner version of Vincent D'Onofrio as Private Pyle in "Full Metal Jacket." Stuff that in your "Here's Looking at You" file, Page 2 breath.

(And that goes for the cat who came up with Wayne Newton and me as lookalikes. Funny stuff, I got burned, yada yada. Though, we must note, Newton pulled plenty of leg in his heyday down on the Strip.)

3. Barry Bonds: Who Manny Ramirez Wishes He Was
Barry  Bonds
Barry Bonds put on an awesome power display in Atlanta this weekend.
I listen to and watch those Giants games here in the lovely City by the Bay. It got to be a joke after a while. Six bombs in three games in Atlanta. As Shaq is to the NBA as Shaq is to Nerf, Bonds is to big-league pitching as Bonds is to Wiffle Ball.

Somebody just give him the yellow bat next time up.

4. Jockeys: Have you pondered them lately?
I'm no railbird. I admire the sport of kings, and had a blast on my only trip to the track. And don't get me wrong: I think jockeys are maybe the gutsiest athletes out there, riding those galloping, half-ton, fire-breathing creatures so coolly, they look like they're riding Business Class to LAX, asking for another warm handtowel.

But I saw the end of the Preakness and the jockey in the winner's circle, and I was reminded: Wow, they're creepy. Such little people. I got nightmares from the Oompa Loompas in "Willy Wonka", and I didn't sleep so well after checking out some of those "Wizard of Oz" Lollipop Kids who ride the ponies for big iron.

5. Phil Mickelson: One look, and you've seen it all
Lefty seems like a nice enough guy. But it's getting hard to watch these Sunday meltdowns. I can't think of a time I've seen a face that says "I don't want to be here" as much as Mickelson's does. That is, except for the face I made myself as a 13-year-old Babe Ruther, having to bat against the 15-year-old, pellet-heaving kid who would later get drafted by the A's.

Like Lefty, I, too, struck out.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Monday Morning Water Cooler" every week for Page 2.

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