Friday, May 11, 2007

The God Delusion, Resolved

When God Shammgod was nominated for Name of the Year back in 1996, we didn’t give him much respect. His name was already suffering from media overexposure and, in truth, we thought it was a contrivance.

In that pre-bracket era, there were just 11 names on the NOTY ballot, and voting was limited to whoever showed up for the NCAA regional semifinal at our one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. God finished dead last, the only nominee not to receive a single vote. The winner was Honka Monka, whose name we verified by dialing her home in Queens. (Actual dialogue: ``Is Honka there?’’ ``No. Who’s calling?’’ ``It’s Paul.’’) Johnny Economy, Esther Sylvester, Lloyd Mangaroo, DeJuan Wheat, a descendant of Godfrey Sithole—they all outpolled God.

In addition to having a basketball move named for him, God has, of course, become a name legend on the information superwebs. Around NCAA time, he’s cited in just about every all-name post. And whenever he pops up again, we feel a little guilty for disrespecting his name back in the day.

This morning, we got a chance to make it up to God, courtesy of Alan Paul, who writes a column about living in China for The Wall Street Journal’s website.

God is 30 now. He’s been playing in China, among other basketball paradises (Poland, Saudi Arabia), since he: missed a last-second layup that would have put Providence in the Final Four, mistakenly turned pro after his sophomore year, was drafted by the Washington Bullets (Bullets!) in 1997 and was released after one season. Paul reports that God played last season in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, `` one of the most polluted cities in the world,’’ for a team that finished 4-26. As described by Paul, it’s a pretty grim existence. God eats at Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, the only Western restaurants in the city, and has to ``endure hours of repetitive, endurance-test practices,’’ ``wade through cigarette-smoke-clogged hallways’’ to get to the locker room and ``stay in hotels without shower curtains and with old cigarette butts on the bathroom floor.’’

If Shamm, as he prefers to be called [italics ours], is in China and he's not playing ball, he's likely online, downloading NBA games or highlights, talking on Skype, emailing or IMing with his wife, kids and countless friends, including NBA stars Chauncey Billups and Kevin Garnett.

Paul was taken with God, says he's a good guy who deserves better. They hooked up in Taiyuan and a few weeks later in Beijing, where they dined at a T.G.I. Friday’s. Over chicken wings and fried shrimp, Paul asked God where he wanted to play next season.

``Hopefully the NBA.'' He dunked a wing into a dish of hot sauce. ``And if not ... we'll see what works out, but I've been saving money and making good investments. I'd really like to stay in the U.S.''

It's a very nice piece. But nothing new on the name of God. Then we discovered that Paul had blogged about the visit when it happened. And delivered the goods: new details from God about his name.

We remebered reading years ago that God Shammgod was his legal name at birth, that it was changed when he was a kid—to Shammgod Wells, his father's and mother's surnames—and that he changed it back when he got to college. Providence coach Pete Gillen told the Providence Journal in 1995:

``He's gotten closer to his father recently, and he's doing it for his father.''

But God told Alan Paul that he originally changed his name to Shammgod Wells because he had been ``teased mercilessly as a child.'' And that it bothers him that people still think he chose to call himself God.

When he got to college, he was told he had to use his real name or legally change it, which would have cost $600, money he says he didn’t have. He stressed this to me several times and really wants it in the story. He feels that misperception has really given him a bad rep and I’d say he’s right. That’s what I remembered first about him—the guy who changed his name to God.

Come home, God. All is forgiven. At NOTY, you’ll always be our co-pilot.

(Photo by Alan Paul)