Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 30th, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 30th, 2015

Catch the best of the best from Wednesday's action in the Top 10.

Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler w/ a desperate tip-in for the ages!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 29th, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays: December 29th, 2015

Catch the best of the best from Tuesday's action in the Top10.

Derrick Williams w/ a pair of highlight dunks for the drunken slammin' jammin' monks!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Say Good-Bye To Tipping — Farewell To Restaurant Tips?


It’s a cold, hazy afternoon in November and the barroom at the Modern — the chic, two-Michelin-starred restaurant attached to the Museum of Modern Art — is humming with an odd mixture of excitement and unease. Clad in dark vests and white button-downs, servers whisk elegant plates of black-truffle cavatelli, beef filet en croûte, and duck confit mezzaluna to the small squarish tables staggered along the room’s hardwood floor. On this day, the waitstaff — roughly a half-dozen servers and bartenders in their late twenties and early thirties — are eager to answer questions concerning portion size and wine pairings and to explain the carefully measured ingredients behind each of the bar’s signature cocktails.

But despite the quality of the service and the caliber of the cuisine, as of November 19 the Modern became the first of thirteen restaurants owned by the Union Square Hospitality Group to abolish the practice of tipping. The new “Hospitality Included” program is the brainchild of the company’s longtime CEO, Danny Meyer. Though the shift has been heavily publicized — and yet another of New York's power players, Eleven Madison Park, recently announced its own plan to eliminate gratuities in 2016 — it is still somewhat shocking to find a piece of paper tucked unobtrusively beside the check: a note from the restaurant strongly dissuading its guests from leaving a gratuity.
Meyer heads up just a handful of the city’s roughly 24,000 restaurants. But the precedent set by the USHG’s new no-tip policy — paired with mounting pressure from credit card companies to adopt pay-at-the-table technology — could represent a seismic shift in the way New Yorkers compensate their servers.

“I think it’s pretty inevitable that the whole system is going to change,” says Marc Murphy, the president of the Manhattan chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association and owner of the Landmarc, a French and Italian bistro with locations in Tribeca and Columbus Circle. “There’s no other way for restaurants to survive without that. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when and how the public is going to accept it.”

Attorney Louis Pechman says income inequality at restaurants shouldn’t come “at the expense of the waitstaff.”
Santiago Felipe

Tipping first came to the United States from Europe shortly after the Civil War, and over the years the practice has become such an ineradicable part of American dining culture that reports have surfaced of customers forcing money into servers’ hands despite the Modern’s new policy.

“Hospitality Included” has less to do with patrons, however, and more to do with staff. Typically, at a restaurant, waiters and bartenders make the lion’s share of the profits through gratuities while back-of-the-house workers such as dishwashers and cooks are left with low-paying hourly wages, unable, under New York State law, to take a portion of the tips. By abolishing tipping at the Modern altogether, and rolling hospitality charges into the cost of items on the menu, the idea is to begin to level the playing field between service positions. Since doing away with tipping, the restaurant has been receiving two to three new kitchen applications each day.

“Danny Meyer is doing the Bernie Sanders thing,” explains Louis Pechman, an employment and labor attorney who represents restaurant workers in New York City. Pechman also runs, a website designed to promote awareness of wage and hour laws in the service industry. “There will be a redistribution of wealth because of a perception of income inequality between the front of the house and back of the house.

“That’s a great goal,” he adds. “But it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the waitstaff.”

For well over a century, tipping has allowed Americans to feel like the masters of their dining experiences. The standard perception is that if a server is rude or inattentive, his or her tip should go down; if a server is exceedingly friendly and accommodating, the tip then goes up. Critics of all-inclusive restaurants argue that by doing away with gratuity entirely, servers will no longer feel motivated to perform their duties at a high level. In fact, a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows that 55 percent of the city’s restaurant-goers oppose Meyer’s plan to eliminate tipping, while only 36 percent are in favor of the shift.

Marc Murphy: “It’s pretty inevitable the whole system
is going to change.”
Cedric Angeles
But under the new system at the Modern, there's still plenty of reason for servers to push expensive plates and keep their customers coming back for more. Beyond a substantial increase in their hourly wage — to $9 from $5, the current minimum for tipped workers in New York State, which will rise to $7.50 on December 31 — a large portion of servers' paychecks at the Modern will now come from revenue sharing, the funds to be split and apportioned according to position and seniority. (For the time being, back-of-the-house workers will not be permitted to participate in the program. Instead, line cooks will be paid $14 an hour and other behind-the-scenes employees, like dishwashers, will make $11.)

“[Servers] are sharing the revenue that the entire business generates. It’s a great way to incentivize them. The better the business does, the better the staff [members] do,” explains general manager Simon King. Though servers’ earnings will fluctuate slightly between the restaurant’s slow and busy months, he believes the new system, with larger front-of-house base wages, is far less volatile and as such breeds professionalism. “It’s not all about the dollar sign; it’s about the ability to learn and progress and have a path where they can develop their careers at USHG, or within our industry at the very least. It’s about the experience, it’s about work-life balance, it’s about how their schedules are now arranged. I think, overall, it remains a positive.”

On December 2, staff members received their first paychecks since the rollout of Hospitality Included, and King and the rest of the Modern’s management team sat down with each individual worker to make sure they understood how their earnings were being calculated.

The effect on performance remains to be seen, but many within the restaurant industry doubt that how waiters, waitresses, and bartenders are paid — whether via tips or revenue sharing — will have much of an impact. Gratuity and incentives, these observers say, simply provide customers with a false sense of control over the service they receive.

“A shitty server is a shitty server. It doesn’t matter how much you do or don’t tip them,” says Karla Harscheid, a waitress and bartender at Dirt Candy, a vegetarian and vegan enclave on the Lower East Side owned by chef Amanda Cohen. “I don’t think tipping changes how a person acts. I would say that if you gave somebody $500 in a night, they would be in a better mood, but those nights don’t happen all the time.”

Having worked as a server for over ten years, Harscheid joined Dirt Candy in February just as the restaurant was upgrading from a tiny, eighteen-seat space in the East Village to a forty-seat room on Allen Street. Upon relocating, Cohen opted to forgo gratuities in favor of a mandatory 20 percent “administrative fee.” Spreading the profits more evenly between the front and back of the house, the restaurant began paying its servers a flat hourly wage of $25.

“A shitty server is a shitty server, but to be fair a shitty guest is also a shitty guest — people who treat you like you’re a servant, rather than a server,” Harscheid explains. Though she no longer has nights where she walks out of work with hundreds of dollars in cash, she says the hourly wage at Dirt Candy has provided her more stability and enabled her to pay off thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Today, her making a decent living no longer hinges on the vagaries of her customers. “You’re not actually tipping on your experience,” Harscheid says. “You’re either a 15, 18, 20, or 30 percent tipper. That’s who you are as a person.”

Amanda Cohen’s Dirt Candy was among the first restaurants to eliminate tipping.
Santiago Felipe

But what might ultimately have the most profound effect on the amount people tip at restaurants is the actual physical way they pay.

Businesses throughout the U.S. were told by credit card companies that they must either update their card readers with new EMV technology by October 1 of this year or else become responsible for any fraudulent charges made by their customers. For restaurants, such an industry-wide shift means servers would likely need to bring handheld terminals to patrons directly at their tables; the fear is that the already fraught practice of tipping might become even more uncomfortable and costly with a waiter anxiously hovering about.

While non-tipping restaurants like the Modern may ultimately lead to waiters taking a pay cut, EMV card readers could very well engender the opposite effect at restaurants where gratuity is still the standard.

EMV, which stands for EuroPay, MasterCard, and Visa — after the three companies that created the standard — was first implemented in Europe in the mid-Nineties and has since been adopted by nearly every major economy in the world besides the U.S. Under EMV, credit cards come equipped with microprocessor chips and are inserted, rather than swiped, into point-of-sale terminals. Patrons are then prompted to either enter a PIN number (a system commonly referred to as chip-and-PIN) or sign their name (chip-and-signature).

EMV helps fight fraud by potentially shutting the door on two major weaknesses in the current payment system. First, the chip and terminal are able to have a “conversation” with each other, which serves to better authenticate the transaction digitally. And second, by having the credit card never leave the patron’s possession, the risk of real-world, person-to-person theft is greatly reduced.

“I believe there is a social pressure to increase your tip amount if the person who will be receiving it is standing over your shoulder,” says Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “It could create an awkward situation. In a fast-casual restaurant, where you’re purchasing something at a counter, dipping your card is fine. But at a full-service restaurant, a check presenter is often left at the table and someone will leave the card as they’re finishing their dessert and coffee, rather than having [a waiter] bring the device to the table to process a transaction. It also could imply that the restaurant is rushing you to leave.”

Restaurants can still operate much as they always have under chip-and-signature — with patrons handing their card over to a server, who then completes the transaction away from the table — but the process still leaves the back door open to fraud. Chip-and-PIN, with payment and tip completed entirely at the table under the diner’s supervision, is the most effective method for preventing theft.

EMV is not a federally mandated regulation, however, and the October 1 deadline simply represented a shift in liability. In the past, if a fraudulent transaction took place at a restaurant, the bank or credit card company would eat that charge — not anymore.

“How EMV works and how it kind of fits in with the culture of how we operate with our cards and how we behave in restaurants, it’s not a perfect mesh yet,” admits Steve Mathison, senior vice president of payment acceptance at First Data. A global payment solutions company, First Data has been helping businesses and restaurants migrate over to EMV in recent months. “But there are technologies and implementation styles that the restaurants can use to make it as seamless as possible.”

Even so, at Peter’s — a casual, Southern-style comfort food joint on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg — the transition to EMV has been a rocky one. Though the restaurant is set up for counter service, rather than pay-at-the-table, the new point-of-sale terminal forces the cashier to ask each individual customer if their credit card features a chip and then walk them through the process step by step. When the machine prompts a patron for a tip, the cashier is more or less forced to oversee the entire transaction from beginning to end.

“It is [awkward]. It is,” says Kristina Massa, one of the employees who works the counter at Peter’s. “We see [the tip] right there because we have to make sure they’re doing it the right way or canceling it, because if you cancel it twice, the third time it locks you out.

The cover of the December 23, 2015, issue of the Village Voice.

“Honestly, customers tell us straight up that it’s a waste of time,” she adds. “It doesn’t make sense.”

When patrons are prompted to leave a tip on an EMV card reader, like at Peter’s, default options for 10, 15, and 20 percent (and so on) typically appear on the screen. This, too, may have the power to drive up gratuities.

In 2014, researchers from Columbia University and the University of Chicago published a study in the American Economic Journal arguing that the credit card touchscreens found in New York City taxicabs actually increased tip amounts. To begin with, riders were reluctant to perform any sort of calculation on their own, often choosing the middle preset percentage in order to avoid an unnecessary hassle.

“The truth is, like in a taxi, you either leave 10, 15, or 20 percent,” says Dirt Candy’s Cohen, who grew up in Canada, where EMV card readers have long been used in restaurants. “That’s the norm. It’s more abnormal to actually punch in the number. You’d actually have to sit there and focus on it.”

According to the 2014 study, default options do in fact create a perceived social norm and psychological pressure among customers — a feeling that, by dipping below the suggested percentages, they were showing dissatisfaction with their experience. The higher the default options presented on the screen, the higher the tips became, the research found.

But ultimately, whether the shift comes from industry-leading restaurateurs or advances in technology, for better or for worse tipping in New York City is on the cusp of changing drastically. At the Modern, as New Yorkers continue to flock to the restaurant’s white-truffle risotto and decadent foie gras tart this fall, all one has to do is look at the bill to understand that we are now living in different times.

“Our staff is delighted to provide service and hospitality without the need for you to tip,” reads the note beside the check, signed by Danny Meyer and the team at the Modern. “This is a departure from the old way of doing things.” — Jackson Connor | The Village Voice

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 21st, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 21st, 2015

The best of the best from Monday's action around the league.

Alec Burks soars baseline for a Blake Griffin-ith dunk!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 20th, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 20th, 2015

Check out the best of the best from a 7 game night in the Association!

Paul Millsap puts Jason Smith to bed w/ a nightmare dunk-for-the-ages!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 19th, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 19th, 2015

Take a look at the Top 5 plays from Saturday's action.
Kevin Durant shakes n' bakes Julius Randle like a chicken mix!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 18th, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 18th, 2015

Check out the top 10 plays from Friday night's action.

Former-UCLA Bruin — Shabazz Muhammad w/ a nasty putback dunk for the Minnesota Timberwolves

Friday, December 18, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 17th, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 16th, 2015

Count down the top ten from Thursday night.

Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) soars for a flying dunk over Clint Capela (Houston Rockets)

Kobe Bryant Jams on Clint Capela!

Kobe Bean goes vintage Black Mamba with this ridiculous posterization of Clint Capela.

Black Mamba turns back the hands of Father Time!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Martin Shkreli — Young Dirty Bastard Who Bought The Most Expensive Album Ever Made by Wu-Tang



It was one of the greatest sales pitches the music industry has ever heard. In March 2014, Robert Diggs, better known as RZA, the producer and de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, the iconic rap group, announced that the Clan would create only one copy of its next album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, and sell it to the highest bidder. “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of music,” RZA told Forbes. “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like someone having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”

Initially, the Clan wanted to forbid the buyer from publicly releasing the album for 88 years, but over time decided to grant the buyer total freedom as long as the album wasn’t sold commercially. That meant the owner could listen to the record in a soundproof room, drive a pickup truck over it, or release it for free on the Internet. If the owner desired, he could be the only one who ever heard it. In an era where people are happy to stream music rather than actually possess it, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin offered a chance to own something truly unique.

The Wu-Tang Clan hired Paddle8, an online auction startup, to sell the album. The 31-track album would come in a hand-carved box, accompanied by a leather-bound book with 174 pages of parchment paper filled with lyrics and background on the songs. The music itself was expected to be spectacular. All the surviving members of the Wu-Tang Clan contributed to Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, along with some special guests. Aside from RZA and his co-producer, Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, nobody had heard the entire record. It was stored in a vault in the Royal Mansour Marrakech hotel in Morocco and any duplicates had been destroyed.

Even before the bidding began, the Wu-Tang Clan claimed, they had received a $5 million offer. Fans speculated that the buyer might turn out to be the director Quentin Tarantino, a Hollywood associate of RZA, or venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, who has written about his love of rap. Some Wu-Tang fans objected to the group’s plan. Two of the group’s disgruntled admirers started a Kickstarter campaignto buy Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and keep it out of plutocratic hands. “Someone who has disposable millions, it’s just another shiny new toy for them,” says Russell Meyer, one of the organizers. “It’s most likely not going to be someone who appreciates the music.” The drive to keep the music out of the hands of the millionaires was spirited but ultimately too small. Fans pledged just $15,406.

Then, on Nov. 24, Paddle8 announced that the Wu-Tang Clan had sold the album for a record figure “in the millions.” The price had been agreed to in May, but according to the press release, the parties “spent months finalizing contracts and devising legal protections for a distinctive work whose value depends on its singularity.” But the group wouldn’t reveal the buyer’s name. RZA said he wanted his privacy. “This was very much a mutual decision,” RZA insisted in an e-mail. There was only one wrinkle: The buyer didn’t care about his privacy; he wanted to go public.

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin | Source: Paddle8

There’s probably only one group of rappers that could pull off such a stunt. The Clan arrived in 1993 with a debut album titled Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The group was comprised of nine guys from Staten Island and Brooklyn with enigmatic stage names such as Masta Killa, U-God, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, GZA, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. They were some of the most inventive wordsmiths that hip-hop audiences had ever encountered, melding street lingo with martial arts allusions and the sayings of the Five Percent Nation, an obscure black movement.

In a rap world that’s become obsessed with fame and money, the Clan holds a special place. Its members have never achieved the popularity of Eminem or Jay Z, but they are venerated by young rappers such as Drake and Kanye West for their originality. “They’ve been dope for over 20 years,” says Andrew DuBois, co-editor of The Anthology of Rap. “That’s half of hip-hop’s tenure. People all around the world care about the Wu-Tang Clan.”

The architect of Wu-Tang’s early success was RZA, whom the members referred to as the abbot. It was RZA who created the group’s weird aural backdrops using rhythm tracks from old Memphis soul songs interspersed with fragments of jazz master Thelonious Monk’s piano and moans of soul singers that he electronically altered to sound like ghostly exultations. RZA was also a master strategist, persuading all the members to give him full control for five years and allowing him to produce every album by the group and any of their solo records. “I said, ‘Give me five years and I will take us to No. 1,’ ” RZA wrote in The Tao of Wu, his 2009 memoir-cum-spiritual guidebook. “It was a long conversation, eye to eye, man to man. I said that no one could question my authority. It had to be a dictatorship.”

RZA turned out to be just as skilled at business. He showed up every evening at 6 p.m. at the offices of Wu-Tang’s label, Loud Records, with a legal pad full of ideas, including which radio stations to target and where to send promotional street teams. Steve Rifkind, the label’s founder and an accomplished rap pitchman himself, says he approved nearly all of them. “He was definitely business-minded,” Rifkind says. “I think you’re born with that.”

The Clan’s first album sold 2.4 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music. The follow-up, a double album called Wu-Tang Forever, sold more than 2 million. In between, Raekwon, Ghostface, Method Man, and GZA released RZA-produced solo albums that are considered just as weighty by fans. The group started Wu Wear, one of the first hip-hop artist-branded clothing lines, and opened a Wu Nails shop on Staten Island run by RZA’s sister.

The entire Wu-Tang Clan in late 2000. RZA is on the far right.
Photographer: Jerome Albertini/Corbis
After five years, RZA relinquished his control over the Wu-Tang Clan, and the group was never the same. Subsequent albums and solo projects weren’t as strong and didn’t sell as well. The Clan flooded the market with music under its banner, including albums by artists who weren’t official members but part of a so-called extended Wu-Tang family.

One of those Wu affiliates was Cilvaringz, a Dutch rapper of Moroccan descent who impressed the group in 1997 when he climbed onto the stage at a show in Amsterdam and offered some impromptu verses. Months later he showed up at Wu Nails. Eventually he got a deal to put out a record under the Wu-Tang banner. “Anyone who would go halfway across the world, without a penny, to chase their dream was someone I felt needed to be taken seriously,” RZA says. It was great for Cilvaringz, but fans were overwhelmed. “There was a moment where there was so much Wu product in the world,” says Sasha Frere-Jones, a Los Angeles Times critic-at-large and a former New Yorker writer who has chronicled the group over the years.

As the group’s hits dwindled, the Clan drifted apart. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, whose real name was Russell Jones, died in 2004 of a drug overdose in a New York recording studio. Method Man became an actor, appearing in films such as How High, and briefly co-starring in a Fox sitcom called Method & Red, about two rappers who end up living in a lily-white suburb. RZA also went to Hollywood, providing some music for Tarantino’s martial arts-themed Kill Bill films, and in 2012 he directed and starred with Russell Crowe in The Man With the Iron Fists.

RZA managed to reassemble the Clan’s surviving members for the long-awaited album A Better Tomorrow, released last December. It drew positive reviews but sold only 60,000 copies in the U.S. The Wu-Tang Clan had tried market saturation. Now it went in the opposite direction with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.

Cilvaringz, RZA, and Gilkes hold the book, box, and certification that come with the album.
Source: Paddle8

On a chilly evening in March, at the Museum of Modern Art’s PS 1 annex in New York, several dozen potential buyers and writers turned in their cell phones, tablets, laptops, and anything else with recording capability. Joined by 36 giddy fans who had won tickets on Hot 97, a local radio station, they were ushered into a dimly lit domed room for an event billed as the first and only time that a portion of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin would be heard in public. The ornate box that would hold the album was displayed on a pedestal, watched over by dark-suited security guards.

The crowd listened to a 13-minute excerpt played at an eardrum-rattling volume and cheered when it was done. Shaolin sounded like the best Wu-Tang Clan album in years. Afterwards, RZA and Cilvaringz discussed the record with Frere-Jones. Clad in a black jacket, black pants, and a black ball cap, RZA, who is tall and slender, compared the Wu-Tang Clan to Mozart and the album to the Mona Lisa. Cilvaringz, who is shorter and wore a gray puffy jacket over a hoodie, sounded a similar theme when he talked about a trip the two men took a decade ago to Egypt. “RZA and I would ride horses into the desert completely alone and have the pyramids pretty much to ourselves,” Cilvaringz said. “Halfway climbing up the pyramids of Cheops, I said to RZA that one day we would do something special together that would last throughout the ages.”

Music critic Frere-Jones, who loved what he had heard of the album, wanted to know who the bewitching female singer was on one of the tracks.

“That was Cher,” Cilvaringz said.


“Yeah, Cher. The Cher.” (Cher couldn’t be reached for comment.)

Frere-Jones also quizzed the producers about how the rest of the Clan felt about not being as involved in the making of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin as they presumably had been with previous records. “I guess the best way to describe it is with an analogy,” RZA answered. “Everybody got on the boat, but they didn’t know where the boat was going. But look where it landed. You know what I mean? Hey, it’s not onGilligan’s Island.”

“Well, we don’t know which island it’s going to be on yet, right?” Frere-Jones said.

“We don’t know,” RZA said.

According to RZA, Shaolin attracted many suitors: “Private collectors, trophy hunters, millionaires, billionaires, unknown folks, publicly known folks, businesses, companies with commercial intent, young, old,” he says. “It varied.” Serious bidders got to hear the 13-minute highlights in private listening sessions arranged by Paddle8 in New York.

Source: Nielsen Music

One of them was a pharmaceutical company executive named Martin Shkreli. He’s 32 years old but seems much younger, with a tendency to fiddle with his hair and squirm in his seat like an adolescent. The son of Albanian immigrants, Shkreli grew up in what he describes as a tough part of Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood. He skipped grades in school because he was so bright. Shkreli idolized scientists, but he was also a music fan. Primarily interested in rock as a teenager, he didn’t understand rap, but that changed when he read Shakespeare in high school. “You would get these rhyming couplets and soliloquies and stuff like that, but the couplets would really kind of jar you,” he says. “They would be really these big, soul-crushing moments that Shakespeare intended to stir your spirit. And in many ways, music does that.”

Shkreli was taken by the Wu-Tang song C.R.E.A.M., which stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” It includes the often-repeated phrase “Dolla dolla bill, y’all!” Shkreli turned out to be good at making dollars himself. He founded two hedge funds that shorted pharmaceutical stocks and then started his own drug company, Retrophin, earning a reputation on Wall Street as something of a boy genius. In September 2014, however, he says he was “asked to leave” by the company’s board. Retrophin later alleged after an internal investigation that he’d abused his position and misused assets. Shkreli says that he didn’t do anything without the company’s approval. Retrophin and its former CEO are now facing off in court. “I was pretty pissed,” Shkreli says. “But I realized that it actually would be better for me, maybe not ego-wise, but financially. I could just sell my stock and build my own next company.”

Now that Shkreli had more money, he started collecting music-related items. He once joked on Twitter about trying to buy Katy Perry’s guitar so he could get a date with her. He purchased Kurt Cobain’s Visa card in a Paddle8 auction and occasionally produces it to get a rise out of people when it’s time to pay a check.

Shkreli heard about Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and thought it would be nice to own, too. He attended a private listening session at the Standard Hotel hosted by Paddle8 co-founder Alexander Gilkes. Shkreli, who describes himself as a bit of a recluse, recalls Gilkes telling him that if he bought the record, he would have the opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities and rappers who would want to hear it. “Then I really became convinced that I should be the buyer,” Shkreli says. (Paddle8 declined to comment, citing their policy of client confidentiality.) He also got to have lunch with RZA. “We didn’t have a ton in common,” Shkreli says. “I can’t say I got to know him that well, but I obviously like him.”

Having participated in bidding wars for companies and drugs, Shkreli says he had a feeling from the start that he’d made the highest offer for Shaolin. As it turned out, he was right. Shkreli won’t say how much he paid. But someone familiar with the deal says that the Wu-Tang Clan sold him the album for $2 million. Before he closed on the acquisition, Shkreli was permitted to listen to a few more snippets to make sure it was all there. Shkreli delegated the task to an employee. The same month, news broke that Shkreli’s new company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, had purchased an anti-parasitic drug called Daraprim and raised its price from $13.50 a pill to $750. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton denounced him. “Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous,” Clinton tweeted. Her Republican opponent Donald Trump also attacked Shkreli. “He looks like a spoiled brat to me,” Trump said. The BBC wrote that Shkreli “may be the most hated man in America.”

Shkreli seems more concerned about how the Wu-Tang Clan would react to the Daraprim dispute. “I was a little worried that they were going to walk out of the deal,” he says. “But by then we’d closed. The whole kind of thing since then has been just kind of ‘Well, do we want to announce it’s him? Do we not want to announce it’s him?’ I think they were trying to cover their butts a little bit.” Paddle8 says it doesn’t disclose client information.Shkreli seems mildly amused by the controversy. He says it’s his duty as Turing CEO to maximize profits for his investors. “What’s escaped the conversation is, hey, how about the fact that this is actually what I’ve been hired to do,” Shkreli says. “It’s like someone criticizing a basketball player for scoring too many points.” He adds that he’s tried to make Daraprim more easily available to hospitals. Meanwhile, he’s been pranking his critics. In October, he donated $2,700 to Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s rival, which the campaign donated to a Washington health-care facility. Shkreli then applied for an internship on the Vermont senator’s campaign. “I enjoy the back and forth,” he says.

Martin Shkreli the ex-pharmaceutical CEO & former-hedge fund manager has been arrested and checkmated on December 17th, 2015

After learning that Bloomberg Businessweek was about to report that Shkreli had purchased the album, RZA e-mailed a statement: “The sale of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was agreed upon in May, well before Martin Skhreli’s [sic] business practices came to light. We decided to give a significant portion of the proceeds to charity.”

As for the Wu-Tang fans who are likely to feel queasy when they learn that he’s the owner of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, Shkreli just shrugs. “At the end of the day,” he says, “they didn’t buy the last album or the one before that, and all they had to pay was $10.”

It’s a Friday afternoon at Turing’s Manhattan headquarters, and Shkreli and his employees are preparing for a Christmas party that evening. Three executives play a video game. A woman shows Shkreli the cocktail dress she plans to wear. Shkreli had arranged for the rap star Fetty Wap to perform for his employees. “Typically you would say, ‘As an average fan, I can’t get Fetty Wap to give me a personal concert,’ ” he says. “The reality is, sure you could. You know, at the right price these guys basically will do anything.”

Shkreli wants more artists to make private albums for him. He figures they could use the money, and he will let them do whatever they want. “It’s almost like the instructions to the band are, ‘Do your best work, however much time it takes, and never compromise anything for me,’ ” he says. “ ‘I just want to hear what you’ve got.’ ”

He hasn’t listened to Once Upon a Time in Shaolin yet. He’s saving that for a time when he’s feeling low and needs something to lift his spirits. “I could be convinced to listen to it earlier if Taylor Swift wants to hear it or something like that,” Shkreli says. “But for now, I think I’m going to kind of save it for a rainy day.” — Devin Leonard & Annmarie Hordern | Bloomberg Businessweek

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 16th, 2015

Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Night: December 16th, 2015

The best from Wednesday night is here for you in the daily top ten.

Andre Drummond goes BALLISTIC over his half-court/buzzer-beating three!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Anna Kournikova — How Women's Sexiest Tennis Star Seduced The World

Anna Kournikova was born on June 7th, 1981 in Moscow, Russia
Anna Kournikova: How a 'marketing monster' seduced the world

(CNN) The first time legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri laid eyes on a 10-year-old Anna Kournikova, his initial thought was: "Holy mackerel."

Even after a quarter of a century, the exact time and place of meeting is etched in the 84-year-old's mind with the precision of a radar gun -- 8.50 a.m., Court 40.

"This little girl comes and jumps in my ball basket and says, 'I'm here for the lesson!'" recalls the famously fiery coach behind such world number No. 1s as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Monica Seles.

"I thought, 'Who the hell is this?'" adds Bollettieri, the image of a confident little girl with blonde pigtails becoming sharper in his mind.

"I didn't yell at her -- because it was unbelievable to see the spunk of a little girl just coming and saying 'I'm here. I'm ready.'"

Whether one of history's most marketable sportswomen was also ready for the intense media scrutiny that followed is another matter.

Coach Nick Bollettieri gives instructions to a young Anna Kournikova during training at his academy.

Just over a decade later, at the age of 22, Kournikova left the WTA Tour amid serious back injuries. She had reached No. 8 in the world, won two doubles grand slams alongside Martina Hingis, and made the semifinals of Wimbledon when she was just 16 years old.

Yet the most prized title of all, and the one that always eluded her, was a singles trophy.

Poker hands have since been named after the Russian beauty -- "A-K: Looks great, but doesn't win."

Then there were David Letterman's "Anna Kournikova Play of the Day" gags, which involved such belittling shots as her drinking from a water bottle.

Sex sells
But apart from her often overlooked sporting achievements, Kournikova, who declined an interview with CNN, won in ways the sport had rarely seen before.

She won sponsorship deals worth millions and the affections of people who didn't ordinarily watch tennis. Hell, she even won the Internet, becoming the most Googled sportswoman on the planet.

One of Kournikova's most memorable advertising campaigns was for Berlei's shock absorber sports bras

Meanwhile, the infamous "Anna Kournikova" computer virus lured victims with an email purporting to show nude images of the celebrity sportswoman. So popular was the 2001 bug, it even appeared in an episode of "Friends."

As any teenage boy who had a Kournikova poster tacked to their bedroom wall will tell you, the beautiful young woman transcended tennis.

"Construction workers were watching tennis, business people were watching tennis. It wasn't just normal country club corporate clients that were watching tennis now," says Ken Merritt, who also coached Kournikova at Bollettieri's famous Florida Academy.

"Women's tennis had a lot of TV deals after she was playing. There's a lot of things Anna did for the sport that went well beyond the box scores of wins or losses."

Anna Kournikova — perhaps thee very first bonafide sex symbol of Women's Tennis!

The global appetite for "Brand Kournikova" appeared insatiable, and happy to feed it was a brave new 1990s Internet age circulating the player's model looks far beyond sport's back pages.

"Women tennis players had quite often been objectified or seen as sex symbols in a way that overtook what they were actually doing -- but I feel like at that time it really went up a notch," says PR and marketing consultant for pro athletes, David Skilling.

"And I don't think that was necessarily Anna's fault. It's just the way the media took it and ran with it."

Tournament organizers were quick to capitalize on her celebrity, often putting Kournikova on courts much bigger than someone of her ranking would suggest, remembers tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg.

"I think a lot of other players were jealous of her, perhaps deservingly so," he said.

"She got a lot more attention, and a lot more endorsement money than a lot of players who were better than her."

Opponents also had to contend with Kournikova's dedicated army of admirers, and Bollettieri hints that perhaps the stunning sportswoman wasn't so averse to encouraging them.

"When we were at a major tournament, if Anna Kournikova was practicing, and there was not a big-name match on at the stadium, all the guys were there watching Anna Kournikova," says Bollettieri.

"She put the show on, baby. She put the show on."

A 'marketing monster'
Lucrative as this media spotlight was, Skilling believes it may have also distracted the teenager from the singles trophy she never quite held aloft.

If Kournikova was one of Skilling's clients today, the marketing manager says he'd limit her media exposure, spend more time concentrating on her game, and tone down the sex symbol status.

"It turned into a marketing monster that ended up eating itself. It felt like it was too much too quick. And it just wasn't sustainable," adds Skilling.

"It turned into a marketing monster that ended up eating itself," David Skilling, PR consultant

"A professional athlete has such a short window where they need to be at the top of their game. So if you've got those distractions going on, it's going to affect your game -- it can't not."

The best managers are the ones who can divide their player's time between sponsorship, teamwork, physical, and mental development, added Bollettieri.

"If you don't have the total picture, it can hurt you," he said.

Which is easy to say when you don't have the carrot of million-dollar advertising deals dangling in front of you -- a temptation which often rests as much with the parents, as their teenage star.

Kournikova's mother Alla, pictured, was a huge influence in her career, relocating the family from Russia to the U.S. for training. Kournikova's half-brother Allan, 11, is a budding golf star.

"Some parents, with a kid that's being offered three, four, five million, they'll say, 'Hey, we'll take it,'" said Bollettieri of tennis parents in general.

"Especially if you're good looking, baby. And Anna Kournikova was gooood looooking," he says, almost whistling in wonder at the memory.

"She'd look at you and the husband's almost ready to leave their wives, baby."

The killer weapon that never was
More than a decade after leaving tennis, have Kournikova's lucrative good looks overshadowed her sporting achievements?

If she had just won that one singles title, it would have cemented Kournikova's sporting reputation beyond doubt, believes Rothenberg.

"Maybe she should have gone down and played a smaller tournament," he added.

"But Kournikova didn't schedule her tournaments to just try and win a title. She played the biggest tournaments, against the best of the best, and I'm guessing probably got some pretty good appearance fee guarantees."

And while Bollettieri is quick to praise Kournikova's all-round court skills, if the coach could have his time with her again, he would have focused on the killer weapon that never was -- her forehand.

"The Andres, the Couriers, the Serenas, the Sharapovas -- most of them had a big killer forehand. We did not get that out of Anna," he says.

"And that lack of a weapon, that lack of a killer shot, I think that was probably the reason she didn't win a grand slam singles, dear."

The last laugh
These days, you're more likely to see Kournikova appearing as a fitness trainer on reality show "The Biggest Loser" or getting snapped by paparazzi while out to dinner with pop singer boyfriend Enrique Iglesias, than hanging around the professional circuit -- though she does still appear at charity tournaments.

But for all the snide poker names, Kournikova still had a career most players could only dream of, becoming a trailblazer for the next generation of Russian stars such as Maria Sharapova.

"In terms of sports marketability, there is a limit to how good people look," explained Skilling.

"There had to be a certain level of skill, to warrant brands throwing that kind of money at her."

And if you judge a person's career solely on their earning potential, by that measurement Kournikova was "laughing all the way to the bank," adds Rothenberg.

"As much as she was laughed at, she was the one winning. She knew what she was doing," he said.

In her short career, Kournikova earned a total $3.5 million in prize money on the WTA tour -- relatively small in comparison to the $10 million in endorsements she reportedly earned every year through sponsors including Adidas, Omega, and Berlei.

It's almost eerie now to read interviews with Bollettieri talking about his 10-year-old protégé at the time: "The challenge isn't going to be how to make her a champion; it's going to be how to hold the reins on her until the time is right," he told the New York Times in 1992.

Twenty-five years later, perhaps the "Brand Kournikova" juggernaut marked Bollettieri -- and the tennis world -- in ways that are still being felt.

His one piece of advice for up-and-coming stars today?

"Have a team of people who understand that success does not come overnight -- it takes time.

"Slow down baby, slow down." — Sheena McKenzie | CNN
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