Friday, June 13, 2008

I still Love This Game

I am still in a place, and I hope I always will be, where my years begin in September and end in June. I live on a school calendar and I mark life transitions based upon summers—where was I and how was I living and what was I dreaming about and reading and who was I in love with and where was I subletting… I also remember these transitions around one other thing.

The NBA Finals.

I remember sitting on the floor of South Union Street on a hot dusky summer night, before we had furniture, boxes and beanbags, with H and Brennan, the only light in the house the tv screen glare while my then beloved Chicago Bulls trounced the Utah Jazz. That summer we were always listening to Public Enemy's He Got Game and every night was sweltering even at dusk… I remember a dingy basement on South Willard Street, a tear-streaked Michael Jordan curled on the glossy court floor hugging the championship trophy to him (I still reeling on the joy of his return). Those LA years in the smoky backrooms of the Roost in Atwater Village eating stale popcorn and cheering on the Kings—thank god for Peja—even in this Lakers territory. I remember when I still liked Tim Duncan—I liked his compsure and his quiet command of the court and this unstoppable pair of he and David Robinson, who seemed to have been on basketball courts since before I was born.

But mostly, I remember this.

The UntouchaBulls anyone? I fell in love with basketball watching the Chicago Stadium battles against the Blazers. My summers began when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Scott Williams, BJ Armstrong, John Paxson (you get the idea) started taking over. Nothing sends shivers down my spine like that ubiquitous image of Jordan’s shoulder shrug after his 6th three-pointer in game one against the Blazers. I love nothing more than lip-reading the trash-talk between Jordan and Barkley when ESPN Classics re-runs the ’93 Bulls-Suns Finals. I feel exhilarated at the thought of these series. I’d never been an athlete. I grew up in a Chicago sports house, though, and in 1991 I started to get it.

Last night my brother and I sat on the phone together watching the fourth quarter of the Lakers-Celtics game—he in his Vermont living room, me on a 20 second delay on a live feed on my laptop (I don’t have tv…). It really was a fantastic 4th quarter. I’m a Kevin Garnett fan but don’t feel any great passion about the Celtics. And the Lakers? Despite the obvious coach connection, I have a lot of years of Laker animosity. Ok, Kobe animosity. But something really strange happened last night. I was kind of, for the first time in my life, pulling for the Lakers.

“Listen, Heath,” my brother said, as I bemoaned the MJ comparisons. “He’s no Jordan. But he really is unreal. And he’s the closest—no one has even come close until now.” And then we watched silently for a while.

He kind of is unreal.

I couldn’t help thinking, if I were 15 years younger, and I was just falling in love with basketball, would it be all about this?

Instead of this?

Either way, the finals are almost over, the summer is beginning, this one I’ll remember by a Brooklyn rooftop view, a cross-continental visitor, a sweltering week in June, a birthday party in the Park and the Celtics and the Lakers.

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