This weekend, on a 90-degree day that seemed to shuffle between gray clouds and blinding sunlight, we got after it. Beers and pizza. There was the head coach, the assistants, the volunteers and the graduate assistants, the whole football staff my dad coaches on. It was for me, red and peeling from way too much sun.
Amazing how everything turns out; my birthday parties as a kid growing up were nothing but basketball and ice cream cake. We used to spend all day playing, stacking up two teams and playing seven-game series. We had introductions, cameras if we could find them and fights. The kind of fights that pick up for about 20 seconds – “You did it on purpose!”…”You stole my ball!” – and then die down without any real friction, us forgetting about it three minutes later. Basically every NBA tussle since 1997.
Those were the days, when rain meant nothing but a delay, and darkness was just a call to man up and go harder.
So here I was this weekend, chilling, sitting back with a Coors Light in my hand, being unable to escape the constant ambush: “Damn, I’m 25 years old.”
You grow up thinking certain things, and then after college or after high school or whenever you stop playing for real, you realize some things:
*** There are bigger things in life than sports
*** All those late Friday nights in the gym by yourself throwing behind-the-back passes off the wall were more about building character rather than skill
*** Defining yourself w/ one thing? Stupid, feeling like Mike Tyson after Buster Douglas and now you find yourself in an identity crisis, inking designs on your temple and singing Phil Collins in hyped-up frat boy party movies
*** The Kings probably did get cheated in Game 6
*** You can still play, but nothing will ever feel the same. You’ll never feed off the crowd again, you’ll never get the rush of playing the crew from across the way that hates you, nothing will ever come close again to being 16 and thinking you’re going to the NBA and talking so much s#%^ because you always thought you were better than you actually were.
So with that, I decided to think back and make a list: the 25 greatest things about the NBA for my 25th birthday…
*** *** ***
25. Chris “Birdman” Andersen
24. High Socks
(Or the lack thereof) Whoever killed this fad needs to be rewarded. Throw them a bone. Thank God. I can’t even bear to look at some of my old tapes when I used to wear them. This is the one reason I can find to hate Jason Terry.
23. 2008 Boston Celtics
They gave me someone to hate.
22. YouTube videos
Seriously, what did NBA fans do before 2005? The microscope is SO much bigger now, and it can zero in on nearly anything. Want to know how Dwight Howard can be shutdown by Jason freakin’ Collins? Want to relieve T-Mac’s 13 in 35 over and over? Want to breakdown how Mike Miller’s game started to deteriorate once he got a pet monkey? YouTube it. Seriously, think about how the history of this game would be altered if YouTube was always around? All of these so-called “quitters” wouldn’t be the only ones labeled that – Kobe, Game 7, ’06 first round vs. Phoenix, LeBron, Game 5 ’10 semis vs. Boston – because we would have video evidence of other players doing the same thing.
21. Gilbert Arenas before he fell apart
20. The metamorphosis from plodding centers to versatile, jack-of-all-trades players
19 & 18. PA announcer (John Mason) from Detroit…
…& The GOAT intros
17. T-Mac/VC Before They Went Downhill
16. Golden State, 2007
15. 2002 WCF
As you get older, you can better wrap your mind around myths that you hung onto growing up. Sacramento getting a fair shake in Game 6 is one of them.
14. Kevin Garnett
13. 2009, Bulls vs. Celtics, Eastern Conference First Round
Put it this way: watching the triple overtime Game 6 in a dorm room my senior year of undergrad, after the first half ended, I drank four rum-n-cokes, ate about two-thirds of my boy’s pizza, played three or four games of beer pong in a double-elimination tournament, had to withstand the inevitable influence of annoying females attempting to downplay the game or turn the channel altogether, got dressed, showered, was ready to head out and Joakim Noah STILL hadn’t gone coast-to-coast yet.
12. Phil Jackson
He’s the Liam Neeson of the NBA. First, he taught Obi-Wan the Force, taught him how to be mindful of the future but not at the expense of the moment. Obi-Wan was persistent, but he wasn’t inpatient. He knew right from wrong, and just needed some guidance. That was Mr. Neeson.
Then, Liam taught Batman. Batman had a fragile foundation, a past that nearly drove him insane. He was often his own worst enemy. He looked for shortcuts, quicker ways to get the revenge he wanted. By this point, Neeson, or Henri Ducard, taught him well, but didn’t cover everything. He had done this before and blindly believed Batman would just follow along.
Phil coached two of the greatest players ever, and made them even better. And they won.
11. Nick Anderson
If Anderson never slaps the ball away, never tugs on Superman’s cape, never beats Chicago and makes MJ look mortal, maybe we never see 72 wins, another MVP and the most dominating season in NBA history.