My NBA fanhood boils down to a series of moments. Michael Jordan’s shove of Bryon Russell. Allan Houston’s Game 5 floater against the Heat to send the Knicks to the second round of the ‘99 playoffs. LeBron James’ 48 points against Detroit in Game 5 of the ’07 playoffs. The Kobe to Shaq alley-oop in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The Ron Artest Game 7 three-pointer in last years’ NBA Finals, followed by a ceremonial salute to his therapist.
Of course these aren’t the only memorable moments to transpire over the past 13 years, but they’re the ones that stick out to me. They’re the ones that replay in my head when I reminisce. I can recall where I was, the emotions, the movements, everything. In 1999, I was parked on my bed, eating a box of Wheat Thins as was my go-to, childhood snack ritual. My love of the game stemmed more from a starstruck demeanor than any particular appreciation of the inner workings of basketball. When Houston nailed that shot, of course I was happy. My brother and father had bred me to become a diehard Knicks fan. But watching Houston run down the court, furiously throwing his fist through the air in celebration, showed me something I was otherwise oblivious to. These players cared just as much as I did. They weren’t merely manifestations of the N64 games I religiously played. Happiness, frustration, disappointment and satisfaction were all a part of my youth basketball leagues, so why couldn’t they exist in the NBA?
When Dirk savagely cut the heart out of Oklahoma City in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, I knew I had witnessed one of those moments. Some of my friends had just moved into a new apartment – the television was on the floor and we were sitting on alarmingly uncomfortable wooden chairs. But Dirk’s inspiring play lessened my discomfort because everyone around me knew what was happening. Is this for real? We knew Dirk was great, but he had never displayed that extra gear. The one that heightens your sensitivity to your every surrounding. After the comeback was complete, we sat in stunned silence. The room was pulling for Oklahoma City, but no one was pissed about what had happened. In 10 minutes, Dirk was beginning to carve out a new place for his legacy.
But one moment is not enough to define a career. No matter how many times I relive throwing my Wheat Thins-filled hand in the air, it won’t elevate Houston to Hall of Fame status. It takes a compilation of legendary moments or a transcendent playoff performance culminating in an NBA Championship. After Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, we knew that the latter was possible. The former, however, is hardly possible. For the past 13 years, Dirk’s career has essentially passed us by without anyone noticing. As analysts, we constantly preach consistency. And that’s exactly what Dirk has provided. Eleven 50-win seasons, at least 23.0 points per game for seven straight years and an unchanging, ever-deadly jump shot. Throughout his NBA journey, we’ve known what we’re getting with Dirk. Not outstanding, but just on the cusp. That’s why we’re enamored with the Kobes, D-Wades and LeBrons of the NBA. They may not be as consistent, but they’re capable of the unthinkable. Just when we think we’ve figured them out, they take it to a whole new level of absurdity.