On Thursday, Erik Adams at The Onion’s AV Club wrote a tidy appreciation of the Steely Dan tune “Deacon Blues,” which just happens to be my favorite song. Actually, “favorite song” isn’t a strong enough term. Family aside, it’s just about my favorite piece of anything. To limit the piece to a Rob Gordon-styled top five list seems irreverent, in a way.
For years, in describing not so much why I like the song but the effect the song has on me, I’ve often turned to an E.B. White passage, from the ‘Charlotte’s Web’ author’s many essays in The New Yorker, describing Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden.’ Here is White’s aside:
"Walden is the only book I own, although there are some others unclaimed on my shelves. Every man, I think, reads one book in his life, and this one is mine. It is not the best book I ever encountered, perhaps, but it is for me the handiest, and I keep it about me in much the same way one carries a handkerchief - for relief in moments of defluxion or despair."
This is exactly how I feel about “Deacon Blues,” a song I can pull up on YouTube, mp3, compact disc, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab gold compact disc, or long playing record any time I want to, just a few short feet away from where I work. It’s a wonderful thing to have in reserve, something trusted to call on whenever I choose, even if there are so many other books on my shelf.
I cannot do as much with a basketball game that decides a season. I can tape or Tivo or expect the internet to keep Thursday’s Game 7 around in a meaningful and lasting way that would somewhat approximate the experience of watching it in real time, but I’ll never be able to replicate the feeling that hits when I settle in to not only watch the last game of the season, but to take in and document the 48 (or so) minutes that will decide the fate of the 2012-13 season.
The playoffs started exactly two months ago. The 2012-13 season feels like it started sometime in 1994. 28 other teams have met their respective fates, narratives and posturing have exhausted all of us, and we truly are down to what counts most. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat will have nearly three hours to figure out how to outscore the other side and win the actual title on Thursday night, a wonderfully precise bow to an imprecise exercise. In a year full of nonsense that came after an offseason full of NONSENSE pitched in full capital letters, there’s something so exhilaratingly real and genuine about this. This perfect mix of elegance and function.
The idea that so little could either trip up or enhance a deciding performance like this continues to fascinate me. The idea that a sore throat or missed free throw or misplaced whistle or ill-functioning contact lens could decide the fate of years of preparation is at once terrifying and alluring. Too often, especially in my profession, we expect these athletes to act as if they’re video game avatars – LeBron James is a 99, Gary Neal shouldn’t play better than a 78 – but the real and too-human element of everything coming down to this intrigues to no end.
Once you get past that anxiety, though, you have to find a way to relish the moment.
Not because we won’t get any more NBA basketball until the autumn, though that’s certainly reason enough to stay entertained no matter the score. Not because you have a dog in this particular fight, either, and not because your fair weather schadenfreude runs so deep that you’d relish the defeat of one side no matter the opponent.
Hell, you don’t even have to like basketball.
What you’d be relishing in is the triumph of the moment. The dramatic – and almost sick, in a way – realization that so many lives and careers and relationships could be affected by the relatively silly outcome of a basketball game. Some meaningless flick of the wrist could lead to the last time some friends work together, or the crowning moment of a person’s professional career. A career that, given the impermanent nature of sport, usually leads to retirement at a little over half of the typical retiring age.
Most importantly, the outcome could work as the culmination of a devoted follower’s obsessive fandom, a payoff for those months or even years of gritted teeth, and crossed fingers.
There really is that much on the line, in this Game 7. While in the company of klieg lights and an annoying public address announcer and extended TV timeouts meant to promote movies that we’ve already mocked to no end. There’s pomp, here, but there’s also certainty, and this is just so rare an occasion that you have to tune in. You have to.
Of course, it could go pear-shaped. Either team could win by 20. The dramatics could be in short supply.
It’s a Game 7, though. We don’t get these very often, and this certainly isn’t something you can place a needle into a groove to experience, whenever the mood strikes.
This game is why we do this.