Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Sometime, over the weekend, a TBJ viewer sent this email to Skeets and Tas.

"This Celtics' loss, coming at the end of this three game stretch, is hands down the lowest point for C's fans since KG and Ray were acquired. It makes me long for '05-‘06, when there was no pressure and I could just be happy to watch Pierce quietly churn out great games, or '06-‘07 when I could just be content if we kept it close with the Spurs for a quarter.' This pressure and caring so much about the outcome makes having your team be a contender way less awesome than you'd think."

Are you kidding me?

Honestly, can anyone get behind this? Lakers fans, Celtics fans, Nets fans, Warriors fans?

Goodness, gracious, sakes alive; have we not been there before? Nostalgia is a mild form of depression, Donald Fagen keeps telling us, and this is an obvious example of such. To not relate to Nick L. is to not be a fan of ... geez, life. We are all Nick L. If you're not Nick L., then you are not a fan.

This isn't to rip on Nick L., I have got to make that clear. This is only to wake you lot up. Or, if you're already awake, talk you off the ledge.

If you are a fan of a good team, a very good team, you need to appreciate that noise to no end. Not just because of what other bits of fandom are going through, and not just because you might not get a chance to root for a winner for long stretches of your fandom, but because your team needs a bit of appreciation.

Because your team wins games, more often than not. Because your team could win a championship — a championship! This doesn't mean you turn a blind eye to the foibles amongst these fables — these 60-win fables — but this has to mean you appreciate more than you fret.

And there is nobody that you should believe, in this regard, more than your humble narrator.

Not because I'm nostalgic, or spoiled, or that I lost myself in a half-empty miasma; but because I was around and paying attention and pumping fists (Ron Harper-style) for the greatest dynasty of the last 40 years.

I'm a Chicago Bulls fan. And though I've never sported a single bit of Bulls apparel, nor painted a bit of my face, or referred to the team in question as "we," nor created an overwrought argument regarding the outfit based solely on personal bias, I was and am a bit of a freak. The remote had to face the right way, certain doors had to be closed, certain albums had to at least be referenced before game time, and all sorts of silly superstitions had to be followed. I was a fan. I am a fan. But I was also a fan.

I was also, cruelly, quite aware. To the point of, seriously, giving our actual homecoming queen the "'kay, thanks, gotta go, bye"-treatment on the phone because halftime of Jordan's trouncing of the Nets was nearly over, and I had a seat to fill. And this was someone who was calling during halftime, because it was the only time to call. She knew. And I knew that this wasn't meant to last. This is why I taped the games. This is why I made a point to pay attention. Not because the gravity of the game depended on it — Jordan tended to be Jordan whether or not I had that TV remote aligned properly — but because I knew the difference between permanence and impermanence.

(A difference I was taught, at a press conference in 1996 that I have on tape, by Phil Jackson. Just saying.)

This didn't stop me from being wrought with pathos, with drama, with frustration at a Bulls team gone terribly, terribly wrong.

The player I yelled at the most? Michael Jordan. It wasn't even close. I yelled at Michael Jordan, people.

Too many risks, too much hubris, too many things gone wrong that he would have to make up for once the fourth quarter hit.

Phil Jackson? Yelled at him. An absolute show-off, bent on ruining my team's chances for consecutive 70-win seasons because he wants to play Jud Buechler and Brian Williams in a crucial second quarter in a late-season game against the Heat.

(Of course, a month later, who are leading the charge while Jordan sits and Pippen is out with injury, in the second quarter no less, as Chicago pulls away and closes the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat? Jud, and B-Dub. Randy Brown, too. The game never stops teaching you new things.)

I fretted and ranked and raved and took long, solitary walks because the stakes were so high. So to speak, as it were, ‘natch, all that.

But to prefer those stakes to an upside that only goes so high? To prefer your place, amongst the rest? It's ridiculous.

You have to cherish these moments. You have to revel in them, as angry as you may be. Not for fear that they'll slip away. And not because of an insistence that demands you make all these big moments as big as they can possibly be.

No, you're supposed to enjoy these things because they're fun.

They're fun, mates. They're so much fun, if you'll let them be that way. I mean, I know this superhighway. This bright, familiar, sun.

I know that I'm not the only, lucky, one. 

I'm reminded of Bill Walton's junior high — junior high! — coach. Little Big Bill was pacing around the locker room, by himself, before the Big Game, wondering what to do. Bill's junior high — junior high! — coach settled him down, looked him in the eye, and told him the truth.

Listen, kid, your talent is going to put you in these situations for the rest of your life. High school, college, the pros, the whole bit. You're going to be in this situation time after time after time. You better learn to enjoy it, and revel within it, because this is the reality your brilliance has created.

And Little Big Bill worked through it, and grew to appreciate these moments for what they were. And he tended to dominate junior high, high school, college, the pros, the whole bit. Enough to where he could almost manage a quadruple-double in the deciding game of the NBA Finals, and come out of it mostly concerned about where he parked his bicycle.

That isn't irreverence. That's the right attitude. And you can fret about Derek Fisher's(notes) failings or your team's lack of a stretch four or what happened to Vince Carter(notes) or KG's knee all you want. That's OK.

But also have fun with it. Because you're going to be thinking about these times, this stretch, for years. You're honestly going to be thinking about these February games, these "meaningless" games, for years. Skeets mentioned Dennis Rodman diving this morning. I immediately flashed back to D-Rod diving on the floor on a Saturday night against the Warriors. I taped the game. I saw it all. I'm still cross with myself for playing a gig with my band that night, instead of watching it live. Seriously. I was 16. These are the things that linger.

So make them work for you. Don't ever let up, and question everything, but make them work. It's so worth it. And not just because I've been there, and not because I'm not there right now.

Enjoy it because this is what it means to be a fan. Nothing's guaranteed save for the joy you create.

Not the point guard. Not the all-world shooting guard. Not the coach. 


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