The never-ending tunnel.
That’s how it felt, at least. You have to remember that 25 years ago, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was a dead zone for a car radio. This really didn’t matter, unless of course you were listening to a game. And even then, without traffic, it took, what…two, three minutes, max?
Except this didn’t feel like two or three minutes. It felt like two or three years. Because this wasn’t any game…it was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the team I’d just been introduced to less than a year earlier, but which had already captured my soul in a death grip that has only gotten tighter over the years, was on the verge of going to the NBA Finals.
I didn’t really know what that meant, of course. But I could tell from how my stepdad had reacted that day, and all season long, that this meant a lot.
I really knew it meant something big because earlier that day, he got mad at my mom for forcing the both of us to go to a confirmation party that coincided with the biggest game this team had played since before I was born. And my dad never got mad at my mom. Like all wise husbands, he knew better than that.
She clearly felt bad too, because when we left her at the party to go find a nearby bar that was showing the game, she didn’t even care. She understood. It’s not hard to recognize a man and a boy crawling out of their skin, after all.
By the time we got in the car, the fourth quarter was about to begin. I don’t know what would have happened to my dad if there had been a cop anywhere in the vicinity of our route home from the city, but I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t have been good. For the rest of my life, if anyone ever asked me “How long does it take to get from Manhattan to Staten Island by car?” I always responded with “20 minutes if you’re moving,” because that night, we were, and it did.
The tunnel aside, we were glued to the radio the whole way. We got home and turned on the TV just in time to see Ewing’s putback dunk over what felt like every Pacer in the Garden that night. Every kid who grew up rooting for a particular team has a few moments that never leave them. That will always top my list.
Although last night, when a 36-year-old man walked into the same Garden where Ewing had that moment, it came pretty close. I’m sure other people grow up and lose whatever it is that makes sports seem like the most important thing in the world to them, but I never have. Maybe it’s because my stepdad, who is the reason I love this team and this game so much, passed away nearly 20 years ago, and my fandom carries on our bond in some peculiar way.
Whatever it is, when I leaned against the scorer’s table two hours before tipoff and looked down at my media badge, I thought of the fact that Ewing stood up on that folding chair not five feet from where I was standing, and something came over me that made it very difficult to stand, let alone concentrate on a game I was there to cover.
As the father of a three-year old, it makes me sad sometimes that we live in a world where the notion of dreams coming true has gone the way of the dinosaur. Maybe that’s why, when most men are going out and buying Ferraris or hairpieces, I stay up ‘till one in the morning editing podcasts. It might just be my way of keeping that hope alive, as much for me as for her.
Thanks to last night, I can now always look her in the eye and say that, no, it’s not all bullshit, and yes, sometimes the world smiles down upon you with something that goes beyond dreams.
And then, after it gives you this gift of gifts, Devonte Graham hits an impossible shot over the outstretched arm of your adopted stepbrother, because after all, the universe does need to keep us honest.
(By the way, in case you were wondering, covering a game in person does not make a moment like that any less painful, although it might not have been the hardest part of the night. No, that would be keeping myself from cheering throughout the game. I’m proud to say I only slipped twice: on a Frank made basket – because of course I did – and when Mitch scored after barely being able to hobble up the court. I’m only human, after all…)
Still, last night is a story I’ll tell her, as a simple reminder that you never know what life has in store. Two and a half years ago, I got an email from a blog saying that they would allow my thoughts to appear on their website, and I wouldn’t even have to pay for the privilege. Up until that point, it was the highlight of my professional life.
Since then, the roller coaster ride just keeps going up, thanks to all of you who have gotten me here. That’s the other part of last night that was so surreal: it wasn’t just me in the Knicks locker room or sitting in front of David Fizdale’s podium – it was every person who has ever read one of my articles, listened to one of my podcasts, or liked one of my Tweets.
I’m not there without every single one of you, and it’s a reminder that anything worth doing in this world isn’t done alone. The best stuff – the stuff that makes you naïve enough to believe that dreams do still come true – doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Closing oneself off as a defense mechanism might feel necessary to some, but it’s not a notion I could ever get behind. Maybe it’ll bite me in the ass someday.
Hasn’t yet though.
So on Monday, when I walk into my classroom at 8:15 am, bug my kids to take out their notebooks, and do my best to put this weekend behind me, I’ll do so with a different appreciation for the possibilities that exist in the world than I did 48 hours prior.
And if I can pass that feeling on to even one of them – or one of you – then I know I will have made the most of my chance.
And really, isn’t that all we can ever ask for?