B. Jones: An Origin Story
I have some pleasant memories of the old man before he turned. The majority of these are sports or gambling related. He'd take me to the OTB and had me pick out some horses. If anything I picked won, I'd get ice cream and a comic book or some other kid specific reward (knowing my propensity for liking larger numbers at the time, I wonder just how much the man ended up pocketing in the long run).
He also wanted me to be athletic, a wish I ended up spending the bulk of my childhood disspelling, with my finally giving up the ghost after failing at baseball (at the sandlot level; they stuck me out in right field - which tells you something right there - finally a ball was hit in my direction, which I immediately lost in the sun; the ball ended up hitting me in the right eye. Tear duct damage), track and field (too slow for the sprints, not fast enough for long distance - which they didn't train anyone for. Vivid memory of my dad, along with my younger brothers, cheering me on as I finished the last two laps of the 440 exactly two laps behind everyone else), and finally swimming (I joined too late, though the problems of track and field would apply).
This may have changed had my high school alma mater a soccer program, but this being in the CoSpgs, at the Triple-A level, in Reagan's 80s, liking soccer was akin to being a communist in those days. "Be a real American and save your energy for football," is a direct quote of the head of the PE course, a football coach, natch. He'd delivered this after snatching a hacky sack from a group of kids, and intoning "do you know what this leads to? A little round ball with black spots on it..."
But there was one thing my dad did succeed in instilling in me: An appreciation for watching sports. I still remember his taking me to a baseball game in PR. And the World Cup, I recall watching Pele' take the Brazilians to the top. (He also tried to whet my boxing appetite, with mixed results.)
The pivotal instance, however, was the night of the PR Basketball Championships, which were being aired on one of the channels in PR. It was one of those games, you know the ones; a fierce battle between two teams who have been locked in a rivalry for decades. I wanna say that it went into quadruple overtime, but that may be my exaggerated nostalgia. The game did not end early, that much is true. I believe I stayed up past midnight, a Valhalla of lateness to which I had yet to be accustomed to.
And it all happened because when my mom wanted me to go to sleep after regulation was over, my dad told her that it'd be okay if I watched until the end...Little did he know. (I'm sure he didn't mind the distracted kid, if you catch my meaning.) He later came back to check in on me, and was surprised to still see the game going. We caught the last few minutes together. I think my team lost.
That stuck with me, but it wasn't until the mid-80s, after the fam returned from Germany, that it would come to full fruition. Six syllables: Lakers versus Celtics.
Here were two teams of equal caliber, from opposite ends of the country, and who excelled at playing. And their games would go back and forth, with series often going to game six or seven. I remember one game ended with the score of 141-122. That's 263 points in one game. That means that the ball went in the basket around 110 to 120 times in 48 minutes. My readership, such as it is, yawns. Alas.
Since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on Airplane!, the Lakers seemed like a good bet. And whooo-boy, was I right. Magic Johnson's mastery and knowledge of who was where on the court was something behold in those days. Kareem made it look extremely easy. Kurt Rambis had this whole Clark Kent thing going with his glasses. A.C. Green was a tenacious little fucker (and would later become a real life 37 year old virgin. Can you imagine? In the NBA? Yes, he was religious in that way, but still). Behind them all, Pat Riley was a passionate, if mostly cool-headed coach. Get him on a rant and you could feel it on the safe side of the TV screen.
The Celtics, though, this was a team that just wouldn't die. Sure, they looked like a bunch of gawky white folks and a fugly black man, but that's not how they played. Larry Bird was a motherfucker, with a JJ-inflaming period at the end. Nobody liked Danny Ainge, but it wasn't because he sucked as a player (it's because he was a flopping whiny bitch). Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were as ferocious on both sides of the court as they were unpretty.
These teams only met a handful of times in the championships, but when they did...Fever pitch couldn't describe my excitement, and I found that I didn't particularly care who won. Yes, my affinities were with the Lakers, but if Bird did something miraculous, as he was wont to do, I'd be cheering for that as well. Mostly, I wanted the series to go as far as possible, and that meant that both teams had to win, so yeah: Bring it.
And so it went. And so it continues to go. I survived the Detroit Bad Boys; I begrudgingly respected Michael Jordan, but hated seeing his damn face everywhere, no matter how well-earned it may have been (I'll save my rant on the NBA's Superstar Mentality for a later date); and in 1992, I was finally able to follow my favorite team up close and personal, even if their reputation is not as gaseous as mine was once upon a time.
With that came a certain dislike of people other than Jordan, that would dissipate when they retired...Barkley, for instance. Karl Malone and the majority Utah Jazz (John Stockton, another flopping asshole, still earns respect). Others are still around, such as Kobe and Shaq.
Another group are the former Sonics, such as Eric "Pookie" Snow, Ervin Johnson, Brent Barry, Antonio Daniels, and the like. Coaches George Karl and Nate McMillan (who was on the team when I arrived) are also on the list. I'm always thrilled to see these guys in the playoffs and doing well. So, if that means that I root for the Miami Heat even if they have Shaq, I can reconcile that with myself, because Gary Payton deserves the goddamn ring on his hand. Doesn't hurt that I like Dwayne Wade, or that Pat Riley's coaching again.
I still love basketball. If for no other reason than every once in a while the NBA turns out a post-season as exciting as this year's...Which I know better than to get into. Hi-ho.