Monday, January 28, 2013
Sometimes we go to a basketball game and nothing happens. Players set picks, coaches scribble lines on a white board and fans crush concessions. Then there's the once-in-a-hundred-years game where just about every emotion one experiences in life seeps through the cracks of an arena and overwhelms us. It leaves us feeling strange, confused, ecstatic, moved, hopeful, emotional, depressed, perplexed, angry, embarrassed, amazed, drained, grateful, delighted and awkwardly dancing for thousands to see. That was my afternoon on a chilly Sunday in Boston.
We knew the game was going to be peculiar with Ray Allen's return to TD BankNorth Garden the obvious story before tip-off. But when the starting lineups were announced and they didn't include Rondo, the situation took a confusing turn. Rumblings about a knee injury permeated our section, but since I watched the Hawks game and didn't even realize he was hurt, they didn't seem real. Cue the national anthem: An incredibly talented 14-year-old young women almost tears the place down with a moving rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," a brilliant distraction.
Tip-off and a quiet first quarter. My only hope is that Boston keeps it close without Rondo. They do. The Celtics are hustling, LeBron's in pass-first mode and the team wearing green is playing lock-down defense. Then it happens, out of nowhere: the Allen tribute video. Images of the big three and their all-too-fresh glorious memories flash rapidly on the Jumbotron as the lights dim. Boos and jeers are replaced by thunderous applause and cheers. I stand up and clap as hard as I can and nearly start crying, as close as it gets to tears. Allen is classy, he's always classy, and waves to the fans. "I almost cried," my fiance Amanda says. "Me too." The lights are back on and Miami and Boston are playing basketball again.
Allen nets a corner three after running around a bunch of screens—we've seen that one or two times in this arena. Another solid quarter as Leandro Barbosa, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley are filling in admirably for Rondo. Sullinger is playing with heart and Jason Terry is showing flashes of the player we thought was replacing Allen. The game is close and hope is palpable. Jumbrotron shots of the most intense young kid screaming in a backwards hat, KG jersey and shades. This kid is the man.
It's halftime and I run into the most disgusting parenting I've seen in awhile. A dad in a Celtics shirt violently pinches the ear of his son in a Heat jersey and bellows something like "Stop messing around like an asshole." His kids look petrified. What's wrong with this guy?
No beer at the break, what's wrong with this guy? The third quarter opens with LBJ calmly wetting two deep threes. His range has vastly improved since the first time I saw him live against the Clippers years ago. Are we watching the best of all time?
Timeout and the PA announcer presents the "Fan of the Game." A young war veteran who recently lost a limb serving our country in combat. I am moved and emotional as he starts ripping one-armed push-ups to the delight of the screaming crowd. Impressed, awed, contemplative, strong pangs of gratitude and another reminder of just how lucky I am to have my health are the feelings now enveloping my brain.
Great basketball is still happening. Pierce has taken over playmaking duties in Rondo's absence. Kevin Garnett is motivated. He's always motivated, but today he seems even more dedicated to beating the Heat. He's not so worried about getting under the skin of his opponents and more concerned with himself. This is the Garnett we love so dearly. But Boston's getting severely dominated on the glass, defensive-rebounds are impossible to corral.
Hilarious Jumboton shot's during timeouts of two adorable old women doing the "Gangham Style" dance. The Jumbotron is the goofiest thing in the world. Never has there been a person in history who hasn't pointed to themselves with delight upon realizing they have made it to the Jumbtron. Fact.
Fourth-quarter, a tight game and a sense that Boston can actually take this. Jeff Green posterizes Chris Bosh with an aggressive drive and ferocious one-handed slam that leaves him well above the rim. Awe. For a guy whose career almost ended because of a serious heart condition just over a year ago, this is well-beyond heartwarming. Kid next to me with smart phone reports that ESPN has tweeted the following news: Rondo has torn his ACL and is done for the season.
Sick to our stomachs and depressed. This is particularly difficult because I watched Amanda's own ACL tear during a college soccer game years ago. She won't talk about it. The crowd knows, as if we all found out at the same time that our beloved, misunderstood leader was gone. Not much worse for an athlete in his prime is there?
Three-point Celtics lead with with less than 24 seconds to go. Heat ball. LBJ penetration and kick to an open Allen (he had just hit a three to bring them within one). Somehow, he catches iron, but the board evaporates and falls to, who else, the King. Game-tying three? Obviously. A badly missed Terry fadeaway for the win on the next play? Of course. The Jumbotron camerawoman is now a presence in our section and filming the dancing guy just a few seats away. He makes it up there. Please don't point it at me.
"Free basketball!" text message from Andrew. He's right, this is special, but Miami's taken a four point lead with little time to go in OT. Game over, this sucks, right? Wrong. Pierce swiftly makes his way to the paint and feeds an open KG who calmly hits the two. Miami ball with the game tied and some scant ticks left. Wade isolation on Pierce at the top of the arc, predictable yet scary Wade pump-fake. Contact, but Boston's captain doesn't fully bite. Miss. Here we ago again.
Another "Free basketball!" text from Andrew and the Jumbotron camera women is now pointing her camera directly at us. Amanda is dancing, she wants it so I don't have a choice. I'm dancing now too, my bare, pale, white arms are flailing awkwardly. It happens. There we are, she looks great and I look exhausted. We both point. Dammit.
Double-overtime and Rondo in street clothes emerges to the court. He's here! The fans burst out in applause. What's there to say? LBJ finishes off an and-one with a minute to go, but Terry answers with a drive and deuce of his own. Timeout and the Jumbotron camera women is still here. Another quick flash of me. I may or may not be picking my nose or something. Goddammit.
A clutch rebound and free-throw from Pierce gives Boston a two-point lead with five seconds to go. Battier chucks up a heave for the win but it's an air ball. They actually won. Ecstatic yelling and euphoria. High-fives all around. A game to be remembered forever. Allen politely hugs Doc, but doesn't seem to find KG, Pierce or Rondo.
Waiting for the bathroom line and run into the Celtic-shirt wearing dad and his two Miami Heat preferring sons. He's once again berating, this time manically pointing and verbally abusing them. I don't know him but I hate this guy.
Big hug from a great friend outside the arena who I didn't even know was at the game. We beam about what we just witnessed. Amanda and I hit the road back to Jersey, drained, still emotional but mostly happy and convinced that this was the best basketball game we'd attended. However, we didn't talk about our historic Jumbotron moment on the the drive home. And considering how rare Jumbotron appearances are, I think our silence says a lot about the journey we'd just taken on an unforgettable Sunday in Boston.