I left the first Barclays Nets-Knicks game at halftime.
Even though every single person who knows me asked me about the game, I haven’t mentioned this to anyone. It's too deep a trench to talk through in a brief, happenstance chat in the elevator at work.
It was the first basketball game in the some 100-plus I've attended that I've left early. I don't even know how many times I've turned off a Nets game before the final buzzer while watching on television. Five times out of 800? Seems high.
I left the game for a girl. Well, actually, for Carolyn, the girl who just agreed to marry me. As I write this, I'm holding a Nets key chain in my pocket and am worried (always worried) about Brook Lopez’s feet. I'm also considering which tailor is best suited to take in the vintage Nets jacket that I got as a Valentines Day gift (from, obviously, the young woman we've been talking about here). I still think regularly about that disgusting loss to the Bucks on a Sunday this past December. It almost ruined my weekend—which happened to be the same weekend that I proposed to Carolyn and everything was perfect. (Except for that loss.) I’m not proud of any of this, just saying that my level of mania regarding this team is sky high and steadfast. The team should not be spread so far across my mind, with such a deep presence, but they are.
Anyway: I left one of the top-five most historically relevant Nets games in their entire history, a game I had been looking forward to for years, at halftime. And it was kind of an easy decision. I'm sort of becoming an adult now.
I won’t go into the details of my girlfriend’s hassles that night, but she was supposed to meet me at Barclays and didn’t make it and ended up in tears—a truly terrible and reasonable breakdown. She had left her phone at home that day, so I ended up inside the arena alone. She called me from her apartment a few minutes prior to tipoff. I found a semi-quiet nook near a door next to one of the stairwells on the second floor. She was shaken up beyond my expectations (and beyond hers as well). As I calmed her down best I could from my makeshift command center, I heard introductions start. The boos for the Knicks starting five were magnificent. My girlfriend sobbed. I heard fireworks. She was barely calming down. PA announcer David Diamante bellowed that the tip-off was imminent. Through tears, my girlfriend began apologizing for taking me away from the game. (Well that’s not going to make me feel good at all.) The crowd roared like I’ve never heard before as the game began. I got off the phone without having made a decision or a bad situation any better. I shuffled to my seat in section 206 a confused man. I had missed the first few minutes of the game. My rawness made me hypersensitive to all the Knicks fans around me. I was physically shuddering at every hoot for Rasheed and every holler for Melo. This was not enjoyable.
I was frozen for the first quarter, texting with Carolyn during the second, left at halftime. Done.
I’ve gone on record about how important the Nets have been to me in the past. They were there when I needed them desperately. But sometimes I don’t need them. This historic night happened to be one of those times.
I’m trying to get better at distinguishing these two opposites—needing the Nets and needing to ignore the Nets. NBA teams (and, well, all professional sports teams) provide a service and we are customers. I know that in actuality this relationship is much, much different, but it doesn’t have to be at all times. The executives of these teams use us and discard us as they see fit to best serve their financial interests, so why do we struggle so much to do the same? Obviously, it’s because our fandom traps us, but our fandom is also the thing that aids us. Navigating this dichotomy is the challenge that gnaws at the heart of every obsessive.
Sometimes you need to watch the Nets play. But other times you need to go hug your girlfriend. Or boyfriend. Or parent. Or whoever matters to you. No matter how much we like this game (we like it a lot), it helps to understand its place and purpose. Many people say that it’s just entertainment. But those of us who are addicts know that’s underselling the reality. It’s a tool that can be deployed whenever and however necessary. But you need to be careful, because sometimes those of us who are greatly afflicted with this NBA disease let this tool take control. We wield it when it should be sheathed. Sports fandom is The One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord Sauron in Mount Doom: “Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good… But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.” It’s a wonderful, powerful thing that can easily take hold of us in ways we do not want.
How does that prayer go again? God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know whether to watch basketball or spend time doing other things.
All I’m trying to say is that I’m happy that I left that game. I watched the end with Carolyn and it was great (because the Nets won—remember, my point here isn’t that I don’t care anymore, I’m still sick).
During that same Nets-Knicks game I got a text from my friend Andrew (who I’ve spoken about here). “Reggie is playing like such a Reggie right now.” This was at 8:00 pm. Andrew had been spending much of the two weeks prior at the hospital with his father, who was struggling mightily in a long battle with cancer. That night was during a particularly tough stretch and he was watching the Nets because what else was he supposed to do. His father passed away two days later.
Sometimes you need to watch the Nets.
My conversations these past few months with Andrew have been mostly text messages about the Nets. What else are we going to talk about right now? What else do we have? I don’t think either of us really wants to talk about chemotherapy very much. We will, but not right now. So he’ll text me things like “NETSIES” when the Nets beat the Thunder, or remind me what their record is when Reggie is in the starting lineup. This is all just a distraction from reality, but at least it’s a distraction from reality. It comforts us when we need to be comforted. It’s silly, but that’s no matter. Whatever works. It helps keep me and Andrew and many other people on the road while ice and hairpin turns and dangerous drivers try frantically to force us into a ditch.
But sometimes, we also need to let it go. It’s not easy, but probably necessary.
Sometimes you need to leave at halftime.
(By the way, anyone hear how Brook Lopez’s feet are feeling today? Asking for a friend.)