Tag Archives: NBA

More Than a Game

Image/Nike

Image/Nike

On Jan. 17, 1988, I sobbed on the living room floor while my mom yelled at me for crying.

“It’s just a football game, Matt! It’s not that important!” she said.

Even though I was only 8, I knew she was wrong.

My stepdad had walked out of the house without saying a word. He didn’t take a coat even though it was freezing out there.

We just watched the Cleveland Browns fumble away the Super Bowl, and my stepdad and I were devastated.

“It’s not that important!”

My stepdad took a long time to come back inside.

Don’t tell me what’s important. I wanted my favorite team to win in the biggest game of the year, and when they didn’t, I cried because it hurt, and I don’t give a shit whether that makes sense to anyone.

Don’t tell me it didn’t matter, because my heart broke, which means it mattered.

People care about what they care about. I respect almost any demonstration of enthusiasm and passion, even if I lack interest in the subject.

My mom didn’t understand why a football game could mean so much.

A lot of people don’t.

Maybe it’s because we live in Ohio, and Ohio is “boring,” so we all care about things like football, basketball and baseball more than people who live in places where surfing and mountain climbing and Upper East Side parties and Hollywood Blvd. are viable options.

But we do care about these things. Passionately.

 …

On Thursday, my favorite basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, is going to begin a best-of-seven (first team to win four games wins) series that will determine this year’s NBA champion.

Anyone even loosely familiar with American professional sports knows the city of Cleveland has not won a pro sports championship since 1964—the longest drought of any major U.S. city. The national media reminds us all the time because they’re evil sadists.

Under normal circumstances, that would make us media darlings—the You can do it! underdogs many of us love to root for.

But somewhere between the feel-good story that is the Golden State Warriors and their totally likable superstar (NBA MVP Stephen Curry who is super-easy to root for) and the bizarre hateful-admiration combo many people feel toward Cleveland superstar LeBron James, I get the sense most people will be rooting for the Warriors. And that’s fine.

 …

Here’s the thing I want people who don’t care to understand: I’m not rooting for the millionaire athletes you don’t believe deserve the praise and admiration and money and attention they get.

I’m rooting for my friends.

Kris and Todd and Dusty and Steve and Tim and Angie and Nate and people I’m forgetting to name. Long-time Clevelanders who have faced heartbreak after heartbreak from the bloody front lines. They’ve been waiting their entire lives for this. They deserve it.

I’m rooting for my neighbors. They deserve it.

I’m rooting for co-workers and the people I see walking around in Cavs hats and jerseys. They deserve it.

I’m rooting for my tribe. The people who live where I live and care about what I care about. We deserve it.

A common interest is not always enough to bring people together.

But in Ohio? In Cleveland? That’s exactly what it does.

Because it’s more than a game.

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Now I Can Die in Peace

There will always be a higher mountain to climb.

There will always be a higher mountain to climb.

I root for professional sports teams in a city famous for not winning a championship in 50 years.

It’s almost statistically impossible to have a five-decade run of suckage like we’ve had in Cleveland, Ohio. That’s why sports fans in northeast Ohio collectively showcased the world’s largest erection in the history of sexual sports metaphors last summer when basketball star LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The return of James ignited a series of events that now have the Cavaliers as the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas to win the NBA title. Probably for the next five years.

Typical fans expect major injuries to crush all of our hopes and dreams.

Sensible fans simply hope this team built for dominance will deliver Cleveland its first major sports championship in five decades.

Fans like me engage in conversation about how many championships we might win.

I’m never satisfied.

With what? I don’t know. Everything?

My poor (at worst) to middle-class (at best) upbringing shouldn’t justify my high expectations. But I have them anyway.

This dissatisfaction would manifest itself in my youth as materialism. I wanted things. I had a lot of friends with infinitely more financial resources than my family did. There was no jealousy. Please don’t think that. But it did establish a standard in my mind. A standard of living which, if achieved, would seem to indicate you’ve “made it.”

Hardly anyone has money in college. So, when I started getting my full-time job paychecks from the newspaper after graduating, I felt like I made it.

I was living in an affluent beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, surrounded by boat owners, country club members and owners of prime real estate. I’d feed my lust for big houses and piles of cash by walking through multi-million-dollars homes on the weekends and dreaming of life in a place like that.

That’s the recipe for making a totally pleasant three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment three miles from the beach seem like a shitty place to live.

When we moved back to Ohio, we bought a house that would have cost three times as much in the town we’d just moved from. So it seemed awesome.

All it took was a job offer I was unable to accept that would have made me a lot of money to make my perfectly adequate house seem wholly not so.

I drive a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. But it’s not the Limited!!!

I have six televisions (and don’t even watch TV that much). But I need a new big-screen for my basement!!!

Everything is relative.

I might never have most of the things I want. But I could lose a whole bunch of things I already have and still always have everything I need.

Fortunately, my cravings are no longer material. I want to achieve a higher state of being. I want to walk a higher path.

I don’t seek things. I seek peace.

I’m intellectually capable of understanding that contentment and happiness come not from attainable things, but from within.

Even still. I want more.

Desire is Full of Endless Distances

That was the headline of marketing genius and prolific writer Seth Godin’s blog post today. I read it three times and hugged myself because sometimes that’s how much I love things I read.

Here it is:

“Just one more level on this game, she says. Once I get to level 68, I’ll be done.

Just one more tweak to the car, they beg. Once we bump up the mileage, we’ll be done.

Just one more lotion, she asks. Once I put that on, my skin will be perfect and I’ll be done.

Of course, the result isn’t the point. The mileage or the ranking or slightly more alabaster or ebony isn’t the point. The point is the longing.

Desire can’t be sated, because if it is, the longing disappears and then we’ve failed, because desire is the state we seek.

We’ve expanded our desire for ever more human connection into a never-ceasing parade of physical and social desires as well. Amplified by marketers and enabled by commerce, we race down the endless road faster and faster, at greater and greater expense. The worst thing of all would be if we actually arrived at perfect, because if we did, we would extinguish the very thing that drives us.

We want the wanting.”

Seth’s usually (always?) right. I think he’s a genius and a master of asking the right questions.

And I agree with him here.

There’s something tragic about it, too. About a life lived chasing and climbing and chasing and climbing… and never arriving, OR getting there and thinking: Shit. Now what?

I’m skinnier. But not skinny enough.

I’m stronger. But not strong enough.

I’m smarter. But not smart enough.

I’m a better man than I used to be. But I’m not good enough. And I’m now realizing I probably never will be.

Maybe I’ll never have my Rocky Balboa moment. Maybe I’ll never conquer all of my personal battles or achieve all my goals.

And there is something inherently dissatisfying about that. But it’s also honest.

And the truth is: I want the wanting.

I want to chase after the things that move me, even if it amounts to nothing more than a cat chasing its tail.

Because what the hell else am I going to do?

I want things. Things I may never have. Things that, if I acquire, might lose their appeal and have me looking longingly toward other things.

I choose to embrace the tragic purity of climbing and chasing knowing I may never arrive at my destination. That the Browns may never win a championship. That I may never have my dream home. That I may always feel like I have a bunch of growing to do.

We’re human. The real beauty is in the trying.

There. Now, I can die in peace.

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Chauncey Billups Isn’t Real

As a child, I feared nothing. And I was going to be anything I wanted. No limits.

As a child, I feared nothing. And I was going to be anything I wanted. No limits.

I wanted to go to outer space.

Fly in space shuttles. Eat shitty space ice cream. Play on the moon. Colonize Mars.

I wanted to be an astronaut.

I grew up very close to the hometown of Neil Armstrong where they have an air and space museum named in honor of the first human being to set foot on the moon.

I had a lot of space books. I was always fascinated by the size and scope of Saturn. Jupiter. The Sun.

Our solar system is ridiculously awesome. And I wanted to see it all. I read a lot of little-kid space books growing up. I watched the Space Shuttle Challenger explode live on national television with a bunch of other kids in an elementary school gymnasium in first grade.

And STILL, I wanted to go out there. Unfazed.

I was young. Hopeful. Ambitious.

There were no limits. No restrictions on my dreams.

I was fearless.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t genius enough to know astrophysics.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anything about aviation. Or engineering. Or advanced mathematics.

I was too ignorant to be scared of the dangers of shuttle launches. About how harsh and unpleasant the environments of every known non-terrestrial place actually is. To concern myself with the amount of time necessary to traverse the solar system.

Being a kid is amazing.

Who cares that I was never actually going to be an astronaut?

I wanted to be one. I believed I could be one. And I was happy.

Isn’t that all we really want? Happiness?

Of course it is.

Kids are our role models.

The ones that don’t know ANYTHING about limitations. Like my five-year-old son.

There are some lessons to be learned from their unbridled belief in what we might call the impossible.

The Death of a Basketball Star 

There’s only one problem with the mind of a five-year-old to whom facts don’t matter.

They sometimes use their no-limit superpowers to challenge truth. Conventional wisdom. Irrefutable proof.

My son’s godfather is one of my dearest childhood friends. An attorney who took care of all the legal work for my divorce hearing.

He has three daughters. They all have very pretty, relatively typical girl names.

But he doesn’t always call them by their names.

He calls them Frank. Or Rick. Or G.S. (an abbreviation for ‘gutter slut’).

It sounds approximately like this:

Daughter: “Daddy?”

Her father: “Yes, Rick?”

Daughter: “[Sister’s name] is taking all the dresses and doing something bad to them.”

Her father: “Hey! Frank! Stop being a little G.S.!”

This sort of thing makes me laugh and is consistent with the types of immature things we’ve been laughing about for close to 30 years.

Over the past few years or so, I’ve taken to calling people Chauncey. Or Chauncey Billups.

Billups is a five-time NBA All-Star point guard who has literally played for 25 percent of the NBA teams, but is most well-known for playing with the Detroit Pistons who he led to an NBA championship in 2004, winning MVP of the NBA Finals.

I like his name. Calling someone a Chauncey just feels so… organic. I do it a lot. I did it this morning to a driver who didn’t use his turn signal right after displaying total suckage at all other facets of motor-vehicle operation.

I call my son “Chauncey” or “Chauncey Billups” several times per week.

About a month ago, my son started saying “Chauncey Billups isn’t real!” every time I called him that.

I tried in vain to explain that, yes, Chauncey Billups is actually real. He’s a basketball player. In his prime, a pretty darn good one. And that he is a very real person. I showed him photos.

Doesn’t matter.

He’s five.

Facts don’t matter.

He can be anyone. Do anything. Create any reality.

Chauncey Billups isn’t real.

And Sometimes They’re Just Cute

I spent the past week writing down all of the things that kid said to me that made me laugh, just because.

Here are the highlights:

Me: “Good God, you smell like poop.”

Him: “That’s because I just went poop, dude.”

He grabbed a little toy. A little robot guy that can transform into a ball. He named him “Bowler” a couple years ago, and the name stuck.

“Hey Dad! Watch how fast Bowler is!” *does some rad fly-by move with Bowler and makes a whooshing noise* “He’s so fast he can fly through metal. He can fly through iron. NOTHING can cut through iron. Not even a pick ax. Right, Dad?”

We were eating Cleveland Indians peanuts on the deck off the back of the house. He loves cracking the shells as opposed to eating peanuts from a jar.

He said, “These are the best nuts. Are they the best nuts in your life, Dad?”

Then we were discussing our favorite sports teams. Basically all of the Cleveland sports teams because we hate happiness, apparently. The Browns in football. The Cavaliers in basketball. The Indians in baseball.

“You know who my favorite soccer team is?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Tommy’s.”

“Tommy’s? Your friend at school?”

“Yeah. He’s the fastest runner in the whole school. I promise. He told me.”

He and I were practicing letters and reading one morning last week before work and school. Picking out words we could find on various objects. I have a fitness ball in my bedroom that I don’t spend enough time on. The brand is PURE.

“Hey, dude. Do you know what this says?” I said.

“P-U-R-E. That spells ‘exercise,’” he said.

He and I were watching a National Geographic special about dangerous reptiles. There was a segment about crocodiles.

“Hey, Dad. Saltwater crocs are cool. They can go in saltwater AND regular water.

“They can go in hot water AND cold water.

“They can go in any kind of water.”

He brought home a book from his school library titled Why Do Snakes Hiss?.

He pointed to the question mark in the title.

“Look, Dad! A mystery mark.”

“You mean, a question mark?”

“No. It’s a mystery mark.”

“Oh. You guys must call them that at school. That’s cool. But sometimes it’s called a question mark, buddy. It’s the symbol you write when you’re asking a question.”

He looked at me like I was the biggest dipshit on Earth.

“It’s a mystery mark.”

“Daddy’s a writer. I know about things like this.”

“Oh yeah? Well I can spell every color,” he said.

“Fine. Call it a mystery mark. You don’t have to be a little Chauncey about it.”

“Chauncey Billups isn’t real.”

Totally real.

Totally real.

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