We’re going to do something a little different tonight. It’s probably a one-shot deal, so bear with me. I promise I’ll give you some hard basketball analysis and stats on tonight’s game as part of Friday’s preview, but tonight, we’re going to wander into the weeds a bit.
Took my son to the game tonight. Mitchell just turned 10, and though this wasn’t the first Pacer game we’ve attended together, they haven’t been as common as one would hope. Mitchell loves to play sports (particularly football and basketball), but he doesn’t regularly watch them, either on TV or in person. While I went down to the game hoping to see the Pacers win, he was probably going down to the game hoping to get something cool from the gift shop and maybe some nachos.
The evening didn’t get off to a great start. On the way down to Conseco, we heard the words “Danny Granger” and “MCL” in the same sentence. That could be good if somebody’s telling you they saw Danny eating a Roast Beef Manhattan at the MCL Cafeteria in Speedway. The odds of that being the case are not statistically significant. As you all know by now, if Danny was eating that delightful concoction of starch and fat, he was doing it with his leg elevated. He missed the game with what was later reported as a mild knee sprain. By the end of the first quarter, the Pacers had managed only 12 points, and I can tell you firsthand that it was miraculous they had that many.
At this point, a million things are running through my head – “Lord, the offense is horrible.” “Why does Dahntay keep trying to bounce all of his passes off of Marcus Camby’s legs?” “Troy Murphy’s mechanics are all screwed up. He looks like he’s squeezing out his shot, like he’s a tube of toothpaste.” “2011 is a very, very long way away.” “What Native American burial ground did I violate?”
Mitchell, meanwhile, thinks it’s a good time for nachos.
The rest of the first half continued on the same tack. After an early flurry brought the Pacers within one, they fell back to trail pretty consistently between 6 and 9 points for the rest of the half. Mitchell sat quietly during this time working away at his nachos and looking bored. It was a good thing that he had the nachos, because he would have been otherwise indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd. I had told him before the game, that we were going to have to stay for the entire game, regardless of what happened. He was resigned, but I was having my doubts. He was even ambivalent about the halftime entertainment, which was a trampoline act featuring two guys who, for all the world, appeared to have been recruited from the local Dad’s club. He did comment that he couldn’t wait to see Boomer do his dunk routine at the start of the fourth.
So, the two of us were both waiting for the end of the game, a practice that has become all too commonplace for Pacer games over the past few years. Both teams spent the first half of the third spinning their wheels, before the Pacers started to grind their way back into the game. I was mildly hopeful that they might be able to steal this one against a craptacular Clippers team, but that’s about it.
Then, after a Dahntay Jones and-one cut the deficit to 52-51, I heard a small voice tinged with excitement say, “If they get one more basket, they’ll be in the lead.”
Sadly, my first reaction was a little bit of pity for him. The poor kid, he doesn’t realize how much time is left, or how many things could go wrong.
Then I thought about that, and realized that he was purely in the moment. He wasn’t burdened by preconceived notions or prejudices. He didn’t have any long term agendas or baggage to color what was happening on the court. He wasn’t worried about tilting the windmills associated with some future championship, nor did he care about the substitution patterns or about anybody’s contract. He simply wanted the Pacers to win.
Mitchell had become the embodiment of something that I had stopped being a very, very long time ago: a pure and simple fan.
For the rest of the game, I became captivated not only by the events on the floor, but by Mitchell’s reaction to them. After each big play, I was compelled first to look at him – to try to capture the moment. To live vicariously as someone that I can never be again. Every father derives great pleasure from seeing their son being genuinely happy. There are few things more precious than being able to share these small little things with your son. For about an hour tonight, I was able to experience an NBA regular season game in November between also-rans as something shiny, special, and new. Each defensive stop, each big shot, became a fresh injection of youth. Mitchell responded to these things like a kid on Christmas – with a clean, innocent joy uncluttered by suspicion or doubt. No expectations beyond the result of that play at that moment. I felt blessed to be able to witness these. Hopeful that I was in some way a part of his exuberance. That this game was special to him, in part, because he was with me, just as being there with him made it so meaningful to me.
We both left the game after the Pacers’ 86-73 win with a bounce in our step. Mitchell changed into his basketball uniform immediately upon returning home, and for the next hour, I could hear him upstairs playing on his Pacers Hoop & Backboard set. He was takin’ it to the rack until his mother finally put her foot down. Shortly thereafter, he drifted off to a blissful sleep…hopefully dreaming of that pretty inbound give-and-go between Dahntay Jones and Roy Hibbert that led to a dunk.
So, it’s the wee hours on Thanksgiving morning. The pies are cooling, and the turkey is spending the night in a nice honey brine. I should probably head to bed, but not before I give some thanks.
First, thanks to all of you for indulging me in this little exercise. Second, thanks to Jared Wade for so graciously allowing me to write about the Pacers that I love, and the freedom to meander as I do. Third, to the Pacers who played tonight for continuing to plug away at a seemingly futile task and providing the events that created the moments. Finally, thanks to Mitchell for being, well, Mitchell.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. Best wishes to you and yours. We’ll talk basketball again on Friday.
Happy Thanksgiving, Bubba…Thanks for going to the game with me. Love ya, Buddy.