Game #13 Recap: A Different Set of Eyes

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.

Topics: Game #13, Game Recap, Los Angeles Clippers

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  • http://[email protected] Dianne

    A pleasure to read. Thanks for stopping to remember what’s really important.

  • http://www.redsarmy.com Red’s Army

    Very nice piece… and a very nice reminder of what it is to really be a fan.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  • http://vittoriodezen.wordpress.com Vic De Zen

    Man… yeah. Thanks.

  • Jason

    Perfect piece for Thanksgiving. It makes us all take a step back for a moment to truly be thankful for what we have.

  • Kathy in St. Louis

    What a delicious, heartwarming pre-Thanksgiving dinner treat! Masterfully written with a true attitude altering edge! I hope Mitchell enjoys many more joy in the moment happenings with his insightful Dad! Go Pacers! You can still win hearts as well as games!

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  • loki

    thanks for sharing. that was a really nice story.

  • Pistons fan

    Found this link on BDL. Really enjoyed it. It’s great to see the impact sports have. Thanks for sharing!

  • kester

    Very nice, Count, you old softie. Just right. Hope you enjoy many more together. Happy holidays.

  • rei_25

    nice… very nice indeed… thank you for sharing.

  • Chris

    Linked from BDL as well. Great piece.

  • 6th Man Sven

    nice one – looking forward to watching my son discover hoops as well.

  • Cousin Vinnie

    Thnx for the sharing. Makes me think of my Dad too, and atirred up a lot of emotion…best read of the year. Bravo!

  • 7thchild

    Great post – class act. Thx

  • Cynthia

    I’m a Mavs fan. Got to this article via dallasbasketball.com. It was very nice. I’m a single mom of a son who is now 23 yrs old. Got divorced when he was 11. We still spend a lot of time together. We are both huge Mavs fans and go to at least a few games per season together. It doesn’t matter if your son is 11 or 23, spending moments like this with them is special. I give thanks every single day for my Justin and this article just reminded me why I do. Like your son, my son is a very positive person. A glass half full type of guy. I’m very proud of him. We will be watching the game tonight…hoping to beat your Pacers. And you’ll probably be doing the same….hoping to beat us. Again..thanks for the article, thanks to dallasbasketball.com for the link. It reminded me how special our children are…no matter what their age.
    Go Mavs!

  • wintermute

    very nice piece. looks like you’ve picked up a few more fans, count.

  • Tim Donahue

    Thank you all very much for your kind words. I was fortunate to have that experience. The words came easily, and I’m glad that I was able to share them here.

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  • Mary and Ron

    Tim, nicely written from the heart. Enjoy many more great moments with Mitchell.

  • Ceil

    Well done, Tim. You, as well as other members of your wonderful family, truly possess the Irish gift for storytelling – authentic, touching, colorful and inspirational. Keep writing. Twenty years down the road Mitchell will get a kick out of your thoughts and observations.

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