Monday, March 2, 2009

A One-Game Stand

A Knicks Fan's Fling With the New Orleans Hornets

What forces men and women to cheat on their partners? Is it an unfixable character flaw in the offending party? Is it simply nature exerting its will over nurture? Can it be an innocent mistake of timing and circumstance? Or is it a sign of something that is already dysfunctional in a relationship?

I can't speak for everyone. And I would imagine that affairs and one-night stands are like snow flakes. They're all different and beautiful in their own way. But I know I was pushed into the high-upside arms of another by my partner's inability to say no. Especially when it mattered most. And by, "say no." I'm not talking about the ability to deflect the attentions of other suitors. I mean the ability to play defense. I mean the ability to stop an opponent from scoring when the game is on the line. The Knicks couldn't get one single stop when they needed it on Saturday night in Miami. Or on Friday night in New York. They let Dwyane Wade and the Miami heat reel off 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally from what had been a game-long deficit. And, this was one night after they couldn't get a stop after they made a basket during the last three minutes of the l08-103 loss at the Garden.

This indefensible lack of defense is why I showed up at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., early on Sunday night. The Knicks had stayed over an extra day in Miami because of the snow storm about to pound the Northeast. They were out of town. I was home alone. So I showered, drove to the nation's most depressing arena and sat up in the third to last row of Sec. 211. And I cheered for New Orleans. And so did my brother who was at the game with me. I was on edge the entire time. And, I don't think my feelings of unease were entirely caused by the weirdness of watching a game in a building so quiet that I could hear the coaches calling out plays in the third-to-last row. What if someone recognized me? What if my grandfather found out? Aside from the fear of being caught, it was strange to be in another team's house. To drink from their souvenir cups and sit in their seats. To tread on their floor. I believe it was Norwegian wood. I kept my head down for the most part and my cheers brief lest I draw undue attention to myself in the eerily quiet arena. I was wearing a bright yellow, NBA-licensed T-shirt emblazoned with No. 3 and PAUL across the back. I was out on a date with the Hornets. And, they didn't disappoint. In the span of a few hours they showed me what my life could be like if I ever chose to divorce the Knicks. Thanks to David West, the Hornets built a small but meaningful lead in the first half. They carried it into the third quarter before a barrage of timely three-point shots carried the Nets back into the game as it entered the fourth quarter. Thanks to stellar play by Nets point guard Devin Harris, the Nets held a 4-point lead with less than two minutes to play. Hornets swingman Rasual Butler hit a 3-pointer (on an assist from Chris Paul) to trim the lead to one point. The Hornets needed a stop. Like the Knicks had needed stops the two previous nights. Harris brought the ball up court. One minute remained. And, Paul stole the ball! Seconds later the ball was swishing through the nylon nets. A 2-pointer for CP3. The Hornets had regained the lead, 95-94. The Nets brought the ball back into the Hornets end of the floor, looking for the lead. Brook Lopez attempted a pass. And, Paul stole the ball! Again! I leapt to my feet and cheered that second steal by Paul. It was precisely the sort of play that the Knicks seemed incapable of giving me. It would seal the victory for the visiting Hornets. I high-fived my brother. We had won!

What was happening? We? Was it the way that the Knicks have treated me that forced me into the arms of another team? Was it curiosity? Wondering what it would be like to root for another team? Or, what if deep down I thought that CP3 was really the one? What happens if you meet the love of your life when you're in a relationship with someone else? What if I'm supposed to be a NOLA Hornets fan? What if I've just settled with the Knicks because they were around and I was young and unattached?

Being a sports fan is like being in a relationship. There is sacrifice. There are tears. There is (or at least might be) inexplicable (orgasmic) joy. There is compromise. There is money being spent hand over fist. And, there can also be cheating. There is the sort of sports bigamy that has been much derided through the years, most famously by Bill Simmons. I've never been a sports bigamist. And, not just because I'm weary of buying different carpet for my apartment. I'm not a sports bigamist because I do love my teams. I'm a Mets, Jets, Knicks, Boston College and Arsenal fan. Through and through. As you can tell, I'm especially close to the Knickerbockers.

I do my best to be cordial about the Giants and Yankees and Nets when I'm around supporters of those clubs but when I'm alone I just want them to lose. At the very least, it keeps them from shedding light on the deficiencies of my teams. At the very best, it allows me to not feel like the person in the room who has been fleeced the most. So, I'm not the sort of guy who roots for two competing teams with equal passion. That's for girls who want to keep their dating options open and guys who are so self-conscious about their lack of sports acumen that they overcompensate by trying to be a fan of every team in town. Like Simmons and many before me, I look down on the sports bigamist.

That being said, there have been other teams besides the Knicks that I have enjoyed watching at various times, ballclubs that I have developed a gambling interest in, and even a few squads that I've openly rooted for from afar for extended stretches. But those relationships have always been friendships. The Phoenix Suns under Mike D'Antoni were always stuck in the "friend zone" with me. Same with Barcelona and the Seattle Seahawks. We flirt at the office while filling up our nalgene bottles at the water cooler. But that's it.

I'd never even thought about straying from the Knicks. I'm as faithful as they come. Until Chris Paul came along. He has been a constant source of temptation during is 3+ seasons in the NBA. CP3's deft passing and sublime court vision captivated me. His sense of the moment and indomitable will made me remember everything that I liked about hoops. He was my Point Guard Charming. And, it wasn't helping my sports fidelity that the Knicks had totally let themselves go during that span.

Nevertheless, Sunday night was no act of sports bigamy. I do not love two teams. I am in a long-term relationship with one team. And it's the New York Knickerbockers. Sunday was a sports one-night stand. It was tawdry during and awkward afterwards. Steps after emerging from the tunnel that crosses Rt. 120 into the cold parking lot, the brief exhilaration I felt as the Hornets were winning was washed away by the as-yet-undriven snow. I was cold. I was alone. The Hornets victory was but a fleeting thrill. Then, I knew for certain that this was just a one-game stand. Nothing more. For better and for worse, I am a Knicks fan. Til death or contraction do us part. There may be other players out there for whom I develop feelings but I will have to cheer from afar. I've made my commitment. No matter how much I may fantasize about rooting for other teams in my private moments. No matter how longingly I look at CP3's highlights on Sportscenter. The team that I come home to will be the Knicks. Fittingly, the most lasting joy to come from the Hornet's win was the knowledge that it helped the Knicks move closer to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice piece...

From a Padres/Chargers/Knicks/Duke/Tottenham fan.