I woke up in the morning with a grin on my face and a pep in my step; gone were the nightmares of Jamal Crawford.
I was prepared for a super day of basketball. First, I was going to see my best friend, T.J., try to score his 1,000th point for Brandeis University. Then, it was time for Celtics-Lakers. Does a day get any better than that?T.J. was 18 points short of 1,000, and if he didn’t do it in that game he’d have to do it on the road. Being the type of player who can put it in the bucket almost whenever he feels the urge, I figured he’d do it. So I travelled home for the weekend from college. I told T.J. if he didn’t get his 18, I was making him pay for the bus ride home. 50 bucks. He thought I was joking. I wasn’t.
I rolled to Brandeis University with a crew of my two friends, Leigh and Mario, and my brother Tommy. The game was at 11:30 in the morning. As I drove, still half asleep, I wondered why in the world they would schedule a college basketball game that early. 11:30 a.m.? Really? Whoever made Brandeis’ schedule was just as dumb as the sicko who scheduled Boston to play Orlando, Atlanta and L.A. back-to-back-to-back.
We were planning to leave right after the game so we’d get home in time to watch Celtics-Lakers, but as we watched pregame layup lines, T.J. told us, “Come to my crib after the game to watch the Celtics.” Done and done, I thought. He better get his thousand so the game can be a celebration.
After fifteen minutes of play, it was pretty clear he was going to get it. T.J. is a 6’5″, 240-lb. wrecking ball of steel, and when he plans to get to the hoop, he does. It’s pretty much that easy, and the poor Carnegie Mellon center had no chance to stop him. Not with 1,000 points so close and a road trip looming. 13 points in the first 15 minutes, and our crew was on the sideline already celebrating.
And heckling, as usual. Carnegie Mellon had a 6’5″ drink of water on their team, and he looked like he might get blown over by a stiff wind; we kindly informed him of the bake sale that was going on at halftime. They had a backup center who looked just like a character from the old T.V. show Pete and Pete; we waited until he was on the foul line and the gym was completely silent, then shouted our comparison. Their bench players had an annoying tendency to clap the entire time their team was playing defense; we took the initiative to instruct them that their clapping wasn’t going to change the scoreboard… or their ugly 4-13 record.
T.J. got nicked up with four or five minutes left in the half and had to come out of the game so some blood could be wiped off his uniform. That’s fine, we all figured. 20 minutes to get five more points. Simple enough. Especially the way he was dominating that poor, overmatched Carnegie Mellon center. 1,000 was coming. Boston-L.A. was going to be the celebration. Life was good.
T.J. sure didn’t make anything easy on us, though. He got stuck on 997 for awhile, and for the first time I thought he wasn’t going to make it. Whatever, I thought. At least he’ll have to pay for my bus ticket.
But a steal and fastbreak dunk put him one point short, and a strong low-post finish a few plays later put him over the mark. 1,001 points. My crew stood up, and we cheered wildly. I was happy T.J. didn’t have to pay for my bus ticket. Some things in life are worth far more than 50 dollars.
19 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. A Zach Randolph-esque statline, only with passing and defense too. It’s a celebration, bitches.
T.J. took his sweet-ass time to get dressed after the game, then we immediately headed to a bar. Spurs versus Nuggets was on T.V., but I didn’t care. There were only two basketball games in my world today. One of them had just finished, and another was Boston-L.A. Not even Spurs-Nugz could get me excited on this day.
We reminisced about our heckling, and T.J.’s play. We discussed how bad Carnegie Mellon was, and how their guards probably wouldn’t start for most high school teams. T.J. was in a great mood. I thought to myself, He has 1,001 reasons to be. But as our talks continued, I realized he was just as happy to have his friends to share his thousand, to revel in his accomplishments, as he was to actually score all those points.
Scoring 1,000 points is great all by itself, but going back to an empty house after the game still would have been lonely. That’s what friends are for, I realized. To be proud of you. To care that you succeed. To be there to help you when you struggle, or to praise you when you do it big. T.J. had done it big, and we were there. And it mattered that we were there. He’d never tell us, but we understood.
The celebration moved to T.J.’s apartment, where we readied ourselves to watch the C’s against the Lake Show. As the Celtics got obliterated to start the game I thought, Oh well. At least T.J. got his thousand. I’ll take that over a Celtics win. Even against L.A.
Then something happened, out of nowhere. The Celtics were suddenly, well, the Celtics. The Celtics we’ve come to love over the past two and a half years. The Celtics that can beat any team in the NBA. The World Champion Celtics.
Rajon Rondo was everywhere. 11 points and 10 assists in the first half, but not even the gaudy statistics told the whole story of how dominant he was.
Tony Allen was Rondo’s accomplice in turning the tide from the ugly start. Tony Allen? My thoughts exactly.
One of Tony’s first plays, he was out on a fast break and dribbled off his leg out of bounds. My friend texted me from college, “Vintage Tony Allen.” I couldn’t disagree.
And then he was everywhere, slashing to the hoop for easy buckets and making Kobe work for everything he got. He was down in my dog house, then he was the game’s star. Thus is the roller coaster that is TA.
The C’s opened the lead to 11, 81-70, and then you know the rest. The floodgates opened. The C’s age revealed itself. They couldn’t get stops, they couldn’t hit shots, and the lead fell apart. Disintegrated into thin air. Vanished.
Paul Pierce pushed off, Ron Artest flopped, and then there was Kobe Bryant. Kobe F—ing Bryant. He’d been quiet all day, like a tiger waiting to pounce. And pounce he did.
My brother shouted, “Double Kobe!” I screamed, “That’s great defense, Ray!” Kobe didn’t care. Double-team or not, he was going to shoot that shot. And just as we’ve come to expect, it went in.
Ray then missed an open jumper that would have won. If it went in, everyone would have praised the Celtics. Lauded their poise to hold on to a win that had seemingly avoided their grasp.
But it didn’t. The wide open three went wide, and the Celtics that had outplayed L.A. for large chunks of the game are suddenly finished. Thought to be dead. Deceased. Done.
The game finished, and I knew I’d read a whole bunch of eulogies for the Celtics. It’s a bit early for that, guys, no matter how bad they’ve looked during this stretch. They need to do some soul-searching, for sure, but it’s not time to write off Boston. Not yet. Not with half the season to round back into title-contending shape. Not because they lost by a single point to the defending champs.
After the game, we went to a sports bar serving ten-cent buffalo wings. Ten-cent buffalo wings? Insane, right? And they were good.
Just not as good as laughing and enjoying my time with my crew. Normally, a Celtics loss to the Lakers puts me in a funk for awhile. And this one was of the stomach-punch variety. A real heartbreaker.
But I was surrounded by friends, and we were celebrating. And not even a life-sucking game winner by Kobe Bryant could stop that.
Watching T.J. score a thousand points was one of the better moments of my life, and celebrating it with a circle of my closest friends was even better.
Kobe Bryant was the only thing to prevent me from having a perfect day of basketball.
F—ing Kobe Bryant.