The road to the Larry O’Brien Trophy is long and winding and sometimes it ends right around the corner. One could insert ‘unexpectedly’ but let’s be honest, the warning signs were on full display all season long. Still, there was always hope - that issues could be dealt with, that the switch could be thrown, that age might turn its cruel stare away. And, the frailties were evermore apparent come playoff time and we followed along - one last stand, one more game, one last chance.
Andrew played huge last night. My lasting image of the game is how he pleaded, demanded, to stay in after his fourth foul. Kobe too was terrific - poised, efficient and commanding, even when on the sidelines. The team played a solid, smart game, up until the final few minutes. And then came the mistakes and the turnovers and Dallas was ready to capitalize. It happens. One team has to lose.
There is still a game to be played and perhaps, more. History tells us that it’s highly improbable - no team in basketball has ever come back from three games down. There have been 98 such scenarios and logic assumes that number 99 will soon follow. Yet there are precedents outside our sport - The Red Sox against the Yankees; George Foreman against Michael Moorer; Harry Truman against Thomas Dewey and one of my all-time favorites - the racehorse Silky Sullivan who came from unbelievably far back in almost every race he ever ran.
Sometimes the words flow freely and sometimes they don’t. Tonight would be the latter. I feel saddened by the loss and the greater context but it’s somehow been compartmentalized - shuffled inside with other aches and pains. I ran into a friend today and we just looked at each other and shook our heads. I’m not sure where the hours have gone. The television was on and Memphis won and the Celtics won, more storylines playing out. I have a late dinner on the stove and the old dog has his ball in his mouth, ever hopeful. I take him out, it’s still hot with a crescent moon overhead, the cicadas in full chorus. Midnight is at hand in Austin.
I’ve never been a chalk player - it’s strange that I’ve been so devoted to a championship team for so long. I like the underdogs, the dark horses. I’ll bet a longshot over the favorite and favor a fighter coming off the ropes. I vote for politicians who are idealists and I will never forget Kirk Gibson's swing for the fences in 1988. Tomorrow provides for the most unlikely of scenarios - the most successful franchise in the NBA as the comeback kid? It’s all screwy and doesn’t fit the template but there it is.
Phil Jackson was as demonstrative as I can remember him being last night. Kobe's intensity is always unmatched, anywhere. Artest will be back, Odom will again command the second unit and Bynum will likely pick up where he left off - dominating where others have not. And then there’s Pau Gasol. The immensely talented Spaniard has been off-kilter as of late. The subject has been picked and probed, dissected six ways to Sunday. His journey is difficult to watch but there is still a quixotic element to it - he may yet find his Dulcinea.
So yes, an impossible dream but these can be the best of sports stories, the idea of history being made. I’m going all in tomorrow because the alternative is the end and I’m just not ready to say goodbye yet. Maybe some other day.