Saturday, February 12, 2011


The Lakers are in the midst of their seven-game Grammys trip, on a winning streak again but they hadn’t been beating the better teams in the league all season.  Last night was a true test - playing the Celtics in Boston in the dead of snowy winter, having lost to their rivals at home not long ago. The day was interrupted with unexpected news, hard-nosed Jerry Sloan stepping down after so many years in Utah and open talk of a Deron Williams coup d’etat.  I figure teams will be banging down Sloan’s farmhouse door this summer and I hope he listens.  The news today was more global - Mubarak finally stepping down as well.  Crazy joyful celebrations washed across the screen.

Ray Allen might have beaten Reggie Miller’s 3-point record last night but Kobe broke Ray’s ankles with under a minute to go, sealing the win.  It was a physical game, Gasol channeling his inner Mutombo as he opened Garnett’s head with his elbow and later, doing similar damage to teammate Odom’s noggin (with his mouth region this time, apparently as sharp as his elbows).  Bryant fed his guys often and they in turn had the temerity to actually ask for the rock - this quality too often lacking.  Bynum talked about it after the game, crediting zen sports psychologist George Mumford and there’s a wonderful article by Kevin Ding concerning the same.  Odom meanwhile, laughed that his stitches would clash with his sartorial splendor for the upcoming ‘Unbreakable’ launch - my own feeling being that it’ll take more than style to rescue the unisex scent.

I grew up in an idyllic coastal community, about 20 miles south of Boston and like most kids, was bonded to the local teams.  New England sports fans are dedicated souls.  My parents split up when I was 13 and my mom did a wonderfully adventurous thing, spreading out a map for my brother and I, asking where we wanted to go.  It was the age of the golden beckoning - day-glow posters, pictorials in Life and Time - and the answer was easy and immediate.  I look back now and marvel at her courage - we sold the rambling Victorian that we loved so much, loaded suitcases and dog and cat into a VW camper van and set forth, a zig-zag journey across the country that took most of the summer; arriving one engine rebuild later in Northern California and winding all the way down PCH until we discovered the town of La Jolla.  Some form of providence provided a 3-bedroom redwood cottage, a block from the beach. Paradise found.

The road trip and ultimate destination was a forward way of thinking, how better to deal with parental separation - your dad still loves, you, maybe you could learn to surf?  Ha!  Surfing, guitar, epic mischief and sports of course - I was delivering newspapers and some guy asks me, "hey kid, what do you think about the Padres?" WTF??  I was still all about the Red Sox but the tides pulled, from Dan Fouts and air-Coryell to the Del Mar racetrack and trips to L.A., bombing up in my Ford Falcon with buddies, catching the Lakers at the Fabulous Forum.  I owe my intrepid mom a gratitude I cannot quantify here - she now spends her days in Maine, creating stacks of spiral notebooks as precious memories fade, walking the Collie and watching my step-dad sleep in front of Patriots games.

The Lakers would become my team as I reached my 20's and moved up to Los Angeles.  And decades passed from Showtime to Jackson and a lifetime after the summer journey, my own marriage ground to a halt and I found the seasons and green marshes beckoning again.  I slunk east, immersing myself in Cape Cod isolation, catching sports on a dish that sputtered off as much as on, buffeted in fierce peninsula crosswinds.  I went up to TD Garden with friends, debating teams and merits.  I’ve sometimes maintained that I could no sooner hate the Celtics than deny the four seasons that have captured major portions of my life.  That’s easier to say when your team wins, the loss on January 30th left me in such a funk that I dumped the piece I was writing into the recycle bin.  These days I live in Texas, a three-day blast across the county and it didn’t quite look like I remembered - funky roadside diners replaced by the endless fast food strip.  But Austin’s nice and I’m somewhere in the middle of my polar opposites, geography changes and I wind up respecting the Spurs until I have to hate them.

I can cheat the day by replaying moments, Kobe’s arsenal unleashed at MSG, 33 points and 10 rebounds and allowed his rest in the last quarter as the bench mob showed in full force - Odom and Brown each in double figures; Steve Blake with 8 points and 7 dimes and Luke chipping in as well, 8 points, 4 dimes and 3 boards.  I didn’t see all of it "live", stuck at the barn until late, arriving home in time for lengthy cutaways to a grand historic moment - the Cavs actually winning a game.  Thank technology for DVR and YouTube but it wasn’t always like this - one of my earliest memories of a game is in Zenith black and white, my dad calling me downstairs to witness Lew Alcindor with the Bucks, gum-popping, afro-swaying, languid and fierce at the same time.  Plus a couple guys named Bill Russell and Jerry West - my childhood friend Johnny Spinzola said they were rivals and sneered at the Lakers.  I nodded wisely and agreed.  These low-tech moments etched forever.

Generations grow in the blink of an eye.  I look for a blank tape to capture my daughter flying over one more course of towering oxers and roll-tops and discover a smiling 6 year-old on a pony, bumping into everything.  Remembering back to nights of driving home from work, listening to the first half with Chick Hearns, left to right on your radio dial.  Fall will bring a new cyclical change as the kid heads off to college and Morrison said the west is the best, it pulls me in a different way - the melting pot, warm canyons and crumbling stucco, grid-locked freeways and smog dusted pigeons.  For now however, solid wins on the road, the next game coming Sunday afternoon against Orlando.  The bitter cold of recent weeks recedes during daytime bits and pieces, winter rays warming and hints of spring around the corner - renewal beckons with green leaves and blooms and if we keep playing like this, maybe we get past the Spurs in the west and on to the war of the coasts, one more time.