I saw the best fans of my generation manipulated into madness, iced over in below zero windchills, slogging themselves through the freezing streets at 6:00 PM looking for the solace and peace of a victorious fix. Angels each, starving for that purest connection to the primal snowflaked unblinking stars in those icy machine-gears… of Chris Grantland.
OUR PLAN WAS TO WIN
(art by @spacefunmars)
I was sitting in the bar where they said Paterson was written. Someone identified the booth where Ginsberg was sitting when he wrote it. The bartender was 19 years old and cute but not pretty. This round face and giant empty green eyes framed with reddish hair that wafted down to a crooked well meaning half smile. It was opening day. It was 1997. You could smoke in bars then, or pretty much anywhere. Everyone did. She was burning out her lungs. We were all burning out our lungs.
Smoke curled up into the glass light fixtures then stretched itself out across the ceiling, past sharp rays of light that cut it perfectly. The television was propped up in a corner with a thin metal support piece in front, splitting the screen in half. It was still daytime, but it was fall and I was wearing that suede jacket with the green torn inside liner that I later lost in the backseat of a car while drinking my way across West Virginia, throwing bottles out the window onto the road.
There were all these wars that I never anticipated.
I'm with you in Richfield, where you're madder than I am.
(via Richfield Historical Society)
There were nights in Richfield that we’d never forget. Fan Appreciation Night 1983, and the potted plant giveaway and World B. Free. Those yellow sections of plastic seats speckled with brownish seats that you walked past. That smell of aging concrete that stuck to your hair and your winter coat. The course fabric and the machine hinge of the seat that soaked in your weight when you sat and again when you stood on your tiny feet and sneakers, when little hands climbed for incredible glimpses of perfect and unadulterated Mark Price jump shots and clutched program hymnals filled with names and numbers and facts and pictures.
Our lungs raged, cooked and melted into themselves for a decade from screaming at Bill Laimbeer and the Detroit Pistons in 1990. They were graveled by 1996 for near misses, but with a purity, with a reason, with purpose and justice and poetry.
My joints loosened and the sun crawled up the wall. It was almost two months after Shawn Kemp had demanded a trade out of Seattle. He wasn’t starting opening day and I was completely obliterated anyway. We were both ruled out for the night and it wouldn’t be the only one.
"Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!"
The lockout and the Randy Wittman years were dark and uninvested and they slipped by like so many wasted blacked out college nights and basement shows and blown out eardrums. We woke up with strange tattoos and sharpie marker drawings on our faces, we were pantsless; really needing a doctor but walking 4 miles in heat weighted down by a leather jacket filled with cheap beers, with no responsibilities, and with a crumpled up three folded calendar that only contained dates from October to April.
Nobody went to work and John Lucas says they told him to lose. There were some questionable characters involved, but no one really talks about them much anymore anyway. They’re all boxcars clacking across Whiskey Island, over the river, headed east, or headed west, up along the freezing coast and echoing out into the oblivion of the mysteriously invisible horizon, where the white lake meets the greyish sky. Or headed south, down across plains and pastures and valleys, passed hand to hand on streets and in parked cars outside suburban shopping malls.
And I can’t help but want to blame myself for what happened next, when we tried to impose meaning where it didn’t belong, when we claimed we smelled and heard things that we never really did, and made claims to other things that were never really there. Dammit Jim Paxson, why’d you ever tank in the first place? Why couldn’t you just pay Andre Miller and let it run its course, made tougher decisions and done it right? Things might have been different. We’d never even know the name Jiri Welsh.
There were those things that were inside our skulls but never really truly existed on the outside but that we wanted and maybe needed at the time. The indelible truth was that nobody involved was really from here, and Gordon Gund, man… he loved us, but eventually even he moved to New Jersey. We thought we were telepathic, guiding balls and balls and balls into buckets and it was intoxicating and probably profitable enough to ignore plain fact that we weren’t.
Then there were a million more of us then and all over the world, maybe further. It was running water filling vacant spaces everywhere. We didn’t read the news so much as we studied it. And when we’d found words written in the curves of the Cuyahoga River, typed out for miles and a million years and at that mouth, the end of the glaciers and the malaria, far from the muskrat traders and beside the giant banner mural that was being taken down, that’s where we finally met.
"Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!"
Three years for the playoffs and five years for a true contender? No “Plan B” if Lebron James left? A new coach, a new general manager, lack of fungible assets? We were saddled by our own drunken expectations. What does the font of a Dan Gilbert letter really matter that deserved such attention or even goals called mandates or discussions of curses? We were people punching other people in the face at meaningless Sunday afternoon freakshow football games and paying tax money committed to building whatever while snow piled up on streets.
And that’s where it all started, with that bitter ending and with unreal notions of how soon we could get as high as we got on those nights when we believed we could walk out of the skyline-mouth of broken, missing and shapened teeth and all the way to that horizon over endless white water that could never be milk.
The narrative now is that the trades went well, the drafts went bad, and everything else just failed to happen quickly enough. Pieces were well intentioned, but didn’t fit together. They were scrawled in notebooks, filled in quotes after leading questions in prewritten Word documents, saved into Wordpress and uploaded and translated into a thousand pageviews a minute, then leveling off into oblivion like that horizon. Always visible, always drawing your eyes, but meaning nothing at all.
We pounded onto keyboards like they were our enemies, keystrokes flying in like a hundred thousand gushing stab wounds. Like they could feel and want for the weight of truth. Like they wrote the words without us. Like they told us who these people were, what the felt, how they lived their lives while we tuned out and gave them the controls.
There’s never been a moment where I thought that Dion Waiters wouldn’t find his way to a winning team or that Kyrie Irving wouldn’t matter. There’s never been a moment that I actually believed that Dion Waiters would be traded before he became what he will be or that Kyrie Irving wanted out of losing any more than anyone else did.
Chris Grant, is that how it ended? With Irving being maligned and Waiters being characterized in unfavorable lights? With re-ratcheted up free agency anxieties calculated to play on our fears and self-perceptions? Is this who we will forever be and how Grant should be remembered in those last unblinking moments courtside, gaunt and exhausted while that giant digital clock was counting down, measuring moments?
Maybe it could end like this: If something feels not genuine, then it’s worth examining, but not to the point of illogical conclusion. Not to the point where panic fights both desire and intuition to an end game of self-denial and creeping fear.
We don’t live at our best in the shadows of our doubts. We invented a rock n’ roll nighttime that swaggers and sways and overflows with swollen hearts walking high into the streets without looking, arm in arm. That is who we are. Our faith is our walking stick. We are giants that own the traffic, that become the smells and visions, that see beyond the horizon into our own hazy brains and full hearts that through this all still believe, and surely will.