NOT Celebrating an NBA Championsip
I’m a fews removed from watching my team, the San Antonio Spurs, lose to the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The first 12 hours afterward, I couldn’t stop reflecting on the previous night. Every moment I wasn’t occupied with something, I was left with my thoughts. I thought about how I felt helpless, how I couldn’t will my team to win their fifth title and, more importantly, will Tim Duncan to get his fifth ring. It was an incredible night, only to be left in disappointment, sorrow, and a feeling of being lost.
This was my Game 7 day:
It was my day off, but I couldn’t sleep in because due to poor judgment on my part, I had an appointment early in the morning. I was unsure if I should show my Spurs support or wait until after the appointment. I went with the smarter choice and opted for a shirt but wore my Spurs hat while driving. In my head, it was game day and I was going to show my support as much as I could.
As I was driving, I saw Spurs flags from numerous cars along the way. They were the types where you can attach them to the top of your window. Those flags had been around since the start of the playoffs, but it was a reminder at what was at stake for the Spurs.
As the employees were starting to come into the office, they were all wearing some sort of Spurs attire. It was game day, and they were all showing their spirit. I could see the min- posters that were in the San Antonio Express News taped to the walls behind their desks. An article there read Back to the Finals. My thoughts turned towards the evening ahead.
Questions came into mind. “Are they going to get blown out?”
“Why is there a Game 7?”
“Why couldn’t we grab one rebound?”
“Why couldn’t we make three out of four free throws?”
With each question, I got a little bit angrier. I couldn’t help but say we, as in “We shouldn’t be in this situation.”
I waited with other individuals, and in front of us, the TV screen was slowing brightening, and CNN was the channel it was set on. At the top of the hour, the news started with James Gandolfini and his passing. There were closed captions being displayed, and I was reading them as they flashed before me. All I could think of was it was so unexpected. The report was lengthy, and after a commercial break, they finally turned their attention to Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Rachel Nicols was reporting from Miami, and then they went to an interview where she had corralled LeBron James.
“I hope the Spurs can pull it out tonight,” a male’s voice said softly besides me.
I didn’t turn to him, but I can tell he was just saying a thought out loud.
“Tough loss Tuesday night,” I said towards him.
“It was bad,” he said while we were both looking at the screen with LeBron dominating it.
“You think they'll win?” The man unassuredly asks me.
I was honest with him and myself and said, “I couldn’t tell you.”
My thoughts went back to Game 6 and how they were about six seconds away from standing on that stage and a three-ball went in to send the game into overtime. I remember standing in the middle of my room with my hands on my head in pure shock. Then the game ended, and the score flashed before me. We were going to go to a Game 7. I almost lashed out at my TV; instead, I crawled into bed and feel asleep.
It seemed like the man next to me and I were going to discuss the strategy for the game, as if we were going to be coaching, but before we could, it was time for our appointments. For about an hour-and-a-half, I didn’t think about the game. The drive home, another 30 minutes, I still didn’t think about the game. I got home almost close to 10pm and went to my room. The TV was off. I stared at it. Did I want to obsess about predictions, matchups, or strategy for Game 7 on Sportscenter?
I know the same broadcasts, analysis, and questions were going to be asked. They could talk all they want, but like the cliché says, that’s why you play the game, so I was going to wait until tip off.
I put the remote down; I refused to watch anything about Game 7. I didn’t want to watch what the experts were going to say. That they didn’t think the Spurs could rebound from having the trophy in their hands only to have it taken away five seconds later. I grabbed my laptop and typed in Netflix. Sometime during the third episode of ABC Family’s Greek, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I wandered around the house, played with my dog ... anything to keep myself from turning on the TV. I remember about the viewing party that was going to be held at the AT&T Center.
“Should I go?” I thought to myself.
I imagined how cool it would be if the Spurs won and I was there to watch from our court. But the more I thought about it, the more I asked myself, do I really need to see it from the AT&T Center? I can watch it from home and the real celebration will be on the River Walk when they are carrying the trophy (an event I’ve never witnessed because I was living in two different cities when the Spurs won their championships.)
At that moment, I didn’t think we were going to lose that night. Something in gut told me that this was the night. It was going to take seven games, but finally, I was going to see Tim Duncan hold that trophy.
So I texted my best friend, “Do I need to be at the AT&T Center for the viewing party?”
I waited for about five minutes before I got a response, “How much are tickets?”
I know what that meant. It meant if it wasn’t free or super cheap, then, “No, you don’t need to be there, but you do need to be at the celebration on the River Walk.”
I would’ve agreed with him, even he didn’t tell me that. The most important thing is seeing that trophy being lifted by a Spur, whoever that would’ve been.
I texted him back, “Free.”
A few seconds later, I got a one word answer and exclamation point, “Go!”
I don’t know why I suddenly got excited. It’s as if he knew something I didn’t know. That I was going to miss one hell of a party tonight, and I needed to be there. I didn’t hesitate; I grabbed my jeans and keys and headed out the door.
As I was backing out, my dad was coming home from work. He asked me about my appointment, and I told him everything was fine. He asked me where I was headed, and I told him I was going to get a ticket for the viewing party. I told him I know he can’t go because he has to be up super-early to get ready for work. He agreed and told me to be careful because traffic was bad.
In my head I didn’t think twice that there weren’t going to be tickets. I arrived at Wing Stop and asked if they had any tickets left for the viewing party. There were, unfortunately. And this Wing Stop isn’t the most visible; if you didn’t know it was there, you would pass it by every day. That told me there going to be a throng of people showing up at the AT&T Center in a couple of hours.
I drove home, kind of disappointed, but I shrugged it off. It would’ve been cool to go, I thought, but I’d been watching the Finals at home with popcorn and my big flat screen, so it didn’t matter where I saw it, as long as the Spurs won.
Still refusing to watch anything on ESPN, I lounged around and jumped back on the laptop, checked out Facebook, browsed sites, and then a random thought popped into my head. I figured maybe some people have extra tickets and are willing to give them out. I went to Craigslist San Antonio and -- what do you know! -- I found tickets. But that’s when I got angry. People were selling free tickets!
“Seriously, they’re trying to make money?” I thought to myself.
“Those aren’t fans,” another thought to myself.
I found one post stating they had extra tickets and were up for grabs, just so I could reply to the email. I gave my number telling them to text me.
I didn’t find any tickets, so I decided to watch the game at home and felt fine with it. Then my brother knocked on my door and asked me where I was headed to watch the game. I told him that I was going to stay home, but I went to Wing Stop an hour ago to get a ticket for the viewing party. He asked why I went so late. Anyway, it turned out he had tickets and had an extra one. It was going to be him, his girlfriend and his friend. He asked if I wanted to go, and I said, “Let’s go!” He said he was ready and wanted to be there early. I threw on my hat and told him, “I’m ready.”
We were on our way. I got a little excited as were driving. I looked out the window and saw people in jerseys, hats, and/or flags. I don’t know if they were also headed to the AT&T Center, but I nodded to each person and they nodded back. There was an understanding, a common ground among the unknown drivers and me. That logo somewhere on each of us was what brought us together.
We arrived at the AT&T Center almost two hours before the doors opened, and there were people already in line. I saw black and silver t-shirts, including t-shirts with the old colors on them. Everyone was under the Texas heat, but we didn’t care; we wanted to have a good view.
TV crews were setting up for their live shot at the top of the hour to show the city the fans were gathering to pack the shack. I didn’t know how many tickets were given out. I didn’t think there were a lot, maybe just the bottom part of the stadium. More and more fans showed up. Some had signs, some made their own trophies, and couple of fans came out in full spirit. One was wearing a luchador mask and cape. Another fan came in a homemade costume resembling a Spartan warrior; as he turned around, it was fitting: it said Spurtan.
The lines were getting bigger and bigger, the chants of "Go Spurs Go!" were getting louder.
I was taking it all in. I sensed that everyone thought we were going to win. I looked at the field of faces and not one of them showed an expression of concern about losing later that night. Was I the only one worried about Dwayne Wade possibly going back into time again? Was there no concern that we were going against the best player in the world, and he was one of the main reasons why the Spurs lost Game 6?
Employees came out and started putting boxes on tables that were set up half way through the security checkpoint and the front doors. It was time. I told my brother to go ahead of me, and I’ll follow him to go get seats. We went through security and then got a little box from an employee. It was a mini-flashlight with the Spurs logo on it. It was nice. I unfortunately left it in the stadium later that night.
Now we waited again for the doors to open. I scanned the scene and marveled at the massive crowd all around me. Then the doors opened, and we all rushed to get eye-level seats with the giant screen. Tip-off was not for another hour-and-a-half. There was a stage set up on one end of the court. A pregame concert was pounding away, but I couldn’t tell you the name of the band performing it. And the people were still filing in. The band was playing covers, and they were good. The PA was getting us hyped for Game 7.
Five minutes before tipoff, they lowered the lights, and flashlights were on all around me. It was an amazing sight. That’s when I noticed the arena was nearly sold out. The Coyote came out, and they started playing the intro to the Spurs as if was a home game. Everyone was going crazy. It’s as if had already won, that any minute the team was going to come out, and they were going to have the trophy in hand. I looked around, still nervous. Does this crowd not know we still have to play the game? 15,000 people weren’t nervous. I, on the other hand, was.
The game itself ebbed and flowed back and forth. We took a 7-point lead. Miami called a timeout, and we were going crazy. We were on our feet, screaming and high-fiving each other. Miami came out and tied it. A unisons of groans filled the air.
The first moment I knew we were in trouble was when Shane Battier hit his first three. Mike Miller had been hitting his shot and Battier had been struggling, but to see him hit nothing but net, I sensed it was going to be close the entire way. Then LeBron hit his three. We were in trouble. I felt it. I tried to shake those nerves off. I tried so hard.
We watched on screen as the Heat gradually began taking control. You could feel the tension in the air. Were the Heat going to finish this quickly? Each timeout, I sat in my chair and my legs bounced up and down. Each turnover, I put my hands over my eyes. I tried to control them, but my nerves were taking over. Finally, before halftime, we made a small run. We were restraining our cheering, afraid if we showed too much emotion, we were going to jinx it.
It was nearly halftime, and finally! We got back a one-point lead. It was only one point, but the arena started echoing with yells and screams of joy. I’m yelling and screaming in joy! The sound was deafening.
I stood up when Miami inbounded the ball, “Don't give up anything, defense!” I yelled as loud as I could. I was too busy focusing on the screen to notice if anyone looked at me and thought I should calm down.
Mario Chalmers then moved up to the top of the key.
"Get in his face, Green! Don't let him shoot it!" I was yelling again at the top of my lungs. I was still too busy concentrating on the screen to notice anyone looking at me.
The shot banked off the window and and went in. 15,000 people groaned in dismay. Miami by two at the half.
"I told you not to let him shoot it!" I screamed in full voice, and this time, I felt eyes on me.
I plopped down in my seat in disgust. The PA announcer seemed cheerful, even though Miami had the lead. He told the crowd there was only one more half until the Spurs won Game 7. I wasn't so sure. I sat in my chair and half-listened to the band that came back to play during halftime. My brother got a phone call and told me that his friend and girlfriend were on their way and he was going to meet them at the door.
His friend showed up first. I sat there aimlessly in my chair and then got up to go to the restroom. When I got back, my brother was there with his girlfriend. The crowd was buzzing with optimism, and I wanted to be there with them. I really did, but I couldn’t get myself overly excited about winning, only to get kicked in the stomach if we lost.
The third quarter was about to begin, and if anyone had been watching this series, they knew one team goes on a tear at this point in the game, and it would be over (the only exception was Game 1). I was waiting for that run. I was waiting for someone to hit a three, then make a defensive stop and another quick score. My legs bounced nervously. My hands were over my mouth. It never came. I became even more apprehensive. I could feel my palms get sweaty.
No one mades a run, but Battier, Miller, and James were hitting threes. Wade was finding his rhythm, and we were hanging around but not taking care of the ball.
Fourth quarter. 12 minutes. Someone was going to be champion and it was going to be close.
And then it started for the Heat. With each minute that passed by, they felt like they were ever more in control. I stared at the screen. It was starting to sink in that we might lose. I talked to myself as if I was amidst the Spurs players, “Come on, you can do this!”
4 minutes left, down by six.
I was getting scared for my team. I looked around, trying to think of something. I wanted to keep watching the game, but at the same time, I didn’t want to. I gazed around me and saw other fans coming to realize that we might lose. To my left, I spied a dad with his two young daughters in the same row as us. Earlier, the daughters and I danced to the Cupid Shuffle before the game. Dad and the younger daughter, who might have been 7 or 8, were both on their feet. The older daughter -- maybe 11 -- was sunk down in her chair, not watching. I felt for her. I wanted to go over and sit next to her. The dad tried to get the attention of his oldest. No success.
The time was winding down, the Spurs were still down by six, and it was quiet in the stadium. They tried to play upbeat music, but we were not having it. Instead, we had that look of “Are you kidding me right now?”
Still down by six, the ball was in our possession. We were standing up. I was jumping up and down, but we’re all watching our team find no success getting an open look. The shot clock was winding down.
"Do something!" I yell.
Gary Neal had the ball and had to launch it. Bingo. The crowd went nuts. I was starting to believe that we’re going to pull this out.
"We're going to wiiiiinnnnnn!"
There was a huge smile on my face. I grabbed the guy in front of me but then realized what I was doing. I stopped, and he turned around. I apologized. He replied, "It’s cool." We high fived. He was in the moment just like me.
Right there my heart was all in. A timeout was taken. The crowd was on its feet. My brother’s girlfriend looked at me and said, “This is unreal.” I looked around and agreed. I was happy to be there at that moment. It took me all day to let my heart get into it, but finally I knew we were going to win.
And a couple of moments later ...
A majority of the crowd around me was seated right when they threw the ball to Battier. I quickly stood up.
"Don't leave Battier open!"
I screamed so hard, people turned around. My brother’s girlfriend looked at me with a scared expression.
The seconds ticked down, and I sunk my head low.
“And the Miami Heat are back-to-back NBA Champions!”
I didn’t look up. I had my forearms on my knees with my eyes down. I just sat there. I had finally let myself invest in thinking we were going to win, and it was ripped out in a flash. I saw a light pulsing on me. I looked up, and saw my brother and his friends were there looking at me.
“Are you ready?” they asked.
“Give me a second,” I told them.
They left me there. I looked at the screen, and it was off. I looked around the arena, and it emptied pretty quickly. I felt lost. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I finally got up and trudged towards the end of the aisle. I stopped again and looked around.
“This couldn’t be it, could it?” I thought to myself.
I was trying to let go, I walked up the stairs and I saw a young family to my left. The wife and daughter were looking at their guy. He had his hand over his mouth. He hadn’t moved. The screen was still blank behind me. The women looked at each other, trying to figure out what was going on.
I don’t know why I did it, but I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder.
He looked at me. “We had it,” he said. It almost as if he was going to cry.
I looked at him, “I know,” I said softly.
“We had it,” he said one more time.
I nodded softly, and again I told him, “I know.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and we stood there looking at the court. He patted me on the shoulder, and I returned the favor.
I walked away and knew his heart was also ripped out.
I left the arena helpless and heartbroken, and I wasn’t the only one. We might not have been in extravagant costumes or carrying signs, but that didn’t mean we didn’t give our emotions and heart to our team.
At that moment, there was nothing more I wanted to do than go home, go to sleep and hope that I woke up from this dream and the real Game 7 was going to happen with the San Antonio Spurs as NBA Champions.