I'm 12 hours removed from what is unquestionably the Greatest Sports Night of My Life (GSNML), and among the greatest moments in my life period. My heart-rate is still elevated. My hands are still shaking.
Thanks to my friend Ophir, I scored a ticket to the Greatest Sports Event One Can Attend (GSEOCA): Game 7 of the NBA Finals...Lakers vs. Celtics.
No, I was much more than "there." I squeezed every memory out of the experience the way I wring my swimsuit dry after a workout. I left every emotion out on that basketball court the way I do at the end of a race.
Except, unlike triathlons, the best part of the experience happened after the game!
As I type these words, I'm still shaking my head in disbelief that all of this actually happened. And while I don't have photographic evidence for everything stated below, you'll just have to trust me and my word that none of this is exaggerated. No embellishments.
My GSNML started inside a suite at Staples Center. The energy inside the building was so intense I felt like I was playing in the game! It felt like before a triathlon. Giddiness. Nervousness. Anticipation.
Then, Gerard Butler (yeah, the dude from 300) came over and introduced himself, simply as "Jerry." But because he didn't get a good grip on the handshake, he started over, saying, "Mate, that's a shit handshake let me try again." Jerry was THE nicest guy. Totally unassuming, just one fan among the near 20,000 on-hand to yell, beg and plead our team to victory. More on him later.
On to the game. Or what threatened to turn into the Worst Sports Night of My Life (WSNML). We all know how the score turned out so I'll quell my sports-writing temptations. What I can tell you is that I've never perspired completely through a shirt watching a sporting event that wasn't weather related. (For the record, the shirt was linen, which contributed to my sweatiness.) That's how intense the GSEOCA was. And I seriously thought we were going to lose around the third quarter when LA was down 13. During halftime I was utterly stunned and shocked. My hands were on my face, elbows locked on the table in the suite. Could this really be happening? I've waited my whole life to see a Lakers-Celtics game, let alone a Game 7 like this. Was I going to have my heart ripped out and stomped on, and then put in a blender for good measure? It sure felt that way. The Lakers looked horrible! The gravity of the moment clearly weighed heavily on Kobe and Pau in ways I hadn't seen from them before. But I've certainly felt that way myself. Maybe we all have at some point, sports or otherwise. I remember playing freshman high school basketball and not scoring a point until halfway through the season. When I finally made it into games, my mouth was always dry. My legs never felt steady. My hands shook uncontrollably. I lost muscle memory. My adrenaline was out of control, and my performance suffered greatly. It happens. But not to the Lakers! Not on Game 7! Not tonight!
Fortunately, it didn't. And even that is an understatement. At the low point of the game, I began preparing myself emotionally for the notion the Lakers were going to lose. I detached from the game. I didn't get so hyper-joyous or dejected with every made or missed shot. I found a center and stayed there.
And the funny part? Believe it or not, my triathlon training helped. I realized that at an Ironman, bad stuff can happen. Things can go unexpectedly bad. I can get a flat. Or crash. Or cramp. Or dehydrate. And that's that. A year's worth of training can go down the toilet in a flash. But in the middle of the event itself, you can make a choice to be resolute. To fight through the pain. The suffering. The injustice of bad luck. You just have to stay focused. And remove yourself from the emotional panic of the situation.
So, as that Lakers deficit kept decreasing, as everyone else's emotions around me kept rising, I stayed calm.
At least until Derek Fisher tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
Then I went apeshit. Along with the rest of the building. Like cresting a huge summit on the bike and seeing nothing but downhills and flat roads ahead, I knew the Lakers had it. They would not lose from that moment on. They climbed the mountain. They wouldn't be denied. The fight and resolve was going to pay off.
Now during all the pandemonium of the closing minutes, Ophir and I learned we were sitting next to another famous somebody...at least a famous somebody in training: Baltimore Orioles centerfielder, Adam Jones. Another super cool cat. We talked about the Orioles' new manager, Juan Samuel ("a good guy, hope we keep him") and about whether it's harder watching a huge sporting event or playing in one ("I don't know, I've never been in a World Series.").
As the seconds ticked off the clock to the Lakers' 16th title against my arch-nemesis Celtics, I found myself celebrating, high-fiving and hugging a Major League Baseball player and the star of one of the most badass movies of the past few years (the CG one about the Spartans, not the drivel with Jennifer Aniston).
And my night would only improve from there!
Following the game, and singing "We Are the Champions!" along with a delirious crowd until I became hoarse, Ophir and I were given two NBA Game 7 Day Passes. This would get us on the court for a photo -- which alone would have been enough.
But why stop there?
"Why stop there?" became a catchphrase for the next two hours. Why stop at the court when we can try to get to the locker room? Why stop at the locker room when we can get to Kobe's press conference? Why stop at the press conference when you can actually talk to some of your favorite sportswriters like Scoop Jackson, JA Adande and David Aldridge? (BTW, each writer agreed hands-down that Game 7 was the "worst best game" they'd ever seen in their careers.) Why stop at Kobe's press conference when Aldridge is interviewing Pau right in front of us? Why stop at watching Pau get interviewed and actually share a few words with Derek Fisher (and his wife), Pau, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and even none other than Vic "The Brick" Jacobs ("Feeeelin youuuuu!!!!")? Why only meet some of the Lakers when you can fist-tap Kobe, Ron-Ron, Lamar, Andrew Bynum (who couldn't walk and was riding with his leg outstretched on a kart), Josh Powell and even Adam Morrison?
Now, why shower? Why wipe any of that experience off my fingertips? The sweat from Lamar's shorts. Derek's shoulders. The champagne coating the trophy. The stench from Vic "The Brick's" poncho.
Yeah, showering was probably a good idea, come to think of it.
In the end, I'm reminded of a Jewish prayer recited around Passover. It's called Dayenu, and it simply means "it's enough." For example, if G-d had delivered the Jews from Egypt, it would have been enough. If G-d had delivered the Jews from Egypt but not opened the Red Sea for them to cross safely, it would have been enough. And so on through a long list of singularly epic moments. But G-d did all those things, and for that we are supremely grateful.
That's how I feel about the GSNML.
If you told me I was going to attend Game 7 Lakers-Celtics, it would have been enough. (It was on my Bucket List.)
If you told me I was going to attend Game 7 Lakers-Celtics and sit next to athletes and celebrities, it would have been enough.
If you told me I was going to attend Game 7 Lakers-Celtics, sit next to athletes and celebrities and the Lakers would win, it would have been enough.
If you told me I was going to attend Game 7 Lakers-Celtics, sit next to athletes and celebrities, the Lakers would win, and I'd get my photo taken on the court afterwards, it would have been enough.
If you told me I was going to attend Game 7 Lakers-Celtics, sit next to athletes and celebrities, the Lakers would win, I'd get my photo taken on the court afterwards, and meet most of the Lakers while celebrating, it would certainly have been enough.
If you told me I was going to attend Game 7 Lakers-Celtics, sit next to athletes and celebrities, the Lakers would win, I'd get my photo taken on the court afterwards, meet most of the Lakers while celebrating, chat with my favorite sportswriters AND touch the Larry O'Brien trophy...I'd keel over and faint on the spot.
But it all happened. And even more that I'm probably forgetting.
GSEOCA = GSNML
153 and 152 days and counting.