Time Out: Back in the (basketball) game

Loving the NBA finals, even without the Celtics.

Oscar Robertson (with ball), playing for Cincinnati, against the New York Knicks. – Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Alex Palmer is a retired teacher and Boston sports enthusiast who will be blogging weekly about sports, and more.

People of a certain age use expressions like “of a certain age” to indicate that they are, well, of a certain age. Everybody is of a certain age, of course, but it’s only when the years ahead of you are substantially fewer than those behind you that you begin to view yourself as of a certain age.  All of which is to say that I am totally into the NBA finals this year.

Perhaps I should clarify. My particular certain age, combined with a New England upbringing, makes me a card-carrying member of the Boston Celtics Two-Dynasty Club. I was there for Bill Russell’s eleven championships and for Larry Bird’s three. The voice of Johnny Most rings in my ears.

Then a couple of decades went by and I crept towards the “certain age” category. I still loved basketball but there were always more teams and more games, longer seasons and endless playoffs. There were more commercials than layups. In short, television took over. I became an occasional fan.

My reawakening comes from two sources whose certain ages are miles apart.

One inspiration is a friend whose certain age exceeds mine by about 20 years. We met shortly after I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in the late 90‘s. One common interest is basketball, a sport she understands better than I, who played it for years. She uses words like grace, power, trust, balance and intelligence  to capture the essentials of the game. She also thinks some of the players are pretty cute.

In a recent conversation, she was telling me about her years in Cincinnati where she and her husband raised their family.  Almost as an aside, she said, “That’s where I met Oscar. “ I gave her a look.  “He was such a gentle man.”  Wait . . wait . . “Do you mean Oscar Robertson?” She gave me a look of her own. “Well, of course, child. Who else would I mean?”

Oscar Robertson. The Big O.  Along with Jordan and LeBron, considered one of the three best players ever. He did everything on the court, especially shoot. As kids, we tried to copy Oscar’s jumper. The way he’d cradle the ball in the palm of his hand, hang in the air until the defender had fallen away, then flick his wrist and send a soft, high-arcing shot floating towards the basket.  “After my husband died, Oscar put his arms around me,” my friend said. “He told me that my life would go on.  And I believed him.”

My friend follows the games on TV. She sometimes needs help finding the right time and channel, so I give her a pre-game call and help her out. Once she finds the channel, she keeps it there until game time. That way she won’t miss it. We’ve been doing this for a while. It finally dawned on me: She still has a passion for the game. Why don’t I ?

Meanwhile there are two boys out in San Francisco, ages 10 and 8, who have inspired me in their own way. They happen to be my grandsons and I happen to love them to death. (People of a certain age can use expressions like that.)  The boys are big fans of the Golden State Warriors and on a recent visit I found out why.

I had heard of Steph (as in ref) Curry, the Warriors’ leader who has a knack for carrying the team to victory with his phenomenal scoring. Curry is 27 but would not look out of place on a junior high playground. He is waif-like and has a sleepy countenance. All this I knew. What I did not know is that you can’t take your eyes off him.

We sat down with our grandsons to watch the Warriors take on the Rockets in Game 3 of the Western finals. To quote the boys, Curry was in “epic” form.  As the Warriors point guard, he has the ball in his hands a lot and is a brilliant dribbler. When he doesn’t have the ball he darts and flits and gets himself open. Either way, he fires off 3-pointers with unprecedented accuracy.  No wonder the boys love this guy.  He’s their John Havlicek (Celtics dynasty #1) and Larry Bird (#2) rolled into one. The game was over by halftime, as was the series a few nights later.  It would be Curry’s Warriors vs. LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals.  On the flight home I was sporting my new Warriors shirt.

So, here I am, a born again NBA fan of a certain age. For that I can thank three people whose certain ages — very different from mine and each others’ — mean they all have a lot to teach me. Bring on the games.