Tag Archives: NBA history

The Dusty Jumper: A Memoir About Basketball, Adolescence, Anxiety, Identity and NBA Fandom

Hello Good People,

I finally finished editing. I have slowly destroyed my inner perfectionist. Or maybe I just got older. Or both. Words are never finished. Writing is never done. But this book is…at last.

http://www.blurb.com/b/8005459-the-dusty-jumper

The Dusty Jumper is a basketball memoir from a child of the 80s. A collection of tied-together moments from two decades of personal experiences and NBA-related writing. Pieces of a puzzle that concludes with the idea that we are all human. Writing that takes hoops as a centering theme but is really about people and our need to play, cheer, watch, read, and write, and generally connect to something bigger than ourselves.

Good for summer reading. Easy to carry around. Short passages. Basketball. Adolescence. Fandom. Anxiety. Hopefully, you’ll find it mildly humorous and somewhat poetic, though I’m not paid to be a comedian or a poet…(though, usually, comedians and poets are broke).

If you have promotion suggestions, feel free to send any thoughts my way. I’m not a marketing guru, if that wasn’t obvious.

I can tell you the book costs $10, which is less than two pints of gelato, unless they’re on sale.

Happy summer reading,
Jonah

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Snapped: Celtics Shutdown Oracle Party at Record 54 Games

I’ve never been to a party that was shut down by the flashing blue lights of a police car, but after Friday night’s shocking Boston Celtics victory over the seemingly invincible 68-8 Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland, I think I know the feeling. The stunned Warriors fans, known as Dub Nation, stumbled and mumbled their way out of the no-longer Roaring Oracle around 10:15pm last night, while the four of us muttered to ourselves, “Did that just happen?”

In the arc of lifelong fandom, at the young age of 36, I have been fortunate enough to witness several moments which might appropriately be titled “epic.” Eric and I attended the biggest 4th quarter comeback in NBA playoff history as 22 year-olds. We stood in the balcony of the Garden as the whole building swayed back and forth, vibrating under our stomps and shouts.

That fourth quarter is imprinted in my memory as a symbol of possibility, of redemption and synchronicity, and of pure joy. The same way many NBA lovers refer to these Warriors. Steph Curry becomes a manifestation of hopeful possibility, of mind-blowing shot-making and unrestrained passion and love of the game. We won’t bother to discuss racial overtones, and the projections of purity reserved for the lightest-skinned. The fan in front of me googled, “Steph Curry heritage” in the second quarter, which tells you two things: 1) Steph Curry is very light-skinned; and 2) People are going to a party, where basketball happens to be the theme.

That 2002 fourth quarter is living (or remembered proof) of the power of irrational belief. Those moments are what makes fandom my religion, and the arena my temple. People like to cheer for a winning team. People in the Bay Area love a party. Many in the Bay Area are incredibly wealthy. The exclusivity of the party becomes apparent, compared to the surprising success of the “We Believe” Baron Davis-Stephen Jackson upset Warriors. Instead of “We Believe,” these Warriors fans are a more entitled, more selfie-focused bunch, dancing in their Curry jerseys. This may sound like a harsh judgment, but when you look around and don’t see many brown and black faces in the stands compared with a decade earlier, it’s less harsh and more honest. Regardless of the sociological implications, the game is still a game, and the athletic displays are still mind-blowing. The game itself is a beautiful thing to watch. The roar of the crowd as quiet as a whisper to the keen observer. The silent Jay Gatsby, observing all of his drunken fools at the most luxurious and reckless gatherings on West Egg. That’s what its like to hear 20,000 fans walk quietly out of the Arena, the beer buzzing floating out into the Oakland night. The wealthy retreating to their SUVs and the masses headed toward the BART. The fucking Celtics beat the Warriors. Fuck, yes.

January 27th, 2015. Bulls 113, Warriors 111 (OT). The 36-6 Warriors lost their 7th game of the season that night. Natasha was there with work friends. Ironically, the next game she attended was last night. Symmetry. Bookends. 54 games, 54 wins. In between the two losses: an NBA title; a national love affair; an MVP crowned, and a march toward 73 wins and NBA history.

The details of how it happened are less important than the lingering images. Marcus Smart hounding in the backcourt, causing an offensive foul in the form of a Harrison Barnes elbow to the jaw. Avery Bradley denying Steph Curry any space in the first half, relentlessly sprinting out to the three-point arc on the weak side. Amir Johnson doing his relentless dirty work underneath, forcing mid-air adjustments. Without their backbone, Jae Crowder, the Celtics threatened the Warriors and they’re rabid fans with sheer will and zero fear for the biggest moments. With every third quarter Steph Curry swish (6 from deep), the Celtics bounced back, keeping the fans from erupting. Crowder is perhaps the best representation of what sheer willpower can do to energize a team. Rare players like Draymond Green and Jae Crowder make the NBA what it is. Steph Curry may bring pure joy to the game and enthrall the casual fan with his heroics but the determination and unity of a great defense resonates with those who have played the game competitively themselves. One basketball goes through a hoop, but five guys to move on a string through time and space.

No Jae and these Celtics still found a way. No Iguodala and no Ezeli and these Warriors continue to chase 73. There is an undeniable force that runs through these guys that feels like 1985-86 Celtics, which I was too young to appreciate. An unselfishness that may have been matched by the fluidity of the recent Spurs championship. San Antonio awaits the Warriors in what most NBA lovers are dreaming is a classic Western Conference Finals. The 82-game season is far too long. But game #76 for both teams will leave another permanent reminder of the possibilities, of the beauty of the game, and of the deafening silence of a crowd, recognizing their own mortality. Every party ends. The real party begins in two weeks…

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Thoughts on the NBA’s Conference Finals: LeBron Is Inevitable

If there is one thing I’ve learned about myself while watching the NBA Playoffs over the last five years, it’s that I will inevitably be disappointed. I will be disappointed because I am a fan of the underdog, and the underdog does not beat LeBron James. I will not stop rooting for the underdog. LeBron James will not stop beating underdogs. These are facts.

As a Celtics fan, some of the sweetest moments of the last decade have involved the Celtics beating LeBron. Beating him in Cleveland. The Celtics never conquered LeBron’s Miami Heat, though they came within one game in 2012. The Celtics made their way to the title in 2008 by surviving LeBron’s Cavs in 7 rugged, offensively-challenged games. In only one of those Eastern Conference Semifinals games did either team reach 100 points. Teams were routinely held under 75 points. It was a gruesome affair. The Celtics won. LeBron, who shot 35% from the field over the seven games, had very little help. I bet you can’t name two of the three next-highest scorers for Cleveland in that series. The Celtics shot 42.5% in the series, and 28% from deep. The Cavs shot 41% in the series. 30% from deep. It was all ugly, all the time. And that’s how LeBron lost in 2008. Without any offensive help. I’ll give you a second….

Zydrunas Ilgauskas. 11.9 points.

Delonte West. 11.4 points.

Wally Szczerbiak. 10.7 points.

***

LeBron famously moved on to Miami, where he would have gratuitous amounts of offensive support and much nicer weather. Where Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, and numerous others spread the floor, and where Dwyane Wade helped carry the crunch time load. The Heat were dominant. LeBron was able to wisely conserve his energy in order to play power forward when it was necessary. He transformed his game, became an intimidating post threat and a pinpoint passer. The Eastern Conference landscape shifted dramatically.

Detroit

The Detroit Pistons aged and slowly disintegrated, though not without one last fight in 2008. The Pistons have been free-falling since then. The Josh Smith fiasco. Andre Drummond and Stan Van Gundy better come up with some magical potions soon, or Pistons fans will lose any optimism after two decades of very good to great teams.

Boston

The Boston Celtics rampaged through the East in 2008 and took the title, and came very close to adding another title in 2010. Up three games to two, the Celtics lost Kendrick Perkins, who went down with a knee injury in the first quarter of Game 6. Injuries mounted in 2011 and the team slowly disintegrated, though not without one last glorious fight in 2012. The Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the East Finals, before LeBron’s insane 45-point (19 of 26 from the field) effort squelched any hope of the Celtics returning to the NBA Finals. The Heat built a 13-point halftime lead at TD Garden and didn’t look back. The Celtics kept Game 7 close, before losing steam in the 4th quarter. Game. Set. Match. End of an era in Boston.

Orlando

The Orlando Magic rode Dwight Howard and hot three-point shooting to the Finals in 2009. After winning 59 games in 2008-09, the Magic repeated with 59 more wins the following year. Winning percentage in years since: .634, .561, .244, .280, .305. The Magic began rebuilding in 2012. I think the statue of limitations ends next year. After that, it’s just “rebuilding.”

Chicago

Derrick Rose’s body couldn’t handle the demands of Derrick Rose’s athleticism. After adding Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic, and watching Jimmy Butler emerge into a two-way star, the Bulls seemed prime for another run at the title this year. When Kevin Love went down in the first round, things seemed very possible for this Bulls team. A few plays turned their series with Cleveland. LeBron hit a couple of crazy shots. Pau Gasol injured his hamstring. The Bulls pushed the Cavs to six games and then went softly into the night in a forgettable Game 6 meltdown of offensive ineptitude.

***

And now we’re left with the 60-win Atlanta Hawks. A feel-good story all season long. And there’s nothing left to feel good about. Injuries have wiped out the Hawks. First the NYPD broke defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha’s leg in a nightclub incident. Then Al Horford pinky finger was dislocated at the beginning of the playoffs. Then DeMarre Carroll went down with what looked like a horrific ACL tear, but turned out to be a hyper-extended knee and bone-bruise. Then Kyle Korver’s ankle was broken by the bowling ball known as Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova.

Of course, the Cavs have been dealing with their own injuries to numerous players. Love’s shoulder. Irving’s ankle issues leading to knee tendinitis. The Cavs depth has surprised most. Depending on Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones was not what GM David Griffin had in mind when dreaming about the playoffs in March.  The injuries to LeBron are visible as well. He just keeps playing. Grimacing and stretching his legs. But LeBron just keeps going. He is inevitable. His team will win again because he makes everyone else so much better and because he is bigger, stronger, faster and hyper-intelligent on the court.

LeBron is 30 years old. For the last five years, the Eastern Conference playoffs have felt inevitable. Unsurprising.

Indiana

In 2013, I jumped on the Pacers in February, admiring their Celtics-style defense and the emergence of Paul George. Heat over Pacers in 7 games. Three of the first six games were grinders. Brutal and close. Game 7: Heat blow out the Pacers by 21.

In 2014, those Pacers started the season 40-11, looking every bit as dominant as a team might look, before slumping to the regular season’s finish line. Slowly, the Pacers pulled themselves together and got back their defensive intensity as the playoffs moved on. They would meet the Heat in an Eastern Conference Finals rematch. After giving the country a ray of hope in a Game 1 win, the Pacers went on to drop Games 2, 3 and 4 in increasingly ugly fashion. They squeaked out a Game 5 win, making the series look respectable, before the avalanche of Game 6 hit them. Miami’s 25-point win gave the Eastern Conference Playoffs a similar final note. Demolition.

The Pacers lost Paul George over the summer to a freak leg injury. Their franchise is now aging and about to disintegrate.

You know the story…

***

LeBron is 30 years old. The Golden State Warriors and their continued mastery of the NBA stand in LeBron’s way. Kyrie Irving’s ankles and knees will rest until Thursday, June 4. Both of the Conference Finals series could end in four game sweeps. We could be waiting for nine days. Game One of the Finals will surely be a sloppy contest, filled with rust and dust. There won’t be a sense of inevitability to the Finals. LeBron and his Cavs will be done with the East. There will be dramatic moments. Steph Curry’s ascension to the top of America’s sporting landscape will continue.

It leaves me with a question, though. How old will I be when the Eastern Conference Playoffs become intriguing again? Will LeBron be 37? A full-time Karl Malone-type of power forward who no longer chases down blocks in the open court? Will LeBron be 40? The best sixth-man in the NBA? Will LeBron retire at age 35, too proud to continue playing after his legs betray him?

For now, LeBron remains close to his peak. Putting up ridiculous numbers, and instilling fear in his opponents. The Hawks are just one team in a long line of them. Hopefully they manage one win before their time is up in these East Finals.

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