My Dad has been cleaning out his house, getting rid of all his old stuff. He just retired, he's planning on spending about a third of the rest of his life traveling around, and he's ready to get rid of his old junk.
And I get a few perks from the deal. Last week I got four ties, and an old stereo I can put in my kids' room.
And as I was picking out which ties I liked, I also glanced around the bookshelf and I saw a book: Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories, by Jean Shepherd. For those unfamiliar, it's a collection of short stories from Jean Shepherd's childhood—a few of which were the basis for the truly great A Christmas Story. You know: the Red-Rider BB Gun, "You'll shoot your eye out!", and the leg lamp.
Anyway, this isn't about the lamp. Nor what a night of Golden Memories via Wanda Hickey must have been like.
I've been thinking about some kind of regular contribution to this site. Something that I can make uniquely mine. BBJ has the Downbeat, TBLIATWIATNIATU, and Fesenko Friday. Amar has his stats posts and Sunday Syncopation. But me ... I'm a storyteller. As For The Love once pointed out, I weave fairy tales.
As I was staring at that book, I thought of what I can do: retell some of my golden memories of the team. And hopefully I can do so in a way that helps us all remember why we love our team so much.
There's a certain magic about being sixteen. It's fleeting—so very fleeting. And superficial, too. Life gets better, deeper, more real as you get older. But there is also a kind of magic that is lost even one year later.
It's the kind of magic of driving down State Street, recklessly, loudly. The kind of magic that comes from making stupid faces at strangers while waiting at red lights. The kind of magic of four buddies shouting at each other because we're trying to talk over the music—which up way too loud. The kind of magic that comes from windows rolled down in mid-February, filling the Salt Lake City night with Van Halen, and pleading with the stuffy old people to glare at us for being stupid teenagers.
I didn't do my homework that day. My mom had demanded I do it early, knowing I was going to the Jazz game and would never get it done once I got home. And I had honestly tried to do it. But then my buddies came over, and it took too much work to decide what to record on our tape for driving to the game that night. We debated Metallica, AC/DC, Pearl Jam. I suggested U2 or REM. But in the end it was Van Halen. And because we were in a strange mood that afternoon the tape ended up with just one song—recorded over and over and over: "Could this be Magic?".
And so that's what we blasted over my mom's car's stereo that evening: acoustic Van Halen, pumped full-blast through the rolled down windows. There were four of us in the car, going to the game. Four sixteen year old dudes, and life did not get better than that.
We got to the Delta Center early, of course. Two buddies were desperate because they had never been to a game before. One was desperate because, against all that was holy, he worshipped Dennis Rodman of the Spurs. And me—well, I had been to enough games to know that second row seats were something special, something to cherish. Like a homemade Peppermint Patty—it was not something to rush through without savoring each little detail. The smoothness of the chocolate—the color of the sideline paint; The texture of the mint filling—the mesh of the players' uniforms.
My buddies and I made bets on how many profanities we'd hear, sitting that close. I was the only one whose guess made any sense at all; I was the only one to consider the Jerry Sloan Factor. I would have won, if we hadn't been swept up by the game and forgotten about the bet by the second quarter.
My idiot friend who loved Rodman got into a shouting match with another fan within minutes after tipoff. It started with little jabs back and forth, but they got louder and louder. Finally they were standing up, yelling, threatening, pointing, jawing, spittle flying into each others' faces—not on purpose, but just with the violence of their "p's" and "t's". Everyone sitting around us looked at me and my other two buddies—eyes glaring, silently demanding "are you with him?"
My friend yelled, "Come on, hit me. I'll sue you for so much money you won't be able to buy underwear."
The dude yelled back, "So @*&$%! what? I'm not wearing underwear anyway, and I"ll beat the *%#&^! out of you!"
An usher was called. Security came. My friend got taken out. At that point none of the rest of us cared. All we cared about was the game. My friends didn't follow the Jazz like I did, but they knew I was desperate that they win.
You can look up the results. Dennis Rodman spent the entire night pissing off the Mailman. The Admiral got his points, but Karl made him work like hell for them. And Stockton ate Vinny Del Negro alive.
My friend—the one taken out by security—came back sometime at the second quarter. I don't remember when. I didn't care. I just cared that the teams were neck-and-neck, and I was contemplating throwing myself to the ground in the fetal position if the Jazz lost.
It was one of those games in which nobody could pull away. The Spurs got up by a couple, then the Jazz came back with 6-7 straight points. There was never a comfort-zone, never a run to make you think it was going to end up okay. Just two and a half hours of this horrible, tense churning in my stomach.
I had to walk up about 50 stairs to the exit and bathroom over and over and over. I was nervous, so I needed soda. And the more I drank, the more I had to pee, and the more I hated that second row fans had to walk up 50 stairs to find the damn bathroom.
My buddy, the Rodman fan, tried jawing with the fans around him again. The usher told him to knock it off. I threatened to kill him if he said anything good about "that transvestite, cockroach-looking freak!" Another friend tapped my shoulder and pointed to the Worm himself, standing near the sideline, maybe 10 feet away eyeing me, giving me the look of death before he suddenly grinned and winked.
I had never before realized that when you're that close, when you're that loud, you have to be careful about what you say at dead balls.
I think the basketball gods knew I was there that night, knew that I had never had seats like that before, had never been to a game that mattered that much before, and that I'd never have tickets like that again. They gave me an extra ten minutes of basketball (two overtimes). They gave me a game in which my heros played just about the whole time (53 minutes for the Mailman, 48 for Stockton). They gave me a tense, close game against a big rival, with the ultimate payoff—a win.
And it's so funny—I don't remember how they won. I don't remember any clutch shots, any huge defensive holds. They must have happened, but I don't remember.
Instead I remember the sounds, the fights my idiot buddy got into. I remember thinking the players looked much taller and thinner than they seemed on TV. I remember the fifty steps to the bathrooms. And of course I remember the wink from Dennis Rodman.
My idiot friend sulked after the game was over. He wanted to go home, but I wasn't ready. We moved to center court to see the post-game interview with Hot Rod and Stockton. He threatened to boo. I threatened to leave him there to hitchhike at Pioneer Park. He didn't say anything.
I sat there with my feet up, propped on the white-purple padded front row chair in front of me. And even after the post-game interview was over, I didn't move. It had been Stockton, after all, and it was much shorter than I wanted. I needed more time. More time to look at how the lights shone off the hardwood court. More time to see how high the nosebleed seats I usually sat in really were. More time to wonder why the rims seemed so much more orange than they ever did on TV.
When we finally walked out that February night, a very light snow began to fall. Our breaths frosted the air with a puff-cloud. It only took a few moments, and then my sulking idiot buddy was laughing again. We drove home with the windows down, with acoustic Van Halen pouring through the air at full-blast.
And after I dropped everyone off, after I came back home, after I went to reassure my mom that I was back alive and had NOT wrecked her car—after all that I sat on the brown chair in my basement, remembering.
And then, of course, I turned on SportsCenter to see the highlights from the Jazz-Spurs game.
* This was a huge game, in a huge stretch for the Jazz that year. The best teams were the Spurs and the Rockets, and the Jazz played both of them twice in five games (the fifth game was against Charles Barkley's Suns). That Spurs game was the first of the five games—and the Jazz won them all.
Of course the Rockets eventually won the title that year, after beating the Jazz in the conference finals. But that night, beating the Spurs in double-overtime, it felt like the Jazz could win it all. And for me, a sixteen year-old dude, it felt like I had just won the greatest night of my entire life.
I had never had seats like that before. I had once sat on the 25th row, second from the top of the lower bowl, but everything else had been nosebleed seats. And I have never sat that close again. One more time in the top of the lower bowl, but nothing else less than five rows from the ceiling.
But for one night I got to be where every fan dreams of being.