Opening night, like any Jazz game I bring my kids along, began at about 5:00 at Crown Burger. That we were going at all was a bit of a controversy.
It was, of course, Halloween. And there was much debate about whether we ought to go or not. My middle child, my 7-year-old, the highest scorer on his Jr. Jazz team (despite being the shortest 2nd grader in the entire school), the one who chose his Jr. Jazz jersey specifically so he could have the same number as Derrick Favors -- he of course didn't question. We got tickets, he was there.
That's kind of how the universe operates to him. If there are Jazz tickets that I can potentially have in my possession, everything is dropped and we go to the game. Seriously, are there other options?
My oldest thinks differently. He likes it when we watch Jazz games on T.V. only because a) it means he gets to stay up and read while the rest of us are cheering and booing, and b) he can watch the replay if there happens to be a nice play.
Going to a game is, of course, better. But not better than trick-or-treating on Halloween.
He was upset.
My youngest, my 5-year-old daughter, has yet another point of view. If her brothers are doing it, and she gets to as well, then she's happy. If they can do it but she can't, she's sad. If they can't do it and she doesn't either, she's okay. If they can't do it, but she can then it's super cool.
It doesn't really matter what "it" happens to be. She guides her life according to the above rules.
So I had two happy kids, and one kinda grumpy one at Crown Burger. My grumpy one asked if he could help carry the tray to the table. In a crazy attempt to help him be happy, I said yes. In a moment of agast stupidity, I gave him the one with the drinks. Did he spill my daughter's entire fruit punch all over the table? Of course he did.
So I got to spend another couple bucks on another fruit punch. It was kinda irritating. At the same time, I think I used about $20 worth of napkins cleaning up the mess, so I suppose I came out ahead. Or whatever.
I always think that the walk to the ESA is perhaps the best part of the entire night. The night darkens, the streetlights turn on, the air is crisp and cold ... and the specter of a hundred former games wisp in and out of thought. I can almost hear Van Halen's "Could This be Magic?" playing -- it was the anthem my buddies and I always played when coming to the games during the years of teenage glory. Over there, walking past the Triad Center, I can see myself 18 years ago, giddy with anticipation as I walked in the arena with 2nd row tickets. I can see myself eight years ago, smiling with my brother as we knew that we'd be seeing Karl Malone's jersey retired ... all from our top row seats.
And I can see the future: taking my kids to the lower bowl, as I have promised again and again we would someday be able to do.
It's all there as we walked to the ESA.
We stopped at the statues, of course, before heading in. One by one, my kids read all the accomplishments circling the images of Malone and Stockton. I explained each thing. My 7-year-old was riveted. My 11-year-old kept asking when we can go inside. My 5-year-old wondered why they were statues and asked: "Do they play basketball too?"
We headed into the ESA. Our tickets are for the third row from the top. But we never go there first. No, when I bring my kids we always arrive at least an hour early so we can go to the third or fourth row in the lower bowl, to see the players warming up close.
And so we did again on Halloween. There were about seven Mavs warming up. Among them was O.J. Mayo, and I can't stop looking at his shot. His jump, his form, everything is gorgeous. I'm not sure I've ever seen a jump shot look so pretty, not in person like I did right there. "He's going to have a good year," I thought.
My kids were, of course, much more interested in our guys. But there was only one of our guys out there, Marvin Williams. The kids were excited that he's on the team, because his shot was looking good too. But for me, mostly I just marveled at the size.
You always forget, watching TV, how big these NBA players are. We throw out heights--seven feet, six-foot nine--as if they're nothing. But up close, it's something. They are huge. The court looks smaller than it ought, just because of how big they are.
And so it was with Marvin. All it took was a flick of the wrist, and the ball sailed 24 feet from past the three-point line and into the basket. It looked so effortless. I shook my head a couple times, knowing that the old-fashined High School 3-point shot strains my range to the limit, but it looked so easy, tossing a wadded up paper 2-feet to the garbage can.
Every moment reminded me why Marvin Williams is an NBA basketball player and I am not.
Soon an usher dropped by. He obviously thinks that we must be legitimate lower-bowl fans, because he gives us those boppy-noodles to wave around while players shoot free throws. I didn't tell him we were the wrong recipients. I just handed them to the kids, and a good night became guaranteed. My 11-year-old was suddenly okay we didn't go trick-or-treating.
We stayed down in the lower bowl until 5 minutes before the game started. I expected to move to our real seats sooner. Sadly, ESA no longer fills up much by tip-off, and nobody had forced us out. Honestly, the sight of all those empty seats at tip-off, and all the ones that remained empty the rest of the game, were kind of sad. It's not what I remember from the glory days of Stockton and Malone. Nor from the best of the Deron-Boozer-AK-Memo years. Nor from even the mythical 2004 AK and termites year.
The game was, of course, fun. It was also a win. And to date, I'd argue it has still been the best, most complete win of the year. It was also a blur.
That's what happens when your attention is diverted between the game and three kids.
The greatest moment of all was when Lil' Bear came up to the stands, sat down right next to my kids, gave them several high-fives, and even let my daughter sit on his lap. I was a bit surprised to see her want this ... my kids are universally terrified of Santa Claus and would rather have their hair pulled out than get a picture with him. But there they were, relishing every moment with Lil' Bear.
It probably helped that we had previously discussed whether they liked Bear of Lil' Bear best, and had, after much deliberation, decided Lil' Bear ruled.
I got my kids to chant with me, "We want Alec Burks!!!!!" sometime in the 2nd quarter. The chant caught on with a couple of nearby fans, but fizzled when Randy Foye got hot and hit a couple big threes.
Toward the end of the game, my kids figured out if they smacked the boppy things together it made a really, REALLY loud noise. So that's how they gave the team their approval for a nice win -- a ruckus totally reminiscent of some random dudes sneaking into the band room and whacking on the timpani.
After the game, we sat in our seats, enjoying the ESA while 90% of the fans filed out. Our walk back to the car was hyper. Within five minutes after starting the engine, the mood was suddenly peaceful ... they all fell asleep.
And that is, of course, how every trip to a Jazz game ends. Whether you're a kid in the car, or just at home, you remember the things that went well and the things that went wrong, all while you drift off to sleep.