If you root for a sports team over a considerable period of time, you find that there are players who become touchstones and/or who encompass what it means to be alive at a particular time and place in history. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the best player on t, but for some reason, that individual, by dint of the style of his/her play or just the basic life-force/energy that he/she emanates, that player, like Proust’s Madeleines, you instantly and vividly return to a time in your life that has passed.
For example, when I see an MSG video clip of Bernard King, I recall being a kid, growing up in NYC. During my wild, struggling, exuberant, suffering, post-college years — Latrell Sprewell, his dreadlocks fluttering in the breeze, trying to (as one WBAI reporter put it), “Stuff 400 years of racism with each fast break dunk!”
And for the last four years, in my early-mid thirties, I think of Jamal Crawford…
A little bit o’ backstory: The circle of friends/acquaintances that I associate with on a regular basis are not even sports fans, let alone ‘Bocker backers. My fandom, as a result, has been more of a solitary activity that is/was looked upon with squinted eyes and bemused shrugs by my comrades.
But about five years ago I started dating a woman who also didn’t seem to understand why, when we ventured out to the local tavern, I’d spend half the night stealing glances at the TV and spontaneously bursting into a stream of expletives that’d make a sailor proud. But somehow, over time, she too became a diehard FAN. I remember the night she got hooked. We were in a dive bar near her place on New Year’s Day 2005. And is/was my want, I asked the barman if he could turn on MSG. The Knicks were playing the Rockets and they lost by one on a Matt Bullard (Matt Bullard!?!) jumper with time running out. But Jamal was at his effervescent best: floaters in the lane, three’s buried from 35 feet away, ankle-breaking crossovers, all performed with a strange beatific sense of ease.
And so Jamal Crawford became her favorite player. More than the unbelievable highs (the pass/dunk to himself of the backboard) and equally gut-wrenching lows that he provided, she loved his face, which seemed perpetually child-like and joyful. “He has high hopes!” she exalted. “He looks like a cartoon baby owl!” she squealed with glee. (Her fetish for anthropomorphized animated animals aside, Jamal really does look like a cartoon baby owl.)
For the next 2.5 years, we structured our wintertime social lives around Knicks games. Bars were chosen on the basis of being able to get the game on (no cable in our Prospect Heights abode, natch). She discovered the Nix blogosphere and started posting on NYKFanpage.com and Knickerblogger.net. Previously, I had scoffed at blogs. “What info could I get there that I can’t read in the Post, fer chrissakes?” (I’ve clearly come to my senses since then.) One romantic evening on draft night 2006 was semi-interrupted as we dumbly stared at one another, muttering, “Balkman? Really? BALKMAN?!?”
She and I are no longer together for reasons that are far too long and uninteresting to go into in this blog, but we are still friends and we still gab/IM/text about the Knicks and revel in the promise of D”Antoni-ball. But today’s trade makes me instantly think of her and the fact that we’re not together anymore. Even though it’s been a year and a half and I’m a long ways away from pining or trying to drown my sorrows in the bottom of a bottle, there’s a big difference between knowing intellectually that something is over and having it hit home. I can’t even say that I’m sad or even nostalgic. But that part of my life is officially done and Jamal’s gone — they’re more or less inseparable. And while I understand all the logical reasons for this move, I’ll still keep an eye on the boxscores from the west coast, pray that Nellie gives Crawford the freedom to be at his chucking, over-dribbling best, and hum the song that a friend of mine wrote about another Jamal that’s left this world as four beautiful women sing their eulogies in mourning.
Tommy Dee Check out our boy Robert interview the cast of “American Buffalo”