Spring of ’92…Watching hoops with Dad
It is February 1992. I am ten years old. Dad and I are sitting on the couch in our TV room in Evanston. We are watching the NBA All-Star Game. As the game goes on, I hop off the couch to sit on the floor, gazing at the television as my father speaks.
First came the love, then came the understanding. If you grew up when I grew up, it was impossible not to love the NBA. It was everywhere. And of course, I was particularly fortunate because I was given the Chicago Bulls, a team on the rise. The love was there. It was instantaneous. The understanding, though, came later, and while it was a gradual process, I credit a large jump to watching the 1992 All-Star Game with my dad. This was the game in which a recently-retired Magic Johnson, three months removed from his HIV announcement, was voted onto the All-Star team and then proceeded to drop a game-high 25 points to lead the West to victory while capturing the game’s MVP award.
I’d been knowingly watching hoops for six years, and yet my knowledge was low. I remember getting a pack of basketball cards at a birthday party when I was eight, and knowing only four guys in the pack: Michael, Magic, Isiah, and Pax. Two years later I would have known every player in there, along with their colleges, current teams, and maybe even their rookie year. 1992 was the beginning of that process, and the All-Star Game was the beginning of the beginning.
“See that? Ya know, they say that football is a contact game, but look at those guys under the basket. Just watch Malone and Barkley boxing out, fighting for position…man! Look at those guys! Look at the physical play. Jack, do you see it? Do you see what I’m talking about?”
“Yeah…but then you’re not watching the ball.”
“True. I’m watching the action away from the ball. It’s fun. Basketball is the only sport in which you can do that, because you can see all of the action on television. Whoa! Look at that! Look at those guys battling! Isn’t that something?”
I remember Magic in that game, knocking down threes just as he had the previous June in the Finals, but the player who jumps out of my memory from that afternoon is Clyde Drexler. I actually remember seeing Clyde the Glide knock down a jumper, and then me turning to my dad and asking him “Who’s that guy?”, and him telling me. Four months later, Drexler had his Blazers in the Finals against the Bulls, and I could tell you every significant bare bones fact about him and his team. Amazing, huh? Just think: in February of ’92, I didn’t know Clyde Drexler. In June of ’92, I could tell you about Phi Slamma Jamma and Clyde the Glide’s ppg (25 flat) and that he was part of the reason that the Blazers passed on Michael in ’84. It happened that fast. In later years I would try to pretend that I knew more than I did at a younger age than I knew it. I was the sports genius in middle school and high school, and it seemed embarrassing to think that I didn’t actually know who Clyde the Glide was until I was ten. But it’s true. And that game was the flip.
“See Isiah there? Did you know that he grew up in Chicago?”
“I thought he hates Chicago.”
“Do we hate him?”
“Hate? No, we don’t hate him.”
He laughs. “No, Mom just thought that he was a bad sport after we beat them. And she’s right. But she doesn’t hate him. And he doesn’t hate Chicago. He grew up wanting to play for the Bulls. And you know B.J. Armstrong?”
“He grew up in Detroit, probably hoping to play for the Pistons.”
“And now he’s on the Bulls, and Isiah Thomas is on the Pistons…”
“That’s kind of weird.”
“Well, kind of. But it’s a job. I’m sure they love playing the game, but it’s a job for them.”
“Will Isiah ever like the Bulls?”
“Not anytime soon.”
And that was how I learned basketball.