The past five days in New York City meant many different things to many different people. For some, it served as a continuation of a series of events stemming from previous times. For others, it is an extension of what they do for a living. For myself, it was the strangest, most unorthodox, unconventional, yet irreplaceable experience that’s ever taken place in 28 years and some change on this Earth. To understand this particular post, looking at it in the mere context of basketball wouldn’t be telling enough. In a sense, it’s my duty to explain why it was so much more, or why, as some wise old man once said, it’s more than a game.
To understand this story is to look back on a bright and sunny morning on June 26, 2009. It was that morning when I walked into work, as had been previously done for the past two years and change, except this time had an ominous ending. Well, it wasn’t so much ominous. The job had their unpredictable layoffs, and it so happened that it was Yours Truly that got let go this time. The thing that made it devastating wasn’t the fact that I lost my job; it was the fact that one of my childhood heroes, The Great Michael Jackson, died less than 24 hours before, and the job was so inconsiderate that they let me go while I was grieving over the loss of The Thriller. To make a long story short, the exit meeting was short as hell, because all I wanted to do was go back home and watch MJ videos, as I was doing before heading in there.
All of a sudden, writing took on an even bigger role in my life, and in turn, sports took on a bigger role, simply due to the fact that more free time became available. In the past 14 months, trips have been taken all over the country, and in the meantime, writing and sports have been intertwined. The trips were always on my dime, which was fine by me. Rarely was anything planned; there were times when I simply wanted to see something, made arrangements, made the trip, came back home, and wrote about the experience. Even with all this as the backdrop, it still wasn't enough preparation for what was coming next.
For reasons that remain beyond me, Nike showed love to ETSF, our blog that was born two-and-a-half years ago. With the love that Nike extended came the honor of being able to serve as media for the North American contingent of Nike. When Ed told me I was able to come along, there was really nothing to say. Hell, to get everything paid for, get laid up in a hotel, and talk basketball with like-minded people for five days? All that was left to ask was “where do I sign up?” See, there’s a reason why this trip was more than just about basketball. In essence, it’s the very same reason why ETSF has lasted as long as it has. The people who read and support the site are the reason why we’re even worth a damn, and if it wasn’t for y'all, there’s no way this post would be written right this moment. Also, this is just our style. We do things in an unconventional manner around here, and it was only appropriate that being a part of the World Basketball Festival happened unconventionally as well.
In the past five days, we conquered Radio City Music Hall, The Ballroom, The Apollo, Rucker Park, and Madison Square Garden. We also interviewed Coach K, Kevin Durant, Carlos Arroyo, Rondo, Carmelo, D-Wade, and Chris Paul. My hatred for Duke wouldn’t allow me to ask Coach K a question, because as much as I respect and even love the dude, I hate Duke, and I would have asked the man a question that would have gotten me sent back home earlier than anticipated. The next day, we took on The Rucker, where Carmelo, CP3, and Wade made an appearance. While it was cool seeing them, and as much as I love watching them play, I kept from going crazy about it. However, the man who showed up next did so in a way that was, once again, unconventional, and my reaction was the complete and total opposite. There were whispers that one man was on his way; a man whose impact transcends time. When someone from our crew said he would show, I basically uttered “yeah, right” and dismissed him from around me. However, our crew member was correct, and not even five minutes later, the one and only Michael Jordan entered the vicinity.
Michael Jordan is the reason why people my age, as well as others, first watched and then fell in love with basketball. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a person who, on one level or another, hasn’t been influenced by The Jordan. Once the man arrived, I won’t even lie; there were tears in my eyes. They didn’t fall down my face or anything, but they were definitely in my eyes. Here I am, a grown-ass man who got misty-eyed by the sight of another grown man, but there was no shame in my game. Hell, the man is the reason I love basketball. On top of that, there were other grown men there as well, some of them being the pure definition and personification of old men, yet they all acted in a similar fashion when Jordan was there. The chants, hoots, and hollers that were all in the name of Jordan weren't coming from kids. They were coming from grown men in their late 20s, 30s, and 40s. That's how much of a star MJ is. The man is in a class by himself, and it's yet another reason why the comparisons to The Jordan must stop. Once again, unconventional was the theme, and it also leads into the other person who came into The Rucker the next day to help in a fundamentals clinic for kids.
Kobe Bryant showed up on Saturday morning, and what made it an ideal setting was word didn’t really get out to the outside public that he would be there. Sure, we as media knew (that sounds weird to say, and even stranger to type), but that’s it. The man arrived and as soon as he stepped on the court, he was hands-on with the kids, teaching them a variety of small things to enhance their games. Now if you’ve been around this site long enough, you know Ed and I have an unrivaled, unabated, and vicious hatred for Kobe Bryant, yet it’s done in the context that also appreciates and loves certain aspects of his game. The man was so authentic, intense, passionate, attentive, insistent, and caring with the kids that it blew my mind. Don’t get it twisted; I still hate the man, but it makes me appreciate aspects of his game even more. Also, when I say I hate him, it’s in the context of basketball. That way, when the Kobe Stans come out, they know it’s all in perspective.
Kobe also was the recipient of the most hilarious greeting I’ve ever seen a stan give an athlete, which I have coined as “three in 19.” What happened is one of his stans got the chance to greet him on his way off the court, and he gave Kobe a half-hug, a full-hug, and another departing half-hug in a 19-second span; hence, three in 19. The thing is it was still manly, but just funny as hell. Kobe was cool the entire time with the guy, and it's obvious it made his day. If I recorded it, I would upload the video to show everyone. It was one of the most unbridled displays of admiration of all-time.
So that’s basically how this Shock the World experience ends. Imagine being somewhere one minute, and being elsewhere the next. You’re really not able to explain how you got there, and to try to say you planned it is almost an insult to the intelligence of God or whatever deity you choose to believe in. As a God-fearing brother, this experience can only be attributed to how good He is, and how He takes care of folk. There’s no way something like this could be planned by me; no way would I have a chance to see MJ, Carmelo, LeBron, Chris Paul, Wade, watch a documentary about the significance of Air Force Ones at The Apollo, watch games at The Rucker, act a fool in Madison Square Garden, or engage in any other madness, blasphemy, chicanery, and utter defiance of home training on my own. I just don’t have that much juice, so to understand this story is to understand how an unconventional approach is sometimes the best approach.
I met some of the coolest people this weekend; folks who are passionate about making their mark in their own unique way, and it was all in the name of basketball. Who knows where this road is headed next, but it’s headed somewhere, and if you’ve ever been through anything similar in your life, the feeling resonates more than words can ever explain.
P.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk (and hopefully on the radio soon) show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!