Damien’s varsity basketball team had a game at Hanalani last night. Prior to the game, the Monarchs were 5-0. I spoke to a couple of seniors in my class about the game in class yesterday. “You guys are 5-0, right?” I said. “Yeah, why?” one of them asked. “I was considering going to your game tonight, but I am of the belief that you don’t mess with a streak. I know that I have no influence over the outcome of the game, but I would feel horrible if I came to this game you guys lost,” I said. They both looked at me with strange looks that suggested one of them had smelled a really bad fart; the other just looked at me like I was giving a lecture on Macbeth. “Just come,” one of them said. Apparently, traditional sports superstitions don’t apply to the younger generation.
Before driving down to Hanalani, we headed towards the Town Center. It’s no coincidence that the one game I’ve attended this year is about 8 minutes from my house. Lynnette and I did the usual “where-do-want-to-eat-how-about-here-no-not-there” routine. So I said to Madison “Goob, you can pick where we eat dinner.” I completely expected her to say “Taco Bell,” which would have been fine with me. That way, she feels like she has input and everyone gets what they want. “McDonald’s!” she shouted from the backseat. “Oh, we passed the McDonald’s by our house!” I said, having eaten a burger and fries for lunch. “There’s a McDonald’s in Walmart!” she said. Lynnette laughed out loud. I was both proud and irritated by Madison’s problem-solving skills. “But don’t you want a cheesy roll?” I asked her. “No,” she said flatly. I looked at Lynnette. She shook her head and said “This is your fault.” She was right. I know this is going to sound incredible, but it was the least I enjoyed a meal at McDonald’s. By looking at this picture, I don’t think Lynnette was thrilled either.
We entered the gym a few minutes into the game. It’s a small space with seating on only one side of the floor, but it was plenty for the crowd there last night. Lynnette and Mad slid into the bleachers from the side while I stood next to them. I knew that my back would hurt if I sat on the bleachers for too long so I opted to stand for the whole game. Good choice, Phil.
Madison was taken aback by the volume and frequent use of the buzzer. Every time it would blare, she’d rush to cover her ears with her hands. Once she figured out where the sound was coming from, she asked to be let out of the stands. She stood near me with any eye on the scoreboard. It was like she was trying not to be taken by surprise by the buzzer, but sure enough – since there’s no visible cue – she was startled every time until she accepted that it was part of the environment and it fell into the background. That’s when things got really interesting for Mad.
Madison meekly spun in place and danced around during the first half. “Are you cheering?” I asked. “Yes!” she screamed over the crowd noise. “Remember, the purple guys are the good guys, the white shirts are the bad guys,” I told her. “But I’m wearing a white shirt!” she said. “Oh, no!” I said. “You’re a bad guy!” “No I’m not!” she screamed. “Just pretend I’m wearing purple!” Done and done.
When the teams left the floor for halftime, Madison looked out onto the empty court wistfully, then back at me. “Dad, nobody’s out there…” I knew what that meant. “No, Mad, you can’t go out there,” I said. I told her she could walk down to the other side of the court on the white line. Her eyes lit up. “Right now?” she asked. “Yeah, go,” I said. She promptly jogged to the corner and began power walking to the other side. She toed the line with every step she took. When she reached the other side, she looked back at me with a sort of amazement. I waved her back. The thing about Mad is that she can be embarrassed by attention, but she absolutely cannot hide her happiness if she’s enjoying something. I could see her teeth clenched together behind her smiling lips from across the gym. Oh, how I wish it would always be this easy to amuse her.
By the middle of the third quarter, though, Madison had cheered herself out. She returned to the bleachers with Lynnette and began asking variations of “Is this game over?” and “Is this game almost done?” every two minutes. Lynnette told her to make an “I love basketball” face. Madison didn’t do anything. Lynnette then told her to make an “I hate basketball” face. This is what she gave us, complete with the hands at the chest. They say it’s harder to frown than to smile. Hmm.
As the second half dragged on, both teams attempted to give the game away. The 4th quarter was a mess of turnovers, bad fouls, missed shots, and a lot of yelling. Hanalani took the lead late in the 4th quarter. It came down to the thing I hate most in the sports world: fouling in the final minutes of a basketball game. And guess what? It worked. Hanalani was never able to turn it into a two-possession game. As the minutes ebbed I turned to Lynnette and said, “I really hope they win, but man, Madison’s head is going to explode if we don’t leave soon.” I nodded towards Madison who was staring blankly out at the court doing that exaggerated biting thing that kids do when they’re bored out of their minds.
But then something amazing happened.
Hanalani’s lead stood at three with less than 12 second left. Damien brought up the ball. One of the seniors dribbled up to the three-point line with three second left and let it fly. He drained it. The crowd went batshit. So did Lynnette. And so did Madison.
She was all-in at that point. We sat through the emotional roller coaster of an overtime period which featured even more turnovers, ugly fouls, missed shots, and more of Brick Tamland’s loud noises. Damien went Neo in The Matrix, dodged a couple of late bullets and ended up pulling out the win by two. My hands-down favorite part of the night was the final play. Hanalani had the in-bound with 2.1 second left. The ball got in and one of their players threw up a 3/4-court shot and the gym went dead. I mean, it was literally like someone sucked all of the air out of the gym, and turned the volume on mute. The ball flew through the air, and it was as if that was the only thing happening in the world. No sound, no other movement. It wasn’t until the ball flew past the backboard entirely that the crowd and both teams released that incredible tension. I’ll never forget that experience. The game wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but it became the rarest of all things: something better than I could have imagined. Great job, team. Thank you for giving my family a wonderful night.
Epilogue: On the way home, Lynnette and I were still caught up in the adrenaline rush of the game. “I can’t believe he hit that shot,” I said of the senior who took it to overtime. “It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen a game like that in person.” “I know,” Lynnette said. “Would it have been inappropriate to start chanting ‘M-V-P! M-V-P!’ at that point?” she asked. I laughed. “Well, considering the game wasn’t over yet…” I started. She laughed too. “I know,” she said. “But I was feeling it.” This pushed me into sportsgasm territory. “You were ‘feeling it’ huh?” I said, in a patronizing manner. She took her left hand off the steering wheel, and held her arm up straight. Then she bent at the wrist at a 90-degree angle and pointed her fingers downward. “What the hell is that?” I asked. “This is him making the shot,” she answered. I guess it kind of resembled the net as a ball moves through it. Or something. She repeated the hand motion several times. “What ‘that’s clutch?’ huh?” she said, in a deeper voice, ostensibly to mock me. I couldn’t stop laughing. Sportsgasm achieved.