I walked into Belk Arena on December 1, 2006 and I walked out -- the end of an era, in some form or fashion -- on February 24, 2010.
Now I'm walking to Bobcats Arena (I'm not much for this newfangled company name) on March 6, 2010. And we're about to be late. A bunch of us just finished dinner at Strike City, and when I walked in there, I turned back the clock about two years -- the '08ers are back! I swear I'm 20 again. Cheli's Chili Bar South? Kinda felt like it. We run across the street headlights hitting us March darkness falling and I think of the last time I was running into this building, when December blue sky noon gleamed on car hoods and glittered the buildings and we can beat Duke I know we can I know we can...
"I just want you to know," recent alum #1 says to the ticket lady at 6:58 PM, "that Davidson College is the best college in the world!"
"All right," she chuckles warmly, "we've got one man's opinion."
"You've got two men's opinion," Nathan informs her jovially as he goes through the line, Hawaiian shirt + Davidson shirt + cowboy hat (think "as usual" but add two years). Her eyes grow a bit wider.
"Three people's opinion," I tell her, laughing, because this is HIL.AR.IOUS.
My brain buzzes with memories as we skid around corners and pass familiar faces (Chris! Colton! Dr. Lewis!), Witness shirts and #30 jerseys. Daaaav-iddddd-sonnnn! Get to Section 110, tumble down into the lower bowl behind the basket -- hey, I've done this before.
Lights cameras dancers mascots loud (but a different kind of noise, marketable noise, fake generated noise) sitting down not supposed to stand up McKillop courtside wait wrong side of the court --
Mmk, let's just call this a variation on an old tune, shall we? I'll take the old tune in a heartbeat, old-fashioned brass mixed with shoe-squeaks and voices that I know by name. But this fancy synthesizer beat, tonight it's got something, a hint of brass through glass, a tinge of a lone guitar chord edging into the fray, feet pounding hope-filled. It's got a little bit of that.
Because this guy -- there's this guy on the court. I recognize him.
Seeing Stephen play in person again helped me begin to unravel this quite complicated string of why we watch, why we still watch him, this hook that he's become. A journalist friend of mine, y'all might know him, raised the question at a certain tavern post-game and I babbled my way through an answer, which I very well might do again. But let's see. Part of it is the strange yet inescapable knowledge: "Whoa. I went to class with him and now he's uber famous." It can't be ignored, but it's more than this superficial obsession with fame. I watched him when I was 19 and he was 19, and I watch him when I'm 22 and he's 22, in a completely different context but with strains of similarity (listened to any Stephen -- I mean Warriors -- broadcasts lately?). I watched him change and develop as a classmate, an athlete, and as time went on, a public figure. This happens, and will happen, with people that I am much closer to -- graduations, weddings, children, careers -- but the sliver of time that it's taken to happen for Steph (who's remained in the same athletic context that I've always known him) is mind-boggling. On the same plane, in the same setting, and (mostly) the same timeline, I've felt myself grow and shift on a personal level, standing behind that basket through it all, until suddenly here we are: one making $2 mil and one looking for a job two months from graduation. That discrepancy doesn't bother me, because our vocational goals and situations are totally incomparable, but it does fascinate me. We are so different, yet we share beginnings, the same college, days that I will never forget are days that he will never forget. Days that began to change our lives, his on the court and mine on paper, with people. I recall my sophomore mind on a Good Friday afternoon (so good) that I watched the boys play, and I know my senior mind now, watching events that those days set in motion move and flow of their own accord but always with that tie to history that I saw unfold, history that unfolded as I did. I find myself honored and moved as I stand in the middle of a busy Brickhouse Thirsty Thursday, chatting and laughing with my friends, while our classmate plays on the big screen above us (He's a freshman!). He lets the ball fly (Curry a quick three --), we hear the oh-so-satisfying swish (Folks! We got a star!), and from the East Coast to the West Coast, we yell. It is something else. And in my limited experience, this is my most vivid microcosm of life moving on a visibly perceptible wavelength, of history repeating itself, of patterns forming, of dreams becoming real.
Speaking of real, I don't think this is reality. Surreality, more like. Cheers for Steph but not for the Warriors, atrocious professional sports schtick during time outs (start of the 4th quarter. Announcer: "WELCOME BACK YOOOOOUR BOBCATS!" Claire and the boys: "THEY NEVER LEFT!") while a family in front of us holds up the sign WELCOME HOME STEPHEN, trying to get on the jumbotron that only wants to show Bobcats stuff. Have to bite my lip against "Let's go 'Cats!" What? The Wildcat is dancing around on the court, for crying out loud. In what weird universe does all of this stuff come together at once? Those of us in red raise our hands when #30 shoots free throws, because it's.what.we.do, I can't imagine doing anything else, but any other Warrior? Couldn't care less. See, my team isn't on the court; my team is sitting one level above me. Some red-clad kids in our section turn around and start waving vigorously, and Bryant and Jake wave right back, beaming wide. That's my team.
I sit here with my phone buzzing constantly (Mase, little bro: uhh, are you sitting in an aisle seat? are you wearing red? yeah I think I just saw you), my eyes darting everywhere, yelling only when Steph has the ball. ("Go Steph!" "Come on, Stephen!" We did this first. We knew this first. That is cool.) Thoughts, emotions, memories slam through me. If I had a cup it would overflow. This room -- okay, this cavern -- is brimming with people that I love. They gave my Davidson meaning, they've shared good days and bad days, unbelievable games and shitty games. So many together, uncommonly wonderfully so. The '08 boys, Joe Pierce Nathan JB Chris, haven't seen them all at once since their graduation, haven't watched a game with them since 3/30/08, and tons before that. Pete, who, when I saw him, all I could think of was sitting in the Dearborn Doubletree cackling gleefully over countless newspaper articles. Morgan, Logan, Calucchia, dear faces a couple rows up, waving towels that the Currys gave out: TCC #30. Rachel, Grace, Laura, Sue. The Dails, connecting me to Davidson and Richmond, two families of mine. My professors. The Davidson athletics department. Wildcats. Michael and I had lunch when I got back this afternoon, and now I spot him right behind my section (and introduce him to Morgan -- WL -- at halftime, which is fun), I wave to David, Kate, and the Bakers in the upper bowl, I text Rob and Jessie over and over, I find Grace at the half. Michael Jordan has nothing on this family of mine, and our scattered cheers spill over into shared -- remembrance? sacredness? support? thanksgiving?
It drifts down from the nosebleeds, makes me laugh, another moment in another chapter in a good long story. Part of me wants to start it louder, hit the rafters, wants it to echo all through and knock the big million dollar franchises off their feet. But another part of me is content with keeping it soft, one voice speaking volumes. We know it. This is where we come from.
And when the Wildcat-Warrior with #30 on his back swishes that shot and we stand up, he jogs over and he points to us and he grins, he nods. He knows it too.
I am time-filled and time-less, I am memory, I am hope, I am turning back and going forward. I am gratitude.
There will be many more parts to this story.