Coach's Corner

What follows is a narrative of two brothers, two dogs, and a girlfriend. It's not a pretty tale. Indeed, as we speed rapidly toward the turn of the brand new century, it's a disquieting glimpse backward, to a darker time of witch burnings and human sacrifice. Backward still, toward a moment in time when the first harbingers of the human race answered the lonely howls of the distant wolf.

It involves modern people who, risking censure from friends and family, shut off beepers and take telephones off the hook. With their high-tech toys and gizmos (multiple televisions sets, radios and a confusing arsenal of remote controls), they shut themselves in a dark room - a modern Neanderthal cave - to watch a basketball game.

One of the brothers has, in his home, a room built specifically, for special television occasions, equipped with a large television set, a modern sound system, two large ottomans and a well worn divan. The brother entertained numerous requests for a weekend gathering to view these games. He'd skillfully deflect these proposals with an agreeable, but most ambiguous, nod of the head. He had no intention of hosting a party. He knew, you see, what these social sportsfans didn't. He understood that something primitive would occur in that room. Were you a werewolf would you invite your friends and acquaintances into your home on the eve of the full moon? No, I think not.

Some might have difficulty understanding (though his aberrant ways had been well documented) the homeowner's primal and powerful desire to be among only his own kind; highly focused individuals, with no inclination to discuss, as Pippen stepped to the line, Lyle Lovett's latest recording. People intolerant of well intended discussions - as Jim Gray discussed second half strategy with Phil Jackson - on the vagaries of House Bill 2525. People with no interest, for those few hours, in food, flash-floods, Timothy McVeigh, tornadoes, or inter-divisional play. In short, sportsfans willing to live totally, completely, and uninhibitedly in the moment. A few people whose only reality was a dark room, two chairs, a couch, three television sets, a tiny radio, and Marv, Bill, Matt, Ahmad, Jim, Hannah, Julius, Peter, Mike, Brett, and Quinn. In short, fanatic Bull fans, plus the two dogs, both seasoned veterans of past playoff battles.

The two brothers had been taught, since early childhood, that a fan sitting at home need not be a passive viewer. The boys knew they could, from their comfortable den, influence and, yes, if they wanted it bad enough, even effect the outcome (as much as a Jordan jump-shot) of a contest.

As the second quarter began, the Bulls appeared flat and disinterested. A consistent Utah lead, fluctuating between six and nine points, was worrisome. Some conservative, preemptive measures are taken. Seats are changed, one brother moves to the floor. The audio's put on mute and the radio turned on. This done, with no noticeable effect, to provide a needed Chicago spark. At half-time, they still trail by that persistent six points.

More dramatic measures are necessary. The girl, once a distinct skeptic to this sort of hoodoo, suggests dragging a "lucky dog" out from the cur's relative safety beneath the coffee table. This suggestion is deemed extreme, for use only in a final two minute emergency.

Radio on, radio off, more seat switches, someone takes the radio out to the porch. In desperation, all sound is muted, creating an incongruent, eerie silence which badly unnerves the neophyte. "Please," a brother pleads, "give it two minutes." As the third quarter comes to an end, in spite of all the fervent, passionate, medieval ministrations, the persistent six point bulge remains.

With Jordan on the bench, a brother walks dejectedly into the kitchen and turns on the tiny set. At that precise moment, Jud Buechler, an obscure Chicago reserve, hits a ridiculous, 40-foot three (his only basket of the game) as the shot clock expires. A moment later, the heretofore somnolent Steve Kerr nails another three. In seconds, the game is tied. For the first time today, something's working. I know, yes, the brother is me; I'm now exiled to the kitchen until the outcome of the contest is clear.

The fourth quarter sees the score ebb and flow, but since I left the room, Chicago is, clearly, playing much better. Kukoc, a dog all series, comes alive. Kerr stays hot. Malone keeps missing free throws and tossing up ludicrous, fall-away jumpers. I suffer and rejoice in a cleansing, but lonely, isolation. From inside, I hear shouts, "Miss it Malone, you filthy piece of shit!" and feminine squeals of delight. During a time-out, I try to re-enter the cave, for just a moment, only to be shouted back, "Get out! Get the fuck out!" by my erstwhile lover. Behind the closed door, I can only speculate. Were nervous boxers cradled, petted, and rocked with a bit too much vigor? Was a shirt switch, usually helpful, tried? Finally, as Pippen suffocates the last Utah hope, I, sweating like Jordan, burst into the room. The brother is spent, complaining of acute chest pain, unable to exchange even a chest-butt. An anxious boxer sits, on a forbidden-to-dogs chair, in the lap of the girl.

So my friends, now you understand. With a heavy heart and a pat on the head of a lucky boxer, I say adios to the NBA.

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