When you’ve been a real fan of a team for a long time, you dream of days like this. You dream of situations like this. But you also know that many dreams remain tied to unconscious thoughts in the night. I probably won’t ever be a millionaire. I probably won’t play 1-on-1 with Michael Jordan and I probably won’t dunk on anyone though I keep having this dream that I will posterize someone’s head. But every once in a while, you live a moment that you don’t realize at the time will become an epic to tell all of your boys about till you grow into an old man.
This night, for myself, was one of those nights. I understand that to many people this story will have no significance. If you don’t like sports you will think that this is a waste of reading in your day that could have been spent better discussing politics in a coffee shop. And if you live anywhere outside of a 100-mile radius of Louisville Kentucky, the excitement that still stirs up when thinking about this, will seem like foolishness. But to be honest, I don’t care. I’ve enjoyed being a sports fan for a while.
The beautiful thing about sports is that after a long time of being a fan, you enjoy the players, the teams and the fans, but at the end of the day, its just the memories and the moments of triumph that keep you coming back for more. For some that triumph is beating a rival team every blue moon. For other teams it is a national title, but regardless, those moments of triumph reveal some type of glory that you have been searching for throughout your life. Not the glory of the athletes, coaches or even the team really, but simply the glory of victory. Being a follower of Jesus, I understand how this glory in being victorious is seeped in our desire to be like our creator. Our desire for victory is fulfilled in Jesus when evil is completely overcome.
On that August evening there was a lot of anticipation as I heard rumors of who would be showing up for this charity basketball game. I had close ties with the charity that the game was benefiting. When showing up to Bullitt East High School that evening, I had no idea how things were going to go.
I had received information that Orlando Magic player Earl Clark wanted to put on a charity basketball game to benefit the youth in Louisville, Kentucky. We didn’t have a lot of time to set-up for the game because it still wasn’t certain whether there would be an NBA lockout at the time. We knew a lot of the NBA players that might come to this wouldn’t be able to participate after the first week of August. When I was approached about helping to make this game happen I was torn between being scared and excited. I had grown up a fan of the University of Louisville basketball program. I could name all the ‘legends’ that had been playing since the mid-90’s. Well, the idea of seeing former Louisville players play in a public game leaves me more excited than a UK fan at a FFA convention. But as we sought a place to play at, we kept running into barriers. The local school board wouldn’t allow us to use any of their facilities despite the positive attention that would come from something like this. The arenas in the area were all booked 6-months in advance. We didn’t have a spot to have this dream game at and I was nervous that it wouldn’t go down.
Just about a week to the time that the game was going to happen, we had received information that Bullitt East High School was willing to host the game. Though we had very little time to advertise (actually, twitter and a short press conference were all the advertising) I had a feeling that this game would have a special feel because of the fact that it was thrown together at the last second in a small gym in Mount Washington, Ky.
When you are waiting for an event like this, every second drags like a Packers fan waiting for Brett Favre’s retirement. You wonder if it’s really going to happen. So the fact that Earl and Co. couldn’t find the gym left myself and the couple thousand people at the gym frustrated and overanxious. We had heard rumors of different guys that would play but I wouldn’t believe it until I saw it. Then while waiting at the gym I saw the cars pulling into the parking lot. Being that they were sports cars and SUV’s and they filed in a straight line, I knew that these were the basketball players.
Slipping in the side door of the arena, they came slyly in. I had heard the rumors and knew that Earl was a teammate of his with the Magic. But I didn’t want to entertain the thought of Dwight Howard being at the game, mainly because of the fact that I hate disappointment.
But then, coming through with son in arms, his 6-10, frame came through the door. I don’t know how he fits through doorframes considering his shoulders seem wider than the smiles on UK fans when Billy Clyde went running off of UK’s campus. Though the sight of former UL greats and current NBA players was awesome, seeing him come through those doors really stopped everyone like they had just seen a ghost.
Not realizing that the crowd had probably waited as long as we had, they went in the locker room as things got set-up. They started sorting through Jerseys and making match-ups of the teams. This brought my favorite moment, when Earl was making match-ups, he looked at who was there, and said, “yea, we gonna put T. Farley over hea.” He was speaking of Terrence Farley who had played some at the University of Louisville but never got a lot of minutes. “And ova hea we gonna put D Howard.” As I looked at that and heard him, I almost busted out in laughter. Not as a slight against Terrence Farley but as a match-up, matching him with the best center in the NBA wasn’t right on any standard.
After some awkward time of fans screaming to see the players, and the players chilling in the locker room not sure how things were going to go down, they finally came out in the most appropriate shirts for a game like this saying, “We love da kids”.
Running out onto the court, the sight of Dwight Howard mesmerized everyone just because it was different than seeing all of the other players. This guy is the best center in the NBA. And he is wearing a shirt that say’s, “we love da kids” while yelling “Go Cards” and throwing up an L. Moments like that people don’t forget. It was both hilarious and awesome in one.
After a time of warm-ups and ridiculous dunks, it was time for the tip off. There is not much to say about the game itself. Games like that are entertaining because you have great athletes who will dunk. And as loose as it is, they’ll also entertain some in the process. You’ll have half-court shots. You’ll have defense that is atrocious. But the one thing about an event like this is that no one expects good defense. There isn’t a lot to write about from the actual game. There were some amazing dunks by Dwight, T-Will, Jerry Smith, JR Smith and Jeremy Evans who played at WKU. One of the kids from the charity was waved onto the court by Twill to catch a pass and shoot after the other team scored. He ran onto the court and did as Twill directed. What he didn’t expect was JR Smith to come flying through and blocking his shot into the wall. JR Smith was later blasted by some guys on ESPN for his antic. I saw that same kid months later though and he is still bragging about getting blocked by NBA player JR Smith.
At halftime, all the news reporters attacked Dwight as former UofL football player, Scott Long spoke about his relationship with Jesus to the crowd. Dwight stopped his interviewing to quiet the crowd so that Scott could be heard.
In the second half, the game started to get real sloppy like all street ball games get. So in the last 8 minutes of the game Dwight got the mic and became the DJ as they had a dunk contest. JR Smith had a nice one he didn’t finish but would have been amazing. T-Will did the classic-Vince Carter-elbow-in-the-rim dunk. But the nicest dunk of the dunk contest was out of Jeremy Evans of WKU who showed how he can fly.
After the game, some players stayed and signed autographs, as others had to leave. The neat thing about a night like that August night was that fans got to see NBA greats and Louisville greats in a small gym and the few who were there will tell there kids about how awesome it was.
Now it is months later and I am back at my regular-back-breaking-frustrating-under-paid-over-worked job. I look back though on that random day and that random night and I find a sense of satisfaction. Not that it brings some type of fulfillment to my life. But to know that I will be able to tell my children about that random night in a small rural gym in Kentucky where NBA greats and UL greats came together for a pick-up game and I got to watch.