Thursday, November 19, 2009

On this day in history, something happened. And the Lakers played

"I'm convinced the only reason my dad doesn't remember his own birth is that no significant game was played that day in any of the major sports."

I wrote that a year ago in a column about Minnesota memories.

Along with my dad, I share a savant-like ability to relate life moments with sporting events, a trait that, for me anyway, seems to be getting more pronounced with age. It'd be the world's worst party trick. Sign of arrested development? Probably. But at this point I don't even have any power over the way these connections come together.

Mention a game from the past and I'll remember what I was doing that day. Bring up a memorable moment in my life and I'll remember a game I watched that day or read about.

My wedding day was the best day of my life, an intimate ceremony with a few friends and family in Central Park. But as great as that day was, it doesn't erase the foul memories I have of sneaking peeks at the TV as the Pistons throttled the Lakers in Game 4 of the 2004 NBA Finals, claiming a 3-1 lead in a series they won two days later. A new period of my life began that day as the Lakers drew a game closer to the end of the Shaq-Kobe era. Priorities, I know. But you can't help what your mind remembers.

For my dad's 50th birthday party in 1997, which was held a few days after the actual date, I drove two-and-a-half hours back home to celebrate with everyone at a restaurant. On the drive down, I listened to a sports talk radio show centered around the second-round dominance of Tiger Woods at The Masters. One caller expressed disappointment at the hype the young golfer was receiving, wondering what he'd done to deserve such attention. So, yes, talk radio callers have long been lacking in reasoning skills.

We watched the highlights on a TV while enjoying our drinks and wondering how dad had gotten to be 50 and if that counted as being old (as a 34-year-old, I now say it doesn't). Two days later, Tiger captured his first Grand Slam title.

In the 1988 NBA Finals, the Pistons led the Lakers 3-2 and held a three-point lead with a minute left in Game 6. They played on a Sunday afternoon, back when sports leagues weren't pathologically allergic to starting playoff games before sundown. That weekend, Janesville hosted the town's annual Hay Daze celebration, a three-day event filled with carnies, bumper cars, onion rings, the Zipper (except the years when a mechanical problem shut it down, which happened enough times to make you question the safety record), beer gardens, dunk tanks, impossible games and fistfights.

On Hay Daze Sunday, the celebration was wrapping up, as was the Lakers' dream of a title repeat. My sister, eight months pregnant, slept peacefully on our couch as I watched Isiah Thomas score 25 points in the third quarter and lead Detroit to that late three-point lead. Immature and enraged, I picked up an obscenely oversized inflatable pink crayon I had won at a rigged game earlier that weekend. The crayon probably cost a quarter to produce, but I likely spent 10 bucks trying to shoot a too-large basketball into a too-small hoop to win it.

With the Lakers trailing, I picked up the crayon, which seemed to be mocking me at this point. Cocking my arm, I announced to my parents, "If the Lakers lose, I'm throwing this at Lisa." I'd like to think it was an empty threat, but who knows what a 13-year-old is capable of in a moment of great disappointment. Fortunately, the Lakers rallied and won on a pair of Kareem free throws, saving the season and my sister. Don't worry, she really was fine; she had her baby and he's now a college senior, with no psychological scarring from the crayon missile that nearly slammed into his mom.

The Lakers went on to win Game 7 . We played a Little League game that night, which stretched on and on as our opponent's pitching staff collectively suffered from Steve Blass disease and walked practically every hitter in our lineup. By the time I got home, the first quarter had finished. But I was there for the end.

Game 7 of the 1987 World Series took place on the same night I had to complete a ridiculous drawing for the next day's Industrial Arts class. Ridiculous because my complete lack of mechanical ability made it a certainty I was looking at a C grade, if not lower, unless I my mom completed the sketch. Even the joy I got from Jeff Reardon finishing off the Cardinals couldn't take away the panic I felt about completing the project. Twins won, I got the C(minus).

In May 1985, we visited my great-aunt Florence, who lived in a small town nursing home. Before the drive and in the car, we followed the ongoing Memorial Day Massacre, Game 1 of the NBA Finals when the Celtics crushed the Lakers 148-114. That day is nearly the only memory I have of Florence, and I remember it whenever I think of that series. Her room smelled like oranges. I felt uncomfortable being there, the way so many kids do when they're around an elderly person they don't know real well. Later that day, we went back to grandpa Fury's farm, where I shot on the family's favorite outdoor hoop, which was attached to a barn. I tried telling my dad and uncles that the Lakers still had a chance. My dad ridiculed the idea. My uncles, Lakers fans, didn't give them a chance. Grandpa believed. Grandpa was right, as the Lakers won in six. But the game I remember most vividly is that first one, Game 1, the day we visited Florence.

Pick an event, any event. The weekend I moved out to New York City for the first time in 2002, with friends Matt and Brandon? Listened to the NBA All-Star game that Sunday. When that trip failed and I moved back a few weeks later? I remember listening to the Lakers again, this time in a rented Taurus, as they played the Knicks and I contemplated where my life would lead next.

Sports have always been a major part of my life. Probably too much at times. But it's often because they help link so many important moments, and keep those important memories alive.

My maternal grandfather died 25 years ago in October. The night of the wake, I walked the few blocks from the funeral home to grandma and grandpa's house, where I watched the Padres and Tigers in the World Series. I didn't have a rooting interest in either team, but I remember watching the game and enjoying a few hours of baseball talk with my Michigan-native uncle, as I tried to deal with the fact grandpa was gone forever. This past May, grandma died. At her wake, it all came back: grandpa's death, grandpa's wake...the Padres and Tigers in the World Series. I don't have a lot of memories of grandpa. But whenever I see a highlight or a story about that series or those champion Tigers, I do think about that night in 1984 and I think about grandpa. And now, I'll think about grandma, too.

I'm hoping this trait helps ward off the effects of old age. When I'm 90 and sitting in a home - my own or otherwise - and my grandson asks, "Grandpa, do you remember your fifth wedding anniversary?" I'll respond, "Of course. We went to Felidia's restaurant, sat at night in Columbus Circle, and I gave your grandma a diamond ring. And a day later, the Lakers won the 2009 NBA title. How could I ever forget?"


Brock said...

The crayon made me smarter... so thanks!

Dad said...

It is certainly a strange thing that we share. Here are a couple of my older ones.
1) Don Larson's world series no-hitter was the day of the annual fall dinner at St.Mary's in Dundee and my dad and I watched the end when we got home.
2) The great overtime win by the Baltimore Colts which put pro football on the map. I was outside throwing the ball off the haystack when my dad yelled that it went into overtime and the rest is history.

Lisa said...

Brock, I can't believe you're giving credit to you being smart to a plastic crayon and not your mothers "smart genes"! Shame on you.
All these years I had no idea how close I was to being beaten by a giant crayon.

Jerry said...

Game 7 of the 84 Finals wathced in your parent's basement after what was probably another crushing softball defeat. That may have been the night I 'stormed' out of the house. 1969 NFL playoffs - Vikings vs. Rams was the same day Pat and Ray Winter got married. The list is endless....

Mike said...

I remember going to your parents' basement and watching a Vikings-Redskins playoff game (not the Darrin Nelson dropped touchdown game) after basketball practice in '93. Although I don't remember much about the game, I do remember your mother making us a feast of sloppy joes, chips, and soda. The impressive part was it was not planned, 6 or 7 people crashed your basement and within an hour, we ate a ton of food.

Shawn Fury said...

I remember that game, as I think it was the first of many Denny Green playoff fiascoes for the Vikings. I'm sure we followed with a Tecmo marathon. I'm sure you leeches enjoyed the sloppy joes, though in later years I'd somehow get blamed for "making" my mom cook them.