Monday, April 25, 2005
Sleeping with the enemy
It’s not so much a mantra as my current frame of mind as I, a Phoenix Suns fan since 1975, attempt to maintain sanity during the early stages of the 2005 NBA playoffs.
I moved to the Sacramento area in May of 2003 after spending the previous 28 years in Phoenix. I was expecting some bumpy transitional issues. I did not expect sports culture shock.
First and foremost, there is the constant cowbell drone coming from a big barn the locals refer to as Arco Arena. It’s a curious tradition for which I have yet discovered an adequate explanation.
Cowbells are for cows, drummers and Will Ferrell’s spastic prop comedy routine. As far as I can tell they have nothing to do with Mike Bibby’s jumpshot. They apparently have no mystical healing powers, because the Kings have been as fragile as eggshells this year.
I can only assume those cowbells are Kings fans’ only hope of being noticed this year after yet another early playoff exit. It’s not so much a celebratory whacking of a percussion instrument as much as a desperate hope somebody recognizes there are, indeed, signs of civilization among the rice fields and cow pastures of Northern California.
Speaking of eggshells, it’s my walking surface this time of year as an enemy fan in the land of myopia. Not just your average, ordinary enemy fan, but a fan of the top-seeded team in the playoffs.
I am as quick to announce my allegiances here as a Christian might have been to profess his faith at a Roman circus circa 64 AD.
This is not to say Kings fans are a violent brood, but I’m not going to argue over a parking space with one.
I’ve had enough close encounters. Take my wife, Jessica, for example.
In all the time we were courting, somehow basketball allegiances never became a topic of conversation. We spent a lot of time talking about our shared faith and life goals. It never dawned on us which NBA teams we rooted for might become a point of contention.
Having moved my wife to Phoenix and having access to Suns tickets, it was a great honor to take her to her first experience at America West Arena to see the visiting Kings in April 2003. The Kings were one of the best teams in the league, the Suns were undergoing a transition with rookie power forward Amare Stoudemire, and no one expected much of a game. I had nothing to lose, although I admittedly gritted my teeth for an anticipated whipping.
I am a loving and patient husband, and both qualities were put to the test for this game.
Jessica was all trash talk during the week leading up to the game, in the car on the way to the game, during the long walk to the arena, and for most of the warm-up time. My otherwise good-natured wife was channeling the West Coast version of Spike Lee. A less patient man might have invited her to take a taxi home, but I sat quietly and received it in hopes of wearing her out.
The Suns led by 20 at the end of the third quarter and my wife was forcefully leading me back to the car. I gloated a little, but I knew seeing the experience first hand was the ultimate gag for a trash talker. Call it NBA justice.
There hasn’t been much talk about NBA basketball in our household since that day. These days I spend most of my efforts attempting to convince my wife watching the Suns on cable is a worthwhile expenditure of my time. The broadcast usually sends her reeling for the door to the neighbor’s house, which also doubles as a wayward home for broken-hearted Kings fans.
This year’s seeding would match the Suns and the Kings only if both teams reached the Western Conference finals, one step short of the NBA Championship series. The chances of both teams getting there are unlikely, although it remains a distant possibility.
I don’t know how our marriage might fare if that would happen, and I don’t know how I might handle myself around all the rabid Kings fans in my office and my neighborhood. Thirty years of Suns playoff basketball has tempered any temptation to become cocky.
Still, as any Kings fan knows, playoff basketball can bring out the animal of the most tame. You don’t even have to like basketball to get excited about playoff basketball.
There is one thing I’m sure I won’t do: I won’t be hitting any cowbells and I won’t be paying attention to those who do.