Is it Christmas yet?
I know I'm skipping ahead a bit. Believe me, I won't forget about Halloween or Thanksgiving. I'm all for sending strange kids home to their parents with bags full of sugar. And I certainly won't miss either of the Thanksgiving meals that I'm fortunate enough to attend, in addition to the excellent Canadian Thanksgiving I had a few weeks back.
But I'm looking forward to Christmas. To decorations. To food. To family. To going outside, bundled up against the pure, cold air to shovel snow. There is no more magical time than Christmas and I can't wait for it to get here.
You may think I'm crazy, but it was basketball that sparked my longing tonight. Once upon a time, basketball was my game. I enjoy watching football, but there was a time that I ate, slept and dreamed basketball when I wasn't playing it. And when I played it, I was good at it. I'm not bragging, it's just the way it was.
For various reasons I never played on my middle or high school teams. But I played in every pick up game, every gym class and every Saturday at the Y that I could managed. When I was at Sharon Elementary, I played and I was good then, too. I remember games on Saturday vividly. I loved the home games the most, not because there was a home crowd but because it was close to my home. I'd go to the gym, play my butt off and then come home where I would be given a glass of cold Kool-Aid, relax on the reclining couch and watch Loony Tunes. Life was perfect. During the evenings, it got better.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in what I call the NBA's "Age of Heroes". Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Chris Mullen...the list goes on. I remember the Bulls beating Portland and Clyde the Glide Drexler for the NBA title. I remember begging my parents to hurry back home from Roanoke because the Lakers were playing and I wanted to see Magic. I can name every member of the original Dream Team and can remember watching them take home Olympic Gold. The Bulls went 72-10 before my eyes. I learned how to do a crossover dribble by reading an article in NBA Inside Stuff in which Tim Hardaway, back in his Golden State Warrior days, diagrammed it step for step. I've yet to see a coach teach it correctly or a player do it correctly in the leagues around here since.
The games on Christmas Day were special. These were the big match ups, usually the Lakers taking on Houston or the Bulls and the Knicks, something like that. They decorated the scoreboard on the screen with Christmas garland and had ornaments hanging off the clocks. I'd rush to open my presents, play with them for a while and enjoy seeing my grandparents when they visited and then hoped that I could steal the television to watch the games. Back then, the Super Bowl was in January and Christmas seemed to mark the point when the major networks switched from covering football to basketball.
I was flipping through the channels earlier and the Bulls were taking on the Spurs. It was the first time in years I'd been able to watch a pro game in not turn it off in disgust at what the league had become. The Age of Heroes gave way to a stretch when only Kobe and Shaq seemed to dominate and the league was filled with players there for money and prestige rather than the love of the game. Don't misunderstand me. I know my heroes made millions playing the game they love. But look deeper. They played for the love of the game, for sport and for the win and they gave me heroes to look up to on the hardwood.
So it was the nostalgia of basketball that sent me digging for this pic. It's about two years old, taken shortly after the first real snowfall of the year that December. There's a Christmas tree lot that sets up across the street from the Wendy's in Covington. The bare bulbs over the trees always remind me of the Christmas tree lot from A Charlie Brown Christmas, but that's another post. The Good Lord looks out for children and photographers, so thankfully he takes care of me on both fronts. That day He gave me a fresh blanket of snow on a tree lot that was mostly undisturbed. As an employee of the local paper then, weather didn't affect whether or not we came in. You went, rain or shine, snow or ice. So I was able to get out and get the photo that has since became one of my favorites ever since. Looking at it reminds me of everything I love about Christmas, about basketball in days gone past, about picking out the crookedest Christmas tree on the lot with Horton and a thousand other things I cherish about my life.
Photography, just like writing, is at its best when it gets to the truth of things. This photo reaches to the truth of who I am perhaps more than any other I've taken. You may not see it, but for me this simple black and white shot has countless memories attached to it, some that even surprise me at times.