For Valentine's Day, Give Your Love an Inconsequential D-League Game

For most of my life, I figured that I would die alone, or at least stumble through a series of inconsequential relationships in my middle and late twenties until falling into the arms of some unfortunate woman who could inherit all of my flaws, much as my mother inherited the ones I had yet to grow when I was born. But through a mutual friend, last summer I found somebody who seems to share all of the precious weirdness that I consciously have seen in myself for years.
On our first date, I pretty much knew I could never do any better than her, because amongst things, she mentioned her love of several lost years of the Boston Celtics that most people would rather forget. It was her nature and this discussion (almost like a namedrop but like if somebody mentioned loving obscure artist’s shittiest record instead?) which probably made more interested in her than any other jerk I know. She loves basketball more than I do.
A couple months later, we went to our first Celtics game together, and while it was pretty great to be there with her, the lopsided finale (the home team won by fifteen or something) made for an unexciting finish.
But yesterday, we went to a Maine Red Claws game up in Portland courtesy of the friend who introduced us, who had received four tickets as a Christmas present. The afternoon before, we had gone to the Toboggan National Championships in Belfast, which she had been twice before but I’d never seen such glory. It was, according to another friend who attended, “the most Maine thing [we’d] ever done.” There was a guy dressed up as Elvis drinking a Four Loko standing next to an ice luge.
But when we walked into the Portland Expo, a sturdy building typically used in the past for high school games, liquidation sales and city voting, it was like we had entered the chaotic, delicious spell of not-Maine America again. People were drinking domestic beer in the early afternoon, dragging their small children around by arm or foam claw (they have foam claws instead of fingers at Red Claws games; you can buy them from a young man dressed as a fisherman walking around with a lobster trap attached to his chest). It is very similar to going to a minor league baseball game, in that everybody is trying to sell you shit in a brusque fashion.
The tickets for the Red Claws game were a couple rows up from the floor on the baseline on the home team’s side, across the court from Maine’s players and coaching staff. I expected that we would be able to move around a little bit and get a little better angle of the court, but the early start time on a Sunday had encouraged a lot of families and season ticket holders who wouldn’t normally show up to give it a chance, so there weren’t many empty seats. We stayed put. Either way, we had great seats for entertaining first half dunks by Mario West, three technical fouls (including West, who was burned about something), as well as several sloppy Tiny Gallon turnovers.
Because of the closeness of the court and its players to the fans in the seats around them, there is an intimacy that influences your actions when you’re watching a D-League game. Even more so than at an NBA game, it is hard to not be affected by the performance aspect of what you’re seeing so closely. At one point, I remember seeing the opposing team’s head coach and realizing quickly who he was: 1991 NBA Dunk Contest Champion Dee Brown. To my right, my partner was overjoyed, saying that her sister would be even more ecstatic than she was. I found it difficult to believe her. We both wondered how plausible it would be to walk up to him and get an autograph for her sister, but as the game went on, she focused in on abrasive "defense" chants.
While the game clock was running, the crowd was mostly attentive, and almost quiet, unless there was a flashy pass, three pointer or dunk. I guess we’ve been trained to be exhilarated by cheap thrills, but in such a small venue it reminded me of going to a several Xiu Xiu shows by myself years earlier, being one of maybe a dozen or two dozen people at this snowed in venue, and feeling thrilled by the delicate art that was being displayed by just a few performers. Of course, that feeling can only last until the score gets very close, and then I was very aware of how I was watching sports.
One of the things that has always made me weary of D-League games is how focused their entertainment is. For instance, between every quarter, there was a pretty extended dance routine, and they were pretty boring. The most notable dance routine involved perceivably the creepiest shit possible, between the third and fourth quarter, as these awkward preteens went onto the court and did whatever over some pop song. But mixed in with all of these gawky children, there was this outstanding redheaded goofball, and he was easily the highlight of the afternoon’s entertainment for several reasons. First, dude looked like a Tiny Scalabrine, in both color and moderate girth. It ruled. Secondly, he was the best dancer of anybody there, according to the people I trust for dance quality assurance (dunkalectical girlfriend and our mutual female friend). Thirdly, he was dressed like a referee. It was awesome. I had one chance to give him a high five when I was coming back from getting a soda as his dance crew exited the stage, but I was bashful and embarrassed.
Despite his rough start, which included the aforementioned sloppy turnovers, Tiny Gallon played significantly better as the game went onward. His replacement on the court, the awesomely named Bamba Fall, fouled out after eleven minutes of sterling play, so Gallon seemed to be there for most of the fourth quarter. When he plays, by the way, Tiny Gallon has a sort of casual roughness to his game, real raw potential mixed with sloppiness, packaged in what could’ve been the largest human being I have ever seen that close. Jamar Smith, who looks and plays basically exactly like Brandon Jennings, also performed very well: he seems to be a master of the corner three, which I appreciate.
As the fourth quarter went on, the Springfield Armor closed a six-to-ten point lead that the Red Claws seemed to have for the entire game. At one point, ties began to start accumulating, along with fouls, etc. During timeouts, the Kiss Cam and Child Basketball Dunk Contest was gone, replaced by defense chants and an assurance that there was a basketball game actually happening. There was a sense of urgency that the Tiny Scalabrine couldn’t deliver with his moves. The announcer told the crowd that down in Boston, the Celtics/Heat game was basically tied, to which the crowd groaned in response.
Oddly, Tiny Gallon seemed to be the spark saving the Red Claws at the end of the game. He performed magnificently during the closing stretch of the fourth quarter, racking up several consecutive three-point plays in the post. When they went to him in the closing seconds for a game-winner, his endurance seemed to have maxed out, and his layup bounced off the rim. Through and over what seemed like four Armor defenders, Mario West jumped for the rebound and delivered a thunderous dunk to tip-in the missed layup. In celebration, he did a cartwheel on the court (there was still a little time left on the clock) and received a technical foul as a result. We had already been standing for several minutes, but that was fucking crazy, and it might’ve been the coolest thing I have ever seen up close in a basketball game.
We filed out of the Expo, and eventually set back to our homes south in Boston. She told me that her mother was going to be in town the next night, and I told her it would probably be prudent for her to go out with her and her sister instead of trying to do something with me. It’s been a very long time since I have had somebody to be with on Valentine’s Day, and I don’t really mind that instead of corny, clich├ęd gestures to analogize my affection, I’ll make her dinner tomorrow or something.


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