Trying to ignore the little girl screaming like she had "a baby" (my 11-year-old nephew Jordan's simile suggestion, far better and funnier than anything I could've written - sadly), I looked up and saw a tall guy at the end of the row behind me. He was about 6'8" or so, a few inches taller than myself. I didn't think anything of it until he got a little closer and I realized - it was Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Surely an NBA player, who makes somewhere in the neighborhood of six or seven million dollars a year, isn't waiting in line for gen pop security? Did he not see the separate entrance for Elite Access members, bypassing the snarling, snaking monster us "normal" people had to endure?
When we got parallel to each other, I looked at him and said, "What, the Pacers can't charter you a jet or something?" He didn't really look at me - more around me - and lamented, "Chhh, I wish."
A minute later the kids in front of me had stopped and were whispering. I heard something resembling "Dunleavy" and just said, "Yeah, that's Mike Dunleavy." The younger one looked at me, bug-eyed, and said "Really?" "Yup, it is," I said. "I wanted to ask him how it felt to be on the wrong side of one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, but I thought that might be a little harsh for this early in the morning." The dad just looked at me and laughed.
The line moved surprisingly quickly, and I had time to grab a Snapple and a banana. I went and sat by the gate, and a few minutes later who should sit down catty-corner from me but one Mr. Dunleavy. There were plenty of seats available, and I couldn't help but wonder if he picked that spot to be around the guy who recognized him earlier. He sat hunched over, eating a breakfast sandwich, his low-cut, ratty white Chuck Taylors (sans laces) pointed pigeonly towards each other. Then it occurred to me that we were probably on the same flight, and I didn't know if I wanted to sit next to him or not. It's a short way from New Jersey to Detroit, and what would I open with? The "So, where you going?" line? Or something like, "Did you ever play against Fred Hoiberg? I'm on my way to his brother's wedding." Then I realized what I was thinking about, and silently scolded myself.
I turned to a magazine while he bogarted the USA Today an older woman had left behind. Finally we boarded, and he was a few people in front of me. I noticed a small bald spot in the back, and it hit me that this dude was going to look exactly like his dad in about 10 years.
As I entered the plane, I became incredibly uncomfortable. This was the smallest aircraft I had ever been on - one of those planes with a single seat on one side of the aisle, two on the other, and maybe 15 rows in all. The ceiling was probably about six feet off the floor, so I cocked my head at the obligatory 45-degree angle. A guy looked up at me and, sensing the awkwardness, gave me the "I feel for ya, buddy" look. All I could muster was a "What the fuck is this shit?"
I passed Dunleavy. He was sitting next to a guy in a Mets hat. I had a seat to myself on the other side, a few rows behind them. That's my view in the picture up there - hardly a Leibovitz, but the cell phone camera is all I had (he's in the gray-and-yellow jacket).
They chatted and laughed for a large part of the flight. I wondered what they talked about. I decided that since the guy had a Mets hat on, he was probably somewhat familiar with the world of pro sports, and chances are he recognized him. But maybe not. They could've talked about the NBA or they could've talked about airport bathrooms. I didn't know and, eventually, I didn't care. I read my book and made funny faces at a young Indian girl.
I was tired, broke and hungry, and had just barely escaped a potentially huge transportation disaster.
But a multi-millionaire - who, despite his professionall shortcomings, seemed to be a pretty down-to-earth, cool enough guy - was on the same cramped, one-male-flight-attendant-only mini-jet as me. And for whatever goofy reason, that made me smile.