On Friday night, May the 21st of 2008, I took a bus trip to the Meadowlands and, in particular, an ugly, boxy whore of a stadium, emblazoned on its broad shoulders with orange hexagons and off-white columns and clearly marked by the large, unfurled pictures of hardball heroes of the present as a basketball arena but branded "IZOD CENTER" in strange, WASP-y golfing letters right there on the side, for all the people betting at the greyhound track or swooshing down the artificial ski slopes to see.
I, myself, was even wearing an Izod shirt, to which I say: fuck myself. Shame on myself, you yuppie, stiff-souled buffoon. You should have come prepared.
It may have been the woman proclaiming her undying and everlasting love for Allen Iverson over and over, screaming frailties and cloudy-sweet nothings into the ears of everyone but her intended target from way up in the nosebleed section, miles and miles and miles from the on-court action. Or it may have been the man himself, only two days removed from an extremely emotional and heartfelt return to his beginnings, his woven-haired womb, where he had the chance for the fairytale ending with a three at the buzzer to win it, but the clock struck the northern number, the ball struck the rim, and all was gone. But he is here tonight, and seeing him in person - hitting leaners and fadeaways and short-range jumpers and driving and slicing and knifing and cutting - is like drinking St. Ides from the Holy Grail.
It may have been the countless alley-oops to Kenyon Martin, the much-maligned one soaring effortlessly through the air and throwing down dunk after dunk after dunk after dunk after dunk after dunk, the microfracture surgery finally becoming itself in reverse: fracturing, shrinking, forgetting.
It may have been the unheralded bench players like Eduardo Najera, rattling bones and throwing elbows for the one thing he must have above all else: the ball. Or Linas Kleiza sprinting to the wing and splashing down threes here and threes there, all these threes everywhere, the son of artists painting with a palette made of all the colors of the rainbow.
But, unfortunately, it also may have been the rage welled up inside me when, after getting the Nets in the penalty, the petulant Nuggets would swing the ball around the perimeter only to have long-limbed Marcus Camby fire up a 20-foot jumper, which was all the more absurd considering Carmelo Anthony, unguardable by most all standards, looked at Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter in the eyes and deemed them unworthy to try to stop his tenacious forays to the hoop.
Or it may have been the countless times the Nuggets, clearly possessing more talent, would race out to a double-digit lead, then play pathetic and porous defense - flat-out failing to frolic on the help side - and let their adversaries back into the game, giving them life. Giving them hope.
I don't have any hope. The Nuggets are fun to watch, for sure. And on this night they delivered a 125-114 victory. Entertaining, yes. Exciting? Of course. Effective? They scored more than their opponents, did they not?
This team, however, is a very, very, very good basketball team that will, when the playoffs start, be throwing their locker-room belongings into duffel bags, exchanging off-season plans for vacations and whatnot, wishing each other good luck on whatever minor surgeries or procedures their gifted bodies require, giving each other the handshake-hug-backtap - that heterosexual male staple of hellos and goodbyes - and, generally, telling each other "We'll get 'em next year."
You can chalk it up to injuries. You can explain it away as the single greatest year in any one conference in the history of major team sports, and the Nuggets, a team named for a precious metal buried deep within the ore of the highest mountains, being a lonely heap of scrap metal filled with some brass here and some silver there, but with no feet or rope or claws to help them climb to the peak. You can do all that. But the truth is, for one night like so many, I saw the flashes, the inklings, the possibilities of greatness. Traits which will slither and die by the wayside, buried under the headstone "Denver Nuggets 2007-2008 Succumbed to injuries, a historically superior Western Conference, and the inability to play any semblance of team defense for an entire 48-minute stretch."
Such a shame, these things. Such a pity.