The Lead Up
Up in Canada, we have but one lonely NBA franchise: The Toronto Raptors. The surrounding Ontario and Quebec region get all sorts of chances to interact and relate to the franchise and its players. The rest of Canada is left to rot – at least that’s how I feel, sometimes.
Ever since the NBA 3-on-3 was cancelled our only opportunity to come into contact with the Toronto franchise has gone away and my interest and connection with them dwindles by the day.
To be able to get to Toronto to watch a live Raptors game I’d have to drive about 24 hours which roughly translates to a 3 day drive. If I wanted to splurge, I could fly there. The cost of a trip like this, both in terms of money and time, exceeds my reach. So I’ve never been to a Raptors game. The only other possible destination is Minnesota, and I had never considered going to see them until this year.
It’s not because I didn’t like them. It’s just because the trip never entered my mind because I was set on the idea that the only way I could ever watch an NBA game was from the comfort of my own couch.
But even before the Raptors, I always had the Spurs. From the days of David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson and Vinny Del Negro I’ve always been a fan. And I’ve been in love with Tim Duncan and his game ever since he came into the League in ’97-’98. Ditto with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker’s games. They’ve caught my imagination in ways that few NBA players have before or since. For whatever reason, I feel connected to them not only as players but as people. I admire the loyalty that the franchise and players display towards each other and find it easy to back them. No trouble with the law, no temper tantrums, no egos. Just basketball.
My biggest regret is that I’ve never gone to a Spurs game, or an NBA game for that matter. I’ve been such a die hard hoop head for so long and have never indulged in the joy of a live NBA experience. I’ve had to sit and listen as countless people around me have gone to see their favourite team and I live in their experiences for the few minutes they tell their story, always wishing it was me.
Wheels in Motion
But in early January I decided that I needed to see Tim Duncan play at least once before he retires, which is not too far off. So my imagination went wild and it finally dawned on me that I could go see them play in Minnesota. I chose Minnesota because of the players they have now, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. They are two of the most intriguing players of the last few years and seem to have the talent and loyalty necessary to take them far. They’re fun to watch and they seemed like genuinely nice dudes. As luck would have it, the Spurs would be there twice in January!
My plans to go on January 2nd backfired because I did not have enough time to pull the trip together. I begrudgingly canceled the trip and made solid plans to go for the game on the 27th.
And then it happened. Luck looked my way for a moment and I was given an amazing opportunity to not only go see them play but to also, perhaps, meet Timmy and the Spurs and Kevin and the Wolves in person!
Dream Come True
The day of the game (Friday) I packed my bags, picked up my two friends and we drove through a raging blizzard in North Dakota and an 8 hour drive to the Target Center.
We were treated to a backstage tour of the arena, pictures at Center Court and a chance to get some pictures and autographs, which we did. I met Brad Miller, Derrick Williams, Tony Parker, Matt Bonner and Sean Elliott. Of all the players and autographs I got, none meant more to me than when Tim Duncan came over and signed my jersey, which I bought during his rookie year. Tim and I are both 35 years old. We were both born in 1976. And yet I look up to him. I consider him my role model. He signed the 2 and I told him he was my hero. He looked up for a few moments, thanked me and smiled. Then he signed the rookie card that I got from a good friend a number of years ago and I tried hard to hold it all together. It was a moment that lasted maybe 5 seconds, but it meant the entire world to me.
I got the chance to not only see him play but to also speak to him, get his picture and his autograph as well. The autograph hounds at the game smirked at me as I jumped for joy and indulged in a moment of complete disbelief/insanity. But I didn’t care. For those guys, coming to a game and getting some autographs is the norm. You can tell by the stack of pictures they had in their hands or the oversized binder with signatures tucked away in plastic sleeves. These guys get signatures because they can. I got mine because I can’t. For me, it’s not an every day thing to come to an NBA game and get to meet the Hall of Famers and franchise legends I grew up watching. So I’ll jump for joy and freak out if I want to, thanks.
I was most impressed with the patience, grace and kindness that those guys showed the fans gathered before the game waiting for an autograph. Especially Duncan, Brad Miller and Tony Parker – guys who’ve been there for a while and are probably asked for autographs thousands of times throughout the season. Their willingness to interact with the fans shows that they appreciate what it means to be an NBA player and that endears them more to me.
It was all a Dream
The game itself went by way too quickly. I was so busy just drinking in the entire atmosphere that I didn’t really watch the game; the sights, sounds, food, cheerleaders, the fans and the players all grabbed my attention and I couldn’t concentrate on the game itself until the final 5 minutes. The Spurs lost the game, in the end. Normally, this would cause me to be unhappy but I don’t even remember the final score. The internet tells me it was 87-79, but I didn’t even notice. Exchanging thumbs ups and high fives with jubilant T-Wolves fans helped ease the pain. It’s not that I was happy that the Spurs lost – it’s that I was grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it live.
The memory of that day will be with me for a long time. And to think that it was all brought together by a group of Timberwolves staff, friends and family that were willing to help an old hoop head meet his hero.
I got to meet Tim Duncan and Sean Elliott! Punch me in the face and Punch it hard! I want to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!