Some things earn spots in your soul. They hang, appear and offer an outstretched hand when prompted. You dance with them when your imagination meets memory again. You forget where you are, and moments remind you where you were.
A handful of years ago, I felt an emotional connection to music for the first time. Further back on my path, I felt connected to the NBA. Now, both seem so far away — but never fully absent.
I grew up on Michael Jordan. He beat the teams I liked and the ones I loathed. Jordan and his epic clashes seemed to be the next page in a legendary album that started with the Boston Celtics. When you flipped it over, the same green launched the B side. Physicality, execution and defense remained staples. The point guard guarded the ball with his life. The power forward jumped for the board like it had been stolen from him once long ago.
The first time I cried to music — because of music — I was an immature late-teenager. I always liked Bruce Springsteen, but a life crisis pushed me into self-discovery. The album "Born to Run" helped me search. I distinctly remember listening to "Jungleland" — the album’s final song — in my one-bedroom apartment, alone. The tears ran down my face, tardy for wherever they needed to be. I cried, cried and cried some more. I wasn’t upset. They flowed because the saxophone solo played my soul with every note. For a moment, I became the music because the music was me. My life floated on a staff somewhere in a past universe.
It’s a sensation you must feel. Descriptive language doesn't do it justice. There’s a ghost inside that moves you around to a place where everything falls and disappears. You sway, feel and everything is lost for a few minutes. It’s powerful, man.
Today, I watch LeBron James in awe. I watch a man dominate his craft, and it’s so pure. It’s saxophone-solo pure. The rest of it seems less than what once existed on my album.
I became irate after the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday. I don’t care for either team, yet felt enraged. Chris Paul, touted as the league’s best point guard, didn’t protect the ball. He didn’t really play like a point guard. Paul’s a professional basketball player, but his final-minute actions resembled the high schoolers I cover in the winter. He might have been worse.
Russell Westbrook's late shot selection — without a foul, I might add — befuddled me further. It summed up what the rest of the playoffs aside from Miami and San Antonio have shown me.
The game’s diminished. At some point it changed, and the players became more talented. That’s all well and good. However, they seem fairly one-dimensional. The good teams aren’t much better than the so-so teams. While parity is great at times, it’s not what the NBA was built on.
I will watch the Memphis Grizzlies for days. They lack the top-level talent outside of the post. However, they remind me of my NBA. The league where you executed half-court sets to score and played in the blocks. Defense keys Memphis’ game. Tony Allen is a champion for the old-school fan. They might not win, but at least they do something that closely resembles basketball.
San Antonio is another exception, as is LeBron.
Charles Barkley railed on the players in these playoffs after Game 5. Chuck barked at them, called out their poor play and I yelled with him. It’s professional basketball. Some of this playoff season hasn’t represented efficient use of either term in that title. On Tuesday night, it felt like I screamed into a land with no oxygen. The NBA fans were too far in the forest to see the trees. They thought it was wild and crazy. In my reality, it stunk.
Springsteen released a ton of albums. He makes them, and they sell. He’s the working man’s poet, still up on stage touring for the masses for three hours of nonstop energy dispensed with each note.
His first two — "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." and "The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle" — were underground sensations built off his reputation as a ferocious performer. It was funk, soul, rock, blues and everything else. Like the early years of LeBron, the music stood raw and impressive. "Born to Run" is to Springsteen what the 2012 NBA title is to James. It’s simply the stamp that allowed them entry into another stratosphere.
At some point, we all have to grow up and fly away.
When LeBron flies away nowadays, he leaps over defenders and to the cup with such simplicity and grace it takes my breath away. He does what Jordan did. I see it, and I go back. I think of the tough NBA — not the throw the ball all over the court NBA — and remember the battles. They gripped me as a child. They built me as a basketball fan. They stole my heart.
He soars and he dominates, and I am left with nothing but the tingle down my arms. I forget all the poor decisions and turnovers and remember the better times.
Wednesday night, I stood far from Oklahoma City in the bleachers of Hersheypark Stadium. I listened as Springsteen played. His newer songs and covers were good. I sang, clapped my hands and waved my arms. I participated the same way I watch the NBA most of the time. It had my attention and my mind.
When the encore came, the gentle mist cooled my skin. My soul ignited as he blasted the classics. I went back to the nights on a couch with no distractions, when my soul poured down my face just to remind me it was still there. LeBron flies and dunks. The saxophone plays. The moment freezes, and there I go, back to a spot where my imagination once merged with memory.
Memories last as long as you want, but moments last forever because of the imagination. I forget how many games it took Jordan to beat the Pacers or Knicks. I’ll never forget his shrug in Chicago Stadium. When the hair on my arms stood up in a broken-down stadium around 29,999 other Springsteen fans, I didn’t remember which album the newer hits appeared. The tears fell. They always do with things I keep in a safe place, alone and concealed until the universe brings them out.
There will always be something new that merits a view or listen. But, you don’t replace the spots in your soul that are already filled. Those moments must exist to take you back. Frozen in time, a moment’s purity yearns to take you far from the place you stand — as only it can.
Sports are all I know. Writing came naturally. Sports writer by night & sports writer by night. Philosophy major who thinks the unexamined sport is not worth watching. Always for hire, never for sale. I believe that silence is the virtue of fools and I can't hear you.