Thursday, May 10, 2007
Updated: May 11, 6:23 PM ET
The Beautifulest Game
By Scoop Jackson
I'm not going to lie. I knew but I didn't know.
I knew there was a family issue going on with Derek Fisher. I knew his daughter was sick. I knew it was serious.
But I had no idea to what degree and how serious. I had no idea Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals would become one of the greatest moments in my sports viewing life.
If not in sports.
Never seen compassion like that. Never seen drama. Never seen subplots and story lines play out like they did. Never watched a game of that magnitude and cared less about the outcome.
Never took my eyes off the Sony plasma.
When Deron Williams picked up his second foul in the first minute of the game I knew my man Dee Brown from the Chi was going to come in and do his thing. Those of us from Chicago who ride the jocks of the 2005 Final Four Illinois team (my wife being an alumna) know what Dee Brown is capable of doing, know the game he got. All he needed was an opportunity to show and prove. With Derek Fisher not yet at the game, I knew this was going to be Dee's time.
Then it happened. Mehmet Okur falling on top of him, bending Brown's neck over his knees. My first thought (remember we're from Chicago now) was Darryl Stingley, a Chicago native. Then T.J. Ford. They carried him out strapped to a stretcher. His mouth couldn't close. Deron's mother on the phone to Dee's mother, letting her know about her baby's condition. Mothers scared. It wasn't supposed to go like this.
Then Baron Davis came to life. Began doing a second-round impersonation of his first-round impersonation of Dwyane Wade from the 2006 Finals. He began to silence the sea of powder blue, making those 19,911 fans so quiet you could hear the nets pop every time one of his shots went through.
The Jazz needed someone to stop him, stop what he was doing to their future. In came Fish.
For three days the media had played coy on what was really going on with Fisher and his family, and why the true leader of this Jazz team wasn't at Game 1, and why he had just gotten to this game.
Most of the time in situations like this the media's belligerence about the public's right to know takes precedence over everything moral and ethical. But because of the type of person Derek Fisher is -- not that type of player -- and because he commands respect by giving all others respect first, the media stood by Jazz vice president Linda Luchetti's request that Derek's privacy at this time be taken into consideration.
So as Dick Stockton and Reggie Miller talked, I still had no idea of what was really going on.
But when he hit the floor, with 3:18 left in the third, when Millsap dapped him and Boozer hugged him, when that sea of powder blue rose up and cheered, I felt something different. Deeper than an ordinary family absence.
Then when Davis -- the cat he was coming in the game to stop -- came over and wrapped one arm around his waist and the other around his head and began to whisper in his ear, that's when I knew something more significant than the score in the game was at stake.
Now, it's either God's sense of humor or His sense of timing you have to appreciate. If you are a Warriors fan, it's the humor. Up by five with 52.9 seconds left in the game, you have to think that someone is playing with you if you don't win. If you are a Jazz fan, it's the timing: the timing of Fisher making BD turn the ball over with 27.4 seconds left, the 3-pointer he hit with 1:06 left in overtime that sealed the victory, the only shot he took in the game.
You, me, we'd seen storybook, Disney-like endings like this before. Rarely with that much emotion and internal drama, but still, as the buzzer sounded, your heart didn't drop.
But then the Warriors players began to come over to D-Fish, one by one. Jason Richardson, then Stephen Jackson, then Monta Ellis. A team that due, for the most part, to Jackson's past and sometimes present demeanor has inherited a perception of being an extension of him, suddenly showed who its players really were: Compassionate ballplayers who needed to win a basketball game but understood that Fisher needed this one more than they did.
The tug began. Million-dollar cats playing the game as if money didn't mean a thing, then dismissing every stereotype that has lumped them all in the same sample pool. They were acting out the words Steve Nash used the other day in an interview: "It's just basketball." It was easily one of, if not the, best endings to an NBA game I'd seen in 20 years -- and 20 years ago I wouldn't have paid attention to what was really going on.
Then, after pointing to the sky, D-Fish opened up. Explained everything that was going on.
"We have been on an emotional roller coaster, and we will probably be on it for years to come," he said to Pam Oliver, "because it is a cancer ..."
His baby girl Tatum, all of 9 months old, who had been coming to Jazz practices and shootarounds in sunglasses since the beginning of May, had a tumor in her left eye, a rare disease called retinoblastoma. They had to have surgery to try to shrink the tumor, in hopes it shrinks enough to eventually remove it without losing the eye. The surgery was in New York. It happened that morning. So when he said "my daughter's life was in danger" and "we could have lost my little girl had we waited any longer" ... I thought I knew. I knew nothing. I had no idea.
So for those of you who hate the game of basketball at the NBA level, hate the players who play the game, hate the way they play, hate the image and images, hate what it has become, hate the money being made, hate everything about the game at the professional level, those of you who hate the player and the game, please look back at this moment and see what the game is really all about.
Or can be.
Look past the surface. Because, as they say, truth comes through in crisis.
Last night there was a crisis. A crisis in that the Warriors needed to win this game, a crisis in Dee Brown's career, a crisis in Derek Fisher's life. They all came together in an unbelievably stunning 53 minutes.
This was a game the country needed. With all of the drama going on in our lives, everything from HGH and Bonds to meltdowns and Dirk to dog fights and Michael Vick to a NASCAR legend leaving the racing team founded by his father to Pacman and Imus and Curt Schilling and Floyd Mayweather and the fall of the Yankees, sports needed this game to cleanse the ugliness out of our systems and remind us of how it's really supposed to feel to be a sports fan.
And soccer is supposed to be the beautiful game. Well, Wednesday night -- at least for one night -- basketball replaced it.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He's also the host of ESPN Original Entertainment's "NBA Live: Bring It Home". Sound off to Scoop here.