Like the rest of us, the basketball is just passing through. The hands that move it are big and strong, black, brown, and white, from all over the world. Their fingers barely graze leather, there’s no time to hold, let alone grip as the orb darts down low, swings around the perimeter and lands in the smallest of these hands who receives, redirects and, with a flick, sends the orange blur up up and away, flying high toward some heaven in the distance.
Throughout the arena and all over the world a pinata of eyes watch, ears listen, hearts dream as the prayer ever so slowly descends to earth and CLANG – it hits the iron, the pinata explodes. Eyes wince, ears cringe, hearts fold up their tents and scatter – the Gods of Hand-Eye have failed, death has come to Oracle.
Stephen Curry has missed.
It’s not that I don’t love all these great young artists posing as basketball players – Damian, Kawhi, KD, Kyrie, that id Westbrook – especially Lebron. I am and have always been a huge Lebron fan – and if they weren’t playing the Dubs I’d be happily subletting in Believeland.
But I, like my country, have always been a sucker for underdogs, for those little engines that could, the stars that cannot shine but then somehow, some way do. Some people like Lear. I’ve always been a partial to the Fool. Besides, the Warriors had been so bad for so long, all that underdog swag is still in the basement dying to be unpacked, humming the Horders’ Lullabye:
Hold on tight
Never let go
You may need this shit
You never know
And so I am smitten. The spirit is old in that baby face, the faith deep in that dancer’s body – in the forest of woolly mammoths where Lebron is king, Steph is Bambi 2.0, Thumper with a shiv. Those are stone-cold reserves he has fired by years of dismissal (too small, too soft), disappointment (no major college wanted him, pro scouts rolled their eyes), banked by decades of sweat and repetition, devotion to a craft, hard work in the dark. Even at the private liberal arts school that did want him, Davidson College – you could see it. The apprentice had already made a pact with the Hand-Eye Sorcerer. The kid was plugged in. He was learning magic.
Most ballers have jump-shots: they jump, then shoot, it’s two separate actions and the ball is released at the top of the jump to protect it from being blocked. David had a slingshot, Steph has a spring-shot – one motion. It’s some kind of potion made of a child’s push mixed with an old Washington General set, then infused with schoolyard hot potato and a demon-sibling game of keep away.
This is the kid who wasn’t strong enough to reach the rim. This is the kid who would never fit his father’s shoes. Who was raised by women. Who always wanted to please.
This is the kid you never had to take seriously.
At Oracle, when anyone on the home team hits a 3 it’s great. When bombardier-brother Klay goes on a tear, it’s breath-taking. Klay’s a great tenor, a lone sniper, I am dazzled by his swashbuckling craft and never for one second think I could do what this cool killer does.
But when Steph hits one, then another, then five more – it’s breath-giving. The kiddies light up, the biddies swoon, slots all over the land go DingDingDing because it’s me, it’s us, it’s how the hell does he do that? Because it’s we can make the magic happen even though we may be lackin’.
Over the river and through the woods and down the lane they go…
Lebron is a snowplow in a blizzard, a bulldozer clearing redwoods – he mules up the mountain with the state of Ohio on his back.
Steph is Astaire, he’s Michael Jackson; his moxie is finger-food, room-service, Alvin of the chipmunks for these monsters of the paint. Ball on a spidey-string, he spins webs the behemoths can only drool at, whiff on – and in a crack of daylight he’s gone.
When Lebron finishes it’s with thunder, a thrown-down – exclamation points, and hard rain – there’s a rumble through the land.
When Steph finishes it’s a little boy’s balloon floating up from the jungle-floor, gliding above the tree-line, and when it kisses the tippy top of the backboard the balloon POPS, and out drops a plucky little shuttlecock that slow-dives – baby soft – down toward the metal mouth…
There’s a hiccup, a gurgle, the iron master gives the boy a twirl, coughs him up like a fur-ball – and Oracle gasps. Failure. Again.
I don’t know anything about Steph’s off-stage life except what the glass-blowers tell us: good son, dutiful husband, loving father. He church-goes, travels with family, is one of the guys as much as someone who grows up rich, sheltered, and never having a ‘hood pass could actually be one of the guys.
The Warrior’s have had kumbayah – the best regular season record ever. Steph is MVP again, this time unanimously. And here comes the requisite auto-immune response – so much light can trigger so much shadow – and so the target on his skinny frame gets bigger and wider, the slings and arrows sharper and more venomous: “You were lucky, you’ve had it easy, WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”
The clock is running down…10, 9, 8…
It’s a strange time in our history. We have to dig so much deeper when we sing “America the Beautiful” – as a country the gap between who we think we are and who we are being has never between greater. We can look like the Grand Canyon and feel like a toxic dump.
I’ve voted for Obama twice, but he’s been the exception that proved the rule: we’ve lost our way. The daily martyrdoms continue: cops kill men cause they’re black; people go to schools or marathons or marketplaces and, in the name of God, kill other people. The poor get poorer, the rich get richer, the sick get sicker.
Democrats and Republicans are two cheeks guarding the same asshole – and guess who the asshole is?
He crosses half-court…7…6…
The Empire is over. The folks at the bottom know it and are beginning to stir, the folks at the top know it and are grabbing everything not nailed down and heading for the hills. Bernie is a deli-man, Hilary an assistant manager, Trump the coffee shop king who pretends he knows something about fine-dining. From our political conventions this summer the evil of two lessers will emerge and the best TV show will win.
The game, the season, this whole improbable life is on the line…5…4…
Meanwhile, the rest of us are chopping wood, carrying water, and praying to the big sweet heart that’s in the DNA of America.
The ball of light is fed into the grenade launcher and up toward heaven it is flicked…3…2…1…
Meanwhile, Steph and his quantum mechanic mates are re-calibrating the time and space of sports: fluid vs stationary, whole vs parts, trust vs ego – May the Force be with you and May the Source Be You. We are post-Michael, post-Kobe. We have tapped out the Either/Ore. It’s gotta be Both, gotta be Each and All from here on.
And then there’s celebrity and the shade that travels with it. Who knows what really goes on behind closed doors – that which is private sources the container, that which is secret depletes it. But you can’t get a dinner reservation without a sex tape these days and I can’t remember the last time an emperor had clothes.
If you look you can see a smoke trail, a track of tears and a rainbow climbing in toddler-steps across the sky – hold your breath…
That the Glass of Steph is so squeaky clean – of course – makes me doubt what’s in it all the more. No PEDS, no palimonies, no entitled hormones running amok in a candy store where everything is free – are you kidding?! I see your Clinton and raise you Cosby. I give you the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow and we won’t get fooled again!
Until we are.
If you listen you can hear the cool, outer space silence as that light orb ascends, reaches reaches reaches – do not breathe…
And inexorably among those shadows: the soft to the hoop, light-skin thing. America’s racist history will always be devil to our advocate, it can’t not remind us that the only reason we’re smitten with this guy is he’s so house-trained, unthreatening, so practically almost white there’s no way sweet little Steph’s gonna go Nat Turner on the Massa or Mandingo on our women.
The rotation slows, the ball knows when enough is enough – it greets gravity like an old friend, pivots and heads back to Earth…
Excellence begins in the heart but the heart has a day job – it provides, there are bills to pay and a family to protect. Excellence must be ruthless.
Down it comes – drafting eyeballs, earlobes, heartbeats, a ragtag army of g-force whistling and whooshing, escorting this firebomb full of jellybeans down and down – hold your breath do not breathe…
You get no points for trying today, but if you’ve banked a billion of them in your backyard over a lifetime, if there is any truth to Karma, critical mass, and even such a lovely thing as Grace – you get dividends, the dues of diligence, when you least expect them. Intention attention is paid, the angels of muscle memory pick up when you call, hard work becomes instinct becomes intuition becomes that moment when the game is on the line:
And down it comes – the pony locks-in on his bucket, the fireball from heaven its tiny blue ocean. The hope is connection, the prayer reception, deliciousness, a yum-yum good to the last drop swallow that is hole filling, separation healing, silk sighing – that is fear being loved…
This is the sound of one heart beating. Of gunshots in a club in Orlando, of dumpster divers outside my window in Santa Monica. This is the sound of a wounded and angry world, overwhelmed and exhausted – learning to let go.
It can be the worst of times, the darkest of nights, this is just a silly little game played with a big orange ball – and here we are, eyes wide, awestruck and brimming.
Here we are, hearts open, dripping with shine.
Here. We. Are.