I lit it out from Reno
I was trailed by twenty hounds
Didn't get to sleep last night
'Til the morning came around
Set out runnin' but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight
I don't know why, but I woke this morning with a simple refrain stuck in my head. Y'all probably know it, being Bay Area folks and all.
This song always makes me insanely happy. There's something inviting and lilting about the execution. The guitar simply walks down a major scale. Jerry Garcia's voice has never felt more ruggedly gorgeous. I want to roll up inside this song and live in this fictional universe. Which, really, is insane. The song is all about being chased by hell hounds, questioning the parentage of your own children, and borrowing money from the devil.
So why do I always get it stuck in my head when I'm riding a high wave of joy?
Last night, the Warriors grinded out an intense, painfully joyous win in Oklahoma City. For the whole game, they seemed to be stuck in an eternal six-point-under hole. But, they stuck around. And stuck around. And stuck around. And then, with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, they struck. Struck hard and fast, like a leopard dropping from a tree limb. You got the feeling that they'd planned this master stroke all along. As if it'd been part of the pregame walkthrough. As if Kerr had stood, with dry-erase marker in hand, and said, "Just keep it close. Lull them to sleep. Let the crowd rage and crash against us like ships against cliffsides. We will emerge from our six point hole and strike quick death like a leopard from a ceiba tree."
That's how Steve Kerr talks, right?
When they did make their move, it consisted of lethal shots from Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, coupled with a few brilliant defensive plays from Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. In real time, you could feel the shift. The Warriors struck, climbed out of their six point hiding hole, and tied the game at 101-101. The Thunder would not score again.
With 1:46 left in the game, Russell Westbrook drove against Andre Iguodala, who flashed his superhero jazz hands, stripped the ball, controlled it, and then flung it ahead to Klay who buried the three-pointer to put the Warriors up for good.
Then, with 18 seconds left and the score still 104-101, NBA MVP Stephen Curry drove hard against Ibaka, fell away to his right, and kissed the ball high off the glass.
The leopard had struck, silent as the grave. The moment had passed. The game was over.
That strange dance between passion, talent, and heartbreak is what makes sports -- and specifically the NBA -- so compelling. This morning, I woke up ecstatic, with a twisted Grateful Dead tune stuck in my head. But a million Thunder fans had to wake up to a long, slow, funeral march of mental doom metal. Our emotions and our lives are so entangled in situations wherein storylines, narratives, and potential outcomes shift and change every millisecond. Sure, it's fun for me to envision the Warriors waiting in the wings, ready to make their move. I feel better about myself when I pretend the outcome of the game was never in question. It's a small lie I weave to feel more confident about my "Warriors in 7" pick. (Really, I just want to rub this in Nate's face when it's all said and done. I'm a fickle man, judge me not.)
But like "Friend of the Devil," I'm just a twisted song of emotional uncertainty hidden within a series of pleasant sounding, major guitar chords. I bet you are too.