In 2003, when I was seventeen, my grandmother died. I know that’s a hell of a first sentence for a basketball story, but it’ll make sense in a second.
Just before the Christmas holidays, my grandmother, who was ninety-one or maybe even older at the time, suffered a bad fall from which she would never recover. My dad called to tell me what was happening, called to tell me he was flying out from California that very night to be with her. I was already living in NYC, having moved there on my own the year before, but I was able to get a ticket early the next morning and fly to Detroit where she was in hospice in her home.
In the end, about seven of us flew or drove from all over the country to be with her. It was a long, strange vigil.
After three long days and nights, she passed. We’d been up all that last night — been up almost every night since we arrived — and as the sun rose, a coroner with a large, silver-white walrus mustache arrived, filled out the necessary paperwork, and prepared to take her body to the morgue.
All of us were half-blinded by exhaustion and grief, but at the same time we felt an undeniably deepening sense of togetherness as a family. We’d all just been through a dreamscape of unimaginable consequence. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone die right in front of me.
As the coroner wheeled the laden gurney through my grandmother’s brick-laid front entryway — weaving through a weak December sunrise — he turned back to us and decided he should say something. Say something to ease the moment.
“Well,” he started, stroking his mustache, “it’s gonna be a different Christmas, so...” He paused, searching for words. “So, uh, have a different Christmas.” He stood in the rising light, unsure. Maybe it was the light, maybe it was our delirium — the fact we’d been up for something like 60 hours straight — maybe it was his ridiculous mustache, but the words had a very unexpected consequence.
All seven of us, huddled in the entryway with arms around each other, started cackling in mad laughter.
The coroner scrunched his eyes at us, obviously confused. Here we were, in the same clothes in which we’d arrived some three days prior, strung out and exhausted, laughing uncontrollably in an early December morning. What was so damned funny about what he’d said?
He turned and left without another word.
And, you know what? We did have a different Christmas. I mean, shit, how could we not after that?
As I sit here approaching another holiday season, I’m not sure why these two things — my grandmother’s long-ago passing and the Warriors’ recent “struggles” — join together in my mind. Perhaps it’s a sense of levity in the face of a seemingly horrible series of events. Perhaps it’s a desire to not take basketball so seriously, as once my family learned to not take death so seriously. For, in remembering that life is stupefyingly huge and incomprehensible, it becomes harder and harder to feel betrayal or anger towards the Warriors because of some stupid stuff that happened in November.
I’m no longer the naive first-year blogger literally crying as the Warriors won their first championship in my lifetime. But I’m also not the screaming head on a national platform drooling into a microphone making a big deal out of nothing because — quite literally — the job is to mine any and all drama in order to get paid.
However, no matter how you look at it, the fact remains that the Warriors are in the midst of a very different season, and that’s just fine. As Steve Kerr recently said, “We haven’t been in the real NBA the last couple of years. We’ve been in this dream.”
Steve Kerr on the Warriors adversity: “We’ve lived a charmed existence...This is the real NBA.” pic.twitter.com/TW4LVpw4TU— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 19, 2018
If anything, this feels warm and comforting. This drama, this slight disfunction, pulls me back to the Warriors teams of my youth, and makes me feel like balance is finally being restored to the universe. Nothing good is meant to last forever. That’s a basic building block of this strange world. Everything eventually crumbles into dust if given enough time, and that’s okay.
The Warriors have won three of the past four NBA Championships. They are — even after falling to the Raptors last night — very much the presumptive favorites to win the championship again this season, which would be their fourth in five years, and which would automatically catapult them towards the forefront of any “Best Team Ever” conversation and cement their standing in history forever.
Yes, the Warriors are about to get Stephen Curry back. Yes, Draymond Green is coming back, strong opinions and all. Yes, eventually DeMarcus Cousins will suit up. And yes, Kevin Durant could easily leave at the end of this season, even if the Warriors do end up winning their third straight championship. Hell, it’s his life, his choice. He came riding in on the winds of change, and if he wants to shake up his life once again, it’s totally fine by me. Again, what TF does he care what any of us think? Live and let live.
For me, I’m just happy to be watching a “different” team. Let them bicker, let them argue! It’s natural, it’s what happens in all relationships and in all businesses! The dream might be over — the fantastical magic of the past four and a half years finally shifting towards a new reality, a new direction — but that doesn’t make any of this bad. If anything, it just finally makes it real.
My grandmother never watched the Warriors. Hell, I don’t even think she knew they existed, or gave a damn about the NBA. Life, in its terrifyingly large way, does not give a damn about the Warriors, or about Draymond Green and Kevin Durant’s interpersonal struggles, or about the day-in-day-out machinations of sports media, or about the day-in-day-out machinations of any media, or about how we are so easily horrified about meaningless things. Life only ever goes on, even as we try our damnedest to stamp our personal mark upon its uncaring face.
Christmas is once again around the corner and the Warriors are once again having a “different” season. Feels like 2003 all over again, in a good way.