|Jabari Parker of the Milwaukee Bucks attempts a free throw in a game vs. the Brooklyn Nets, 11/19/2014.|
After 30-plus years of basketball fandom, I think that November 19th was the date that I finally accepted that I have no true allegiance to an NBA team. Growing up in Kansas in the days after the Kings had fled to Sacramento, and leaving long before the Thunder arrived in Oklahoma City, college basketball was all that mattered in our neck of the woods. And for our family, that meant all Jayhawks, all the time.
As a Chicago-born child of the '80s and '90s (and as a person with a heartbeat), naturally I was a fan of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls. Just before Jordan retired (the second time), the Boston Celtics selected Kansas' Paul Pierce 10th in the 1998 draft. It didn't take long for my loyalties to change, and by the time the Celtics won the title ten years later, I considered myself a long-time Boston fan. That lasted until 2013, when the Celtics threw 15 years of history out the window and traded Pierce to Brooklyn. Having lived in Brooklyn for several years by that point, it was perfect. Instantly, I became a Nets fan. This was a natural transition, as ex-Celtics Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry arrived along with Pierce. After struggling early in the season, Brooklyn finished the regular season as one of the better teams in the league. I thoroughly enjoyed rooting for the Nets as they defeated Toronto in the first round of the playoffs before succumbing to LeBron James and the Miami juggernaut. Then, a couple of months later, Paul Pierce was off to Washington.
No matter. I still lived in Brooklyn, so a Nets fan I would remain. A few weeks ago, a friend offered me a great seat to see the Nets take on the Milwaukee Bucks. I wore my Tyshawn Taylor jersey. I cheered when the newly-retired Jason Collins was recognized for his years of contributions to the team. And then, as the game went on, Milwaukee rookie Jabari Parker displayed the poise of a 10-year veteran en route to 23 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo played through a twisted ankle suffered during the first overtime to drop 18 points and pull down 12 boards. John Henson played a meaningful role off the bench, and seemed to have fun doing it. But the story of the night ultimately belonged to Brandon Knight. On a night when he seemed to shoot every time he touched the ball, and the vast majority of those missed the mark (he was 5-20 for the game), it was Knight's play in overtime that proved most memorable. With the game tied and under three seconds remaining in overtime, Knight stole the ball, streaked down the court, and... bricked the winning layup. In the second OT, he redeemed himself brilliantly, unafraid to take and drain a game-tying three. The Bucks eventually prevailed, 122-118, in the third overtime, thanks in part to clutch free throws by Knight.
It was sometime in the fourth quarter that I finally admitted to myself that in spite of my residence, in spite of my seven-years-and-counting loyalty to Kevin Garnett, in spite of how fun it can be to watch Joe Johnson take over a game, and in spite of my Tyshawn Taylor jersey, I unequivocally wanted the Bucks to win. They just looked like they were playing with much more joy. I'm sure I'll jump back on to the Nets bandwagon if they make the playoffs, trade Deron Williams or get a new owner. In the meantime, I'll stick with the Jayhawks, and enjoy the NBA as an impartial fan... waiting for the day that the Morris twins lead Phoenix to the promised land. Go Suns!