The Beastitude of a True Fighter
A lot of us die-hards were dealing with disillusionment in the aftermath of Friday’s loss to the Knicks. I think it was the point when some of us finally said goodbye to this season’s playoff hopes. The team came out of the All-Star break on a tear, traded Tyson Chandler, got him back, went on a 7-game winning streak, lost Peja, lost Tyson again, had a chance to steal the division lead from the Rockets at home and failed miserably, won too-close games against weak teams, and then had another chance to leap a spot in the standings against the Nuggets at home and failed miserably. Roller coaster, right?
Losing to the Knicks, in a game where Chris Paul stooped so low as to engage in trash talk with the likes of Nate Robinson … James Posey got ejected and suspended for chucking the ball at a ref … the team performed a complete 180 and decided to entirely abandon defense in the second half… seemed sort of like an end. It seemed like we were able to exhale that breath and finally come to terms with the fact that a team that could lose, and worse, lose like that, in the middle of a tight playoff race was just not a contender. And I’m ashamed to admit it almost felt good to let go of that, after all the injuries and disappointments of this season. I wondered on Twitter whether it would be better to save money by not buying playoff tickets, since we were one and done anyway.
And so it was that on Sunday I arrived at the Spurs game thinking, “Okay, we’re not going to win. No Tyson. No Peja. No Posey. I’ll just have some beers and enjoy being here. Enjoy the games we have left.” It’s a slow process, letting go of a season. The cracks appeared early. The .500 start. Then they got a little deeper. The home loss to the Warriors. The 4th quarter meltdown against the Blazers. Then they dropped the Knicks game on Friday. And suddenly, there it was in front of us, what we should have seen all along.
It was right after tipoff that I glanced up and realized that the arena was full. And I mean really full. People stacked to the top of the upper bowl. And not quiet people, either. This became apparent in the first two or three minutes, when a weak foul call on what looked like a Tim Duncan flop was met with a roar of boos.
So I guess at this point I should explain the hangup I have about this team. Which is that, every time they go on a losing streak, I get completely freaked out. Because we’re not that far removed from last season, when no one was coming to games. And part of me is just terrified that if the team fails this season, people will give up and stop coming. I do not want this team to leave New Orleans. I will fight and scratch and throw elbows for them not to leave this city. I will do whatever I can to prevent that from ever happening. I started this blog because I felt this so strongly.
On Sunday, I looked at the people hanging over the edge of the upper deck and it hit me, and I thought, “Oh my god. The city still believes in this team.” The crowd was roaring and the adrenaline was blazing and I’d forgotten how that could be. And the Hornets were winning. They had no business winning. I don’t think anyone I talked to that day even bothered to entertain the thought of them winning. I mean, we were all just there for the beer. I thought to myself at that moment, “I would trade three losses to the Knicks for what I saw in this building tonight.” And it’s a sentiment that doesn’t make sense when you’re racing for playoff seeding. You can’t trade three games for one game. It’s a feeling I can’t explain. Maybe I’m just a junkie for this team, but I meant it. Five days later, I still mean it.
It’s stupid, right? Because how I feel can’t impact what happens in these games. What is a crowd, after all, but a lot of people yelling? But we do care. And we feel disillusioned and mad and cheated on the nights when it seems like the team doesn’t care. Because when we come to games, come yelling till we’re hoarse, come wearing the team colors, come booing and cursing and refusing to sit down, we’re putting a bit of ourselves out there and into the game. And we want to feel like we’re getting something in return.
We just want something we can feel proud of.
The team gives David West a standing ovation
And then, as if we were even expecting it to be taken up another notch after the Spurs game, in stepped David West.
I’m not sure this was appreciated by the national media, because how many people watch Kings or Clippers games? Surely not many. But the dude could barely walk on a messed-up ankle, let alone run. And he drops 40-9-6 on the Kings. He comes out of the game with just a couple minutes left and we think, surely he’s done. But suddenly Sacramento throws up a crazy shot, and the Hornets are down one with just 1.7 on the clock. And there’s David West, checking into the game, wincing. And yet he holds off two Kings defenders so Rasual Butler can get that one shot. And, well, we all know what happens then.
This is what I say.
It’s time to stop waiting for the team of potential greatness that exists in my head to show up. It’s time to love the team we have. The one that’s fun but terribly flawed. The one that sometimes seems a little too laid-back and underachieving. The one that the rest of the country gave up on a long time ago. Because they wear New Orleans on their shirts, and when you think about it, they’re not so different from this city, are they?
What it comes down to for me is this: Any team that can come out and fight like what I saw this week, I will follow to the end.
So let’s go there. 74 down. 8 to go.