The first thing you do is walk over to the announcers table and stare out into the seats. First, the lower bowl, then up at Loudville. Then you look down at the white residue of chalk on the black surface. You imagine a crowd of 20,562 strong, all eyes on you. You pour some imaginary powder on your hands, rub them together, then toss the mixture into the air, raising your pale, thin arms like Atlas lifting up the world.
It's the sort of mimickery you did as a kid, in your bedroom, in the front yard, imitating a Mark Price three or a Brad Daugherty dunk, when no one could watch except the throngs of adoring fans in your imagination. Except this time, you're on the floor at the Q, you're almost 30-years-old, and you're throwing imaginary chalk in the air and raising your pale, thin arms in front of your friends, some security guards, and some obviously entertained Cavs employees. And you could really care less what anyone thinks of you.
Some things never change.
The Cavs have a whole mess of prizes they divvy out in contests for season ticket holders who renew for the next season. There's jerseys and autographs and meet-and-greets on the lower end of the bounty spectrum, an apartment, some lawnmowers, and golf packages from sponsors, and tickets and suites and parking passes from the team. And then there's the prizes people actually want. A VIP trip to a road game where you fly on the team plane. A pass to the 2011 Media Day. The chance to watch a game from the Cavs bench. Lunch with Danny Ferry at the Cleveland Clinic Courts.
Then there's the "Court of Dreams," a chance to play ball for two hours with your friends on the floor at the Q. As my luck would have it, a good family friend won this prize and included me on the roster, and I didn't even have to threaten him with a tire iron, which I clearly would have had the invitation not been extended.
So a couple of weeks ago, on a dreary Tuesday night, 20 guys, almost all of whom have no business being on a CYO basketball court, let alone an NBA one, assembled with knee wraps and Advil on the hardwood of our heroes.
Once you've imitated LeBron's chalk toss, you notice a few of things. 1) It's hard to shoot normally, trying to retain focus and depth perception in an empty arena with thousands of empty seats makes it even harder. 2) The floor is huge — like, really huge, especially for someone who never works out. 3) The Cavs employees forced to babysit for the ragtag bunch have no interest in watching you play. They really don't. 4) The security guard who asks you how often you get to play on the floor, obviously mistaking you for someone special, maybe a friend of Dan Gilbert's, is incredibly jealous but nice and reminds you how freaking lucky you are to be on the court.
There's a litany of things that you wish you could do — things you've planned and schemed over in the days leading up to the event — but every single one falls into the "The Cavs Would Be Mad and It'd Probably Piss Off My Season Ticket Holder Friend" category. Like what? Leaving an inbounds play taped to the bottom of Mike Browns' chair. Writing "Watch out for #23, he's good" in the visitor's locker room. Trying to pass out your laminated and bound "Handshakes of the Future: 365 Ways to Look Smooth" manual (note: still looking for a publisher on that one, if anyone's interested) to every employee you come across. Chopping off a piece of the hardwood to take home. Autographing the spot where you made a layup. The options are really endless.
But you can't do any of these things, mainly for decorum's sake, but also because you really forget about everything else once you step on the floor. Once you do, a funny thing happens — you kind of forget where you are. Once the teams are lined up and someone hollers, Ball In, you focus on the game. I won't say it's just like playing at the YMCA, because it's not, but tunnel vision definitely takes over, and it's not until you desperately drag yourself over to the water cooler that you step back and realize just exactly where you are.
Once fatigue, arthritis, and various other ailments set in and an unofficial "Let's all rest for a minute before we die" timeout is called, you revert back to being 9 years-old. You walk over to half court and start furiously lobbing misguided missiles towards the basket, attempting to duplicate LeBron's famous pre-game halfcourt underhand shot. You soon realize it's very far, your arm hurts, and that you will very likely dislocate your shoulder before even getting a ball to hit the backboard.
After sucking down some water, the childlike giddiness takes over again. You get a friend to stand on the baseline and repeatedly make entry passes to you as you furiously sprint (edit: lope like a wounded animal) across the floor to the "S" in "Cavaliers" that stretches across center court where you rise with springy legs (edit: try to jump but achieve less vertical than Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and unload a dagger (edit: heave blindly with all your might) towards the hoop, just like( (edit: about 1% like) LeBron's buzzer-beating game-winner in the Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando.
In your 9-year-old's mind, the 1-10 performance (that's not 1 make, that's 1 shot that hit the rim) is a success and you revel in it as your 28-year-old body curses your 50-year-old knees the next morning.
(Note to the Cavs staff: I may or may not have written "Hot sauce in my bag" somewhere while I was on the floor. Whether I did or not is between Delonte and myself.)
Follow me on Twitter: @vincethepolack.
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