Peter Matthew Bauer is a former member of the Walkmen. His debut solo album, Liberation!, is out June 24th on Mexican Summer. In the meantime, he has agreed to write about the NBA playoffs for Rolling Stone. Here, he eventually profiles the Oklahoma City Thunder and professes his love for Bobby Jackson.
A little background. In 2002, I lived on 138th Street in New York City with my friend Paul Maroon, and all we did was eat spaghetti and meatballs and watch West Coast basketball every night. We also liked cigarettes, salami and Fender reverb tanks but I think that's about it. Oh yeah, and Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings. We really loved those guys. Paul had his 30th birthday at Vlade Divac's restaurant in Sacramento and Ana Divac seated him. He was ecstatic. I was incredibly jealous.
I loved everything about that team: Peja, Hedo, young Gerald Wallace, Scott Pollard and especially Bobby Jackson. I'll always love you Bobby Jackson. I just want to give you a hug right now. Even Doug Christie. I still love you Doug and Jackie Christie. (Dear Doug, remember when you punched Rick Fox in the jaw? That was so awesome. While I've got you here: how the hell did you end up in Pyongyang with Dennis Rodman? I mean, I've played some brutal shows in my day – pizza parties, extreme sporting events, opening for Incubus – but I've never been so hard up I ended up in North Korea!)
So earlier this week, waiting for the Spurs to lose an incredibly boring Game 4 in their otherwise pretty boring series against Portland, I read this oral history about the old gang and the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Shaq/Kobe Lakers and all the old emotions came rushing back.
I guess I'm talking about nostalgia, if you can feel nostalgia for a particularly sad and brutal memory from your past. There must be some specific word in Russian or German for this. While I check with some more literate friends, maybe we can talk about Robert Horry and that horrible shot. I still can’t watch it. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Or Game 7, losing at home in overtime. I'd talk about that too but I completely blacked it out. Or watching Webber’s knees give out the following year: in my mind, I remember a cloud of cartoon 'knee dust' puff up in the air over his fallen body. Man, those are some dark days!
The "glory days" Kings were the last team I ever truly cared about and ever really will. Somehow, deep inside, I knew what I'd signed up for right from the start. There was a time when these guys had the best record in the league. They had home-court advantage, were probably even favored in '02 against the Lakers. But on some almost mythic level, the Sacramento Kings were born to lose – to get so close that you could fully commit to believing in them again and again, only to fall apart.
I've come to believe that I too am a born loser when it comes to sports and competition, and I wouldn't have it any other way (You should see me at a casino. I just hand my money over). I've tried to explain to my son that we can never ever root for people like Tom Brady or the New York Yankees or the Miami Heat, because they're not like us. They're simply there to teach us that life isn't fair. And, while they're certainly right, it doesn’t mean we should go down without kicking and screaming.
The only teams in the playoffs right now that have a shot at the same career trajectory as my Kings are the Indiana Pacers and the OKC Thunder. Sure, neither team is even 10 percent as lovable (Does either team have the most entertaining offense and best passing big men of the last 20-plus years? Does either have an irascible and cagey Serbian center who flops every five plays?) Both are, however, small market teams with people who really have come to care about them and root for them. Both also showed an enormous amount of promise, exceeding expectations way ahead of their time. Now they're in their primes, and seem ready to take that final step ... sometimes.
But then you remember the Miami Heat, Lord Saturn, Time the Revelator. Heck even the San Antonio Spurs are still hanging around. There’s still a good chance that OKC never gets any further than that one Finals appearance two years ago, meaning Kevin Durant never gets to square up with LeBron again. Heck, he's gotta make it past Chris Paul this week and Tim Duncan next!
All of a sudden, despite their wack coach, the Harden trade and their incredibly boring supporting cast, I feel a little voice deep inside telling me I need to start rooting for the Thunder.
One thing the Sacramento Kings taught me is that life isn't really about winning, sometimes it's about getting as close as you can and then falling on your face in front of everyone you know.
P.S.: After I wrote this, I mailed it to my pal Paul for his thoughts. He added:
"Sometimes life is also about being 6-foot-10, with the most beautiful outside shot of the last 20 years and being married to a Greek supermodel. And with all that, you air ball a wide open corner three in front of the whole world. And a couple years later you ogle my 6-months-pregnant wife on a flight from Philadelphia to New Orleans in front of your whole family. I still love you, Peja."