Week 5 (sorta) of The NBA

Chris O'Brien@@Chris0BrienCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2010

GREENWICH, CT - JULY 08:  LeBron James and ESPN's Jim Gray speak at the LeBron James announcement of his future NBA plans at the  Boys & Girls Club of America on July 8, 2010 in Greenwich, Connecticut. James announced during a live broadcast on ESPN that he will play for the Miami Heat next season.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group)
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

I feel like titling these columns as Week 1, 2, 3, etc. has become incredibly misleading to just how often NBA games actually take place.

I don’t want to get to the point in April when I post Week 10 on the eve of game 82 making everyone who reads these wonder, “How the hell do they fit in 8.2 games a week?”

I’ve had a busy couple weeks here at school, as most all of you can relate, and haven’t been able to sit down and type up a recap. A lot has happened in the NBA during that span of time and a lot has happened to me personally.

This installment will have a little different format then the ones before, but I hope you enjoy this week (using the term week loosely) in the NBA.

On May 2nd, 2008 I had to make a very important decision. Now granted, this decision wasn’t huge to the general public, there would be no ESPN camera crews, no Jim Gray and no Boys and Girls club of America in the background when I announced it, but to me deciding between taking my "academic talents" to either Kansas University or the Holland Beach seemed to be the biggest decision in the entire universe.

Most of you know I am a passionate Jayhawk basketball fan, preferring to wear ratty KU sweatpants and a 12 year old worn thin blue KU sweatshirt over normal clothing options, but I don’t know if many people know why I love Kansas as much as I do.

Here’s a brief O’Brien family history lesson.

My grandpa, William Edward O’Brien, known in our family as "Poppo," met the love his life, Harolyn (Mombo) Crawford, when they were students at Kansas University. Poppo’s brother, Bob, played basketball for the Jayhawks and much to my surprise in an NBA.com search when I was in fourth grade, found out he played for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1947-1948.

Mombo and Poppo had four children: Clark, Cindy, Bill (my father) and John. All four attended the University of Kansas. My older brother, Tom, decided to go to Kansas after his senior year of high school raising the tally to 8 KU alumni (at least) in the O’Brien family.

All of us are crazy about the Jayhawks, including my cousin Saralynn, my cousin Brad and me, who all didn’t actually attend the University. I look forward to seeing my younger cousins Clark and Claire make the college decision in a few years and then watch my baby second cousins William and Violet make the college decision when I’m somewhere around 35 years old (there’s one hell of a scary thought).

On my mom’s side, my aunts Tracy and Nancy both went to Missouri and have raised, or in my opinion "misguided," my cousins Colton, Brian and Becca to shamefully root for the Tigers against the Jayhawks.

Every Christmas break, going down to Kansas City and Rushville Missouri feels somewhat like home to me, even more so now that it has expanded to not just my family but my friends Nick Thompson, Lizzie G, Pogson, Steph Goel, Brian Cisler and his sister Brittney, who all live in the area.

If I visit Kansas University, I know I can always call up Quynh or Rabia and go see a game or head out—now that I’m 21—to the wheel for beers and the always delicious, but only tasting delicious after several beers, famous Wheel Pizza.

Kansas will always mean the world to me; the name "Kansas" seeming to me to be nearly synonymous with the word family, but it is not where I chose to go to school.

I chose Hope College in Holland, Michigan because I liked the idea of only 3,000 students, I liked the writing program and part of me wasn’t ready to give up on playing basketball, especially since the William Arnold buzzer beater three point shot was still replaying daily in my mind.

I wasn’t ready to be 14 hours away from my home in Midland and the idea of only being two or three hours away from my friends seemed far more manageable than the Kansas alternative. The decision was excruciating and it took me a long time to call Holland my new home (for those who remember "January Fish," you understand that I wasn’t part of the, "Holland is the 2nd happiest city in America" crowd my freshman year).

Fast forward to December 7, 2010. I sat in the passenger seat of Trevor’s—one of my best friends who was also one of my first friends I made at Hope college—car as he drove me and my overstuffed green suitcase to the airport in Grand Rapids. This was the beginning of my eventful journey to New York City.

As he pulled the car alongside the curb and I proceeded to say goodbye while unloading my suitcase from the trunk, the reality began to sink that here I was leaving home again. Only this time, it wasn’t from one small town to another across the state, this was the big step finding out exactly what I’d be doing for the next four months in a city with over 100x as many people as what I’m used to.

New York City is also over 12 plus hours from any one of my three homes (I’m starting to feel like Shaquille O’Neal. Hopefully my fourth home isn’t as disastrous as his fourth in Phoenix).

I entered the airport and received my boarding pass from Frontier Airlines, which is kind of the Buffalo Bills figure of the Airport Industry. My itinerary showed me going from Grand Rapids to Milwaukee then switching to Airtran airlines for the Milwaukee to New York City flight. Frontier to Airtran feels like an NBA back to back of the New Jersey Nets and L.A. Clippers except instead of expected 20 point victories, I suffered unexpected 20 dollar luggage fees (which becomes extra annoying when you see the happy Southwest customers piling bag after bag under the taunting, "Bag fly free sign") and a full pat-down from someone who appeared to be the reincarnation of General Custard.

I walked through the body scan with no buzzes or dings or any other sign whatsoever to indicate that I was at all a threat, which apparently means a pat-down is necessary, because, I dunno, maybe I walked through just a little too quietly.

I looked over at the people behind the "I-know-more-about-your-body-then-any-stranger-should-ever-know" computer and proceeded to spread my feet apart for the inner thigh portion of TSA’s version of the popular middle school game, "Are You Nervous Yet?"

I continued to the gates now, feeling "Kevin Smith at an airport" levels of anger and watched in horror as the digital times of my departure continued to increase. I stood in the terminal like Randolph in Mortimer at the end of Trading Places and was just waiting for Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy to exchange a dollar in the, “I bet we can make Chris miss his flight to New York” bet.

P.S.: Who has the better career right now, Dan Akroyd or Eddie Murphy? Dan is the voice of Yogi Bear and Eddie is the voice of Donkey—which cartoon is the bigger name?

The problem the delay created was that Frontier being delayed did not mean that Airtran would be too. Therefore, by the time I landed in Milwaukee, my flight to New York was up in the air (by the way, Up In The Air with George Clooney if you haven’t seen it is one of the best movies from last year).

I would now have no other choice than to spend the night at the "distressed flyer" pricing in a hotel in Milwaukee.

Side note: I hate the "distressed flyer" title; it makes me sound like I panicked, hyperventilated into one of those brown bags and had to be pulled off the plane. How about the, "We f:-(ed up your flight" package instead, that has a better ring to it.

So why is this a big deal? Since we’re on the subject of homes, I want to make it perfectly clear that Milwaukee, Wisconsin will never be my home.

Of course, I say this cautiously now since the last time I said something along these lines, the Wisconsin gods punished me months later.

Here’s a look at what I wrote not too long ago in the preseason write up for the Milwaukee Bucks:

“But then there’s one city [Milwaukee, Wisconsin] that stands out among all the rest as fitting no category that I’ve mentioned so far. I neither have been there, really want to go there, or will probably ever go there in my entire lifetime… To be one spot away from the top 10 is something to be proud of, but still not something that will ever make me openly decide to visit Milwaukee.”

Oh, how wrong was I.

And besides the whole call out turned ultimate eat my words scenario, I was not exactly thrilled that my trip to the East Coast had me ending the night further west then I began hours earlier.

I should never hear some one say, “Go west young man!” when I’m heading to New York City. But I made the most out of my time in the hotel, I watched the Syracuse-MSU game, enjoyed every second of the bubble free Jacuzzi then went to sleep waking up terrified every hour that I slept through my 8 a.m. flight.

When I finally made it to LaGuardia, the rest of the trip into Manhattan went fairly easily.

Ashley arrived a few hours later and we had a good night out in Time Square having dinner at the Hard Rock café and taking a stop at the surprising-that-it-exists Pop Tar store.

We checked back into the program’s housing and that night I began to feel the nerves of my interview coming the following day with the New York Daily News beginning to seep in.

More and more, the reality came to me that this less-than-standard dorm room sized bedroom that I’d be sharing with some stranger would become my home for half of my junior year. I texted my brother Tom, texted one of my best friends James Sa, Grillo, Heather and called Blair Turner the following morning.

I missed my friends. I missed my homes (and that is to be read as “homes” not an attempt at spelling “homies.” The day I use “homies” in one of these posts, I will permanently delete my account on Facebook, no longer pursue writing and return to be a full time Ride-Pride worker at Cedar Point).

As fans of sports, we often forget that the athletes are human beings just like us. They feel the same emotions, the same pains, the same joys (maybe a little more) that we do.

On December 2, 2010 LeBron James was returning home much like most of us will do in the next couple weeks. For myself, just like many others, we wanted to see the Cavaliers pull the upset, pull the movie-esque, Taylor Swift styled ending where the good guy (or girl) wins and the bad guy is left all alone.

Welp, that didn’t happen at all.

Had I been in Cleveland, I know I would have booed the King too, but something didn’t sit well with me when I started hearing the, “Akron hates you,” chants coming at LeBron from over 10,000 fans.

I will never have as much money as LeBron, I will never be able to run and jump as high or score 50 points in Madison Square Garden like LeBron, but I will also never have to experience what he went through on his return trip home to Cleveland.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be booed when walking on the Tridge in Midland, heckled with, "Holland hates you" chants at Lemon Jellos, or be greeted with a, "Rock Chalk Jayhawk, Chris f**k you!" chant in Allen Filedhouse.

These thoughts stuck with me as I was walking through the halls of the New York Daily News sweating in my suit, half out of anxiousness, half out of a strange amount of heat being pumped into the building. I thought to myself, "In two days, I’ll be back home in Holland, five days after that I’ll be back home in Midland and five days later I’ll be back home in Kansas City." All boo free.

Most of us felt LeBron took the easy way out by joining Wade and Bosh in Miami. On December 2nd, we found this was no easy switch at all. LeBron is down to one family, one home and they travel with him willing to be there no matter what obstacles come along.

He is booed in every other city in the country outside of Miami and hears the loudest in the same place he once called home.

What I found in my few days in New York City is what I’ve found in every other place I’ve spent time in: Where you are doesn’t matter, it’s who you are with that makes location a home (I’m sure someone’s said that before, but I’ll claim it for now).

You can be surrounded by eight million people in New York City, brushing shoulders with person after person on the street and feel more lonely than you did in a town of 30,000.

Getting the internship at the New York Daily News didn’t make me happy; celebrating it with Ken Underwood, Al Moritz and Mike Layman afterwards in Astoria did. The lights of Time Square didn’t exhilarate me, but sharing them with Ashley—who landed her internship too—made me feel the first feelings that New York could become a new home.

Likewise, scoring 38 points in front of a hostile crowd, the same crowd that used to chant his name and throw chalk into the air didn’t make LeBron happy, doing it with his brothers who proved they would be there for him is what made him feel like celebrating his performance.

The Miami Heat are starting to look dangerous, because they are beginning to realize the same secret that teams like Boston, Los Angeles and San Antonio already know: Your teammates are your family, and your family is your home. 


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