Forget it, Jack. It's Oaktown.
"Y'all heard it, right?"
Kevin Durant is asking me if I heard the sound of David Lee smacking his forearm as he tried to throw the ball out of a trap.
I nod. "Yep, he fouled you."
I'm not sure what's more surreal - KD seeking my court side affirmation or David Lee playing defense.
Durant nods back. A hostile Oakland crowd is booing the official's whistle - which came only after Durant's pass proved errant - my first introduction to the NBA's let-me-watch-the-play-result-before-I-blow-my-whistle officiating.
Maybe Durant looked to us because we seemed like reasonable arbiters, but more likely it's because we'd flashed him a Hook' em Horns during pre-game.
I'm sitting court side. Front row. The only place on earth where status is conferred by sitting on a folding metal chair. I'm sitting there through sheer luck and little merit - which is the best way to sit there. In my head, I keep hearing Jay Z's claim in Empire State of Mind that his seats are so good he "could trip a referee."
He's right. You can. Now, where's Alicia Keys?
One of the patrons on my row is distracting me. He's a dead ringer for Drake Malfoy, a borderline albino patrician who enjoys standing and scanning the stands with his suit jacket slung jauntily over his shoulder during game action, and walking on the baseline during play when he returns from the bathroom. The kind of guy you want to shake by his shirt collar.
I spend timeouts with my good friend - and ticket connection - Drew, imitating Drake Malfoy to each other: recounting imaginary hazing incidents on his New England prep school sculling team that always end in buggery in a room with mahogany paneling: "Show me you have the stuff to be a Yale man, SinJin!"; commanding the court towel boys to see to our loafers with a fine shammy; disinterestedly exclaiming "Oh, hoo-ray Lakers!" whenever Klay Thompson hits a jumper.
Court side is its own fraternity, a walk through the wardrobe to a world I hadn't known existed. Here are some things you should know.
Russell Westbrook cannot be fully appreciated or understood until you see him play at court level. He's the best athlete on the floor, gets his shot whenever he wants it (and sometimes confuses this fact with a mandate to do so), and has quickness and a motor that shames Jack Russell Terriers on PCP. He's basically a shell of fast twitch covering a gooey center of volatile athletic pride. If Russell Westbrook ever D'ed you up with intent in your neighborhood game, you wouldn't get the ball past half court. He could be a NFL defensive back tomorrow.
I knew players could hear you. I didn't know they listened. And you can affect their play. In a key late 4th quarter sequence, with the Thunder looking to take the lead, a wise-acre behind me urged Westbrook "to turn it over again, like you always do, asshole." Westbrook stopped, scanned the crowd for the offender, made eye contact, and screamed,"HEY. FUCK YOU!" Still dribbling. During a tied NBA game with about two minutes left on the clock. Satisfied, he sprinted up the court, tried to take two Warriors off the dribble, and promptly turned it over. The heckler's entire section erupted in unrestrained glee as Westbrook ran back, shaking his head, muttering to himself. Moments later, Westbrook hit the game clincher and gave the section a thorough eye-daggering.
At halftime, court side patrons all get stat sheets. I studied mine intently, in case Durant asked me during the 3rd quarter what he should do if the Warriors start switching on the pick n' roll. I felt like Shooter in Hoosiers.
Monta Ellis scored 48 points. Ellis would be traded from Golden State just weeks later, perhaps in part because he texted unsolicited pictures of Lil Monta to a Golden State employee, who then filed a sexual harassment suit. There's a reason the Warriors are the Warriors and the Spurs are the Spurs.
Want to know how good Kevin Durant is? Everyone on my row agreed that he was off that night - pull up jumper drawing iron, three ball not going down. He never truly found his rhythm until late. His final box score? 33 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists on nearly 50% shooting. So...yeah. That's Kevin Durant. God sent him here to answer the question: What if Ray Allen were 6-9?
Son of Al Davis greatly evokes the Secretary of Education in Idiocracy crossed with Captain Kangaroo. There's a reason the Raiders are the Raiders. Please enjoy this Google image search. You're welcome.
James Harden's Old Man Game can be found on every open run court where a forty-something bearded man brings his water to the court in a thermos in a canvas Adidas bag, dons sport goggles, a knee brace, and elbow pads; and then keeps draining open 16 footers (after four shot fakes), chuckling "These young bloods right here don't know about that elbow. They gonna learn today."
At halftime, court siders are allowed to go to a private room with a buffet and various refreshments. Free booze! Free food! Maybe I'd see Too Short? If you're smart, you throw some candy in your hoody pockets so that you can find a surprise Starburst in the 4th quarter. That's what I did. DELIGHTFUL.
The BART station after any sporting event in Oakland is an impromptu Gathering of the Juggalos. Camouflage needed: velvet shants, an Affliction shirt depicting a rabid wolf raping a wildebeest, the scent of chronic and urine applied like Axe body spray. Repeatedly yell "someone about to get stabbed up in here" for no reason.
Probably why Drake Malfoy left the arena in a helicopter.