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Seven games in spring: A personal playoff narrative

What it felt like to experience the Charlotte Hornets on the brink of relevance.

Charlotte Hornets v Miami Heat - Game Five Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Heat are up by 30.

Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy debate who is to blame for a child running onto the court to share a hug with Justise Winslow. His parents or security. It’s suggested that he, the child, be thrown out. The former coaches wax poetic about parents from generations past, gushing over the vague physical harm they believe would have been exacted on them in a similar circumstance.

Only minutes prior, Joe Johnson — an old wing player — grabs his own rebound over a pair of young Charlotte "big" men, and puts it back in the basket, like a dad playing a game of suburban driveway pickup with his boys.

Staring at the screen, I wonder if indulging in a certain kind of television viewing makes you a masochist.

I watch the first two games of the Heat series ice cold. Never before has a team’s name more accurately described their play.

The Heat do not miss. Not ever.

I am Jack’s complete lack of emotional investment.

It’s difficult to watch sports rationally. As fans, (i.e. a fanatics, i.e. "a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal") it is not natural.

I watch the first two games as though I am a basketball scientist, coldly analyzing and pointing out what I think I know that the coaches don't. Every inexplicably unscientific shot the Heat make, a lesson from an unlikely source via converted jumper. I refuse to emote because the last time I did, like really did, I learned the hard way that a Super Bowl hangover affects more than just the teams playing. Only now, am I able to look at the Carolina black and blue without a tinge of nausea.

Emotion is for the weak.

* * *

I hate Dwyane Wade.

At a TV timeout, the camera focuses on Marquette's finest as his gum hangs from of his mouth like a toothpick. 48 hours after upping his 3-point makes in the year of 2016 from zero to two in front of thousands in Uptown Charlotte, it’s as though he is now Steph Curry, adopting his own personal version of the point god’s famed mouthpiece, ever so casually bringing an end to a season that those presently stationed at 333 East Trade St. would prefer to last at least several weeks more.

He is the kind of player Charlotte has always wanted, but never had. Sure, they are a 15 man team with heart and grit and determination and teamwork.

But he is a star, and he has reminded them.

I am sitting in a bar in Los Angeles with four Miami fans.

We are here, presumably, because none of us can afford NBA TV.

We sit in the bar, but not at it. There, normal people watch baseball. I hear Jake Arietta is doing well. Here in the back they show the game we want, and they have the sound on.

If you have cable you don’t yet know how hard this is to find. Most bars will do anything they can to play music, apparently because it means more people will buy things to drink. That could be true, but for the moment, I — we — do not care. We are watching the game in the bar with the sound on.

Los Angeles, California is where true sports fans go to die. Twice in six months I have approached someone wearing a Hornets hat or jersey to talk about the team only to hear something to the effect of "Sorry, I just like the colors."

Today there are no Hornets fans in this bar at 4:00pm pacific time. Only myself and four Heat fans who cheer very loudly. One of them talks trash to Kemba through the television. I want to put him through the television. Instead I ask them which Hornets player they loathe the most.

To a man, "Jeremy Lin".

Who knew.

The Hornets win and at the end I clap, mostly in the way you do to generate the most noise possible.

* * *

All I see is red.

Red, the color of the now-empty seats in American Airlines Arena, vacated, to the surprise of nobody, by Miami fans who apparently penciled this Sunday matinee in between a brunch and a beach day.

My face feels hot as I watch the Heat mascot, a white blob of something, jump up and down. Gerald Green, a bad basketball player, has momentarily morphed into a good and one only to rub it in — a Garbage Time God. A possession removed from hitting his sixth straight shot, a pull up 3-pointer, he brings the ball up the court, emphatically gesturing and motioning to his teammates as if he has any clue what the play actually is.

Those fans had the right idea.

If my apartment had those cameras that track player movement I would have long ago shattered every record Ray Allen, J.J. Reddick, and Bradly Beal ever set. Pacing for an entire four quarters might actually be good for your health if it weren’t so damn stressful. The first game I’ve watched alone, I am yelling loudly all the time, and applauding to no one.

In this game the Hornets play like one of those good AAU teams. The two point guards are the two best players on the floor, and they attack the hoop over and over and over again. They draw fouls and hit free throws with ease, in the way you can when everyone is slower. Hassan Whiteside mopes as if his upcoming free agency contract depended on it. Lin and Walker will eventually sit side by side at a post game presser, sharing an inside joke that no one seems to notice.

I feel accomplished, having run in place for exactly 2.5 hours, both physically and psychically leading the team to victory.

I laugh with them. Finally, finally, we will win something.

* * *

The cameras show only the opposition, laughing and joking.

Josh McRoberts, a former teammate known as little for athleticism as his defensive acumen, has blocked a desperate Kemba Walker’s shot.

Soon I will watch grown men bro hug. The sheer quantity of variations performed boggles the mind. Some will actually embrace, and have long school-like conversations about summer plans and who knows what.

Cody Zeller, through no fault of his own, will look awkward.

It's all over.

A man in a purple shirt picked a fight with The Man in the black one and lost. But Dwyane Wade has beaten a lot of people. The athlete with an old man's game— or more accurately now — the old man with an athlete's game, has done it again.

The season is over. Yes, there is one more game to be played, but it won't matter.

Of course it's been a great season, of course. 48 wins for a team whose over/under Vegas placed at a measly 34 wins — poster children for over achievement.

But that context doesn't help, not now at least, not really. The fans want more. The sad, irrational fans who in 48 hours will officially suffer the same fate as the other 96.6% of teams in the National Basketball Association. The season — our season — will end with a loss.

And that's fine.

Because if we, the fans, were completely rational, no one would care.

No tickets would be purchased, no televisions would be turned on, no articles would be written. Instead we'd all go for a jog or apply to business school.

But instead we spend our time — our precious, totally non-refundable time — screaming both at and for professional game-players whom we do not know.

A singular and primitive relationship that almost always annually ends in a sad song. And yet somehow, year after year, it remains totally, and unquestionably — worth it.

I am Jack's utter resistance to reasonable expectation.

And I couldn't be happier.