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Dispatch from the Northeast III: Boston, Bucks and a Tale of Two Gardens

I took this and yes I know it's terrible

I took this and yes I know it’s terrible

 

Part 1, Part 2 

I have a coat that looks like a sport coat cross-pollinated with a pea coat. The first time I tried it on, it fit as if I’d worn it for years. It’s black, speckled with white dots. A romantic would call it a coat of constellations, a real person would say it looks like there are multitudes of white lint stuck to it. The weight is perfect — just heavy enough to provide some warmth, but not an uncomfortable amount. It has enough room for me to layer on a hoodie if I so choose, but when worn by itself, it doesn’t billow out from an excess of space. The sleeve lining doesn’t bunch up uncomfortably when I move my arms, the sleeves themselves reach just past the wrists, and the side pockets (there’s two of them per side) are perfectly positioned — not too low, so I don’t hunch over, and not too high, so I don’t pull the coat down. It pairs equally well with jeans and slacks, t-shirts and button-ups.

It’s my favorite coat, and I bought it for twenty-six dollars at a thrift store in Denver.

I tell you this not to show you how thrifty I am, or how good of a deal I got on a terrific coat (although, I mean, come on, twenty-six dollars was a steal), but because, given how anal-retentive I am about coats — if the weight, lining or length gives me just the slightest ounce of discomfort, it goes back on the rack — the last place I expected to find the perfect coat was in a thrift store.

Boston is my twenty-six dollar coat.

I expected to hate this city, or at the very least find nothing to my liking when I attended Sloan in February — I was wrong. Despite its size, it felt more like one giant neighborhood than an overwhelming metropolis. The abrasive, cold, uncaring people I thought I’d find were few and far between. There’s enough space between buildings, for the sun to shine down. One doesn’t feel trapped, here.

I tried the city on, and it fit perfectly.

Max, one of my best friends since childhood, greets me at the train station in Back Bay. His eyes are red, brimming with tears — he’s been crying. It turns out the tears were those of joy (not for seeing me, I’m not that important), as not a half hour before meeting me he’d learned he got into his top medical school. I hug him after he greets me, and hug him once more, harder, after he tells me the news. Direction is an elusive creature, and even when we find it, countless obstacles obstruct our ability to follow it, and Max just cleared one of the biggest ones.

As we walk outside the station, a calm I hadn’t known I needed blankets me. I can breathe here, I realize. The sights surrounding me are more than familiar, they’re soothing. This isn’t Home, and I doubt it ever could be, but it’s comfortable.

On Tuesday, we see the Celtics play the Bucks. It wasn’t my intention to go to an NBA game at every stop along my trip, but I’d be lying if I said this development displeased me.

TD Garden is warm and welcoming. It shows its age, but in an endearing fashion. Parts of it have been updated, digital signage flashing promotions for Duncan Donuts or Sprite lining the rims of the upper bowls, but not in an intrusive manner. There’s little that distracts from the game itself. Madison Square Garden forces your attention to the court; TD Garden merely suggests it there.

Max is not a basketball fan. Max is not really a sports fan. He peppers me with questions throughout the game, some fueled by curiosity (why would you purposefully foul? Can a ball handler just run into the guy who’s guarding him), others by the desire to annoy me (how many people are paying attention to this game? 10,000 or 100,000?), and I smile at both. I didn’t think I could enjoy watching games with others, especially non-writers and oh my god when did I become such a snob, and it’s nice to be surprised every now and again.

Fans of every sort surround us. Behind us, two older gentlemen clamor for the Celtics to move more on offense and TO DEFEND ANYONE I MEAN COME ON WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING THESE GUYS, STEVENS on defense. In front of us, a family — a husband, wife, three daughters and a son — endlessly take pictures of every possible familial variation.

Several guys in our neighboring section take it upon themselves to initiate chants of DE-FENSE and LET’S GO CEL-TICS. One of these gentlemen is possibly inebriated. His girlfriend, several rows down, shouts and motions for him to join her. He does not. She motions again, stronger. Still he does not move. He instead motions for her to join him, mocking her mannerisms. The expected value of said mockery is not high.

Back to the game. Boston’s offense is very much a work in progress. You can see hints of the system Stevens wants to implement, but when Jordan Crawford emerges as arguably the team’s best playmaker, there’s only so much a coach can do. Further, Stevens is clearly using this season to see, in real time, the tools with which he can work. Film and practice can only show so much.

Avery Bradley makes one of the most impossible shots I’ve ever seen. With the shot clock approaching absolute zero, and the ball, maybe seven feet in the air, nosediving out of bounds, Bradley jumps, meets the ball before it touches the ground, twists and shoots from behind the backboard. The ball sails innocently through the net.

The Bucks, meanwhile, run some surprisingly fun sets — flare screens, high-low action, quick cuts, usually by Ilyasova. For a second, I think Larry Drew could be a very good head coach if given a more talented roster. Then images of Al Horford inexplicably sitting on the bench flash in my mind, and I tell myself to shut up.

People belong to New York; people belong in Boston. I take out my notebook to scribble this profound statement. I hear the familiar sounds of a hand slapping a rim, followed by the crowd groaning. My keen detective skills inform me that someone on the Bucks just dunked. I have a sinking feeling I know exactly who it was.

“Did number 34 just dunk?” I ask Max.

“Yeah.”

I take this as a sign to get out of my own head and watch the game.

Wednesday night, I meet up with Ananth, Conrad and Jeremy Conlin at Parlor Sports in Somerville. Ananth says every Wednesday at this bar is NBA Nerd Night. I am, of course, intrigued. Kirk Goldsberry has chicken fingers named after him here — they’re delicious.

We watch the Cavaliers beat the Nuggets, as Conrad laments, then celebrates, every bad Kyrie Irving shot that of course goes in. A conversation about Ryan Hollins’ skills camp, (yes, apparently that’s a thing), quickly turns into a discussion about which NBA players would make the worst skill teachers, regardless of their success.

The Kevin Martin School of Shooting:

“OK, have you guys watched Dragon Ball Z? And I don’t mean the atrocity that featured Chow Yun Fat as Master Roshi, I mean the good shit. Right, so, what you want to do is make like you’re forming a kamehameha wave — go ahead and chant while you’re doing it, just to get the rhythm right at first — then release the wave, in this case, the ball, obviously, aiming just a little bit above the basket. Now you guys try.”

The Shawn Marion School of Shooting:

“NO NO NO NO NO! You’re doing it all wrong! I’ll do it again in slow motion so you can follow along. Take the ball, then clinch your elbows close to your sides. Bring your forearms in to the middle of your chest so you look like a tyrannosaurus rex holding a basketball. Now, all you have to do is flick the ball. It’s so simple!

The Steve Nash and Chris Paul school of passing:

“Penetrate into the lane, then take the ball back out, then circle around the free throw area a few times, fake a pass to the corner, then, without looking, throw the ball behind your back to your center, nutmegging the two defenders you’ve drawn to yourself in the process (the nutmeg is crucial, otherwise it just doesn’t look cool).”

Thursday night is Max’s birthday. We get dinner with our friends from camp. Last time, I was nervous about seeing them, this time I’m just anxious. The ten months that had passed since I last saw them felt longer than the seven year intermission before that. We toasted to Max’s birthday and his good news, to my visit, and to reunions. I kept my promise. 

In the months between my visits, I wondered if my affection for Boston was due to the city itself, or merely the experiences I’ve had here. This latest visit reminded me of what I already knew, that one does not exclude the other.

Forty-eight hours in New York seemed an eternity. Four days in Boston was a too-brief instant.

Jordan White

Jordan White loves basketball, loves writing and loves writing about basketball. He marvels at every Ricky Rubio pass and cries after every Brandon Roy highlight. He grew up in Kansas, where, contrary to popular belief, there is running water, electricity, and no singing munchkins. Follow him on Twitter: @JordanSWhite