Keep The Fires Burning


I took this

I took this

It’s the summer of 2006, and I’m about to say goodbye to some of my best friends. I’m a counselor at Camp Nebagamon, a camp in northern Wisconsin which I had previously attended as a camper for six amazing, life-changing summers. While my experience as a counselor hadn’t been as great as mine as a camper, it was nonetheless an incredible summer in which I was paid to spend nine weeks with some of my closest friends in the most amazing and peaceful place on earth. I’m hugging Dan, telling him I’ll call him in a few days so we can plan his trip down to Kansas City. I’m laughing with Alex, letting him know I’ll be in St. Louis soon, because four hours of driving is nothing.

I won’t see them again for seven years.

—-

It’s Friday night, and I’m walking with Max, my best friend of nearly my entire life, to Dan’s cousin’s apartment. Max also went to Nebagamon, and since I was staying with him in Boston, he organized a small camp reunion dinner with Dan, Alex and three of Dan’s cousins, all of whom have some connection to camp. My head is swimming with eager anticipation, yet also caution and, surprisingly, hesitation. What if they’re different people? What if we don’t get along? What if we have nothing to talk about? Why did I wait so long to visit friends I held so dear? Would they blame me? Would they hate me?

We’re in the cousin’s apartment now, helping prepare dinner, when suddenly the doorbell rings. Maggie, one of Dan’s cousins, scales down the creaky apartment stairs to let the guest in. I’m not sure who it is at first, but all it takes is one spoken syllable to recognize Dan’s voice. He enters the apartment, looks at me, and we smile, we laugh, we hug. Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rings again, and I hear the all-too familiar laugh of Alex. He enters the apartment, looks at me, and we smile, we laugh, we hug.

Too easily, we slip back into our friendship, like a favorite pair of jeans that always fits just right. We’d grown up in the seven years we’d been apart. Dan’s engaged now, getting married in August. Alex is at Tufts Medical School in a Ph.D./M.D. program. Max is finishing his last class before taking the MCAT’s. I laugh inwardly at what I now realize were baseless worries.

We talk of times old and new, of canoeing trips, counselors and campers we loved and hated, other camp friends we’d randomly seen since we were last together, school, work, life, and everything in between. We go out to a bar and continue to reminisce. Max and I head back a little after 11, as I need to be up early for the second day of the Sloan conference. I hug my old friends goodbye, and tell them I promise to be back soon.

This is a promise I will keep.

—-

It’s 8 PM on Sunday, and I’m still trying to process these last few days.

Bill Simmons nicknamed the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference “Dorkapalooza.” My father eloquently referred to it as “sports nerd camp.” They’re both right, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was a whirlwind of elation, fear, joy, nervousness and anticipation, and that doesn’t even come close to entirely capturing my ever-racing, ever-changing emotions. One moment, I’m sitting in a presentation on “The Dwight Effect,” captivated by Kirk Goldsberry’s charts and giggling at David Lee’s defense. The next, I’m shaking hands with John Hollinger, maintaining a calm facade while blocking out the voice in my head shouting, OH MY GOD IT’S THE PER-FATHER! GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES. YOU ARE NOT WORTHY.

Yet for all of the presentations, papers, networking, “celebrity spotting,” and writing, by far the best part of the weekend was finally meeting, in person, these tremendous writers I have come to call my friends. Ambling around Boston with Conrad and Jared, as Conrad and I tried to find Jared a sports bar to watch his precious Miami Hurricanes fall to Duke. Discussing Quentin Tarantino, Marvel and DC with Robert Silverman. Developing a presentation for next year’s conference with Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Steve McPherson entitled, “Watch The Games.” Playing and talking basketball with friends I barely knew, yet knew so well. And laughing. The deep, joyously painful laughter that seems to come from the heart as much as any place else.

As sad as I am for this week to end, I know there will be other TrueHoop events, just as I know I’ll certainly see my friends, old and new, soon. Yet even if I don’t, even if I never make to Summer League, or the draft, or the All-Star game, I’ll at least always have this week. Rarely, if ever, do perfect moments come along. And when they do we must keep them, cement them into our hearts and minds so that they may remain there forever.