The usher creeps up quietly behind Don. He’s a nice, pimple-faced kid, maybe 17, with a polite demeanor.
“Hi, sir, sorry, but the security guard says you’ve got to go,” he mutters.
Don looks to the top of the stairs where a rent-a-cop with a front-butt stares back intently. His eyes bulge against the edge of their sockets. He’s eating nachos that were going to get thrown away if he didn’t take ‘em, and he wants to go home and watch The Blacklist starring James Spader. Good show.
“Ok, one more minute,” Don replies, a small veil of a smile hiding his defeat.
Don looks up and breathes in the Auburn Hills air. It’s hardly changed a scent of the years. It still smells of Dave Bing and Joe Dumars and Grant Hill and Mr. Big Shot. Of decades of cold, Michigan nights come and gone.
Don sits alone – Section 207, Row P, Seat 14, right where his Dad and Uncle Pat used to slam Miller Lites and avoid their wives & kids 41 nights a year – and his eyes scan the rafters. ’89, ’90, ’04 NBA Champs, ’88 and ’05 for the East. A palace, indeed.
But there’s only so much a man can take before common sense kicks him in the dick; only so far that sentimentality and history and memories of drunk Uncle Pat ralphing out the window of a Pontiac after a playoff win can stretch before you just can’t cut another $5,000 check to watch Josh Smith jack up 3s.
Don has flirted with the point of no return before. He picked up the phone to cancel his tickets after Olden Polynice put up 11 shots a game for the 20-win ’93-’94 squad. He even talked to an actual ticket rep named Todd when they drafted Darko. But he could never quite pull the trigger. Puking Uncle Pat was funny as hell. A childhood is a hard thing to walk away from.
But, Saturday. Saturday, Saturday, Saturday. Saturday.
Philadelphia 123, Detroit 98.
Don has stomached a lot these last couple years. A layoff, a divorce, Charlie Villanueva, Eminem emerging as his city’s national spokesman. But he’s a man, and men deal with things, Eisenhower said.
But to lose to a team that is determined not to win when they have not won in two months. A team that traded Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes for 10 turds on the dollar. A team that traded Jrue Holiday for a rookie in a knee brace. A team that has given 958 minutes to Lavoy Allen. To be the foil in that’s team race to NBA history. Sometimes, too much is too much, as Kennedy told Johnson, Carter said.
So Don looks around The Palace. His time here is near its finish. On Sunday morning, he finally did it. He ate two BK Croissanwiches, drank a mocacciato, read the Free Press cartoons, and cancelled his season tickets. Uncle Pat is rolling over in his grave, if he’s not passed out in heaven’s bathroom.
So, Don has two more nights. A Saturday tango with Boston and a Sunday waltz with Toronto. Then that’s it. He’ll watch at home next year, he supposes.
Don stands up and turns around. He makes his way up the stairs and that fat security guard waddles out behind him. End of an era. Josh Smith ruins things.