Mine eyes have seen the glory of the destruction of B.J. Armstrong and Scottie Pippen and Chris Mullin is Chicago’s reckoning.
It’s my friend Eli’s birthday and he wants to go to Headquarters. Headquarters is a beercade. If you think you don’t know what a beercade is, you’re wrong. Sound it out. It’s what you think it is: an arcade that serves beer. And oh, by the way, all the games are for the price of on the house. Sorry about the Kevin Hart 40 Year Old Virgin quote. I’ll try to bounce back. Anyways, we’re going there. We drive to 950 West Wolfram in Chicago, IL and open up the pearly gates.
I step inside and I’m overwhelmed. I’m Lamar Odom inside the Skittles factory kinds of excited. This is my childhood coming to give me a hug, entering this place. I can’t believe my eyes. They’ve got every game I’ve ever loved. Every single one.
X-Men. Pac-Man. My God I can’t believe they have X-Men. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW. SPLINTER! WHAT’S GOING DOWN, DUDE?! Street Fighter II. Space Invaders. Galaga. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. THEY’VE GOT MIKE TYSON’S PUNCH OUT?! WHAT ALTERNATE DIMENSION IS THIS? This must be what a utopia feels like.
My head is swirling and my heart is pounding and I think I can fly now and everything is grand and I’m going to — WAIT A MINUTE. What is that beautiful thing? Across the room. Yea. She’s gorgeous. There. Yes. That one there in the orange. Surely not. I mean, could it be? No. No way I’m that lucky. Is it?
I take a few steps toward the orange light, calling to me like a siren, singing its seductive song as I float too close to the rocks. My God. It is. It’s NBA Jam – Tournament Edition.
This game was my everything when I was growing up and it was time to turn back the clock. I remove myself from the birthday group and wait on a guy in a black, much too deep v-neck t-shirt to realize that the best way to not impress a girl at all is by showing her you can get buckets with Eddie Jones. She doesn’t care, man. Not at all. Ten minutes go by and he finally leaves, dejected over the fact that he barely beat the computer by seven.
I step up to the machine and grab the joystick for the first player and it feels like home. I’ve been holding a slice of birthday cake in my hand and I sit it on the table beside the game system and ready my squad. Eli is a Fresno boy so, in his honor, I ready up some Cali troops for loyalty’s sake. Run TMC. The Golden State Warriors. I’ll control Chris Mullin and shoot threes until the cows decide it’s time to come home and destroy everything in my path and Mitch Richmond will clean up whatever my flattop may happen to miss.
I select my team. I feel good. Then, I’m about to select the computer’s team when all of a sudden Satan pays me a visit in the form of some douche chill in a White Sox hat with way too curved of a bill and a red Ed Debevic’s T-Shirt. He steps up to the system.
“Mind if I hop on this with you?” he asks.
I’m without words initially. In my head I’m all yes I do very much mind that. Five seconds pass. He’s not done talking.
“I’ll play you for your slice of cake,” he says, “You win, you get my slice. I win, I get yours.”
Apparently he was a friend of Eli’s I hadn’t met yet and he was there for the birthday get-together as well. He had a slice of the vanilla side of the cake. I had a slice of the chocolate side. STAKES. The gauntlet hath been laid down and it is demolition time.
You do not come over to a game system to play someone you don’t know and then have the audacity to try to swoop in and take their cake from them. This is especially the case when that cake is ice cream cake. That’s my cake, dude. You keep your soon to be sweating palms off my cake. I will take your challenge and I will make your family weep when they see what I’ve done to you.
“Alright,” I say, “Sounds good.”
He works his way down the alphabet to the teams that start with a “C” and picks the Chicago Bulls because of course he does. He’ll play with Scottie Pippen and BJ Armstrong. He’ll control Scottie.
He tells me that, if I want, I can change my team now. As if me seeing that he picked the Bulls would deter me from riding and dying with my good homeys Chris and Mitch. It’s not as if he’s playing with Luc Longley and Jud Buechler. That is a lineup I’d run from. Not this one. I tell him I’m good. We both lock in our teams and it is on like a fawn who yawns at dawn on a lawn covered in napalm. That was so stupid.
Tip-off happens and Chris wins it due to his legendary athleticism and I make Mitch pass immediately to Chris because duh and Chris wets a three right in Scottie’s stupid face on the left wing and it’s 3-0 Warriors before you can say, “Man, Mitch Richmond was so cool. Why did I forget about Mitch Richmond? I hate myself for forgetting about Mitch Richmond.”
My opponent is lost in the desert with a blindfold on and no water and a magnifying glass is hovering over his head. It’s honestly like he’s never played the game before. He’s got zero button awareness. No feel at all. He’s having to look down to find the turbo button and he’s pressing the shoot button from half-court and he’s freaking out when I’m pushing BJ down and taking the ball from him like he doesn’t know that’s an integral part of defense on NBA Jam. He’s being bamboozled by the flattop. I’m hitting corner three after top of the key three after three from the wing after runner after 360 tomahawk and he’s having a hard time handling it and I’m in love with everything.
At halftime I’ve already reached fire three times and I’ve been “heating up” five more times. I’m up twenty-two. Second half it’s more of the same only the guy has one of his boys next to him shouting out suggestions on what moves he should because that’s a respectable thing to do when you’re an adult. The game ends. Final score: Warriors – 84, Bulls – 53. Chris Mullin had 71. Seventy-freaking-one. St. John’s forever.
I tell curved hat bill to keep his cake because I do it for the love of the game and he asks me if I come here a lot. I tell him no, I just played a bunch at the Mazzio’s by Highway 69 in Muskogeee, OK after youth group on Wednesday nights when we’d all go get a pizza buffet. All my friends busied themselves with Cruisin’ USA and I decided to be intelligent and play this. He doesn’t know what that means and I want to say “exactly” but instead I tell him “Yea. This was just my favorite game growing up.” He shakes his head in agreement because of domination and will power and championships and I tell him it’s time for me to take off because I have work in the morning.
I pay my respects and I say goodbye to the birthday boy and walk into the Chicago bitterness and despite the single digit temperatures I’m not cold at all. I’m on fire.