Once a year (and occasionally twice a year), my sons and I go to a Spurs-Rockets game together. We do so because I care about the Spurs a great deal, and so I like to see them in person when I can (we live in Houston now). But we also do it because some of the fondest memories I have of my father happened at Spurs games, or on the way to Spurs games, or on the way home from Spurs games, and I want that feeling to be in my sons’ chests when they grow up, too. I don’t know exactly how many games my dad took me to from elementary through high school (probably 30, maybe 40, possibly 50), and I don’t remember a lot of the game-specific stuff that happened. But I don’t think that matters because I don’t think that’s the main point of going to them with your dad (or with your kids). It’s the smaller stuff that I remember most from those moments, the memories you can’t get without having lived through that time.
I’ll give you an example:
Whenever we would leave the stadium after a game in San Antonio (be it the HemisFair Arena, which is mostly where the Spurs played before they got good, or the Alamodome, which is mostly where they played before they got great), we rode down a good chunk of Highway 90, a stretch of road that connected downtown San Antonio to the area of town where I lived, some 25 minutes away. Along the route, there was a Security Service bank that had one of those tall ticker-tape signs with messages that scrolled across it: things like “Happy Veterans Day,” or “Closed on Thanksgiving,” or the temperature outside, and so on. It always showed the time, and I always thought it was neat to see the time while we drove home because I knew that were it not for having gone to the game, I’d be in bed right then. We would ride by that bank and I would lean against the window and be amazed that I was outside at 10:30 at night or whatever. It just always stuck with me. It’s the first thing I think about when I think about going to games with my dad.
That’s why I take the boys to a game (or the games) each season, which is what we did Saturday night. My wife, the twins, and I went to watch the Spurs and the Rockets play.
The last time that I made one of my sons cry was about two months ago. It was near their bedtime, and so I went to their room to tell them. When I opened the door, I saw that the two older ones (twin 9-year-olds) were playing NBA Jam, an old basketball video game I’d downloaded during an especially nostalgic evening. It was just about the end of the game, so I sat down and let them finish before I told them to go to sleep. When I did, Boy B, the more rambunctious of the two, asked if I wanted to play a game against them. Boy A immediately removed himself from the situation. “I don’t want to play. I’ll just go to bed,” he said, and he climbed into his bed with all of his daytime clothes on because he is very good at dodging wars. Boy B was unfazed. “OK,” he said to his brother, but also to me. “Then how about me versus you, daddy?” he asked. I said, “I don’t think you want those problems, son.” He said, “I do.” I said, “I’m going to beat you.” He said, “No, you’re not. I’m better than you. I’m better than everyone.”
Now, to be sure, Boy B is very good at NBA Jam for a 9-year-old. He has a sound understanding of the mechanics of the game and has figured out a pro-shoving strategy that allows for a high success rate against the computer and also against other children. Of course, the problem for him that night was that I am neither a computer nor a child. The game was a trouncing.
To his credit, he fared far better than I thought he would. There was even a brief and neat moment at the end of the second quarter where, while holding a one-point lead, he blocked one of my dunks and emphatically shouted, “Get that outta here!” and I can’t imagine he’s ever felt better about anything. But during halftime, I switched my team up from Tim Duncan and David Robinson to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and the second half was a fucking bloodbath. By the midpoint of the third quarter, I’d opened up a 15-point lead. He started crying from frustration, so I pulled up from 28 feet with Manu and hit another 3 on him and shouted, “THERE’S THREE MORE TEARS FOR YOUR LITTLE BOY FACE,” because sometimes being a dad means being sensitive to the feelings of your children, but other times being a dad means not doing that.
When the game was over, I told him he did a good job, which I suppose technically was a lie but philosophically it was not. He just stared forward, crying, possibly considering moving out. I got up, started to walk out, told them to brush their teeth and then go to bed. “Daddy,” Boy B said as I exited the room. “What’s up?” I said as I continued down the hallway. I could hear him still sniffling. “I want a rematch,” he said. I was very proud of him. “OK,” I said. “What about you?” I asked to Boy A. “No, thanks,” he said, because he understands that sometimes self-preservation is its own form of bravery.
Spurs vs. Rockets, November 12, 2016, was maybe the best game the boys and I have ever gone to. I don’t necessarily mean that as an assessment of the actual game (it was a pretty good and fun game) inasmuch as I mean it in the spiritual sense. Three big things happened:
- It was the first game we’d gone to where they didn’t ask to go home before the game was over. This is a huge point for any young sports fan, I think. There’s an area of the Toyota Center built specifically for kids; it’s got skee ball and tiny basketball courts to shoot on and other games to play and things like that. At the previous games we’d attended, they spent nearly all of the time asking to go there, and then as soon as they were done playing there, they’d ask to go home. That didn’t happen Saturday night. Matter of fact, they didn’t even want to go there at all. They just wanted to sit in their seats and watch the game and eat as much trash as they could get their hands on, which was a lot, FYI.
- They were actually interested in the outcome. The Spurs had a double-digit lead for large chunks of the second half, but the Rockets made a big push in the last half of the fourth quarter to get the score close. I watched as the boys grew tenser and tenser as the game got tighter and tighter. There was one point when, after the Rockets had gotten the lead down to seven, Kawhi Leonard made a backdoor cut that resulted in a dunk and the boys squealed in delight and yelled his name at the court and it was just great.
- They asked questions, some of which were basketball-based, others of which were not. Proactive engagement in the game is another big thing for young fans, I think. Some of the questions they asked were basic (“How many free throws does a player shoot?”), some were slightly more advanced (“What’s a team foul?”), some were accidentally all the way advanced (“How do you know which players play the best together?”), some of them were dumb (“Is there a way for the ball to actually catch on fire like in NBA Jam?”), and a couple of them were parachuted in from the very back parts of their brains (“If Sub-Zero froze the girl from Frozen who freezes things, what would happen?”). It felt very good to be sitting in the arena next to them, leaning over the armrest and pointing at things and players on the court and explaining what they were and why they were or were not important. It felt like a very dad thing to do. I remember my dad doing that with me (or, I at least remember the idea of that happening, which is good enough).
With less than a minute left in the game and the Spurs up by four and in possession of the ball, Pau Gasol threw an entry pass to a rolling LaMarcus Aldridge for an easy layup; only it wasn’t an easy layup because LaMarcus fumbled the pass, eventually kicking it out of bounds. When it happened, I shouted, “Come on, LaMarcus,” and then Boy A shouted, “Yeah, come on, LaMarcus,” and it made me smile. And I felt right then like this Spurs-Rockets game tradition was eventually going to grow the legs that my Spurs games with my dad had, and it felt good to see it happening and realize it was happening.
The Spurs won the game, 106–100. I’m sure I’ll have forgotten that part in a few days. I won’t forget Boy A shouting at LaMarcus Aldridge, though.
On the way out of the Toyota Center, the boys and my wife and I talked about the game and when we would go back for another one. Boy B said that he liked it a lot, that his favorite parts were Kawhi’s dunk and also the anti-gravity dunkers that performed during a TV timeout. Boy A said he also liked the anti-gravity dunkers, but that he really liked the moment during the fourth quarter when the Spurs fans in the arena started a “Go Spurs, Go!” chant. He didn’t want to be the only one in there cheering for the Spurs because he didn’t want the Rockets to get mad at him.
We walked the two blocks to get to my car and I wondered if there was going to be a place with a clock that the boys were going to see somewhere and realize how late it was. And then I wondered, if not that specific thing, then what other tiny thing was going to be what they remembered about the night after they’d forgotten about the game. I felt a lot like what I imagined my dad felt like in that moment, and let me tell you something: It felt good.
We got to the car and climbed in and I put the key in the ignition and turned it and nothing happened. Turned out, I’d left the lights or something on, because the battery was all the way dead. I didn’t have jumper cables, which was bad, but I then I realized that even if I did have jumper cables, I wasn’t all the way sure how to use them, which was worse. I Googled “My car won’t start. What do I do?” hoping for a magic answer. Boy A asked what was going on. I told him to be quiet. Boy B asked if the car was broken. I told him to be quiet, too. My wife asked if we needed to call a tow truck. I told her yes. And then I just sat there like an idiot. And let me tell you another thing: It did not feel good.
A tow truck eventually took us home. Boy A fell asleep sitting in my wife’s lap. Boy B fell asleep sitting in my lap. Maybe that’s what they’ll remember.