My NBA Finals Journey: Game 2 2010/11

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Friday, June 03, 2011 with No comments
If I'd already made out my bucket-list, yesterday's experience would have been at the very top.  Throughout my adult life I've always ventured to Orlando Fl to watch the Orlando Magic battle against the NBA team of my choice; seeing them face the Miami Heat, my favorite team became a yearly event for my best friend and I.  Year after year my best friend and I would make the trek to catch a glimpse our favorite players from around the league just as my father took me years earlier to see who was my favorite player at the time Charles Barkley when he played for the Houston Rockets....two technical fouls and a 20 point blow out later, Barkley was ejected, the Rockets lost, but I was the happiest person who was seated in the O-rena!  That night it was never about the individual performance of Charles Barkley, nor was it about the fact that the Rockets lost, it was about a man in his youth attending his first NBA game with his dad, a former NBA fan until the retirement of Dr. J, it was about the respect the fans of Orlando showed Hakeem Olajuwon by giving him a standing ovation that seemingly lasted forever during player introductions only three years after his Rockets defeated a young Magic team in the 94/95 NBA Finals.  Last night, June 2nd 2011, wasn't about the Miami Heat losing the game after an unbelievable comeback by the Dallas Mavericks, it was about another dream of mine that came true and the biggest one to date.  I was at the NBA Finals cheering on my favorite team the Miami Heat!

As a teen Charles Barkley was the main celebrity I looked up to and of course that made me very, very different from my other friends.  There were five of us and we all loved all things NBA, but of all my friends I was the only one who liked a western conference team which at that time was the Phoenix Suns and later the Houston Rockets due to the fact that Barkley played on both.  My friends however were fans of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls but once he retired the first time, many of them converted over and became fans of the Orlando Magic and their young stars Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal.  After only five years in the league, the Magic had constructed what many considered at the time as a championship roster with just the right mix of young talent and grizzled veterans.  Even Horace Grant who'd won three NBA championships while playing for the Chicago Bulls found himself in a Orlando Magic uniform.  That team was on the threshold of becoming the next great dynasty in the NBA but something was brewing in South Florida, Biscayne Bay was about to witness the arrival of Head Coach Pat Riley and Heat dignitaries Tim Hardway and Alonzo Mourning.

Hardaway, Riley, Mourning
I can't remember the exact year but I was in middle school and all of my friends would bug me about not liking an Eastern Conference team, a team from Florida.  They were all expecting me to be like them and follow the Orlando Magic and it's two young, great stars, they thought that their dynasty was complete and all the team had to do was win multiple championships.  That dynasty was to start after the retirement of Michael Jordan but I must say we all were wrong; their championship dreams never came to fruition.  The Magic were the media's darlings and their two stars were all the rage with endorsements and even movie deals; all the while the Heat wave in South Florida grew stronger and stronger like a hurricane and it seemed as if I was the only one in my group of friends to notice.  I secretly watched as many Heat games as I could, all the while falling in love with their passion, their grit, their coach.  During the times that the games weren't televised I would grab the sports section every morning and read the box scores to keep up with the latest Heat happenings.  I thought to myself, it's time, I had to choose a team from the Eastern Conference to follow and I left it to chance because I am a gambling man.

Again dates are lost and I do apologize for that but at the time one of my best friends was George Lawrence and he was crazy about the Magic and Penny Hardaway.  His mother bought him all of Hardway's shoes and  if my memory serves well he always bragged about having a Lil Penny that's old school!  "Hey Tyra"!  The stage was about to be set, the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic were having a nationally televised showdown in Orlando one weekend and I made this my opportunity to strike.  I became at peace with myself for what I was about to do but it was one of the first times in my life that I was on my way to making a deal with the Devil but at this point I had to strike.  I don't remember much about the conversation as it was most likely filled with tons of trash talk as teens rib each other about their strengths or weaknesses but I remember the bet like it was yesterday and I was fully prepared to face the consequence either way because I was tired of the Miami Heat being overlooked by my friends and for the most part all of the basketball universe.  Keep in mind that no one knew that I had become a Heat fan but I was prepared for the worst.

"Since I need to follow a team in Florida, I said, I will bet you this, if the Heat lose the game, I will become a member of the Orlando Magic, but if the Heat wins, I will become a member of the Miami Heat."

The Heat pulled out the victory and my basketball fate was set for the better, it was a gamble, a 50/50 decision but my heart didn't fail me because I knew that I had picked the better team and I embraced them just as if I would have if Charles Barkley had played for them.  Alonzo Mourning became my Charles Barkley on the east coast, his fighting spirit was akin to mine and he struck fear into all of his opponents with his great defense, ferocious blocks/attitude and that always present scowl,  Zo was the Kendrick Perkins of the 90's just much more offensively gifted than Perkins will ever be.  Just as the Miami Heat were becoming a national NBA powerhouse on the backs of Mouring, Hardway, Brown, Mashburn, and Marjele, the magic in Orlando began to fade.

A year after my Decision, Shaquille O'Neal departed the Orlando Magic the join the Los Angeles Lakers and the Magic fell on very hard times.  The departure of O'Neal devastated the fan base the likes of which I'd never seen up until the 2010 departure of Lebron James from Cleveland.  I based my decision off of a timely hunch and even though the Miami Heat didn't win their NBA Championship until 2006, the journey was well worth it.  I had to endure the pain along with my team to fully appreciate the joys of winning it all.  As a fan, I won my ring before they did and I even purchased a championship ring to have a daily reminder that even though I didn't follow what was considered to be normal at the time, I was still able to enjoy the success of my basketball team and even now as the Miami Heat are in the finals battling for the right to earn the city's second NBA Championship, the Magic fans are sitting at home, hating and hoping that somehow, someway the Miami Heat loses.

I can say this, for a brief moment in time, the fans of the Orlando Magic got their wish.  The Miami Heat lost the game and now the series stands at 1 game apiece.  Seconds after Dwyane Wade missed a desperation 3 in which he could never properly set his feet, the collapse was complete and I held my head down to say congrats to the Mavs on their comeback, they earned that win but my resolve, much like that of the Heat's is very strong.  That loss wasn't going to make my first trip to Miami meaningless.  It was the first time in my life that I felt as if I fit in.  I was around my people, sat in my arena, fueled by my hometown fans.  I could count at least three times during the game where I almost lost control of my emotions due to the fact that everything just seemed right.  From looking up to the 2006 Championship banner and the retired numbers of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, to seeing the Heat's intro live and for the first time feeling the energy of all the Miami Heat fans from the live band outside of the arena to the raucous crowd on the inside, everything was just perfect, Heaven like for five hours with everyone dressed in some sort of white and the sounds of "Lets go Heat" filling the amazing sky.  I was home......among my people and even if I were to die today, my Heart and Soul would be in Miami, I am a Miami Heat fan until forever and a day!