I didn’t even see the game. I landed after a 12-hour flight in Kuala Lumpur, or versts away from it down the coast where the airport is, took a taxi first along empty roads past miles of billboards and equatorial foliage, and then through chock-a-block city traffic, stuck in tunnels, surrounded by high-rises, for another hour, before I got to my hotel at around 9 a.m. But the room wasn’t ready, so I sat in a lounge with my computer trying to stream the NBA finals, which were happening not only on another continent but on another earth day, 12 hours behind me, on a Thursday summer night after work in Miami.
But the signal wasn’t strong enough, and when I finally made it to bed I couldn’t sleep and started watching the gamecast on my computer. This is the sports fan equivalent of being Neo in The Matrix and seeing the world broken down into basic code in front of your eyes. Instead of people moving, running, sweating, jumping, blocking, passing, rebounding, you see a scoreboard ticking over, with makes and misses and the numbers changing. And it turns out this is just as compelling as watching the game, as I lay awake until 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m London time until there were just a few seconds left and it was clear the good guys had lost.
San Antonio are the good guys: I grew up listening to them lose the big games on WOAI news radio as I fell asleep, because Austin doesn’t have an NBA club and San Antonio is about an hour and a half away. They had a guy called the Iceman, George Gervin, winding down his career, my favorite player before Michael Jordan came along. Jordan made a lot of local teams second best: kids like me didn’t care we had never been to Chicago, we rooted for him. And one of the reasons people like me want Miami’s LeBron James to lose is because we want it to stay absolutely clear that Jordan is the greatest basketball player who ever lived, because that means that our childhoods were the best childhoods, because he was coming up when we were still young enough for it to really matter.
And San Antonio should have won. In game six they had been up by five with thirty seconds left, and teams in that position win 98.6 per cent of the time. The fact that they didn’t has as much to do with the stupid bounce of a ball, out of one pair of hands and into another, as anything else, any of the sporting clichés about who wanted it more or refused to lose. The underdogs in this case lost against the odds, though why, and by whose strange laws, I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, I went to sleep.