by Preston Tolliver
I didn’t start really paying attention to basketball until 2009.
Sure, I have memories of sitting at my grandma’s house with everyone while we watched the Jordan Bulls keep Stockton and Malone from entering the Naismith Hall of Fame with rings on their fingers. But I didn’t really pay attention. I’m pretty sure I just played in the floor with my wrestling toys.
I would keep up with little tidbits here and there. I knew Allen Iverson was pretty good, that LeBron James was some sort of basketball prodigy and that there was something about Kobe that was impressively unlikeable. But I wasn’t paying attention.
Then, sometime in the 2008-2009 season, I started paying attention. I’m not sure what the exact sequence of events were, but the gist of it was that before moving off for college, I lived with my brother, he sometimes watched games and I sometimes watched them too. I knew I needed a team, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Boston Celtics, who were coming off a championship season. Everything between that is hazy, but a few months later in June 2009, I was forcing discussions about the NBA Finals with customers who were unfortunate enough to come through my checkout lane at Hastings (the Lakers would go on to beat the Celtics that year). The next year, my brother took me to see the Celtics play in Dallas, which was my first professional basketball game. I’ve been to seven games since.
There were probably several things that held my interest in basketball, but in the beginning, four players specifically gave me reason to tune in: Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Allen effectively retired two years ago, Garnett announced his retirement last Friday, Pierce announced on Monday that this will be his final season, and Rondo, who will play this season for the Chicago Bulls, has what I’m pretty sure is the basketball equivalent of the Benjamin Button disease.
Truthfully, I don’t know a lot about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s basketball ability. I came in when they were still pretty good, but not at peak performance. Most of what they’d proven on the court had come to pass by 2009. I did know that Kevin Garnett was kind of a jerk to other players (I cannot stress enough how much I love that), that he was great in the post and that he was pretty funny when he ridiculed Craig Sager for his suits. I knew that Paul Pierce was clutch AF, could shoot threes, wore headbands pretty well and was good at being a person Nate Robinson did flips over.
Nevertheless, they’ll always be two of my all-time favorites (Allen doesn’t get this distinction after pulling a Judas and going to Miami in 2012).
I won’t say I was devastated when Garnett announced his retirement Friday. That would be dramatic. But something was amiss. Something that I had grown to love would no longer include one of the people responsible for me loving it. I had a similar feeling again Monday when Paul Pierce announced his farewell tour. Admittedly it wasn’t as bad a feeling as the day the two were traded to the Brooklyn Nets (a fate we can all agree is worse than death, let alone retirement), but both Friday and Monday were pretty bummer days because of it.
What I appreciate most about the two, though, will never be what they did on the court, but what they did for me, because mostly I’m selfish. Pierce and Garnett, along with Allen and Rondo, brought me an interest that’s done more for me in the last seven years than some of my best friends ever could. Because of that interest, I’ve logged hours playing basketball – both through video games and actually playing, like outside, like on a court – with family and friends. I’ve also won two fantasy league championships, which is still two more championships than Karl Malone or John Stockton ever won. More importantly, though, basketball also gave me an outlet following my mother’s death (I think I made four trips between Oklahoma City and Memphis to watch games that year). And for someone whose default when feeling overwhelmed by life is to get drunk, play video games and eat Doritos, that meant something.
I have a lot of people to thank for that interest. Pierce and Garnett aren’t the only reasons I watch basketball. But they were pretty influential in getting me there, and right now, I’m thanking them.