Archive for Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: NBA basketball: it’s, well, perhaps a little fantastic

April 23, 2003

It's difficult to contain my excitement, but the NBA playoffs are here.

Don't get me wrong, basketball is a grand sport, but its greatest form comes with the NCAA Tournament.

My apathy for professional basketball probably stems from never really latching on to a definite team.

One still can enjoy the NBA even without having a franchise to root for in a die-hard fashion, but it just lacks some of the purity found in the college ranks.

My outlook made a slight change nearly two weeks ago in Miami.

With two of my friends on a mission to see idol Michael Jordan and another also along for the excursion, we ventured to Florida for a quick weekend stay.

Our American Airlines flight left Kansas City International at about 6 a.m. April 11, and we were off for a whirlwind tour of Florida (Interestingly enough, one Jordan fan on the trip sat in seat 23, which of course also is MJ's number. And, of course, we have pictures to prove airplane seating).

After landing in Tampa, we met another college colleague who works at the Tampa Tribune. We became acquainted with the frontage road around Tampa's airport and took a thorough tour of the airport's parking garage in search of our Floridan friend's vehicle. The imported local (Cassio originally hails from Brazil) admitted he only had lived in Tampa a few months and didn't know the airport all that well.

Once that obstacle finally was crossed, an Oldsmobile Alero rental car transported five friends from Tampa to Miami.

With time at a premium and an 8 p.m. tipoff awaiting us in Miami, one Jordan fan drove the entire four hours from Tampa. Luckily -- at least for our trip -- Florida drivers set a standard of driving between 80 and 90 miles per hour. Local law enforcement officials didn't stop many along the interstate.

Motoring down the road with the traffic flow, we drove through "Alli-gator Alley" and a portion of the Ever- glades. We were disappointed to see nary a gator on the trip, but I did view my first live armadillo in Tampa. And, while taking a highway flanked by water on both sides, we saw numerous pelicans (I think) and another bird flying just overhead. The unidentified bird swooped over the car with a freshly caught fish in its claws.

Anyway, back to the reason for the trip, we made it to Miami and got into the arena just before tip-off. After flying American Airlines, we landed in American Airlines Arena to watch Jordan play one of his final games.

Playing with the visiting Washington Wizards, Jordan was greeted with a special highlight reel commemorating his career. And just before the game started, Miami Heat coach Pat Riley gave a short speech and announced that No. 23 would be retired in the Heat franchise. A jersey -- half Chicago Bulls and half Washington Wizard -- now hangs from the arena's rafters.

Defense certainly isn't emphasized in the NBA, but in Miami, there were plenty of bells and whistles to keep one occupied. A giant scoreboard above half-court includes player-by-player scoring, along with jumbotrons on all four sides. A futuristic disco ball of some sort hangs inside the mammoth scorekeeper. During timeouts, a DJ attempted to get the crowd fired up with a little music.

The main event of Jordan, however, didn't disappoint as he still had a few fancy moves. He finished the even- ing with 25 points and the Wizards escaped with a narrow 91-87 victory.

Despite the victory, the team was eliminated from the playoffs that night and Jordan would finally end his career three games later.

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