The last time this mattered could be now
Meditations on time, through playoffs.
The last time this mattered we were in Japan.
Toronto up 2-1 on Orlando, jet lag jangling around our bodies electric and alive but never sure into what time of day we were waking. Watching the Game 4 win that signalled the series rolling over with the sun starting to pale the low clustered concrete buildings of Amemura. Later, sweating and smiling under a wide blue sky in Koshien Stadium as close to 50,000 fans let go of long balloons in unison and feeling the opposite, feeling anticipation and that familiar feral hope fill me, hardly knowing then how much time was still to go before June 13 and the last trophy to be hoisted at Oracle in Kyle Lowry’s hands.
It feels forever ago. It feels like no time. The timing of the playoffs, at least here in Toronto, always hitched to spring and close-guarded optimism of reuniting with the people you love as the looser, more generous people you are against longer, warmer days. It can’t be helped that the two seasonal aspirations mix — hope for a basketball team and hope for yourself — but it does make for both things getting away from you very quickly.
Standing alone in my parents living room I watch Scottie Barnes’s ankle roll like a new fold in paper and feel the tremulous hope I was holding at arm’s length lurch. In the other room the dessert plates haven’t been cleared and voices murmur and raise, in the kitchen I can hear my brother doing the dinner dishes. The replay shows Joel Embiid placing a foot going full speed for the paint come down on top of Barnes’s and the broadcast cuts to Barnes rolling on the court clutching his ankle, his foot.
My dad had cancelled all their sports channels before the season even started but got them back after, earlier in the week, I asked if their regular TV included TSN knowing we’d be there for dinner that night. The way it cracked my heart finding that out when we arrived cousins to how I feel standing there, the broadcast capturing in high definition the agony roiling over Barnes’s face.
Last year I have no touch points for. I hardly watched the end of Toronto’s Tampa season and couldn’t, at quick guess, even give you a range of dates for when it was over. Even thinking about the playoffs, loose for the first time in a long time, not minding having the warming nights free and the most hopeful thing getting a shot in the arm in a college gym off the highway in Scarborough awash in honeyed light. Eating fried chicken from a plaza Indian restaurant on the steps of a high school portable across the street, sun going down on the baseball diamond, the community centre beyond, poking at the bandaid on my shoulder, testing for soreness, how rote and grim that winter veering off with the seagulls lifting from the field and winging down toward the lake.
I watched the Bucks and the Heat, I remember, trimming the ends off parrot tulips and ranunculus stems. Crabapple, lilac and cherry blossoms coming to burst across the city as Trae Young took a bow in New York — the fleetingness of the former by nature and the latter, well we’ll see.
In the Bubble, those memories are practically crowdsourced. Basketball every day, no matter the time, no matter what you were remembering you might like to be doing instead if you weren’t stuck inside. The live wire of protests at first shoddily plugged in by the league, the tremor of restlessness growing like an overhead light flickering. Then play stopped, games stopped, trying to remember why this all felt important stopped — though briefly.
I don’t think it should take horror and wrenching cruelty to keep an overlapping sense of the world close at hand to basketball, its exhaustive scope of entertainment, but when it happens, amidst the flurry of being told How To Feel About It, it is never a bad thing to untangle for a second. Sit in some substantive quiet. Think about the scant time between going never-ending from one season to the next.
Patrick Beverley up on that scorer’s table, flouting time. The prerequisite of it he was supposed to have had to be that audacious. What was one game that’s stats didn’t actually count anywhere? Play-in tournament on another plane of tabulation from the regular season and post, not so much a bridge between the two as a one shot trampoline.
One game against the Clippers, for Beverley, was the four seasons he’d spent with them in L.A. One game that at some point probably had him thinking back to his first two professional seasons before the NBA, in Greece and Russia, such is the way that high-stakes will upend time and warp it, touch ten years ago to the present as easy as scratching an itch.
Up on the scorer’s table was Beverley taking stock of time. Trying to identify that moment, every sensory second of it, and lock it in place for good.
This season’s rhythm, and I imagine the ones to come so long as you live somewhere the pandemic is either prevalent or has been forced into the rearview, felt splintered. In the stretch between late December and All-Star I didn’t set foot in Toronto’s arena. By the time I had steeled myself enough to go while it was still empty of fans, it filled again. By the time I realized it was almost April, the season I told myself I wouldn’t take for granted with basketball being gone from the city for two years was basically over. I don’t feel disappointed, only left harbouring a hovering, disjointed sense that that was months worth of time.
Now the crocuses are coming up, seemingly overnight. In the flower, a fitting myth of competition. Crocus, companion of Hermes, killed accidentally in a game of discus when he stood up and the one Hermes just heaved knocked him in the head. Where his blood spilled the eager flowers grew. A marker of time passing, as much as forgetting yourself in it.
This week I’ll be there to cover my first playoff games. The first season I set foot to work in Toronto’s arena ended in the pandemic, the Bubble bursting. A Raptors team for those reasons, but mostly roster reasons, I look back on and still think could’ve repeated. Now this one, completely different, but a continuation in culmination for me, of where that year was going.
The last time this mattered, I remind myself, could be this time. Could be now.