My question, though rhetorical, is met with a response.
“What went right?”
My buddy, however, expected an answer. The problem was that for the first time, I didn’t have one. The deeper I dug into my recesses of optimism, the more questions I unearthed.
Have the players always cared this little? Was it such a string of shameless promotions last year? When did the sneakers start to mean more than the defence?
Was it always this bad?
Again, I was left lost for words, and as a writer that meant that something wasn’t right. I scoured the match reports in search of an explanation, forgetting that in a world where the game is viewed in terms of numbers, from personal fouls to points in the paint, there’s one variable that can’t be recorded in a box score: fun.
I may not have hard figures at my disposal, but I’ll tell you one thing: this kid wasn’t grinning as widely as back in the day, and the closest thing I have to a statistical measure of entertainment is the average number of my teeth showing at any one time. Whether open-mouthed in laughter, amazement or simply while screaming the obligatory “Did you see that?” following each highlight play, it was a rare thing in years past to see my lips meet for more than a moment during the weekend. This time around, the sight of my molars was caused by yawning as often as yelling, and on Monday morning I returned to my usual business without the annual bout of SJS (Sore Jaw Syndrome).
At the age of four, it dawned upon me that Father Christmas couldn’t possibly be real, but I was six before I could bring myself to admit it. I was five when it became apparent that the WWF was all an act, but it took me a full two years to pack away my Hulk Hogan merchandise for good. All-Star 2006 took place over the weekend, and now, at three o’clock on the Thursday following the festivities, I’m beginning to come to the horrible realisation that the NBA’s Santa Claus may just be David Stern in a red suit.
Still, like a demystified Christmas, it wasn’t all bad. Ignoring the daylight robbery that tainted its conclusion, the dunk contest was possibly the best we’d seen since Vince wowed the world, and the Skills Challenge was worth watching for the big names alone. Come Sunday, The Big Fella kept the mood light with the latest addition to his line of Shaqcessories, and the starters brought the crowd into it with their choreographed antics during the opening announcements. Unfortunately, save for a couple of crams, Big Ben’s blocks and Kobe’s last-minute juke and jumper, that was about as good as it got.
For now, I’m left wondering whether the game changed or I did. Perhaps I’d been too young and keen to believe in the past. Perhaps I’d always confused tinsel for gold. Perhaps this year wasn’t such an exception.
It’s been four days since the weekend wrapped for another twelve months, and I’m still asking the same questions as on Sunday. What went wrong? What went right? Was it always this bad? I still can’t answer them, and frankly, I’m tired of trying. Instead, I’m simply hoping that I’ll have to ask only one question next year.