Originally published in SLAM 9
The 6th Man: Some childhood memories you never forget, even when you can’t remember what you ate last night.
Like your first pro hoops game, when Pop slips you his beer the minute your mom leaves for the ladies’ room, and you’re so small that you have to clutch the cup with both hands, and the taste is so awful that you’re dying to spit it out, but you just swallow it and, eyes watering, croak, “Thanks.” And he laughs and gives up a wink.
Like that, I can remember going to the Garden as a kid and watching George “The Iceman” Gervin carve up hapless Knicks teams filled with guys named Toby and Ray-Ray. And Campy.
He was a superhero as far as I was concerned, and while I usually saved my lungs for NY’s opponents, I never yelled, “You suck!” or even, “Sit down, you punk!” at the Iceman like he was Bobby Jones or Dave Cowens. No way, man. I respected Ice’s game too much and thought how cool it was that he never disrespected the Knicks even as he dismantled them with his bag of funky tricks. Ice had more moves above the neck than Sly Williams did from the neck down. (Sorry Garbage Man, but it’s the truth.) His “Not so fast” to David Thompson for the scoring title on the last day of the ’77-’78 season ranks right up there with my minibike and the scar on my left arm as a highlight of my 11th year.
I was also transfixed by his name-Gervin, so close to mine I briefly considered getting a Spurs jersey, a bold move in my neighborhood. It’s embarrassing to admit-and Ice, if you’re reading this, cool, don’t laugh, I was just a kid-but I used to pretend he was my older brother who just happened to deep-freeze NBA hotshots every night of the week.
Gervin. Gervino. Gervin. Gervino. Hey, Ice, I said, “Don’t laugh.”