Originally published in SLAM 42
The 6th Man: The most frightening moment I have ever experienced in an NBA arena occurred earlier this season, in New Jersey. And no, I wasn’t watching Big Gheorghe in the layup line or assistant coach Jim Lynam almost catch fire due to some faulty fireworks (true story). It was late in the first quarter of a meaningless game against—well, it was meaningless, OK? And as I looked across the court, I saw Tony Soprano sitting all hunched over in the front row, looking kinda morose. For the briefest of moments—before I remembered that The Sopranos is a TV show and Tony Soprano is really a character actor named James Gandolfini and that maybe he was miserable because he was at a Nets game and not at an awards show collecting prizes like 11-year-olds collect Pokémon cards—I thought he was there to whack Nets’ head coach Don Casey. That was scary.
The second-most frightening moment I have ever experienced in an NBA arena is a tie between all the times I’ve ever seen Allen Iverson play. Without fail, there will come a time in the game when the jumper isn’t falling, or he sees a seam in the defense, and he lays that crossover on some poor schlub and darts into the lane. Then, there is the inevitable slowing of time, the silence, like the one that precedes a particularly bad car wreck. Then there is the contact—WHACK!—as AI gets squashed like a bug, somehow using one of his long arms and big hands to snake the ball into the hoop. There is, of course, no whistle, and Iverson peels himself off the floor to get back on defense. Repeat.
Then there is the inevitable locker room scene, when—on difficult nights—he doesn’t want to talk. Reasonable. After a bad day at work, you don’t want to talk about it. So writers trot out the usual negative clichés and stories—stuff that should have been buried last year, when he led the League in scoring and the Sixers to a first-round playoff win. The same thing he’s on pace to do this year.
On the flip side, you’ve got Jason Kidd. Always willing to talk, even after a horrible night, like the one that saw him take an 0-fer from the field against the Knicks. Looks to dish first, shoot later. Not better, just different. Two halves to a whole backcourt. It ain’t gonna happen, but could you imagine? Even for one game?
Now that’s scary.
P.S. The photo above portrays my third-most frightening NBA experience. Ouch.