It’s NBA season, and my Golden State Warriors actually have a winning record, thanks to an unlikely bonhomie between Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, who basically look like a professor and a parolee, respectively. The Warriors even have new owners who appear, in contrast to most NBA owners, not to despise their team’s fanbase.
I thought it appropriate, then, to try to explain my current misery in NBA terms.
Before the birth of his first child, a man is a something akin to an NBA player. Even if he’s not literally tall or rich or getting Escalaid in the backseat of his SUV every night, he is still the star of his own broadcast. All the cameras of his mind are trained on him. He just has to worry about getting playing time, getting his shot off, moving the ball.
Everything and everyone else is just noise, a faint buzz from somewhere in the cheap seats.
Then a child is born. And suddenly, the man has a new role. He puts on a suit, slicks his hair back, and stands on the sideline. His job now: coach. Call the plays and get the best out of this new team that no longer stars him. This sounds like a step down, but it isn’t really. If the man was like me and used protection for the first 15 years or so of ballin’ (an NBA term), then that man is already in his 30s by the time the first child is born. He’s got some experience, some ideas about the big picture he’s ready to share. It’s fulfilling to be the coach now. You don’t run the play, you tell others which plays are worth running.
But then, far too quickly, a second child is born. Sure, things are somewhat unchanged for the first year of infancy, but then that second child starts being able to talk, walk, want. That child suits up to play. But it’s immediately clear that they’re not on the same team as the first child. In fact, from tipoff in the morning to the final horn at bedtime, these two children are now consumate adversaries. And they play dirty. They are tiny centers playing Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, throwing elbows into chins. They are twee Gilbert Arenases, sneaking guns into the locker room. And the man, who had just gotten comfortable with his Armani suits and post-game press conferences, is no longer a coach.
He’s a freakin’ ref.
The lowest, least happy lifeform in the entire NBA ecosystem, not because of who he is as a man, but because of what he has to do. Not only does he wear that striped v-neck with hitched-up slacks and comfort-loafers and communicate with a whistle. He also fights the same unwinnable battle, night after night, game after game, like Sisyphus, except without getting that killer upper-body workout. Being a ref means separating players, watching for elbows, timing players in the paint. The players scratch and flop and claw at each other remorselessly, never changing, never even trying to play by the rules. The ref, with his impotent whistle, cries again and again: cut it out! But the players, oblivious to all but their own furies, never hear him.
And here we come to the crossroads. I hate being the ref. I don’t care for the whistle, and I like even less how little effect it has on the combatants. And I honestly, truly, sincerely and with all my heart do not give a shit who took the Lego first. But the only other choice would be to hang up the whistle and let them play their game without any rulemakers or enforcers.
You might think this would have a happy result, turning our stuffy NBA arena into a liberated, if rambunctious, Rucker Park. But even streetball has its own rules, codes of conduct, and—importantly—onlookers. Sibling combat does not. It’s more like knife-fighting in a deserted alley. Last night, less than five minutes after I made a conscious decision to concentrate on cooking dinner and drinking my beer, and not on controlling my children’s escalating shrieks, my daughter launched my son off her bed. This was no Vlade Divacs flop for the ref. This was a hard foul with no witnesses. I’m fortunate that my boy is built like a winter squash, so even with the profound thump he made on landing, he was uninjured.
I, however, was defeated. I turned the stove off, put down my beer, and trudged into the bedroom to pick up the whistle and put on my silly striped shirt again.
Please tell me that at some point on this journey I get to be an owner. I’d even be happy as GM. Anything but the ref.