Maybe I’ve been watching the NBA playoffs too much. Or maybe I’ve finally gone insane. It’s one or the other, because I came home from a barbecue this weekend to find a creepy Talking Basketball sitting in my living room. This is the conversation we had.
Talking Ball: Hello, Nick.
Nick Mancini: Um, what…
TB: I’m one of the talking basketballs from the NBA playoffs ads. I’m here to talk to you about your NBA Finals memories.
TB: Uh … kind of.
NM: I’m not sure I’m OK with this. How did you get in here, anyway?
TB: Come on, what is your greatest Finals memory?
NM: Well, I don’t really have one. I’m a Knicks fan and I was born in the 1980s …
TB: Well, this is awkward.
TB: [pause] Well, do you want to talk about the 1994 Finals? Game Six, Game Seven … It might be therapeutic. I was there, you know.
NM: You were? Wait … so, were you actually the ball used in those two games or are you supposed to represent, like, all basketballs as a collective consciousness or something? Because I could have said, “Hey, let’s talk about the 1989 Finals,” for example. What would you have said then?
TB: Uh, it’s better not to ask those kinds of questions. So what do you remember about Game Seven in 1994?
NM: [long pause] …I mean, I remember John Starks.
TB: Oh yeah! Man, my back was sore for a week from clanking off the rim. Starks couldn’t buy a bucket. Shot just two for 18.
NM: I know, but I always feel bad bringing that up. He almost single-handedly won the series for New York in Game Six, going nine for 18 with 27 points and eight assists. The Knicks lost by two points. To be honest, that hurt more than Game Seven. Even to a 12-year-old, it felt like a lost opportunity. Then in Game Seven, Starks was ice cold, but he wasn’t alone. People forget that Patrick Ewing was seven for 17 and had five turnovers in that game. There are a lot of reasons the Knicks lost that series, but Starks’ two-for-18 is all you hear about.
TB: And nobody wanted to win more than John Starks. You’re right. It’s not fair.
NM: You know, with their two best scorers both shooting so poorly, it’s kind of amazing the Knicks only lost Game Seven by six points. Speaking of Ewing, I feel bad for him too. It drives me crazy that people retroactively changed the narrative about his career. People use that series as “evidence” that Ewing couldn’t win a title as the best guy on a team. Well, they were two points away from winning the title in Game Six! Two points is nothing. It’s a ball dribbled off someone’s foot or a shot that goes in-and-out.
TB: So, how did you feel when the series was over?
NM: [pause] I’m still not sure I’m comfortable talking about this with you. Your mouth is kind of creeping me out.
TB: Oh, come on …
NM: And can you even see me? I guess they did all kinds of focus group research that told them you shouldn’t have eyes. That would be even creepier.
TB: You’re changing the subject. How did you feel when the series was over? Every year the Knicks lost to Michael Jordan’s Bulls; then he went to play baseball and the Knicks finally made the Finals; they came within one win of winning the whole thing and lost the last two games. How did you feel?
NM: [pause] When you’re a kid and you’re a sports fan, nothing seems to matter quite as much as sports. Well, that series was the apex of my fandom. I’m still a massive sports nut, but no sporting event has mattered quite as much to me as that one. Maybe it just happened when I was the perfect age and then I started to grow up. But part of me feels like that was my first true heartbreak.
TB: [nodding] A loss of innocence. [Long pause] See, doesn’t it feel good to get that off your chest? Don’t you feel better now?
NM: Actually, I feel worse. I’d like you to get out of my apartment now.
TB: Seriously? That’s all the time you’re giving me? Do you know how hard it is to find parking in this neighborhood? [Looking out the window] I mean, look at that spot! I’ll never get a spot that good in this neighborhood again!
NM: I need you to go now.
TB: OK, OK. But before I go, can I interest you in some licensed NBA merchandise? I’ve got a History of the Knicks DVD …
NM: Please leave.
TB: … a pair of game-worn Kurt Thomas shorts …
TB: … or a Charles Oakley throwback jersey!
NM: [long pause] OK, maybe the Oakley throwback…
Nick Mancini is a freelance writer who has written extensively about the Knicks for MSG.com. His blog is at callingtime.blogspot.com.
—Photo AP/Tim Sharp
More from “Talking To Talking Balls Week” at the Good Men Project:
Charlie Zegers: Shades of Willis Reed
Ryan Jones: Zeke’s Ankle
Andrew Sharp: 2 for 18
David Matthews: The Logo
Yago Colás: Nasty Infinities
Max Ornstein: Walt Clyde
Eric Freeman: Smush and Kwame?