[Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from The Barnstormer's first eBook, Thanatopsis, or How the Heat Lost the Finals, by Eric Fershtman. The novella/column/memoir is a navigation of the swampy tangle of loss and depression using basketball and the Kübler-Ross model of grief management. Laughter ensues. The entire eBook may be read or downloaded as an interactive pdf for your portable device here.]
I’M FROM FORT LAUDERDALE, but I was in Miami on that boiled June night in 2006 when the Heat won Game 6 to complete their comeback against the Dallas Mavericks. The thing was kind of a dream. My friend L and a few other friends were with me (all of us having graduated high school just weeks earlier), in American Airlines Arena, along with 20,000 other fans watching it on the big screen. Entrance was free, I believe, or startlingly cheap. The team clinched their — our — championship in Dallas, but the confetti, just the same, fell from the rafters, enveloping us all in flecks of white, gold, and red: the effect was that of a New Year’s celebration. Driving down there originally, we’d nearly been killed in a head-on collision when my friend A, unhappy at being chosen (read: tricked) designated driver, took an “accidental” left into oncoming traffic. Somehow — my memory, beyond the sound of hollering and the de-crystallizing or blurring of the scene into weird, trip-like motions of colors, is fuzzy on this — he was able to maneuver the car out of there.
After the game, traffic on Biscayne stopped entirely. No movement for an hour or so, at least in the form of transportation. People were yelling and honking and blasting music, mostly hip-hop, getting on top of cars to dance (my friend C — not a sports fan, just a lover of celebration, a Dionysian enthusiast — tore off his shirt and, I don’t know, gyrated?, on top of A’s trunk), running between the lanes, giving out high fives, fist pounds, chest bumps. Numerous instances of stripping and mooning. The air smelled of perspiration and fire, and beyond, the bay, I imagine, glittered murkily. Because the windows were open, A refused to turn on the A/C; L and E and I sat cramped in the back of the two-door Mustang, drenched in sweat, chanting and screaming as loud as we could. Pat Riley, during the championship parade, danced arhythmically to Yung Joc.
I was sitting at home in 2010, tuned into ESPN, when the Decision was aired live. Chris Broussard and a number of others had already reported LeBron James was headed to Miami, but I was skeptical, convinced this was a leak from LeBron’s camp to throw off the scent. I never thought, not for a minute, that he would leave Cleveland. In fact, I’d been afraid, before Chris Bosh signed with Miami, that Dwyane Wade would be leaving for Chicago. Since he’d almost single-handedly carried Marquette to the Final Four, Wade had been my favorite player (eclipsing Tracy McGrady, the poor back-burdened soul who scored in electrifying bunches, but who, when he was cold, could be downright awful). I’d been hyping him since he was drafted, and had been proud, almost like a father, when he’d exploded into a superstar. Game 3 of the 2006 Finals had provided one of the greatest moments of my young life (Wade in a timeout, down thirteen with six minutes left between him and, for all intents and purposes, an embarrassing sweep, saying, to himself but so his teammates could hear, “I ain’t going out like this,” proceeding to finish with forty-two points and thirteen rebounds). I didn’t think they’d have the money to pay all three guys, or, if they did, they wouldn’t have the cap space left to sign any notable role players (which turned out to be, for the most part, true). But Broussard had been right. LeBron made his infamous declaration, and suddenly Miami was on top of the sporting world. I remember my excitement, despite the Decision’s irrelevance to my everyday life. I called L, who was excited too, and we began discussing hypotheticals, some of which came true (the lob-fests of Year One), and some of which did not (the high scoring, the historical domination of the entire league).
And in June of 2011, I was at a Bru’s Room in Coral Springs, sitting alongside L and some fella who was buying us pitcher after pitcher of beer for some reason, when Dallas stole the momentum from Miami in Game 2, and at a pub in Montreal when they finished the Heat off, in Game 6, surrounded by French Canadians quietly drinking their beers, along with McGill/Concordia students oblivious to the game. The waitresses, at this pub, and indeed in all of Montreal, were unthinkably attractive. LeBron hadn’t shown up for the series, and his lack of mental toughness seemed to seep into me: I was a young and struggling writer (still am), just beginning to understand the odds stacked against my success. LeBron’s doubt was my doubt: not the fear of failure, but the fear of success: what if you do succeed? What are you supposed to strive for then? How are you ever supposed to top the experience of that first breakthrough? These thoughts were vague, unformed, at the time, but certainly there, and contributing to the reintroduction of a depression I’d had when I was nineteen, twenty years old, of which I was terribly afraid, and hoping I could somehow fight off. In seeing LeBron’s pained, confused fourth-quarter expressions, I was seeing myself.
[Editor's Note: The rest of Thanatopsis, or How the Heat Lost the Finals, by Eric Fershtman may be read or downloaded as an interactive pdf for your portable device here.]