SOMEWHERE IN THE SKY . . . — “So what do you think tonight?” I ask the man sitting to my left. “Pistons by eight? Celtics by eight? What do you think?”

“I think . . . ” he says.

I know what he thinks. He thinks Boston is on a roll after its last win. He thinks Boston will win tonight. But I say no. I say tonight is the Pistons’ night. I say Silverdome mystique prevails. I say tonight’s star will be . . . John Salley. Yeah. He hasn’t had a night yet. John Salley’s night. Tonight.

“Well?” I repeat. “What do you think?”

“I . . . uh . . . I don’t think–“

I know what he thinks. He thinks Boston. I think Detroit. That is what makes plane rides like this so much fun. I have made five, uh, six, no — well, I don’t remember how many of these flights I have made anymore. It doesn’t matter, does it? The pattern is easy. Every two days we go to the airport and fly east. Or maybe west. And two days later we fly west. Or maybe east. Detroit. Boston. Detroit. Boston. Easy.

“So what do you think?” I ask once more. “Spit it out. Who wins tonight’s game?”

“I don’t think there is a game,” he says.

Jeez. The people you get stuck next to. Of course there’s a game

“Of course there is a game,” I say. “Every two days there is a Pistons-Celtics game. Didn’t they play a week ago Sunday? Then Tuesday? Then Thursday? Then Saturday? Two, two, two. And today is Monday. Saturday to Monday. Two days. Game time. Can’t you count?”

“Excuse me,” he says, moving seats.

Must be a Celtics fan.

I take out my notes and place them on the little table in front of my seat. I see Isiah Thomas did not shoot so well on Saturday. I look for him to improve. I see Larry Bird shot his head off Saturday. I look for him to cool off.

I look for trouble. There is trouble in just about every game of this series now, isn’t there? Bird and Bill Laimbeer? Danny Ainge and Adrian Dantley? I look for Dennis Johnson and Darren Daye to bang heads tonight. I look for Laimbeer to steal a Bird inbounds pass. I look for Robert Parish to leave the game again before it is over. I look for that lady in the yellow dress to start dancing during the time-outs and driving everybody in the Silverdome crazy. I look for this.

“Pistons by six?” I ask, opening the door to the captain’s cockpit.

“Get back to your seat!” he says.

I am surprised there is not a little more excitement. This thing is building like a drum roll. Celtics take two. Pistons take two. Celtics take one, Pistons take one, Celtics take one–. Pretty soon they will start dividing it up by halves.

How long has this little tale of two cities been going on? Who can remember? I get on the planes, I get off the planes. We go east. We go west. Today we are going west, I think. Unless we’re going, you know, east.

“WHAT’S THE LATEST LINE?” I scream to the voice on the other end of the air phone. “HURRY. THESE CALLS COST A LOT OF MONEY!”

“The line . . . ?” he says, his voice a distant cackle. “Boston is . . . a
. . . seven-point underdog . . . to the . . . La . . . “

“What?” I say, but he has faded out. Another chance in the Garden

Well now. This is interesting.

“Did you hear?” I whisper to one of the 50 other NBA writers on this flight. “Did you hear? Boston a seven-point underdog?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I heard.”

“I wonder what Chuck Daly makes of that.”

“I don’t think he cares one way or the other.”

“Oh sure he does. And Isiah and Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson. They care. They say they don’t care. But they care. Boston a seven-point underdog? Whooee! Don’t you think Detroit will be a little cocky tonight? Don’t you think Dennis Rodman will do his little dance after every basket? Don’t you think the Pistons will be in their groove?”

“I don’t even think they’ll be awake,” he says.

Ah, forget him. I know what he thinks. He thinks Boston. A lot of people think Boston. But I think Detroit. I think Detroit takes tonight’s game and Wednesday night’s game and maybe even Friday’s game, which will be back in the dreaded Boston Garden. Unless it’s, you know, at the Silverdome. That’s what I think.

I put away my notes. The plane has landed. My pattern is the same as two days ago, and two days before that. I will get my car, drive to the shoot-around, then prepare myself for tonight, which is Game what? — I’ve lost count already. Whatever.

I file out behind the other writers. I take my official NBA bag and my official NBA coat from the flight attendant, who smiles as I pass.

“Have a nice stay in Los Angeles,” she says.

“Los Angeles?” I say.

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