LOS ANGELES — The time is September, or maybe October. The scene is the Forum, or maybe the Boston Garden. The game is basketball.
“Celtics-Lakers,” says the tired voice of the TV announcer, “tonight, 9 o’clock, Game . . . uh . . . whatever. Be there.”
The players arrive, and are helped off the bus by little old ladies. Larry Bird has a beard. Kevin McHale has a beard, and crutches. James Worthy no longer has a beard, but has shaved his head and wears eye shadow. Everyone is trying something new, anything new, searching for an edge to finally end this series.
Nothing has worked. One team pulls ahead, the other pulls back. The game is basketball.
“Hey man, how long have we been playing you guys?” yells LA’s Michael Cooper, now bald and weighing 98 pounds.
“Geez,” yells back Boston’s Greg Kite (whose acne has finally cleared up),
“when this series began I wasn’t even a starter, I was a bench warmer. Remember?”
“Yeah,” says Cooper, laughing. “You stunk.”
“Well, that was a long time ago,” says Kite. The return of Russell A long time ago. Yes. Kite, of course, has been a starter for two months now, ever since center Robert Parish disappeared after Game . . . uh . . . whatever. In July. Or maybe August. You remember that game. The one where Jack Nicholson finally suited up for the Lakers, and, recalling his role in “Cuckoo’s Nest,” began taunting Parish, screaming:
“You fooled ’em all, Chief! You fooled ’em all!” Parish smothered Nicholson with a pillow, then exited through an open window.
The series almost ended then. But the Celtics bounced back with a surprise of their own, putting Red Auerbach on the bench, and Bill Russell in the middle. “Outta my way, kid,” Russell sneered at 40-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That almost did it. But the Lakers bounced back, too.
Every conceivable offense has now been tried. Every conceivable defense has now been tried. One team pulls ahead. The other team pulls even. “This is such a great matchup,” someone had said back in June, “we should forget about best-of- seven and just play until there is a clear winner.”
We shot that guy last week.
But it didn’t help. Basketball refuses to finish. The Celtics and Lakers keep playing and playing. Weary fans keep dragging themselves to the arenas, although many have had to sell their homes to keep paying for tickets.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country prepares for yet another Sunday afternoon indoors, around the television set. The barbecues have been sitting for months in the back yards, unlit. July 4 came and went. Celtics won, 104-103. Labor Day came and went. Lakers won, 103-102. No barbecues.
“We’re waiting for basketball season to end,” people said. “So baseball season can get rolling, and we can buy the hot dogs, and, you know. . . . “
What has happened here? The time is September, or maybe October, and we still have Larry driving on Magic, and Magic driving on Larry. Kareem throws up another hook, signs another contract. Another hook, another contract. Baseball and football and lacrosse and the rest have been piled up like cars in a traffic accident. The natural sports order has been clogged. Hasn’t it been this way since, what? April? May? June? Basketball. The game is basketball.
Still. A reporter’s nightmare “Hey Magic,” says Bird, as the players take off their warm-ups. “You wanna eat with us at Fanueil Hall after the game?”
“Aw, I’m sick of that place,” says Magic. “We’ve eaten there 10 times already.”
“Well, how many times did we go with you guys on that dumb Universal Studios tour, huh?” says Bird. “Twenty times? ‘Look at the shark!’ Whoopee. Twenty times?”
This is what it has become. An endless daze of cross-country travel. Basketball west. Basketball east. Somewhere, this was supposed to end, but somewhere we lost count, and now it just keeps going and going. Reporters who have been with this from the start have been found unconscious in their hotel rooms. Others have taken to conserving underwear by wearing the same pair for a week at a time. Understandably, these people travel alone.
What is left to say? What is left to write? Everyone has been interviewed 10,000 times, including the trainers. Basketball. More basketball.
“I think tonight is it,” says Magic, moments before Game . . . uh . . . whatever. “I think we finally got ’em. And then, vacation!”
“Vacation?” asks a reporter.
“Yeah. Coach says since we’ve played so long, we can have off straight until the first game of next season.”
“When’s that?” he is asked.
“Next week,” he says.