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Fran Blinebury

Calvin Murphy
Calvin Murphy, pictured in 1976, was one of several Hall of Famers attending the celebrity lockout game.
Dick Raphael/NBA photos via Getty Images

Our Rockets, Spurs, Mavs? 'OK, let us have them back'


Posted Nov 22 2011 7:29PM

HOUSTON  -- All Thomas Webster wants for Christmas is his two front teeth. And a chance to watch Miami square off against Dallas on ABC.

The diminutive NBA fan in the oversized Heat jersey that practically hung to the floor showed the wide gap in his beaming smile every time another big man roared through the lane to throw down another windmill dunk. He clapped his hands and he stomped his feet and he shrieked in joy each time another high-arcing 3-point shot settled into the bottom of the net.

Just as at other venues from coast-to-coast, Delmar Fieldhouse rocked and roared with appreciation on Sunday evening when the John Lucas Lockout Celebrity Game brought a taste of NBA basketball back onto the court during an ugly off-season of labor squabbling.

"Owners? Players? Who gets how much a percentage of what? My boy doesn't care about any of that and, truthfully, neither do I," said George Webster, a delivery truck driver. "It's time for all these people on both sides to remember that they're lucky to be playing sports or owning teams.

"There's a lot of us out here who can't afford to buy tickets to go to NBA games during a normal season and this was a chance for me to get my boy up close to these players for the first time. To be honest though, I'd rather have them all wearing their real uniforms and Thomas and I would be watching the games on TV together. We pull for the Rockets, of course. But you can tell from the jersey he's wearing, he's a Heat fan and he doesn't know why they're not playing."

That was the general sentiment throughout the packed house where no less than 20 NBA teams were represented by jersey-wearing fans.

Khalid Farah, 16, and his three buddies were all clad in the home white of the Chicago Bulls as they worked their way through the pre-game throng trying to collect autographs from the likes of Hall of Famers Moses Malone and Calvin Murphy and seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry.

"This lockout thing is killing us," Farah said. "We knew there might be some delay to training camps. But I don't think anybody thought it was going to go on this long.

"My friends and I are all Bulls fans and, after last season when they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, we were so excited. We figured that was just a start, a first step toward a championship. From the time they were eliminated by Miami season, we began to look forward to coming back and going all the way. This isn't fair to the fans."

The crowd watched length-of-the-court passes that set up reverse, two-handed slams that brought gasps and laughed at occasional miscues while watching an All-Star Game-on-steroids type of pace that produced offense, offense and more offense.

There were several thousand standing in line to get in nearly two hours before the opening tip, buzzing with anticipation before the closest thing to a local NBA fix since the Rockets missed the playoffs last April.

"We got a young team and lot of ground to make up. But we got a new coach in Kevin McHale and I want to see what that old Celtic who used to beat us all the time when he was playing can bring to Houston," said Charles Longoria, 52.

"But I'll tell you, the NBA might be playing with fire if they let this thing go on and lose the whole season. People have a way of moving on. We've got the Texans playing great now and looking like they're going to the playoffs. And the NFL was smart enough not to wipe out a season. We've got the University of Houston ranked in the top 10. We've got a new owner for the Astros. If you're the NBA in a lot of cities that might not be at the top of the pack, you don't want to get forgotten."

To many, it was a curious dynamic at work. An appreciative crowd packed into a small gym to watch the game and many of the players that they love, but with an underlying sense of disappointment and discontent. The fans' eruption with thunderous applause for those electric "NBA-is-fantastic" moments covered up grumbling of unhappiness that terms such as "BRI" and "decertification" have replaced "Let's go Mavs!" and "Beat L.A.!" as the language of the 2011-12 season.

Juan Torres, 36, an electrician, had a son -- 10-year-old Raul and 7-year-old Jorge -- on each hand as they picked their way through the throng that poured onto the court to greet the players after the final horn.

"These two love basketball and watching the NBA has given us a lot of time to spend together and a lot of fun," he said. "Now they don't understand any of this. You know, you always hear the teams say, 'We're your Houston Rockets' or 'your San Antonio Spurs' or 'your Dallas Mavericks.'

"Well, OK then. Let us have them back."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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