Back in the Game
It was a simple jumper, a shot from 16 feet. The ball left Tim Duncan's hands and sailed toward the hoop. It did not hit glass. It fell through the net and the roar that followed took me back.
Back to Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals. Back to
It was deja vu and more. When the Spurs beat the New Jersey Nets, I said goodbye to a job I'd wanted since third grade. After 21 years covering more sporting events than I could count, I jumped to news. It wasn't an easy decision but it was final. I thought I'd never return.
But there I was on media row for Duncan's milestone, starting a column for Spurs.com. How did I complete a career 360?
Long story short: A collapsing economy, a four-alarm fire and an unexpected treat on Halloween.
I'll explain in a moment but first the back story. As the Spurs began their 2003 playoff run, the San Antonio Express-News offered me a Metro column. I declined at first, then changed my mind. The new column would allow me to stop traveling, spend weekends with my wife and be a hands-on dad.
That was the upside of leaving sports. But there was a downside. Commenting on municipal government was never as much fun as opining on hoops, and it showed. As one friend put it: "I liked you better in sports."
Truth is, I did, too, which is why I once turned a 2007 Father's Day column into a tribute to former Spur
Fast forward to 2009. A faltering economy prompted the Express-News to lay off 130 employees. On the first day of Spring, I lost my job. On the first day of April - no joke - I got a new one. A marketing gig at Our Lady of the Lake University. A four-alarm blaze in 2008 had caused more than $15 million in damages, and OLLU needed someone to help raise its profile and spread the good, post-fire news. Enrollment was up, donations had soared and the University was virtually debt-free.
One perk of my job was time to pursue other writing opportunities. In the fall, I called the Associated Press and asked for freelance work. On Oct. 31, I was assigned the Spurs-Sacramento game.
It had been so long since I'd seen Coach Gregg Popovich, he began his pre-game media session with a question for me: "What are you doin' here?"
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty
In keeping with a fright-night theme, Manu Ginobili swatted a flying bat, took a squirt of hand sanitizer, received a prescription for rabies shots and made SportsCenter. What a game. Ginobili's bat swipe became a YouTube sensation, his 13 points a footnote in the Spurs victory.
Then came a serendipitous encounter, a chance meeting with a team official as I left the AT&T Center. What followed became the first of several conversations about Spurs.com. Now here I am, writing a weekly column that will be a blend of commentary, features and human interest stories.
In this unpredictable, roller coaster season, my eyes tend to lock on No. 20, just as they did in 2003. Then, Ginobili might wrap the ball around his waist, fake left, go right, soar and -- with defenders collapsing upon him -- somehow score. Today, he might go 0-for-10, make an errant pass in the final seconds, dive into a row of cameras to save the ball and deliver the play of the game.
At 32, Manu can still make magic. My favorite trick this season: His one-hand, behind-the-back, stumbling-out-of-bounds pass to DeJuan Blair for an assist against Minnesota. The play was so out-of-this-world, ESPN offered an on-air correction. After the network aired its Top NBA play of the decade on Dec. 30 -- a day following the Spurs-Timberwolves game -- a studio host conceded: Ginobili's pass was better.
After leaving sports, I paid to watch Ginobili play. But now, with one of the best seats in the house, I don't have to.
It's good to be back in the game.