I'm always sorry to see the season end, because it means that I'll be going months without doing something I still have a passion for after all these years. Still, there's always a silver lining involved, because the end of the season means I now have down time and can walk 518 miles across Indiana, participate in community theatre, do standup comedy, or broadcast minor league baseball, all of which I've done at one time or another with my summers.
But this season is different.
I'm still sorry to see it end, but the silver lining isn't there this time. Oh, I'll find something to do with my time off – I always do – but I'm feeling a sense of loss that I've rarely, if ever, felt at the end of a season. We've had teams here that were better than this one was and advanced further in the playoffs than this one did, but I've never been around a group of guys like this. That's not to say we haven't had teams populated by good guys, or teams chock full of guys that I liked and admired, because we have. But to understand my appreciation for this group, you need to understand something that I think most fans aren't aware of, because they don't have access to this environment like we do.
A professional basketball team is made up of highly accomplished people, and part of the reason these people are so accomplished is that they're driven to succeed and have considerable egos. You don't get to be the best at anything if that's not a part of your DNA, and while those are essential traits, they can often become negatives if the people involved don't manage those egos and the individual agendas that often come with those egos. Throw in the inevitable personality conflicts that exist in any work environment, and I doubt that you'd be surprised if I told you that I've seen more than one team unravel due to such issues.
Which brings us to this group.
I'm not naïve enough to think this team didn't have egos and agendas; of course they did, just like we all do. But whatever those agendas were, you never saw them surface. I don't know this for a fact, but I'd be willing to bet you that there are guys on this team that don't like each other (true in any work place, no?). If so, you never saw it. These guys genuinely pulled for each other, even if it meant supporting someone that was taking minutes from somebody that thought he deserved them more. This team worked hard every night, and every day in practice (full disclosure: I was way too lazy to hit every practice, but I'll still stand by that statement), and competed as zealously as any team I've ever been around. There's a common misconception among casual fans that NBA players are motivated by money and lifestyle. Well, so what? Aren't most of us? But this group was as committed to winning as any team I've been around, and it was a commitment everybody up and down the roster shared, and that includes the coaches, who are all top shelf and didn't get nearly the credit they deserved for the work they did this season.
All of that is a rather long winded way of saying that I am really going to miss this team. I get the impression that management likes this mix, and a lot of these guys – perhaps even the majority – will be back next season. Still, the reality of the NBA is that no team ever returns entirely intact, and that means the mix will be different next season, if only slightly.
So no matter what harebrained project I come up with to get me through the summer (did I mention the summer I spent time as a coffee barista? Or the time I delivered pizzas and worked in a tire store?), the memory of this team is going to stay with me for a long, long time, and I'm grateful to have been around a bunch of people that were so professional, likeable, and even inspiring. I am a cynic by nature, but because of these guys I find myself just a bit less cynical than I was last August.
This team made 2017-2018 the most memorable season of my career.