I doubt anyone in human history has ever been so excited to learn that the D-League Delaware 87ers play their home games at Bob Carpenter Center, home of the University of Delaware Blue Hens. For two years, ever since the Westchester Knicks were founded, I have been hoping to watch a W-Knicks game from the unfriendly confines of Newark, Del.
It's all about the location. Newark is on the border of Cecil County, Md. -- a black hole located between Baltimore and Philadelphia. It is a world apart from most areas in the Boston-D.C. corridor -- the kind of place where the barber shops have live bait vending machines, where you just might see the truck behind you in the McDonald's drive-thru light off a crap-ton of fireworks on some random night in August, where middle-aged men walk up to liquor store cashiers and spout nonsense like, "Guess what I'm gonna be for Halloween ... Blue-Gray Bowl! Army-Navy!". Shit just happens there ... dumb, weird shit that will bring a smile to your face for years to come.
It also happens to be the birthplace of two of my oldest friends. I don't get to see Matt and Stu very often anymore -- Matt moved down in the D.C. area, I moved to Pennsylvania, and both of them have kids. It's just the reality of being older ... every meet-up becomes a logistical nightmare. But not Friday night ... Friday night we had tickets to a D-League game, Matt and Stu dropped their kids the families, and we were off!
I arrived at 6 PM. an hour before tip-off, at the T.G.I.Friday's across the street from the arena. As soon as I pulled in I saw a woman in her late-thirties moon her friend from across the parking lot while her four children waited patiently in the car. "WOOO! Full moon today!" It was a good omen.
The three of us grabbed a quick drink at the bar -- not so much reminiscing as struggling to find that point in the past from which the reminiscing could begin. When was the last time we hung out together at a bar? The World Cup Final, right? Not the last World Cup ... the one before that. In 2010. Jesus, has it really been six years?
There's really no better sports environment for getting together with old friends than a minor league game. The atmosphere is relaxed, the noise level is reduced, and the outcome of the game doesn't matter that much. I swear, I had planned to get down close and document everything, but as soon as I sat down I said "screw it." Here's the only photo I took of the game.
I couldn't help but make a few casual observations, however ...
- The W-Knicks are just as adept at missing layups as their big brothers at MSG. Could it be some kid of organizational mandate? If so, I strongly disagree with it!
- With the exception of Travis Trice, every W-Knick has a problem with picking up their dribble too early.
- There are some creative passers on the team, but nobody with the kind of accuracy needed to thread passes through defenders in traffic. Also the bigs can't catch.
- Thanasis Antetokounmpo was just as entertaining to watch as I thought he'd be:
He was the total package: dunks, blocks, exaggerated pointing, bench shouting, extended post-huddle ass-slapping. He stays out on the floor encouraging his teammates so long at the end of timeouts that I'm never quite sure whether or not he's still in the game.
- I found myself saying this multiple times last night while laughing hysterically: "I'm watching Baron Davis play basketball in the year 2016":
The hairline is receding a bit, and there's a little more junk in the trunk, but he's still capable of making the occasional Boom Dizzle play. On this evening of nostalgia, watching Baron Davis seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
The W-Knicks staged a fourth-quarter comeback to take a three-point lead, and an 87er guard who kind of looked like a tiny Detlef Schrempf missed at the buzzer. Ballgame. Time to head to the Elkton Diner.
My friends and I ended many a summer evening at the ol' E.D. back in the day. The food isn't particularly good, the service is reliably terrible, but it's an institution, dammit! Where else can you play "The Scatman" by Scatman John on a continuous loop at the jukebox at 2 AM? Show me another place that was "oted" best diner, I dare you!
We bounded through the front door, only to be stopped by the hostess: "We're closed." The clock read 9:58.
"You mean you're not 24-hours anymore?" The old lady looked at us like we were crazy: "We haven't been 24-hours since..."
She paused for a good 45 seconds to come up with an answer. We half-expected some Twilight Zone-style twist, like they haven't been 24-hours since 1974 or something.
"... two years, at least." Two years? Hard to believe, but it checks out.
As we left, we notice the "24 hours" sign had been covered up by what appeared to be shoe polish. You're dead to us, Elkton Diner!
Undaunted, we decided upon one of the several local Waffle Houses.
The chocolate milk was lukewarm, and the floor of the bathroom was like a slip-n-slide, but the bacon was crisp and the waitress was friendly. As the clock crept toward 11, the three of us discussed various adult things -- Stu's son's little league season, what to use for acid reflux -- sprinkled with a few of those wonderfully dumb old stories and inside jokes that still feel as warm and comforting as your favorite sweatshirt: To me, music is like food. Because you can't sell cheese, man! No wait ... what I mean is, you can't put ketchup on cheese ... unless you're eating a cheeseburger.
We were so friggin' dumb.
The three of us were in no position to hold down that Waffle House til the wee hours of the morning, the way we used to do as young punks. Stu and Matt had to get back to their kids; I had to get back to my wife. We parted ways, promising to get together sooner next time. Who the hell knows if we'll be able to keep that promise. At least we had the 87ers and the Westchester Knicks