Anyone who has ever discussed basketball with me, or has read anything I’ve written about basketball, knows that my plan for my first NBA Finals was to go with my dad when the Clippers are representing the Western Conference (June, 2023, let’s do this!!)  So I was a little on the fence when the opportunity arose for me to go to Game 2 of the 2022 NBA Finals in San Francisco with my Celtics-loving best friend from college.  Yes!  I would love to go to the Finals!  No!  I want to wait until I can go with my dad!  Of course, being the guy that he is, my dad gave me his blessing and we decided this would be a practice run for the real finals next year, when we can go experience the Clippers winning their first title together.

So in the course of a whirlwind 48 hours from decision day to game day, the plans came together.  Flight to Bay Area.  Check.  Game tickets that didn’t require selling my house or any internal organs.  Check.  (With a huge thank you to the Clippers organization who came through to help us out on that one.)  Green shirt?  Had to order that from Amazon, frantically searching for anything appropriate and the right shade of green that also featured next day delivery.  Check.  My first lesson in Finals attendance—you can’t get a jersey of your favorite Celtics player the day before the game.  You are not the only person who has that idea.  (FYI, it’s Jaylen Brown — one, because he’s amazing and fun, and two, because he went to my alma mater, Cal.) 

And then I was off.  A fish out of water, going to an iconic moment in basketball history, in a strange arena where I know no one, don’t know what to eat or drink or where to park, with minimal skin in the game.   Herein lies the saga of a Clippers fan at the NBA Finals.  What a day.

It is impossible to put words to the electricity of a Finals game.  I’ve been to a lot of regular season games, a lot of playoff games, and even one round of the Western Conference Finals.  Again, it won’t surprise anyone who knows me to hear that I burst into tears the moment I stepped onto the Chase Center property and saw the giant NBA FINALS graphics.  As a fan of the game, to be part of the biggest stage of the season, even if as a guest and not a die-hard fan of either team, was a moment that I will never forget.  The ESPN panel doing the pre-game show in the courtyard of the arena, thousands of fans in blue and gold and green and white, brightly colored Mardi Gras beads, painted faces, music, kids and parents, selfies everywhere.  It was broad daylight when we arrived, an hour before tip-off, and the place was literally lit up with excitement.  

Going into the arena was surprising.  Although all the merch was all Warriors colors and themes, the electronic graphics throughout were pretty equally generic NBA Finals, Celtics-themed, and Dubs-themed.  The hundred or so fellow green-wearing fans we encountered high fived us, as if we were all part of a very special club.  I have been fortunate to attend a few Clippers away games over the years, and this vibe was very much the same except a hundred times as intense.  There is a bond when you’re a fan of the other guys.  Everyone we saw in green was instantly our best friend.

Finding our way to our seats in the unfamiliar location wasn’t hard.  To be honest, the hype of the new arena was a big curiosity to me.  My unbiased evaluation (and I was taking notes to compare to the upcoming Inuit Dome) was that it came off a little cold, a little distant.  We had decent seats in the lower bowl, but there is a weird kind of overhang situation over the back third of the lower level that made me feel like we were sitting in a cave.  Not too warm and fuzzy, although the Warriors fans surrounding us were nice as could be despite the fact that they had dropped the first game at home and were about to be playing out of a hole.

Once the game started, it was just like it looks on television.  Basically every basket on every possession is celebrated as if it were a game winner at the buzzer.  There is no doubt that the spotlight of the Finals made everything more intense, every possession more important.  And it was a good run for a Celtics fan….at least the first half of the game.

The third quarter was a Celtics debacle.  I haven’t checked the numbers, but it seems like the Celtics scored maybe 12 points and the Warriors maybe 12,000.  It was a painful and seemingly endless 12 minutes for a die-hard Clippers fan: I have been here before and those feelings of defeat and inevitability and disbelief are way too familiar; I was around back in the day when the Clippers won 17 games in an entire season, and the wounds from dropping a 3-1 lead in the playoff bubble are also still apparently too fresh.  I got some fries to ease the pain.  It helped.  The game went from tied to out of reach in what seemed like the blink of an eye.  

And then, honestly, it was just fun.  With nothing to lose at that point, the starters, and the top half of the benches, were pulled.  Random (to me, at least) guys in jerseys that looked like they had never been game-worn got to play in the NBA Finals, and they played with a reckless abandon that was a complete joy to watch.  We screamed for every make from deep by guys whose names I had never heard before.  Because NBA basketball is fun.  And the Finals are fun multiplied a million times over.  And as my Celtics friend who invited me into this experience said, we may never pass this way again.  

Leaving the arena, we did as all real fans do and immediately rationalized the loss.  We reminded ourselves that if anyone had told the Celtics they would leave the Bay Area 1 and 1, they would happily have taken that.  We also might have mentioned the loss of home court advantage to every Warriors fan who yelled at us on the walk back to our car, which was as much a party in the streets of San Francisco as it had been inside the arena.  We shared “Celtics in 5” with every green-shirted person we passed on the long walk back.

What an experience.  How lucky I am to have had the opportunity to be a spectator as part of the biggest stage in the sport that I love.  And you’d better believe I am counting the days until this happens for the Clippers, with  my dad, in downtown Los Angeles.

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