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Rocketboy - One fans emotional story (New Yorker article)

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by DFWRocket, May 8, 2015.

  1. DFWRocket

    DFWRocket Member

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    I thought this was a great article from the New Yorker Magazine about one fans emotional ties to the Rockets. Very touching story.

    http://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/rocket-boy

    If I had to sum up my childhood with a single image, it would be the poster of Moses Malone that was taped to the wall next to my parents’ bed, in the master bedroom of our suburban Houston home. In the poster, a mustached and decidedly sober-looking Malone, a Hall of Fame center for the Rockets from 1976 to 1982, parts a Red Sea of basketballs with a shepherd’s crook. At the bottom, it said, simply, “Moses.”

    Malone was there because my mother, who had multiple sclerosis, was not. For most people, M.S. takes its toll over many years and is punctuated by long remissions. For my mother, the disease wasn’t so forgiving. Her limbs stopped working first, but by the time I had turned five, in 1980, her mind had succumbed as well. When a neurologist told my father that she would never recover, he decided that he could no longer care for her at home.



    I’m told that my mom was a funny and idiosyncratic woman before she got sick, and yet I’m confident that, had she been healthy and still living in our house, she would not have wanted my father to tape a basketball poster next to their bed. She also probably wouldn’t have wanted my father to do a lot of other things he did during those years, such as replace all the furniture in the dining room with a black inner tube that my sister and I used as a trampoline, or throw a party where guests were instructed to come dressed as Cyndi Lauper.

    But my mother wasn’t there, and so the dining-room furniture went out and the Moses Malone poster went up. At night, when I couldn’t sleep, I would crawl into the empty side of my father’s king-sized bed and stare at Malone until I fell asleep. After my mother became sick, we also stopped going to synagogue on Saturday mornings. My father was in no mood to praise God while his wife deteriorated before his eyes. Instead, we worshipped at the Summit, the arena where the Rockets played at the time.

    My father, Max Apple, is a writer, and, in the early eighties he published an article about the Houston point guard Calvin Murphy. A Rockets media executive took notice and offered my father a press pass for the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons. Whenever the Rockets played at home on a weekend, the two of us would sit together in Section 114, our view partially blocked by the backboard but clear enough that we could make out the otherworldly displays of athleticism put on each game by Akeem Olajuwon. (This was before he became a devout Muslim and added an “h” to the start of his name.) For road games, we curled up together on a dilapidated pale-green couch. My father would lie down and sometimes doze off, a habit that seemed inexplicable to me at the age of eight. If the game was a blowout I might let him sleep. If it was close, I would nudge him awake and crawl onto his stomach, a ritual I called “getting into position,” which was thought to bring good luck to the Rockets.

    Thirty years ago, shortly before the start of the 1985-1986 season, my father published an essay about the team and its importance to us in the New York Times Magazine. It begins with scenes from my father’s childhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he and his father rooted for the minor-league hockey team (also called the Rockets), then moves into an account of raising me as a Houston Rockets fan.

    I reread the essay recently, and I was struck by its melancholy tone. My father is a very funny writer, a satirist who can’t help but be tickled by the objects of his satire. But there is not a single comic line in his essay about the role basketball played in our lives. Here is how my father describes my after-school habit of playing basketball alone in our driveway:

    Sam puts down his school bag, drinks a glass of milk and goes outside until long after dark. He is hungry, tired, wet and alone; he is repeating for the thousandth time the same movement. He has little sense of life’s complexity, of the adult emotions that will soon shake him even more than the Rockets’ losses.
    In my memory, it’s all joy: the Rockets, the inner tube in our dining room, the crazy parties. After the devastating loss of my mother, my father had healed me with regular doses of basketball and absurd humor. Somehow, in all these years, it hadn’t occurred to me that the remedy hadn’t worked quite as well on his own grief.


    In 1986, my father won a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the next year we moved from Houston to New York. The plan had been to stay for six months, but we ended up staying for two and a half years. I spent almost every day of that time arguing with my new friends over what was then still a legitimate question: Olajuwon or Ewing? In a sea of twelve-year-old Knicks fans, my attachment to the Rockets became my defining characteristic—a characteristic that was made all the more definitive by the shiny, and in retrospect ridiculously puffy, red Rockets jacket I wore every winter day.

    When we returned to Houston, in 1989, things were different. My mother, who had been in a near vegetative state for some time, died that year, the day after my fourteenth birthday. By then, my father had a new wife, and I had all the adult emotions that my father had anticipated in his essay. My anxiety morphed into obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I began to mumble small prayers under my breath, including pleas for the happiness of my mother in the afterworld. My father and I were still devoted to the Rockets, but we no longer went to games.

    The summer between my junior and senior years of high school was particularly hard. I was still struggling with my O.C.D., and when my high-school girlfriend became suicidal I was convinced that it was my fault. I began to see a therapist who tried to help me understand that I was in a destructive relationship. It seemed to help. By the end of my senior year, things were getting better. I started dating someone else. The Rockets had made the playoffs that year, and my father decided to buy tickets. He said that they were my high-school-graduation present, but I knew he wanted to go to the games as much as I did.

    We didn’t expect the Rockets to make the N.B.A. Finals that year, but our team went on a miraculous run. After blowing a twenty-point lead to the Phoenix Suns in the fourth quarter of Game 2 in the Western Conference Semifinals, Houston was declared “Choke City” by the local paper. But the Rockets fought their way back. My father and I were at the Summit when the Rockets beat the Knicks for the championship and, in the process, settled the Olajuwon-or-Ewing debate once and for all.

    When the Rockets won the championship again the next year, I couldn’t help but view it in religious terms. The Rockets did not have a particularly impressive regular season and entered the postseason as the six seed in the West. I assumed that the Rockets had used up all of their miracles the previous year—winning it all as a sixth seed had never been done before—and arranged to spend the summer interning at a magazine in Israel. In his Times Magazine essay, my father compared going to Detroit Tigers games with his father as a child to the journeys of medieval pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Actually watching a game in Jerusalem was another story. Israel is eight hours ahead of Houston, and so for me the Rockets were playing in the middle of the night. They went on another incredible postseason run and made it back to the Finals, where they faced the Orlando Magic and a seemingly unstoppable Shaquille O’Neal. I was staying with a friend of the family in Jerusalem whose apartment had a spectacular view of the Old City and, more important, a TV. On the night of Game 4, as the sun was just coming up over the ancient stones of Jerusalem, the Rockets pulled away from the Orlando Magic and it became clear that they were about to win the championship again. The golden Dome of the Rock, among the holiest sites in the Islamic world, looked particularly spectacular in the morning light, after Olajuwon’s M.V.P. performance in the Finals. It was all so sublime, I’m surprised I didn’t convert to Olajuwon’s religion on the spot.

    A lot changes in twenty years. I live in Philadelphia. The Summit, perhaps fittingly, is now a megachurch. I have a son, Isaac, who is almost the exact age I was when my father wrote that Times Magazine essay, and he now worships James Harden in the way that I once worshipped Olajuwon. The Rockets are currently in the middle of a tough playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers, and, mostly because I want him there by my side on the couch, Isaac has been staying up way too late to watch.

    I recently went back to Houston for the first time in years. One of my oldest and closest friends, Mason, had gone through a divorce and lost his mother in a matter of a few months. I wanted to go to Houston to be there for Mason and also because I had loved his mother, Susan. After my mother fell sick, Susan went out of her way to show me the type of affection that’s usually reserved for a person’s own children. One day, she made four different batches of brownies at once. She said it was a taste test, to figure out which recipe I liked best.

    The night I arrived in Houston, Mason and I went to a Rockets game. Before going into the arena, I stopped at the Hakeem Olajuwon statue to pay my respects. It’s not a statue of the man—Olajuwon rejected such a statue on religious grounds. Instead, the Rockets erected a twelve-foot-high bronze slab that features Olajuwon’s jersey. Mason and I didn’t talk about his divorce or his mother all that much. The pain was still raw, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to say. I high-fived a lot of strangers that night and let out a few periodic animal whoops, but what I really wished was for my father to be cheering with me there, too.

    Before I left Houston, I picked up a James Harden jersey for my son. The Rockets are Isaac’s team now, too, but I pray that he never needs them as badly as my father and I did.
     
    4 people like this.
  2. banzai

    banzai Contributing Member

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    True fans. Haven't missed a single game this year.
     
  3. zeeshan2

    zeeshan2 Member

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    Great article; very emotional. Tugging on my heart strings
     
  4. Tenchi

    Tenchi Contributing Member

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    Really great article. I wonder if the writer reads the board.
     
  5. gifford1967

    gifford1967 Contributing Member
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    Excellent article. I remember reading Max Apple's book of short stories, The Oranging of America, when I was a kid. Great writer.
     
  6. Hakeemtheking

    Hakeemtheking Member

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    The Rockets have become a common bond for many a people. I really like watching them on t.v. (ok, not much when we lose), but I LOVE watching them in the company of my sons). We stay in bed, high-fiving any great plays by the good guys, and laughing when DeAndre Jordan air balls from the ft line.

    Like the great story you posted, I figure this must be the way for many parents who are Rockets fans.
     
  7. Liberon

    Liberon Rookie

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    My emotional ties with the Rox began in the 1994 NBA Finals vs the New York Knicks. I grew up poor and we didn't have cable so I was rarely exposed to other teams other than the Bullets and their Easter Conference Finals. I hated Knicks for some strange reason and always cheered against them because perceived them as a mean people, especially Charles Oakley and John Starks. But yeah Olajuwon and Sam Cassell were my favorite Rox players back then...
     
  8. joeson332

    joeson332 Member

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    Man what a great read thansk for sharing!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  9. rockbox

    rockbox Contributing Member

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    Great read.
     
  10. shastarocket

    shastarocket Contributing Member

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  11. MorningZippo

    MorningZippo Member

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    For some people, basketball is so much more than just a game.
     
  12. Haymitch

    Haymitch Contributing Member

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    Great read!
     
  13. FranchiseBlade

    FranchiseBlade Contributing Member
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    Really cool story. Inspiring.
     
  14. Fyreball

    Fyreball Contributing Member

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    What a fantastically-written story. It really puts into perspective some of the idiotic things we argue about on a daily basis, and reminds us that we all share a common bond: we all love the Houston Rockets.
     
  15. LAYGO

    LAYGO Contributing Member

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    Thank you for sharing. I've cried more in the last 24hours than I have in a long time.
     
  16. dachuda86

    dachuda86 Member

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    Basketball is an escape ...
     
  17. houstonhoya

    houstonhoya Contributing Member

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    Wow, great read
     
  18. Stardog75

    Stardog75 Member

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    Cough. Cough. Allergies, man. I'm not crying.
     
    1 person likes this.
  19. SooneRockStro

    SooneRockStro Member

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    It was a good story and a decent article. I kind of felt like the article ended abruptly though. Seems like it needed a little bit more at the end to tie the whole story together.
     
  20. shastarocket

    shastarocket Contributing Member

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    ^ A championship perhaps? ;)
     
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