Courtney and Andrew Edwards were two of the people who had the pleasure of attending Monday’s game between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center.
For the Edwards’, it was like a quasi date night.
“It was awesome,” Courtney said. “It was a lot of fun. It was the first actual night out doing anything in a year. The kids went to the babysitter for the first time.
“It was exciting in that it kind of made you feel like a normal human being again being able to do something enjoyable and fun purely for the sake of doing something enjoyable and fun.”
Courtney was part of the 1,500 vaccinated frontline workers and first responders who became the first fans – at the Mavs’ invitation — to attend a Mavs’ game at AAC since the 2019-‘20 season was suspended on Mar. 11. Courtney is a registered nurse and director of nursing in trauma at Parkland hospital.
The game was extra fun for Courtney because her favorite Mavs player, Kristaps Porzingis, scored a season-high tying 27 points, grabbed a season-high tying 13 rebounds and blocked six shots – one shy of his career high.
“I’m a huge fan of Porzingis and he had an amazing night last night,” Courtney said. “My husband was laughing at me because with the mask on I didn’t know if (Porzingis) could hear me. My husband was like, ‘Oh, cheer away, cheer away with the mask on.’
“When he got his third 3-pointer in the first quarter I was screaming and cheering, and it was a lot of fun because they could hear you, because we were close enough and I guess probably because the acoustics in the arena were good. It was fun for us, but I think they kind of also enjoyed having a few fans or two, because they were waving and saying hi.”
The fans gave the Mavs an extra dose of energy and a slice of enthusiasm.
“The atmosphere was obviously better,” forward Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “You just hear crickets when there’s nobody in there, so it was great just to have fans in the building and we were happy to put on a good performance for them.”
Dr. Meghna Shah Lilaram, an optometrist at Parkland said the players on the court weren’t the only ones who put on a good performance on Monday.
“We were in that first group of frontline workers to go to a game there in over 11 months, so it was just one of those surreal moments just to see post-pandemic how the game looks,” Dr. Lilaram said. “It was just nice to see the consistency of seeing everyone masked, and even the monitor in the aisle was making sure that everyone was masked.
“We can have fun and be safe at the same time, so it was great. It was such an honor to be treated with such great care at the game. We got gift towels for being health care workers and just all the thank you’s and appreciations. Everyone there felt so appreciated for the hard work that we’ve done through these difficult times.”
Dr. Lilaram attended the game with her four-and-a-half year old son, Ajay.
“It was his first sporting event,” she said. “It was truly a remarkable experience — having the honor to have been selected to go there.
“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done from the beginning and to create so much joy by giving us the opportunity to come to the sporting event. Thank you for thinking of the frontline workers and the first responders. It’s so touching to have that love to us and consideration for the work that we all put in during this pandemic.”
Reni Chacko, a registered nurse who works in nursing administration at Parkland, also spoke highly of the Mavs giving him an opportunity to witness Monday’s game in person. Chacko attended the game with his wife, Blessy, who also is a registered nurse at Parkland.
“The experience was very good,” Chacko said. “The two and a hour hours were very wonderful. There were a bunch of co-workers there.
“The game was very good and the Mavericks won. We really enjoyed it.”
Coach Rick Carlisle certainly enjoyed having the fans screaming and hollering and helping his team squeeze out a 127-122 victory over the Timberwolves.
“It’s great to honor these folks that have been courageous and have been doing such important work on the front lines for so many months,” Carlisle said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 11 months since the hiatus.
“But these folks have had a non-stop job between then and now, so we’re very grateful. It helps bring back a little bit of normalcy, which is greatly welcomed.”
Courtney and her husband purchased a 10-game Mavs season ticket package during the 2019-’20 season, but this was their first game at AAC since November of 2019.
“That was another reason why we did decide to try to get into the raffle to get the tickets because we knew it would be socially distanced and we knew that the Mavs would do the right thing and make sure people stayed safe,” Courtney said. “But it was different.
“It was kind of eerie to be there with so few people and going to the bathroom and not seeing another soul. That never happens. But I’d like to think that the players enjoyed having fans again in the arena, and that they enjoyed that as much as we enjoy watching them, because seeing it on TV is not quite the same.”
Mavs superstar point guard Luka Doncic definitely enjoyed looking up in the stands and seeing some friendly faces. Even if they were donning a mask.
“We’ve all been waiting for this,” Doncic said. “Hopefully we can have some more. It’s great stuff for us.
“They get us going and they give us energy and we expect to have more and more.”
Even more frontline workers and first responders will attend the next three Mavs’ home games, starting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. when Dallas entertains the Atlanta Hawks. Dr. Lilaram acknowledged that this is not the first time they’ve been the recipients of something charitable from the Mavs.
“They’ve done so much for Parkland during the pandemic helping us with meals and hand sanitizers and masks, and even child care,” she said. “And then to give all of us something to look forward to by winning tickets?
“You can’t express all the happiness that this brings.”
Courtney tried to put everything all the frontline workers and first responders experienced at Monday’s game in its proper perspective.
“People call us heroes, but we’re not heroes,” she said. “We just come to work and do the job that we signed up for. There are so many jobs out there that I wouldn’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole, and this is just the one that I picked. So I don’t feel like a hero, but the appreciation and the thanks is nice, because sometimes it does get a bit frustrating when we know to socially distance and wear your mask and wash your hands and that can keep people safe, and people don’t necessarily want to do those things.
“But to be able to see the Mavs and how they have supported us throughout the year as first responders, and then being able to be the first fans in the stadium to cheer them on kind of returns the favor just a little bit just to cheer them on. So it was nice. It was very nice, and it was very much appreciated.”