I don’t know why, exactly, but things are becoming pretty emotional around here lately. It probably has something to do with the fact that there’s less than a week remaining in the season, what’s been the most difficult but exciting year of my life. My hero’s career might be winding down, although no one — none of us, him most of all — will so much as utter that thought out loud. And there’s life outside of basketball, too, and that’s not always easy, either.
Sometimes, though, I can lose sight of how ridiculously lucky I am to work in sports. This is fun. It’s not real life. Real life has happened to me and all around me for a year. Mavs basketball ain’t that.
The woman pictured in the middle is named Kaja. She’s from Ljubljana, the same town as Luka Dončić. She’d been to America a couple times before, but never to Dallas, and she’d never visited alone. She started following me on Twitter when her hero came here alone, too. Understandably, she was a little nervous about making such a big trip by herself, but she’s turning 30 next month and wanted to treat herself for her birthday. She reached out and asked if there was any way we could help her out with buying a ticket because that’s not an easy thing to do when you live halfway across the world. My coworker Tamara, the wonderful woman on the left, gave her a free ticket to the game and a pass to sit on the baseline to watch the players warm up, which is when we took this photo. We also took her on a tour of the practice facility and around the office to meet some of our friends who work with us.
The three of us went to lunch and Kaja said she was worried Luka wouldn’t play. He’d missed a couple straight games with a bruised knee. I told her that he would indeed be playing, and she started to cry tears of joy. She came 6,000 miles to see one person play basketball, and he put on a show for her and 20,000 other Mavs fans in the building that night, even though the Mavs lost in a thriller.
That same night, a young man named Hayden, who should only be thinking about his high school graduation, came to the game to fulfill a Make-A-Wish. He wanted to say hello to Dirk and Holger. Instead of just a handshake and a photo, the three of them shot together for half an hour after the game.
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) April 4, 2019
Kaja took a bus to Austin Friday morning and flew to New Orleans over the weekend, before heading back home to Slovenia. Might never see her again. But I will remember that day for a long time, because I witnessed what this all means to people. And there are more incredible stories like this every night at American Airlines Center, and all around the NBA. It’s not just a game. Too often I find myself forgetting that.
Dirk dunked on Friday night, and for a moment I forgot that he was 40, that he might have less than 50 minutes of NBA basketball left in him, and that, a few days from now, the most difficult and emotionally draining season of all our lives will be over and done with. Dirk is my Luka. I don’t know if I could fly halfway across the world to watch him play, but then again I’ve never had to consider making that choice, and in fact these days it’s my job to follow him around the country on a private jet. Needless to say, I am incredibly fortunate to have this job. Still, sometimes I catch myself daydreaming, wishing Dirk was 30 instead of 40, that the Mavericks were back in the Conference Finals, that Dirk still had 10,000 more points ahead of him. But then nights like those, when he dunks and hits a couple 3s, and remembering meeting Kaja or watching Hayden take Holger’s shooting tips with Dirk giving advice of his own, remind me that this is already a dream. I can’t let myself — we can’t let ourselves — lose sight of the present moment, even if we’re used to watching Dirk or Luka or anyone else’s favorite player. These are moments that our fans and visitors will remember for the rest of their lives, and it’s such a beautiful thing to play a part in that, however small.
I don’t know how to wrap up such a story. These are just thoughts, and they’re too raw and emotional to organize into finer prose. Dirk is amazing, basketball is amazing, and for however imperfect my job and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year has been, for reasons on and unfortunately off the floor, I’m not sure I could ever do anything else. The gray rain-curtain of this world was pulled back long ago. All is silver glass. It isn’t so bad.