That said, my second vicarious adrenaline thrill came when Vin Baker--fresh off the plane from Australia, where he and Payton pegged Olympic gold--strolled in late to watch his team run drills. The crowd erupted for Baker, which, considering his markedly less-than-stellar and sometimes downright depressing weeble-wobble season last year, was oddly inspiring. Vin's back in shape, no doubt. Ewing, spotting him, ran right over and gave Baker a big happy hug, and that did it for me. The fix was on. I was locked in. It happens every goddamn season and there's nothing I can do about it. Despite my best efforts, despite feeling burned by the Sonics' chronic recidivistic chumping in post season, despite the endless soap operas on and off the court and the egregious mismanagement of personnel, I get hooked all over again, just sloshed and bug-eyed on the mainline speed and heartbreaking beauty of this game.
Pre-season Vegas odds, last time I checked, put the Sonics at 35-1 for a title. Huh. This means absolutely nothing to me, really. The upcoming season could be a miracle or a disaster, or ugly and gorgeous both, with a finish like champagne or maybe strychnine. But I'm not here to predict. I'm here to attend and testify, because the parameters of the game run counter to the world's mindless chaos, like religion: There's mythological grace under monumental pressure; poetry in motion; unambiguous resolutions when the final buzzer drops like a guillotine on dueling squads. I'm addicted to the sheer heart-attack whiplash unscripted human drama of basketball because I can understand its tensions and triumphs, I can monitor its congested play of individual forces circumscribed by time. I like what Woody Allen said recently in The New York Times: "It's hard to be reasonable about a phenomenon so irrationally joyful as basketball." But I'll try.