Back with the first-person narrative from behind the scenes at Georgetown.
I gotta come clean here. For the first time in my life, I don’t really know what I’m doing anymore.
Not that I don’t think I can do this well or no longer believe in my judgment or ability to write. I mean I don’t really know where any of this is going, which is partly refreshing and partly horrifying but I wouldn’t say it’s equal.
The first part of a person’s life is straightforward. That doesn’t mean it’s simple, but it is clear. When you’re young you’re taught to do well in school, work hard in your job and in your extracurricular activities, to be a good person and a good friend. When you do those things effectively, you reap the societal benefits. Of course, life happens at some points and you might slip up in an area or two, but you just give that area extra attention or double down on the work until you eventually get your desired result. Crystal clear, right?
But what happens when you do all of those things well and reach your ultimate destination and get everything you’ve ever wanted only to find out you don’t feel the way you had anticipated? Life then becomes opaque and we’re left with more questions than answers. It only gets more complicated from there.
When I first started writing here about six years ago, I was naive enough to believe this could turn into something more. Then, somewhere along the line in the 2018-19 season I started to come to my senses.
“Is this really going anywhere? Is anyone actually taking this seriously?” I’d ask myself.
Sure, we’re well-read here and we’ve built up a little bit of influence but it’s hard to envision a reality other than this all crashing to a halt at some point. Nunes has always existed on the back of unique circumstances and there’s no obvious opportunity for someone like me to jump to higher ground in this game.
So from that point on I just told myself I was going to have as much fun with this as possible and not take this seriously, which is probably why you get the jokes and fun stories now. It really is just me out there having fun. My actual career has become so serious that the creative writing here has become play, a release from the day to day intensity, pressure and stressors.
Last week I talked about how one of my dreams was to get a seat on a trading desk. That dream was eventually realized — I’ve been able to live it, so I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity, all that its taught me and all that comes along with it. When the right time comes I hope to share more on that.
For now, let me say this: I’ve always been the one with a dream, a plan or goal in front to chase and a willingness to sacrifice whatever it takes to get there. But the last few years I’ve admittedly been a little lost. I’d put it like this:
For so long I ran so hard, and so fast, deep into the forrest with a direct finish line in mind. Eventually, after years and years of sacrifice, hard work, an ignoring of roadblocks, challenges and danger signs, I avoided the pitfalls and distractions and finally reached my goal. Only when I got there I didn’t really know what to do. There was no chorus, celebration or instant metamorphosis. There was a whole lot of nothing, actually.
“Is this it? Is this that thing I was chasing after for so long?”
I felt… disappointed.
“This was my dream! Why do I feel the same? Is there more to life?”
I had expected to find the Shangri-La and experience a sense of nirvana after taking my version of the noble eightfold path. It wasn’t quite that.
In my mind it was supposed to be the culmination from the arduous path toward self-actualization. When I finally crossed my perceived finish line, I stopped to look around didn’t realize how deep in the forrest I was. But man, when you stop to take it all in, the trees are actually pretty beautiful. Why hadn’t I noticed before?
Maybe you think that’s all a little crazy and I’ve fallen off the deep end. But I know I feel as good now as I ever have. I guess I’m saying that even when life goes the way we expect, sometimes we don’t feel the way we anticipated when we get there.
I’ve sat with this and admittedly it’s a little uncomfortable, but now I’ve flipped my thinking on it. When you have a direct goal in mind you become blind to the possibilities around you. So, instead of having a specific finish line in mind now, I’m now just trying to embrace the unknown and enjoy whatever time and opportunity we have left here.
So, without any real apparent opportunity in front and perhaps an inevitable end coming soon, I’ve become resigned to just enjoying the journey now, whatever comes my way and passes through. Now, I simply ask myself one question before covering games these days. It’s more about simply engaging with the activity and experiencing the joy that comes along with it without expecting more.
Last weekend the question was this:
“If for nothing else, would you just like to go to D.C. this weekend and cover a basketball game?”
The answer to that question (sometimes substituted with another location) is usually yes.
Then I go.
I fear the day when the answer to that question is no. I’m not sure when that day is coming, but if I’m being honest with myself, I at least fear it’s near.
Friday night I made my way to Hancock airport, did not park at Million Air, did not pass go and did not collect $200. I prepared to fly to Georgetown, which as one might guess, is not as great as flying into George Town in the Bahamas.
After meandering through the cold, wet parking lot, I printed my boarding pass and got through TSA all within 10 minutes. Syracuse has its benefits.
It seems prudent to pack light, too. One bag with all my belongings avoids a checked bag, time spent dealing with variables and a potential hold up at baggage claim.
One small duffle bag does forego the opportunity to pack a nice pair of shoes to cover games, though. There are trade-offs. Admittedly I sometimes feel like a total bum showing up to a game in sneakers, but after a lifetime of getting myself in places I’m not supposed to be, I remember that people are too caught up in their own world to notice.
Besides, I write for Nunes Magician dot com. It’s not like anyone cares. Even if someone told me I had to wear shoes I’d probably wear sneakers anyway. The coaches dress down these days in favor of comfort, who am I to upend the trend?
After getting in to Dulles on Friday night, I took a cab to the hotel and crashed within a half hour. The next morning I woke up at 7 a.m. vehemently upset because I couldn’t sleep in much longer than my internal alarm clock will allow. So I went back to bed for an hour, woke up and was pissed again because I couldn’t sleep past 8 a.m.
Dumb. Might as well have gotten up the first time to avoid being pissed twice. Whatever. Time to get up and open the blinds to a view that is definitely not as nice as the Bahamas nor Tallahassee.
Well, at least it matches my mood.
Time to hunt for breakfast and a coffee. Phone, google maps, sh*t, idk? Search coffee.
Ok, there’s a place close by called Corner Bakery Cafe. Wonder how they came up with that name? (Spoiler: it was a bakery slash cafe on the corner of the building.) Not going there for lack of originality.
Agh, Blue Bottle Coffee. There’s a name I trust. I’ve missed big city coffee.
Off to Union Station, which is a lot like Penn Station in NYC and not a place you’d like to go for your morning coffee but choices were limited for someone this lazy.
Coffee was secured along with a breakfast sandwich from Einstein Bros. and with some time to kill, why not do a lap around our Nation’s Capitol?
Afterwards I gathered myself at the hotel and headed toward Capital One Arena. Upon entering I tried in vain to find my seat. There’s no seating chart initially, so I walk out onto the court and pray I’m on the baseline.
This was actually my third game covering at Capital One. The first I was up in the nosebleeds. The second someone actually gave me a little respect and put me courtside along the baseline.
This game I found myself sitting with Syracuse students on makeshift seating above one of the entranceways further from the court. Having sat courtside and being relegated to this seating is kind of like experiencing the rite of passage of sitting at the adult table for Thanksgiving dinner, only for the next year to be moved back to the kid’s table.
There were all kinds of cables, wires, ethernet cables and other radio chords whose purpose I didn’t quite understand. One cable in particular seemed determined to lie directly underneath my laptop.
“How did you end up here with us?” One student asks me.
Lol buddy, if only you knew all the sh*tty hands I’ve been dealt in life. This ain’t nothin’.
I say I hadn’t a clue, but honestly I didn’t really care. I was happy to be there. Georgetown Athletics handles all media responsibilities in this case. They were nothing but helpful on Saturday and even made the effort to show me to my seat. If we’re being frank, nobody is giving TNIAAM priority seating when you have traditional newspapers and local media coverage taking precedence over a lowly blog.
It was actually interesting listening to the WAER student radio broadcast. You’re obviously there watching the game live in person but have the benefit of someone calling the play by play as if you’re watching from your living room. It was a unique experience and one that I haven’t gotten at any game prior.
Also, as you climb the wobbly staircase to the makeshift seating there is a part of the ceiling that you will definitely hit your head on if you’re not paying attention. They have attached a padded buffer to prevent humans from hitting their heads on the hard ceiling. The padding is basically like a fender for your head, equipped with caution tape so humans can see. With their eyes! It’s absolutely fool proof, which means someone has definitely hit their head on it before.
Prior tip-off I made my way up to the stands to catch up with a high-school friend that lives locally and was attending the game. We talk, we catch up for a bit and agree to dinner after the game.
Afterwards I make my way back down to the bowels of the arena and wait for Syracuse to come out of the locker room just prior to tip. The players emerge from said locker room, they do their pregame hype things and head out onto the court. Some minutes after Jim Boeheim emerges in his team’s wake and takes the floor. He’s always last to enter which seems like a major flex.
If nothing else, it’s peak “leave me alone” energy and as a perpetual loner, it’s a move I have so much respect for.
The first half commences and by the break Syracuse has built up a 10-point lead. I figured now was as good of a time as any if I’m going to interview Rony Seikaly, who was at the game sitting courtside.
Overcoming your own shyness to walk up to someone and ask them questions is honestly still a little foreign to me (although some people want to peg me as an extrovert which is hilarious).
It’s kind of like being out at a bar in college and seeing a girl you like across the room wondering whether or not you should go up and talk to them. Only in these instances at basketball games I usually end up doing it.
So, I work up all my courage and walk over to Rony and shout through my mask at 100 decibels.
“Rony! I write for this Syracuse website Nunes Magician. Can I ask you a few questions?”
He looks at me confused.
God damn it. The mask might as well be a muffler. I scream louder.
“I WRITE FOR THIS DUMBASS SITE CALLED NUNES MAGICIAN. CAN I ASK YOU A FEW QUESTIONS?”
The word dumbass didn’t come out, but I image how stupid it must sound hearing it for the first time. Damn you, Sean Keeley.
Luckily I’m 99% sure Seikaly only heard the “Can I ask you a few questions” part and he said sure.
I try to extend my arm with my phone up into the stratosphere where Rony is speaking from and we have a quick exchange. After, I say thanks and tell him how my mom was born and raised in Syracuse and how he was her favorite player and I reached in for a handshake. Rony hits me with a pound instead, deflecting my germs and I remember how I’m an idiot and not best friends with Rony Seikaly.
Afterwards I immediately begin kicking myself for not asking what he thinks of Jesse Edwards and how he plays keyboard. Syracuse has a thing for musical centers from other countries, I guess.
Anyway, the second half continues and it was all downhill for Syracuse from there. After the game I go into the press conference room and the Hoya players are up first. Then Patrick Ewing walks into the room and almost scrapes his head on the ceiling as if he were sitting where I was during the game (only he’s 7-foot), takes a big gulp from his Smart Water bottle and asks one of his players why he has his phone with him as if he were a parent at the dinner table.
“Don’t bring your phone in here,” Ewing says to Dante Harris.
I’m not Harris but he’d be wise to listen.
Boeheim is next. He goes through the motions of the presser. Once he’s done he gets up, gets ready to walk out and one reporter shouts to him, “You’ve mellowed out, Boeheim!”
All he says is, “Yeah,” as he walks out the door as if to only acknowledge but not engage with it. Maybe it was innocent enough, but I couldn’t help but think the reporter was trying to get him to say something about retirement or old age and Jim just wanted no part of it. How could you blame him?
From there it was off to the Syracuse locker room and if people want to know whether I hope Syracuse wins, the answer is yes. Nobody wants to cover a losing team. The better the team you cover, the more eyes your work receives and in this ~business~ that’s important. But it’s also agonizing interviewing dejected players after a loss.
“Hello, it me, media guy. I know you’re devastated but let me shove this microphone in your face and get a few quotes about why you’re playing bad!”
It’s not fun. All the guys look like they just witnessed their dog dying. I’ve been at funerals that are more upbeat than the Syracuse locker room after losses.
Anyway, after the game I meet up with my old friend from high school. We poke in a few crowded bars before settling on a pizza joint. We get a table and reminisce about the old days, growing up, times shared together and all the good times.
Sometimes friends are like a mirror, offering a more accurate view and reflection of self that’s unavailable to us on our own. We’ve both moved on from home and built lives and careers in other cities, a painful transition to be sure but still a worthwhile one — change is difficult but sometimes that’s exactly what we need to grow.
We talk about how some from high school have already passed away due to drugs, drinking and driving or suicide. It’s not like it’s just one or two kids — a theme emerges, common pitfalls of a working class upbringing in a rust best city. We all have our own sense of personal agency and responsibility for the decisions we make, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if there’s an invisible hand guiding our moves and limiting what we can do, meant to keep us down.
There was a sense of appreciation for how our lives have turned out. It could’ve gone a lot of ways for both of us, so there was gratitude but also a little bit of sorrow mixed in for what we had to endure.
This friend wrote me a heartfelt note 11 years ago before I left CNY to begin a new life. He shared how he felt and wished a friend nothing but the best despite experiencing a loss. It was one of the best gifts anyone has ever given and it meant so much to me I’ve kept it in my wallet ever since. It felt like the final goodbyes scene of Stand By Me.
So I pulled the note from my wallet and showed him. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
As we say our goodbyes and depart, I’m struck by something he said earlier that night.
“You’re doing what you want to do,” he said.
Then I remember. Yeah, I may not know where I’m going, but I’m doing what I want to do. That’s a beautiful thing.