Sheridan: Dreaming of a Pacers-Grizzlies Finals

contentmediaexternalimagesmedia3This is the “I Have a Dream” column – or the I had a dream column, to be more specific.

Six hours of sleep are in the books as I awake this Saturday morning with a feeling of hope bordering on euphoria. I watched the Miami Heat lose a game last night, and tomorrow night I may watch them lose again. The old rule says there is no cheering in the press box, with the exception of cheering silently for your predictions (I have Heat in 7 and Spurs in 7), but there is a part of me that cannot resist siding with the underdogs in this year’s NBA conference finals.

My dream Finals is David Stern’s nightmare Finals.

I want to see Indiana vs. Memphis, and I want to cover it in my ’85 Oldsmobile. It is 7 hours from city to city according to Google Maps, and I can do that standing on my head. It was an idea I discussed with a couple other writers over German beers at a Polish bar in Times Square following the draft lottery Tuesday night, and only now does it seem possible.

Thank you Indiana, my prediction be damned.

And damned it was by the BBC, BTW, after I went on-air around the world and told basketball fans there was a whole lot more basketball to be played in this round before we know who will be competing for the championship.

When was the last time we saw the Heat look as mortal as they did last night? Back when ‘Melo went into Miami and dropped 50 on them?Back when their 27-game winning streak was snapped in Chicago? Back in January when they were a .500 road team?

It was so long ago, it’s hard to pin it down.

Obama greets LeBronWhen was the last time we saw LeBron James flub the final play? The 2012 All-Star Game? Two Aprils ago? That one is even harder to pin down, because it just doesn’t happen anymore. But happen it did last night with 17 seconds left in Miami, when James dribbled the ball into the lane and had it stolen, leading to two game-sealing free throws by George Hill that provided the safety margin and the final points in the Pacers’ 97-93 victory Friday, sending the Heat faithful in their all-whites out into the humid, 82-degree night to drown their sorrows on South Beach with $22 cocktails after enduring the 30-minute traffic jam on the causeway and then finding a place to park in the hardest place to park on Earth. I revel in their misery. I can’t help it.

hoosiersAll across the state of Indiana this morning folks are waking up, walking out into their driveways and picking up the morning edition of the Indianapolis Star, which was likelier than not delivered by a kid with a crew cut riding a bicycle who bore a strong resemblance to Tyler Hansbrough. Things still work that way in Indiana, where time in frozen in certain parts of the state, like it is inside the cozy confines of my ’85 Olds with seat belts for six and a speedometer that tops out at 85 mph. You can play a round of golf for less than $20 in Indianapolis, and if you don’t believe me, you can go ask Sarah Shank.

Today, the folks in Hoosierland awoke to read the following from Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, who has been writing columns with a hometown bent for as long as I have been in the business: “The basketball gods have a sense of humor, don’t they? Three days ago, the Pacers led by one point with 2.2 seconds remaining, and Frank Vogel decided to keep Roy Hibbert tethered to the bench. You know how that ended. Badly. With Vogel getting roasted over the media coals, here, there and everywhere. Then, Friday night, there they were again, the Pacers leading by two points with the Heat taking possession with 17.6 seconds remaining in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series. Was Hibbert on the floor? Darned right he was. So what happened? James got the ball, started toward the basket with Paul George guarding him smartly this time, ran into the Great Wall of Hibbert on the strong side, stopped, tried to pass the ball out to the perimeter to an open Ray Allen, and it was deflected by David West into a teammate’s waiting hands. Ball game. Indiana 97, Miami 93. We have a series. One that already has the potential to be one of the great ones. Who said Vogel wasn’t a quick learner? This time, Hibbert didn’t have to speak up and petition Vogel to put him in the game. This time, Vogel did it of his own volition, just as he said he would in the moments after the heart-breaking Game 1 loss. “Was there ever a question Hibbert would be out there in that situation?” I asked the Pacers coach after the game. He looked me dead in the eye. “No,” he said quickly. Then he expanded, “No doubt. As soon as we got in the locker room the other night, I told the team we tried it that way, but he’s going to be in there.” Hibbert not only denied James’ move toward the basket, but dominated the game in ways he’s never dominated before. He scored a career-playoff-high 29 points, not to mention 10 rebounds and countless altered shots.”

The Heat will be arriving in Indianapolis tonight, where it is Indy 500 weekend and the streets of downtown will be packed. If any of them are fans of live music, I humbly suggest they drop by the Slippery Noodle,  the oldest continuously operating bar in the state of Indiana, having opened in 1850 with a tin ceiling that dates to 1890 and an oak bar over a century old. Tonight’s featured act is the Greg Foresman band. There is no cover charge. Here is a sample:

You won’t find Mr. Foresman and his friends on those NBA.com/style commercials that have begun emerging like cicadas. Style in Indy means Levi’s and a nice comfy flannel shirt, tucked or untucked doesn’t matter. Show up at a club in South Beach in those kind of threads and be prepared to be stopped dead in your tracks by a velvet rope and a 300-pound bouncer with an earpiece and an attitude.

I’ve had my fill of Miami, to be honest. I actually love the city, I love the vibe, but it is a little too neon and a little too silicony for me to fall head over heels. I hang at Ted’s Hideaway when I am there, because that is where the locals go and that is where you can find an open pool table at 8 p.m. on a weekend – a good 5 hours before the beautiful people start arriving on the tightly packed beachfront boulevards to party til dawn and beyond.

Sometimes, things get a little hairy.

Do I want another trip to the unofficial capital of South America to write about the player and the team that I have written about for three years running now, ad nauseum?

No.

Do I want a trip to the geographical center of Indiana, where I can tell tales of the night Serbians took over the streets in 2002 and marched around town waving Yugoslavia flags, where I can tell tales of Team USA’s darkest night since 1972 (on the eve of the championship match, Reggie Miller and Co. lost to Spain in the fifth-sixth place game, and the entire team limousined their way out of town shortly after midnight, not bothering to stick around for one of the greatest and most controversial finishes to a basketball game either I or Manu Ginobili has ever witnessed?)

Yes.

From the Indy archives, here are the final 90 seconds of regulation of the 2002 World Championship gold medal game, in Spanish, with replays at the end of one of the most egregious non-calls in FIBA history:

And here is a shorter highlight reel with the call from Mike Breen and P.J. Carlesimo (it was the final game televised by NBC under their old TV deal.)

Hard to believe it was only 11 years ago (LeBron James had just finished his junior year of high school) when that all happened in Indianapolis, in the same arena where James, Dwyane Wade and Chris “I am the new Kyle Korver” Bosh will be looking for a split, at a minimum, when the Eastern Conference finals resume.

But first, we have tonight, and in order for my Delta 88 dream to become reality, I need a little magic out of the Grizzlies, who give me hope because they have already been down 2-0 in this year’s playoffs, in the first round against the Clippers, and rallied to win four straight. We should also all remember where the Spurs were a year ago, leading Oklahoma City 2-0 at this stage of the playoffs with their winning streak at an astounding 20 games.

I need a Memphis win tonight, and then another on Monday to make this dream possible.

Because you know where you can hear the best live music in America if you are not at the Slippery Noodle?

bealeIt is in Memphis, where Gibson guitars are manufactured across the street from the FedEx Forum, where you can walk out of the arena and start heading up Beale Street and have your choice of establishments serving up live blues bands and 32-ounce beers that will set you back $2.

I first went to Memphis when the team moved there from Vancouver and was playing along the banks of the Mississippi River at the Pyramid, the same arena that was state of the art back when the Tams played there in the ABA days. (Tams stood for Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi – the three states that converge in Memphis.)

Like Indianapolis, Memphis is an old ABA city, and my first impression was that this was a decidedly minor-league city, and a huge dropoff in quality-of-places-to-visit while covering NBA games from what the league briefly had going in Vancouver.

But small markets have qualities that you won’t find in large markets, and in Memphis it only begins on Beale Street. The city is the blackest market in the NBA, just as Indianapolis is the whitest (OK, maybe the second-whitest outside of Minneapolis). On a trip there while covering the New York Knicks for ESPN.com shortly after their acquisition of Carmelo Anthony (who beat the Grizzlies that night in 2011 with a buzzer-beater), I was walking with Jonathan Abrams of Grantland, who was then working for the New York Times, when a young man walked up to him and asked him what side of town he was from. Apparently, Abrams was wearing the wrong color clothing on the wrong side of town, and it was not known to the gang member who questioned him that Abrams was actually a former Cali guy who had moved cross country to New York.

Abrams said the episode scared the wits out of him, and said he didn’t feel all that safe in Memphis.

lakerriotNow, I do not revel in one of my colleagues’ discomfort, but I like the idea of having an edgy city playing host to the NBA Finals (the Grizzlies would host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 if my dream series came to fruition.) I have covered games in Vilnius, Lithuania, and I felt less safe there than I ever have in Memphis, New York, or even in Los Angeles the night the Lakers won the title and the police would not let the media leave the arena to make the 10-block walk back to the hotel, what with the rioting and burning police cars being obstacles we wouldn’t want to hurdle.

Of the last 14 NBA Finals, how many have been held in small markets other than San Antonio? (I am not counting Miami, which Stern pointed out quite angrily Tuesday night is the NBA’s 16th largest market.)

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