We miss sports so much so that we started asking ourselves this question: What was the moment or reason that we fell in love with sports in the first place? Now we’re sharing the stories that answer that question. Our stories and yours.
The story below is from USA TODAY Sports NBA reporter Mark Medina.
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We had sat in front of the television for nearly 2½ hours. With my grandparents graciously accommodating my hopes to watch the entire NBA on NBC playoff tripleheader, my late grandfather finally found a moment that we could take a break from the tube.
“This game is over,” he said. It looked like it was. In Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, the New York Knicks held a six-point lead over the Indiana Pacers with 18.7 seconds remaining.
“It’s not over,” I pleaded. “The Pacers have enough time to score six points.”
As if that would happen.
Well, it did. Reggie Miller drained a 3-pointer with 16.4 seconds left. He then stole an inbounds pass and made another one to tie the game with 13.2 seconds remaining. Knicks guard John Starks then missed a pair of free throws and Miller rebounded the ball, drew a whistle and gave the Pacers a two-point lead after making both foul shots with 7.5 seconds left. Knicks guard Greg Anthony then stumbled on the final play as time expired.
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“I told you!!” I said to my smiling grandfather. As if that was not exciting enough, we had two more full NBA playoff games to watch.
That moment captured why I fell in love with the NBA during its 1994-95 season. At 10 years old growing up in York, Pa., I quickly embraced the NBA’s stars and the game’s unpredictable outcomes. In between games, I played basketball at a local park and on a hoop on my family’s driveway. I played basketball with my younger brother on a miniature sized hoop with “Jock Jams” serving as our in-game soundtrack.
I played terribly, though I did not fully realize that until I failed to make the middle school basketball team. So I wrote about sports for my middle school newspaper instead. I freelanced for my hometown paper (York Daily Record), attended an accredited journalism school (Syracuse) and landed various internships (Inside Lacrosse, the Washington Times, Syracuse Post-Standard and the Richmond-Times Dispatch).
Soon enough, I then covered the sport I loved the most as a Lakers blogger with The Los Angeles Times (2000-2012), a Lakers beat writer with the Los Angeles Daily News (2012-2017), a Warriors beat writer with Bay Area News Group (2017-2019) and an NBA writer with USA TODAY (2019-present). My early NBA fandom also established a foundation on how I would watch the games.
Unlike then, I hardly care about the outcome now. Just like most sports writers, I root for making deadline, securing timely interviews and writing interesting stories. Even as a 10-year-old NBA fan, though, I cared more about the game’s personalities, the notable games and the entertaining storylines than who won or lost.
Since I first became a devoted NBA fan that season, I quickly latched onto the young Orlando Magic team featuring a dominant center (Shaquille O’Neal) and a promising point guard (Anfernee Hardaway). My parents soon bought me their jerseys, shoes and toys as Christmas gifts. I cheered when they advanced to the 1995 NBA Finals and cried when the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets swept them. Nonetheless, I became consumed more with the NBA’s product than the Magic’s success and eventual breakup.
I watched WGN so I could watch a Chicago Bulls team that eventually welcomed back a star named Michael Jordan. I watched HTS so I could watch the former Washington Bullets rise with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Calbert Cheaney. I watched TNT and NBC for all the league’s marquee games. I watched “Inside Stuff” to learn about the NBA’s stars and I watched ESPN’s “NBA’s Greatest Games” to learn more about the league’s history.
And so I relished seeing Jordan’s comeback even if he threatened the Magic’s rise. I marveled at all the NBA’s big men, including Hakeem Olajuwon, even as they challenged Shaq.
I embraced Miller because it was always amusing to see him taunt the Knicks.
I hardly understood the NBA as I do now. During one NBA playoff game, I asked my grandmother out of both annoyance and curiosity why coaches keep calling timeouts, particularly in crunch time. “It’s so he can remind his players, ‘Get the ball in the hoop!’” she mused. I understood the NBA enough, though, to appreciate the league’s stars and entertaining games.
That might explain why I anticipated the Pacers’ comeback against the Knicks. It also explains why I fell in love with the NBA.