Friday, June 23, 2006

For Danny

I'm off to the Championship Parade. I'll have a full report tomorrow ... but before I go, I wanted to leave you with this:

“How does it feel?”

This is the question I mostly get from those who have known my love for the Heat, now that the team has been crowned NBA champions.

Most of the time, I point to this, my blog, to show them how I feel. After the Heat won Game 6 and clinched the title, I devoted a whole day to writing a three part series on the Redemption of my team. I was caught up in the swell of emotions and couldn’t justify my feelings with mere pictures from the team’s celebrations. I had to write a damn Homeric epic.

The biggest swell of emotions came when my Dad called me to congratulate me. He’s not much into basketball. He’s more of a football guy – a die hard, old school Dolphins fan. He rooted for the Heat because they’re the home town team. But mostly, he rooted for them because of me. So his phone call meant a lot, because Dad knows what I’ve been through as a fan of the Miami Heat. What moved me was that he stayed up late just to watch the team clinch, so he could be the first to call me.

After the phone call, I kept on celebrating. I poured beer all over myself and my friends who were with me. We hopped around like idiots, acting as if we were a part of the team, celebrating in the locker room with champagne. That’s what happens when your team wins it all – you get a license to act like a kid all over again.

I was happy for the team, happy for myself and my buddies and happy for the Heat fans in general. This win is for us Heat fans, I said.

But mostly, I told myself, this championship win was for Danny.

Danny was my best friend in college. We actually met on a basketball court. We hit it off because we both liked the same movies, music and sports teams. Danny was the biggest Miami Heat fan I have ever known. We joined a basketball league together and helped lead our team to the semi-finals. He was a religious fellow too. He loved to talk about God and the Bible. Two things that have stayed with me all these years later – his positive attitude no matter the circumstances, and his faith.

Eventually, Danny got a job at the old Miami Arena as a stock boy. He helped me get a job there too. And it was sweet. Our duties were simply to empty the concession stands and re-stock them with food. This was done everyday, hours before the games. And since we used the same door to enter the employee lounge the players used to enter the building, we got to meet some of them. I met Rony Seikaly and Steve Smith, among others. One day, when the Bulls came to town, we were all hoping to meet the Man himself. But our bosses did everything they could to keep us busy.

Of all 12 of us that worked there, Danny was the fortunate one. He happened to be down in the office when Michael Jordan walked into the arena. Danny ran up to him, pulled a photo of Jordan out of his pocket and asked him to sign it. Jordan did and even said, “Nice picture.” Danny was beaming when he ran upstairs to tell me. He said Jordan was a very cool guy who didn’t really seem to be full of himself. I was so envious. The closest I got to Jordan was being able to watch the Bulls run practice up close while I stocked one of the stands. Danny eventually sent the autographed picture to his kid brother in New York, who was a huge fan. Also, that night happened to be the first time the Heat ever beat Jordan’s bulls. It was an exciting day all around.

Eventually, Danny quit school to pursue other ventures. I quit the arena job when I was offered something better. We kept playing ball and kept hanging out. We both had our whole lives ahead of us.

But, as time passed, Danny’s health began to decline. At one point, he passed it off as working too hard or being too stressed over bills and what not. But after his family insisted he go to the doctor, he got some startling news. Danny was diagnosed as HIV positive. We were all devastated. Except Danny who, as always, kept things positive. As his health got worse, he decided to fly back to New York to receive treatment while being with his family. I remember saying my goodbyes at the airport. One of the last things he said to me was to stop being so negative about the Heat. Their day would come. Outwardly, I smiled and said, sure. In my mind, I scoffed at his naïve faith. That Danny. Always positive even in the worst of circumstances.

As we shook hands I remember getting the chilled feeling that I would never see him again. Here was my buddy, who had once been an athletic, strong guy and was now extremely thin and pale and sickly. His vigor and strength had been completely sapped from him. But the joy in his eyes never faded. The disease never robbed him of that.

So it came that on a cold November morning of that same year, I got the call from our old basketball coach. Danny’s brother called him and told him the news.

Danny had passed away.

The family flew his body down here since a good majority of his extended family lived in Miami. The funeral was a mixture of profound sadness and pure joy. Stories about Danny were shared with tears and with laughter. I shared about him meeting Michael Jordan and about his unwavering love for the Miami Heat. His brother placed a Steve Smith basketball card in Danny’s casket. He loved Smith and would always share how fired up he was when the Heat drafted him 5th in the 1991 draft.

Several years later, while I stood in the American Airlines Arena, cheering for the Heat to comeback against the Mavericks in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, there were moments when I would pray, “Danny, pull some strings for us up there! Ask the Big Man to help us pull this out!” That night, the Heat came back from a 13 point deficit to win the first of what would be four consecutive games to win the 2006 NBA Finals.

Thanks, Danny!

So as I celebrated with my buds and my beers on Tuesday night, I saved one on the side. On Wednesday, I took the bottle to Danny’s grave, cracked it open and toasted my good friend. “We did it, Danny,” I said. “You always knew this day would come. Sorry I doubted you. We did it.” I poured the beer into the ground and left the bottle by his head stone.

So now I’m off to Downtown Miami to celebrate the Heat’s first NBA championship. I’m off to celebrate with my friends and I’m off to celebrate with a throng of fellow Heat fans.

But, most of all, I’m off to celebrate for Danny.


Thank you for sharing this. Personally, it means a lot. Thankyou.

Great entry dude; best one I've read yet, post-championship. Thanks for sharing it.
Just got back from the parade ... and read this. Very deep, very real. Good stuff Dude. I'm glad you got to celebrate this championship for your buddy today. But you could've asked him to ask the Big Guy for a little cloud cover and some wind ... damn it was hot out there ;)
Thank you Dude for the glimpse. There were indeed a few Angels dressed in white durng the last four games.

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