When I started out as a young babe, my tabula was completely rasa. Of greed, envy and pride I knew little; of assault, battery and sodomy, still less.
At age four, at about the same time my memory begins, baseball entered my consciousness. I would cling on to baseball throughout my childhood, even as my slate began to be inscribed with the evils of the world.
When a large nine-year-old boy aptly named "Brock" permanently scarred my forehead by compressing it into the pavement with his backside in front of my elementary school, I went home and watched a Yankee game. Don Mattingly would never sit on anyone's head.
Even when Mattingly was later found guilty of public urination, it did not change my view of him. When I think about "the Hit Man," I remember the sweet swing that parked six grand slams into the seats in 1987. I see the pigeon-toed batting stance that every little leaguer in New York tried to imitate. I think about him reaching into a young fan's popcorn bag after chasing down a foul pop.
When I went under the knife in seventh grade, the doctor asked me to talk about my favorite baseball team as the drugs slowly lured me into unconsciousness. Only baseball could make a 12-year-old kid not worry about surgery.
By then, I had started to like football and basketball. By then, I also knew about things like "forcible sodomy." Or at least I knew it was a very bad thing.
Luckily I didn't have to think about what it was when I was watching a basketball game. Luckily, my childhood was still going strong.
In sports, there are absolutes. Ted Williams has a major tunnel named after him--he is THE best, at least in Red Sox history. I can look back at 1996 as a perfect season for the Yankees just as my roommate, a Mets fan, can think of 1986 without a single blemish.
I was discussing the recent Knicks-Heat brawl with a man in his fifties. He remembers the Knicks of Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley.
"Those guys were smart," he says. "These players today just don't think."
Anyone who has ever heard a Knicks radio broadcast knows that Walt Frazier has had his moments of not thinking. But that's not how Knicks fans remember him.
To them, he will always be Walt of the sweet pass, Walt of the Clyde-esque outfits that only he could pull off, Walt of the Verbal Advantages. I'm sure Frazier has done things he regrets, but we like him precisely because we will never know about them.
Marv, you are the best broadcaster out there, bar none (and doubly bar Walton). When we mimic your deliberate, brilliantly understated announcing style, we do so with nothing less than total admiration.
But to these charges, we "take exception." You were basketball's absolute. In the midst of bad broadcasters with worse sense of humors, you stayed Marv.
In a world of insanity, you were the voice of reason.
I think about my father coming home from a hard day's work and watching a women's college basketball game with me during the tournament. He didn't know either of the teams and had not heard of any of the players. But when Old Dominion won the game in overtime, he squealed with childish glee.
I always thought I'd be like my father one day. I always thought I'd be able to keep at least a little piece of my childhood. I'm not so sure anymore.
So say it ain't so, Marv.
Say it ain't so. Sincerely, Jamal