Nate Robinson is the in the game. Three minutes left. The ESPN TV camera hovers over the huddle, Doc Rivers outlining the final plays of the season.
NBA Finals, Game Seven. Lakers vs. Celtics. This is for the Bravehearts. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Byant, Paul Pierce, stabbed 11 times in the back and coming back to win championships. Nate Robinson looks scared shitless.
The tu-tu birds can-can in the avocado tree outside. The world is pale pinkish here, 9,413 miles away. An imam sings against the hills. Morning stirs.
Game Seven, my last 4:00 AM morning. The last kiss between the suspended night and myself. The last chance to crawl out of bed, groping my cell-phone alarm, stumbling from my girlfriends arms, into the world and house waiting just for me, sleeping and seduced. I make the coffee tip-toeing joyfully in the kitchen. Game Seven. I look out the window, thunder rolls outside over Lake Victoria. A storm must be passing. Showers can turn on here like the beam of a flashlight. Waves of God's cool embrace running his hands through the air. I peer outside. The trees are endless. They frame the fading moon.
I light a smoke and sink back into the darkness of the sagging blue couch, draped in a Swahili scarf, next to a broken hookah pipe and the painting from Lamu still leaning against the wall. We've been meaning to hang it, but there's a lot we haven't gotten around to. Trying to make our little home in East Africa.
This has been my nightly ritual during the playoffs, my stab of privacy, my dance in the dark away from the howling Kampala bars, ex-pat conversations. I take a sip of the coffee, lapping like a Hippo in the limelight. I flip the remote and let the glow of the TV pull me in, my umbilical chord, my wormhole to a familiar world.
But it's not quite the same tonight. This world is strange.
Superstars are throwing up bricks. Ray Allen can't hit a shot, neither can Kobe. It's all defense. This is the ugliest Finals game in league history, maybe the ugliest game ever. The Celtics break 50 with six minutes to go in the third quarter. This isn't what it should be at all.
Even the celebrities are garbage. I know Jack is there, Spike, Diddy, Leo. But the camera is focusing on people I don't really know -- George Lopez, Andy Garcia, Laura Dern, Khloe Kardashian. Maybe I have been out of America too long, but this world seems twisted and wrong.
Nate Robinson checks into the game. A ghost from New York. I'm giddy. He's passed the ball and immediately passes it back. He's scared shitless, it's like he wants to run off the court. Paul Pierce misses an open 3. He shoots it like a 6th-grader. Doc Rivers calls timeout.
The commercial breaks in Africa aren't much better than the game itself. The midnight commecials on the international ESPN channel play minutes of Tommy 'Auld Onion Bag' Stymmy, a fat bald Scottish soccer sportscaster, spitting something between gnarled English hogwash and pure prophecy, ruminations about the ball and how it turns.
Oh how it turns, he says.
There's not a lot to hang on to when you are living far off abroad. In Kampala we watch TV shows from bootleg DVDs sold by the Ethiopians. I torrent the latest albums. Some kids have started a bowling league. It's the little things.
But nothing compares to the middle-of-the-night wakeups. Paying off sleepy guards to sneak into bars and watch the games. The Olympics. When the Celtics beat the Cavs. The Yankees World Series last year. The Super Bowl. Beers and kicked-back chairs, sending text messages off into the universe to friends back home, pretending I am there as well.
I had been torn the whole playoffs. If either team had been playing against somebody else, I would have been rooting for them. I loved Kobe. I loved his burn, his clutch. Nobody ever wanted to win more than Kobe Bryan, except maybe the Celtics. All I could ask for was a good series, and a good Game 7. I wasn't getting that.
But it didn't really matter to me who won; I am a Knicks fan.
When the final buzzer sounded, Kobe jumped onto the scorer's table raising his fist. He grabbed a lot of rebounds, but he had a pretty terrible game. Should he be celebrating?
Minutes later he's given the MVP award, and then a teammate hands him the NBA Championship Trophy. He can barely lift it. Literally, he can barely physically lift the championship. That metaphor is too good.
I watch the Celtics walk off. All of a sudden I realize I wanted them to win the whole time. They may not get another chance. Everything just seemed wrong.
Later that afternoon I went to my favorite Hookah bar in Kampala, watched the United States get robbed of a win.
I cared about that.