Mr. Hockey

One March day in 1928, Katherine Howe was chopping wood outside the family’s dirt-floor home in Floral, Saskatchewan, when she felt labor pains. Her sixth child. So, she went into the home and boiled some water. Then, she climbed into bed, delivered her own child, cut the umbilical cord while the baby slept and waited for her husband, Albert, to come home after a rough day of farming and hunting.

That was the day Gordon Howe was born.

Everything about Gordie Howe’s extraordinary life sounds a bit like that — folk heroish, right out of the tall-tale pages of Paul Bunyan and John Henry. Could a man like Gordie Howe really have existed? He grew up on the Canadian prairie, in the shadow of the Quaker Oats mill in Saskatoon, and he often would eat oatmeal three times a day because the family could not afford anything more. He battled his sister Edna for the used pair of skates that a desperate neighbor sold them — she got one, he got the other, and he either paid Edna a dime for her skate or stole it when she wasn’t looking (the record isn’t clear).

He was painfully shy, struggled in school (he repeated the third grade and later determined that he probably suffered from dyslexia), and he only seemed to feel at ease on the ice. As a child he would sometimes play for five different teams, rushing from one rink to the next with barely enough time to switch sweaters. He made himself a powerful skater by playing hockey on every kind of surface imaginable. He taught himself touch and feel by puck-handling tennis balls over dirt and gravel roads. He was unnaturally strong; he learned that one day when, faced against an eighth-grade bully, he ended the fight with one punch. He was in the third grade at the time.

And he learned toughness from his father. Gordie Howe was not exactly close to his father. Ab Howe worked more or less non-stop and did not have time to even see his son play a game until Gordie was in the NHL. Still, there were lessons learned just watching that rugged man go about his life. Gordie never would forget the time Ab Howe encountered a fool who kept bumping him every time as Ab tried to shoot pool.

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“Don’t do that again,” Ab told the guy, who had no idea that he was in the midst of a folk-hero story. When Ab tried to take his next shot, the guy bumped him again. Ab Howe turned and, with an open hand, smashed the guy’s face and knocked him over a pool table.

“You better get out of here Ab, I think you killed him,” the owner said.

“Don’t take dirt from anyone,” Albert Howe told his son, Gordie.

Every part of Gordie Howe’s story is so stark, so sharply focused, so wonderfully framed that Mr. Hockey seemed to blur the lines between myth and reality. Could a man like Gordie Howe really have existed? One of my favorite Howe stories is about how when he was 13 he used to collect BeeHive Corn Syrup labels. In those days, you could send those labels back to the company for a photograph of your favorite hockey player. Howe collected almost 200 photos, but he noticed that when they didn’t have the player you requested they would always send a photo of Toronto goaltender Turk Broda. Howe got a lot of Turk Broda photos.

In five years, Howe was in the NHL himself.

“And when I did arrive in the NHL,” Howe wrote in his book, “would you believe who I scored my first goal against? Turk Broda.”

The numbers and achievements are otherworldly. He finished top-five in the NHL in scoring for TWENTY straight years. When Howe retired, he was the NHL’s all-time leader in, well, basically, all the good stuff they counted then: Goals, assists, points, games played. Later, smart people came up with new things to count, like adjusted goals created. Howe is still second in that category, only behind Wayne Gretzky.

He scored his first NHL goal when he was 18 years old, before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, before Israel was founded, before Bobby Orr was even born. He scored his last goal when he was 52, in 1980, after the U.S. Olympic hockey team stunned the Soviets, just as Israel and Egypt were making a shaky peace, after Bobby Orr had retired. Gordie Howe used to have a stick that was barely curved because he wanted to be lethal from both the forehand and backhand side. No one matched Gordie Howe’s backhand. That last goal, rightfully, was on a backhand.

Howe won six Hart Memorial Trophies as NHL’s most valuable player, and he also won one Gordie Howe Trophy as MVP of the World Hockey Association. Well, it wouldn’t officially be called the Gordie Howe Trophy until just after he won it but still, it’s a bit like Cy Young winning the Cy Young Award.

And, one more number: When Howe retired, he was second all-time in penalty minutes, behind only Terrible Ted Lindsay. This was what separated him. He was the best hockey player but he was also the toughest. To this day, a Gordie Howe Hat Trick includes a goal, an assist and a fight. In a sport with breathtaking skill players and the enforcers who protected them, Howe was both.

In 1959, he famously tangled with Lou Fontinato, a Rangers defenseman who had earned minor fame for becoming the first player to draw 200 penalty minutes in a season. Fontinato was such a well-known bruiser that Look Magazine ran a pictorial of him flexing his muscles and looking mean. Every team had someone they sent out to irritate Howe, and Fontinato was the Rangers’ guy. Sometimes, it worked. Fontinato once yelled at Howe, “Do you want to go?” to which Howe replied something like, “Hell yeah.” He promptly threw his stick to the ground.

“I forgot a valuable piece of Ted Lindsay’s hockey wisdom,” Howe would say every time he repeated the story. “You always wait for the other guy to drop his stick first.”

Why? Well, Howe dropped his stick but Fontinato did not. Instead he used it to clock Howe in the head, opening a gash that required six stitches to close. The payback came on that day in ’59, when Fontinato tried to jump Howe. Mr. Hockey slipped the first punch, immobilized Fontinato’s right arm and whaled away. He broke Fontinato’s nose and dislocated his jaw. “I can’t say I felt sorry for him,” Howe would write in his autobiography. “That might make me sound cold-hearted, but to my way of thinking he was just doing his job, and I was doing mine.”

That was just the most famous in a long string of famous Gordie Howe fights — but the truth is that Howe’s toughness prevented more fights than it spurred. He usually ended any and all thoughts of fighting with one swift action, a sort of “watch yourself” check. Bobby Orr would always remember going a bit too high on Howe with a stick once and finding himself the recipient of one sharp elbow that knocked him to the ice. “I’m a very religious player,” Howe told Orr later. “I think it’s much better to give than to receive.”

Many people think Bobby Orr is the greatest hockey player ever.

Bobby Orr thinks Gordie Howe is the greatest hockey player ever.

As menacing as Howe was on the ice, though, he never stopped being the shy and gentle prairie kid off of it. Howe died on Friday. He was 88, and there’s a story that comes to mind, one the Canadian poet Richard Harrison tells. Harrison wrote a poem about Howe called “A Lifetime of Moving A Body Just So.” And, just before he met Howe for the occasion, Harrison had haunting dreams that Howe didn’t like the poem, hated it in fact, and it sent chills through Harrison.

But then they met, and when Harrison read the poem, he saw Gordie Howe’s ears turn red from embarrassment. Mr. Hockey was overwhelmed by the words, deeply touched. He was the toughest man in hockey, yes. He was also the gentlest and kindest of souls. That’s a folk hero for you.

“He is exactly the way Canadians like to think of themselves,” the marvelous Canadian writer Roy MacGregor says. “He is strong, tenacious, a team player, determined, triumphant and yet never arrogant. It is debatable if Canada is really like that. But Gordie Howe definitely is.”

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    The Dream Lives On

    After Golden State’s grueling Western Conference finals series with Oklahoma City, there was no mystery about how a team COULD go about beating the Warriors. The formula was plain: Crush them on the offensive glass, force turnovers (they are susceptible to turnovers), and make some 3-point shots.

    It’s not a fool-proof plan, of course, because even if you do all those things right, well, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are transcendent players who, on any given night, can simply shoot Golden State out of danger and into glory.

    Still, the blueprint for beating the greatest regular-season team in NBA history was publicly unveiled. If the Thunder had made just a few more 3-pointers it’s almost certain that they, not the Warriors, would be booming in the Finals.

    The question for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals then is simply this: Are you good enough to execute the plan? The first two games, they were very clearly not. There wasn’t a moment of the first 96 minutes of this series when the Cavaliers seemed on the same level as Golden State.

    And then came Game 3, and suddenly the Cavaliers had the plan down.

    Crush them on the offensive glass? Check — the Cavs got 17 offensive rebounds, out-rebounded Golden State by 20 in total.

    Force turnovers? Check. Golden State had 18 turnovers and just seemed discombobulated all night long.

    Make some 3-pointers? Check. Cleveland made 12 — their 3-point gunner J.R. Smith awoke from his slumber to make five of those.

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    And after executing all that, winning was the easy part. The Cavaliers beat Golden State by 30, the first time the Warriors have lost by that much since an off night in Portland back in February. It was such an overwhelming destruction that even when Curry, the unanimous MVP, tried to make a harmless layup during a timeout break after a foul, James jumped up and swatted the ball away. No sir. Not on this night. Not even if it doesn’t count.

    When it ended, the only thing to ask was: Was this real?

    Who knows? Basketball is such a weird game these days. In the last two series, Golden State has won six games and lost four. The average margin of victory and defeat? Seventeen points. None of the games really came down to the final minute. Cleveland has won five games and lost four, and the average margin in those games is an even more ridiculous 24 points. None of the games really came down to the final minute. What gives? Where have all the close games gone?

    One possible explanation for the wicked disparity in games is that 3-point shooting has come to overpower the rest of the game, and the team that shoots the long-range shots the best on any given night tends to run away. In Game 2, Golden State made 15 3-pointers, Cleveland made five, and that 30-point difference more or less matched the final score difference of 33.

    In Game 3, however, Golden State shot just 27 percent from 3-point range (the Cavaliers made 48 percent of theirs). All those misses lead to long rebounds and, as we know, Cleveland got the vast majority of those (the Warriors managed just eight offensive rebounds all night). That combination spelled doom for Golden State.

    But there is something else. Every night, it seems, one team just plays with more energy than the other. Golden State played the first two games with fury, switching aggressively on defense, going predator-style after loose balls, pushing the Cavaliers around. Meanwhile, Cleveland seemed to be sleepwalking.

    J.R. Smith has been the touchstone of the series. In Games 1 and 2, he shot the ball nine times total. Nine. Anyone who has watched Smith play basketball through the years knows that it would normally take something biblical like a plague of locusts to get the guy to shoot that rarely. This is a man who has shot FOUR THOUSAND 3-pointers over the last 10 years, far and away the most in the NBA.

    And yet — he wouldn’t shoot the ball. It was plain weird.

    Then, in Game 3, he was J.R. Smith again, firing up long shots with abandon. He tried 10 3-pointers (11 if you count the halfcourt shot he nailed just after the buzzer). Now, what happened there? Was Golden State’s defense looser in Game 3? Undoubtedly. But let’s be blunt: Smith was never one to let tight defense discourage him. He could be in one of those old vaudeville gag cars that seem to hold a hundred clowns and still think he was open. For some reason, he just didn’t have much life in Games 1 and 2. He was full of life in Game 3.

    The reverse is true of Curry. He only played 25 minutes in Game 2 and it was not exactly a memorable Steph game — he only scored 18 points, had four turnovers and four fouls. But he was high-energy, in the flow, he made four of eight 3’s, and he grabbed nine rebounds, and he dished four assists. The team was plus-25 when he was on the floor.

    In Game 3, he seemed sickly. His decision-making was so shaky that he was actually benched for a moment. His six turnovers could have been 10 if the ball had bounced differently. He had a face-saving third quarter where he made a few shots, but that first half he looked just about as lifeless and helpless as a great player can look.

    How do we get such wildly divergent games? The home crowd undoubtedly helps boost a team’s energy. A sense of desperation helps too — Cleveland had to win on Wednesday night just to keep the series interesting. Golden State, at least for the moment, is playing with house money.

    Much of it, though, remains mysterious. Matchups? Sure. A lot will be made of the fact that Kevin Love did not play for Cleveland on Wednesday — he suffered a concussion in Game 2. Was Love’s absence a net positive for Cleveland? Many think so. The move pressed Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to start Richard Jefferson, who is a better defender than Love and someone who doesn’t take up nearly as much oxygen in the Cavaliers offense. Basketball is a game of match-ups and it’s certainly possible that Love’s various strengths and weaknesses do not match up well against Golden State.

    And a lot will be made of Steve Kerr’s decision to start center Andrew Bogut, who was minus-21 in just 12 minutes.

    You wonder if maybe Love and Bogut will just play one-one-one outside while Game 4 is going on.

    But, in the end, forgetting the crowd and the matchups and all that, the Cavaliers were just a different team with a different vibrancy on Wednesday … and so were the Warriors. Was it an anomaly? A trend? Who knows?

    Then, it’s the same story, game after game in these playoffs. One team pushes to a higher level of energy, and the other simply cannot rise up to meet it. We’ve seen it again and again, blowout after blowout. There is a lot of emotion swirling around Game 4. The Warriors (you expect) will be fully activated. The Cavaliers will be at home and will know what needs to be done.

    This intersection could give us, gasp, a good game. Dare to dream.

    The Djoker Slam

    Consider the drop shot. You see your opponent standing far back after running off the court. They are way behind the baseline, just standing flat-footed and so you hit a delicate shot with just a touch of a backspin. If you hit it just right, well, that’s some feeling. The ball will barely clear the net, land softly just on the other side and then expire, like a parent crashing into a recliner after a long day of work. The drop shot is shattering when done right, it’s a psychological dagger, tennis’ version of a basketball blocked shot or a football pancake block.

    The drop shot has always been one of tennis’ great weapons, but it has never been more powerful than it is right now at the highest level of the game. This is because tennis players are hitting balls harder than ever before, with more spin than ever before, and the defense against such power and movement is to stand farther and farther back. It’s common now to see two players just pulverizing topspin haymakers at each other from eight feet behind the baseline. From back there, players have more time to run down shots. Players’ defenses seem impenetrable.

    Then one suddenly pulls back and hits a soft drop shot. Often, the other player is left glaring and defeated. The drop shot is one nasty little pill.

    So, it makes sense that nobody on earth can beat the drop shot like Novak Djokovic.

    * * *

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    Novak Djokovic, you might know (or you might not) is on the greatest run in the history of men’s Open Era tennis. This does not seem possible so soon after Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal redefined what tennis greatness looks like, but there you go. Djokovic’s relatively straightforward victory over the world’s second-best player Andy Murray in the French Open Final gave him four consecutive Grand Slam titles in a row. That has not happened since Rod Laver in 1969, just one year after the tournaments started allowing professional players to compete with amateurs. That was, to say the least, a very different time.

    When Tiger Woods won four major golf championships in a row, we called it the Tiger Slam and celebrated. When Serena Williams won four in a row, we called it the Serena Slam and celebrated. When Djokovic finished off Murray, well, his four consecutive grand slam victories barely seemed to register in the larger sports world. Nobody is talking about the Novak Slam. Even inside tennis, most focused on how this gave him the CAREER grand slam — he now has a French Open title to go with his three Wimbledons, two U.S. Opens and six Australian Opens. The career grand slam is great, but that’s been done in recent times. Andre Agassi did it. Roger Federer did it. Rafael Nadal did it.

    However, none of them won four slams in a row.

    Of course, it has never been easy for Djokovic to win admiration for one obvious reason and for one less obvious one. The obvious reason: He came of age in the era of Federer and Nadal. Those two titans didn’t leave much oxygen for anyone else to breathe.

    Their rivalry was mesmerizing, wasn’t it? Great rivalries are built on competing styles that bounce joyfully off each other. Federer and Nadal had that. Federer was the dancer, the impossibly graceful shot-maker who served the ball into corners, hit deadly forehands and often seemed to defy gravity with the way he glided over the court.

    “I’m very lucky to be called basically ‘beautiful,’ you know, for style of play,” Federer once told the writer David Foster Wallace.

    Nadal was the bruiser, the guy in the muscle shirts who ran down everything and hit shots with such heavy topspin that balls would hit the court and then strike at opponents like attacking cobras.

    Federer v. Nadal was everything in men’s tennis. They brought the best out of each other. They left us wanting for more. What else did anyone need? From 2006 through 2010, Federer and Nadal won all but two of the grand slam titles. Djokovic won one of the stray grand slams, Juan Martin del Potro won the other. Ah, but who really cared, right? They were anomalies.

    In 2011, Djokovic emerged, he won three grand slams, he won five Masters 1000 tournaments, he won 41 matches in a row, and most significantly he won 10 of 11 matches from Nadal and Federer. He did this just as Federer and Nadal had moved into that legendary status where nobody wants to see them fall. Every tournament, it seemed, Djokovic played the role of the villain. He is the player who savagely (and in straight sets) ended Rafa’s dominance on red clay. He is the player who has now twice denied Federer a record-breaking eighth title at Wimbledon.

    (Jack Nicklaus, before he became one of the world’s most beloved sportsmen, was first the usurper who dared steal the glory from Arnold Palmer — and he was booed and despised for it.)

    Djokovic endured that. But there are other things too. Djokovic’s brilliance is not as easily condensed as either Federer or Nadal (or, for that matter, Pete Sampras or John McEnroe). If Federer is beauty and Nadal is power, what is Djoker? One word does not do him justice. What would that word even be? Counter-puncher? Grinder? Consistent? His genius defies easy description. It is a service return at your feet. It is him retrieving three straight shots that all seemed like winners off the racquet. It is the numbing effect of shot after shot after shot, Djokovic is a whirlwind that never misses.

    It is sometimes difficult to find the magic in the blinding efficiency of Novak Djokovic’s game.

    And then, someone tries to beat him with a drop shot.

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    Novak Djokovic was a professional more or less from the day he was born. He often tells the story of being 6 years old and wandering across the street from his parents’ pizza parlor in Serbia to watch some students play tennis at an academy. He had already become mesmerized by the sport, watching on television as Pete Sampras won at Wimbledon. London and the Wimbledon grass, he would say, seemed so beautiful and far away from his own war-torn country.

    He walked to the tennis academy, and he pressed his face against the chain-link fence and watched longingly until the coach of the academy, Jelena Gencic, invited him to come back the next day to really learn the sport.

    He came back the next day with a fully packed tennis bag — packed with a racquet, rolled up towel, wristbands, and all the other little things you might find in a professional’s tennis bag.

    “Who packed this for you?” Gencic demanded.

    “I did,” Djokovic said, and he was offended. He did not understand what made this extraordinary, did not understand that a 6-year-old child in a non-tennis playing country like Serbia should not instinctively know how to pack a tennis bag. Djokovic was born to play this sport. He was destined. Gencic, who had coached Monica Seles, began calling Novak the Golden Child.

    It is that professionalism, that preparation, that unabashed ambition to be the No. 1 tennis player in the world that has marked Djokovic’s ascent. He was something of an enigma when he first came on tour. Djokovic liked doing funny impressions of the other players on court — it sometimes seemed he was more interested in making people laugh than winning. He would wear out physically during matches; at the U.S. Open against Gael Monfils he actually collapsed on the court. He had this nervous habit of dribbling the ball so many times before he served that it became something of a sport for fans to count the bounces.

    Sure, his great talent was apparent (he was the youngest man to reach the semifinal of all four grand slams). He was fast. He had incredible reflexes and, as such, could hit the ball on the rise cleaner than anybody else. His returns off serves were instantly the best in the game. Still, there was something missing.

    And then … there wasn’t.

    * * *

    Djokovic transformed himself. He changed his diet. He rebuilt his body. He began a journey toward inner peace, using yoga and meditation and Tai Chi and kayaking. When he was young and Gencic was training him, she would sometimes play classical music in the background. He didn’t understand why at the time. But Djokovic came to realize that he needed to find the musical rhythms in his game. He needed to find tranquility inside himself.

    In 2011, the Novak Djokovic the world now knows came to light. He won three grand slam titles that year, one of the greatest seasons in the history of tennis. In the years since then, he has won or reached the final of 14 of the 18 grand slam tournaments. And, of course, he has won the last four slams.

    Djokovic wins through sheer will. He does not get many easy points — he’s 23rd on tour in first-serve win percentage. He averages fewer than four aces per match in 2016. He has trouble putting away overheads. Everything is hard for Djoker, and that’s why no Djokovic match is complete without him looking up at his box and dancing these desperately sarcastic dances that we Djokovic fans have grown to love.

    These little dances include the:

    — “Can you believe I missed that shot?” twist.

    — “This guy has never hit that many good shots in his life” Watusi.

    — “I can’t believe we have to play in these conditions” rain dance.

    — “World (and chair umpire) is against me again” step dance.

    — “I have not missed that shot since I was 11,” shuffle.

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    He always works through all of this, however. He leads the tour in winning percentage on second serves (58 percent), on first-serve returns (37 percent) and on the second-serve returns (58 percent). Get him into a point and he will begin grinding down opponents with a blurring variety of shots. He will hit a huge topspin forehand that pulls his opponent off the court one way. Then he’ll hit a wicked cross-court, two-handed backhand, followed by a skidding slice backhand that forces the poor opponent to bend down low. Then he’ll hit a down-the-line forehand that makes the opponent reach down, and then a down-the-line backhand. Then comes the drop shot that steals the man’s heart. It’s like body blow after body blow.

    However, sometimes, he will play the defender, chasing down every shot an opponent can conjure up. In this adaptation of himself, he’s the scariest sort of opponent, the kind who is most dangerous when he seems most vulnerable. With Rafael Nadal injured and fading, nobody in the world hits more winning shots from more helpless positions than Djokovic.

    All of this makes him extraordinary for tennis fanatics, but you do wonder if some of it gets lost in translation for the general fan. Federer’s greatness, Nadal’s greatness, Sampras’ greatness, all of these were transparent, palpable, big serves, gravity-bending topsin, grace, fury, any first-time tennis watcher could see it within minutes. It takes longer to understand and appreciate Djokovic’s genius.

    Which, at last, brings us back to the drop shot.

    * * *

    Andy Murray might be the best drop shot artist in the world. It’s debatable, of course, but he’s certainly one of the best. He disguises it well, hits it softly from any position on the court; it’s one of the key weapons in his arsenal.

    And yet, time and again, he tried some sort of drop shot in the French Open Final only to watch Djokovic run the ball down and do something magical with it. Murray hit a good drop shot to his right, Djokovic ran it down and cracked a two-handed backhand winner. Murray hit a soft half-volley drop shot to his left, Djokovic ran it down and hit a forehand winner. Murray even had Djokovic off the court and hit a drop shot that would have put any other player in the world away. Djokovic still ran it down and, somehow, flicked a cross-court shot that floated parallel with the net, landed only a few inches over and bounced playfully out of Murray’s reach.

    When Djokovic plays like he did against Murray, that’s when the Djoker’s artistry is palpable and jaw-dropping. So much of his game is deflecting power — it is fantastic when these little moments like these come — when someone dares hit a drop shot against him and challenges him to do something astonishing. In those moments, he is as graceful as Federer and as inventive as McEnroe.

    And then the match goes back to normal, with Novak Djokovic pounding balls through opponents in tennis matches that are closer to boxing matches. As a spectator, you wish more people would hit drop shots against the guy, just so you could see him hit a few more miraculous and wonderful shots. But they won’t. I mean: Why would they?

    History in the making

    Two weeks before Christmas 1995, Dick Ebersol decided to take his shot. He had been thinking about something big, thinking about it for years. Ebersol was Chairman of NBC Sports. He had spent his life in television making big deals, some of them winners and some losers, and he knew how difficult it was to make any of them come together. This one, he felt, could be as memorable as anything he had ever done. But it would not be easy.

    “So,” he began as he spoke to Billy Payne and a couple of other people on the board of the Atlanta Olympic Committee. It was seven months before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. “Who are you thinking about having light the cauldron?”

    He already knew their answer: They wanted to choose Evander Holyfield. It was a sensible choice. Holyfield grew up in Atlanta. He had won a controversial bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics — he was disqualified for hitting after the break — and had handled the storm with such dignity that he won the respect of the sporting world. He then went on to an inspiring pro career and had, against all odds, become heavyweight champion of the world. Yes, he was the obvious one to light the torch in Atlanta.

    “I think I have a better choice,” Ebersol said. The Atlanta people leaned in.

    “Muhammad Ali,” he said.

    The three men looked at each other. Finally, one of them spoke up.

    “Wasn’t he a draft dodger?” he said.

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    In the immediate aftermath of Muhammad Ali’s death, there has been an open battle for his legacy. Was he the irrepressibly funny and bewitching heavyweight champion of the world who told everyone how great and pretty he was? Was he the ferocious civil rights warrior who spoke angrily about white people being the enemy? Was he the boxing warrior who withstood the angriest punches that executioners like Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sonny Liston could throw? Was he the dancer who made hearts jump with his feints and bluffs and shuffles?

    Was he the showman who, through sheer force of personality, turned boxing matches into worldwide events? Was he a peaceful man who spoke often of love and would do magic tricks for children? Was he a cruel man who spat “What’s my name?” with menace as he battered Ernie Terrell, who mocked Frazier so savagely that Smokin’ Joe held on to that pain for the remainder of his life?

    It’s difficult for many to accept that Muhammad Ali was all these conflicting things and many more. He lived that big a life.

    The most contentious move of his life was refusing induction to the army in 1967. Ebersol was a Yale dropout at the time, a young man in search of his mission, and he remembers the awe he felt for the young champion.

    MORE: Ali made magic for the world | The icon we all needed | Ali’s greatest fights

    “Ali was not a draft dodger,” Ebersol says. “He didn’t run away. He didn’t dodge anything. He was more than willing to accept whatever came with him standing up for his convictions. He was not trying to get out of anything — the army had offered him a lush deal where he would not be anywhere near the fighting. But he was going to stand by his principles, and that meant he would not serve. He was willing to go to jail, if necessary. He gave up three years, his prime three years, as a fighter. He was ready to pay the price to stand for what he believed.”

    Ali, as you no doubt know, was convicted of draft evasion, but that conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.

    “I remember talking about it with President (Bill) Clinton,” Ebersol says. “I asked him why, among the citizenry, so many people looked at him as a draft dodger. … He started talking about growing up in Arkansas and he said, ‘That’s just how our papers reported it. That’s how it was told on the local television station.’ It was only later — much later in many cases — that we began to understand the extraordinary depth of his conviction.”

    * * *

    Ebersol asked the Atlanta Olympic Committee to think about Ali. In the meantime, he would have a few short films made to show just why Ali was the best person to light the cauldron. And then Ebersol went to work. He called Don Hewitt, creator of “60 Minutes,” and asked for some footage from Ali interviews. He put a couple of his best producers on the case. He had films made that showed the many contours of Ali’s life.

    “I wanted Billy to see how Ali crossed all generations,” Ebersol says. “He won a gold medal at 18 years old. He stood for principle when few did. He was an athlete of color who, like Jim Brown and Bill Russell, spoke out against injustice. And he was the inspirational figure, someone who could speak to young fans and old, sports fans, college kids, anyone.”

    In May, after he had sent the last film, Payne called Ebersol.

    “Dick,” he said. “I get it. It has to be Ali. Do you think he’d like to do it?”

    Ebersol, the dealmaker, laughs a little as he tells that part of the story. “I told him, ‘Billy, do you really think I would have walked this path if I didn’t know that he would do it?’”

    * * *

    A few hours before the 1996 Olympic Opening Ceremony began, a group of sportswriters sat around at lunch and argued about who would light the cauldron that night. Some thought it would be Holyfield. Some thought it would be Janet Evans, who had won four gold medals at the previous two Olympics. Mark Spitz was mentioned. Carl Lewis was mentioned. One of the writers in the group was Tom Archdeacon from Dayton, and we taunted him by saying that the cauldron-lighter would likely be Dayton’s own Edwin Moses, a brilliant hurdler. This would leave poor Archdeacon writing until 3 a.m.

    The person taunting and laughing the hardest in the group was Pat Forde, who was then a columnist in Louisville. He would get his.

    MORE: The world mourns | Ali, Brown shared brotherly bond | LeBron reflects on Ali’s legacy

    Point is, nobody mentioned Ali. He just wasn’t on our mind. In the 20 years since, Ali has moved to the forefront of such thoughts. He has won countless awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But in 1996, though he was still extraordinarily famous, Ali was becoming something of an afterthought. It was 16 years since he had retired as a fighter, and people younger than 20 would have no memory at all of his epic fights with Frazier and Foreman. Parkinson’s had all but silenced him — in the “60 Minutes” feature, he could not speak. There was still a large group of people who remembered him bitterly. There were undoubtedly some people who suspected that Ali might light the cauldron, but I didn’t know any of those people.

    And then the moment came, and Janet Evans handed the torch to Ali …

    “It’s the loudest gasp I’ve ever heard,” Ebersol says. “I was in the truck, but I could still hear it. It was audible. Everybody just gasped, and it was so powerful. Nobody really thought anything like that would happen.

    “Then, you might not remember this, but the thing won’t light. It just won’t light. And there was this small breeze, so the flame was blowing back on Ali’s hand. I remember asking Ali later if it burned him. He said, ‘I was so into it, I couldn’t feel a thing.’”

    * * *

    A few days after the Olympics ended, Ebersol got a call from Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s wife. She said: “Listen to this.” And, over the phone, Ebersol heard cheering, screaming, people chanting “Ali! Ali! Ali!” They were at the PGA Championship in Louisville. Ali was being honored there.

    “You changed his life,” Lonnie said. She said that before the Olympics, Ali had started to withdraw. He was embarrassed by his condition. He didn’t want people to see him shaking and suffering.

    “But,” Lonnie said, “the love that was bestowed on him in Atlanta brought him back. It swept him up. It brought us all back.”

    “I was just a facilitator,” Ebersol says. “It was Billy Payne and the Atlanta Committee that made the decision. I give them a lot of credit. They kept an open mind. They allowed me to overwhelm them with the evidence that Ali was the only choice. We live in a time now where people can be so inflexible. People make a decision and that’s it, they will stay with it no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented.

    “But Billy and the committee listened. And they made the right decision. It’s unforgettable, right?”

    Lonesome King

    LeBron James is the best team in the Eastern Conference. By himself. Grab nine guys hanging around at UCLA, put them together with James and they win the East. He has won six consecutive Eastern Conference titles, which is really an amazing feat.

    However, the Western Conference has three or four, maybe even five teams, that LeBron James cannot beat alone. The Warriors are obviously the best of the best. And this NBA Finals is quickly turning into a mockery.

    ***

    For comparative purposes, here are the Warriors best players during their last four games:

    Game 6 against Oklahoma City: Klay Thompson. Scored 41, including 11 three-pointers, many of them seemingly impossible shots.

    Game 7 against Oklahoma City: Stephen Curry. Scored 36 with eight assists, five rebounds, and just three turnovers.

    Game 1  against Cleveland: Shaun Livingston (20 points, 8-of-10 shooting) or Andre Iguodala (12 points, seven rebounds, six assists, incredible defense, plus-21 on the day).

    Game 2 against Cleveland: Draymond Green. Scored 28, with seven boards, five assists, a steal and just one turnover.

    You see where this is going, right? Let’s look at Cleveland’s best player the last four games:

    Game 5 against Toronto: LeBron James. Had 23 points, six rebounds, eight assists, dominating floor presence.

    Game 6 against Toronto: LeBron James. Had 33 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, unstoppable force.

    Game 1 against Golden State: LeBron James. Had near triple-double, 23 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, a couple of steals and a block. Not good enough.

    Game 2 against Golden State: LeBron James. Had 19 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, four steals (also seven turnovers). He played only 34 minutes because the game was out of hand.

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    On any given night, Golden State has five or six players who might be the star of the team. Cleveland has one.

    Here’s the irony: LeBron James doesn’t want to go it alone. He has never wanted that. It’s probably the character trait most different from greats like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. They expected — and, I suspect, enjoyed — being the sole focus, the sun around which everything revolved. But that’s not LeBron James. I have long been convinced that while there were many reasons LeBron left Cleveland the first time, the most compelling of those reasons was that he felt alone. Year after year after year, he played divine basketball, as well as anyone has ever played, and the best the Cavaliers could do was surround him with laborers like Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao along with creaky middle-aged versions of Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison and Ben Wallace.

    Remember in “Airplane” when the kid told Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “My Dad says you don’t work hard enough on defense.” Then Jabbar explodes in fury and grabs the kid by the collar:

    “Listen kid, I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. Tell your old man to drag Unseld and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!”

    I think that’s how James felt at the end in Cleveland: Tell your old man to drag Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to 66 wins and the Eastern Conference Finals!” It’s no wonder he fled for Miami, where the great Dwyane Wade could be the star some nights, where Chris Bosh could do some of the scoring and Shane Battier could play the shutdown defense.

    When he came back to Cleveland, the Cavaliers made sure to surround him with stars. Here’s Kyrie Irving, a whirlwind guard who can finish like no guard in the NBA. Here’s Kevin Love, a 6-foot-10 force who averaged 26 points, 13 boards and made almost 200 three-pointers his last year in Minnesota. Here’s Tristan Thompson, a demon on the offensive glass. Here are a bunch of solid three-point shooters. Yes, LeBron, this time it will be different. This time, the Cavaliers insisted, we have your back.

    And then they reach the NBA FInals and …

    … LeBron is all alone again.

    * * *

    Last year, you could understand it. Love and Irving got hurt. James really had no choice but to play Superman, and he did — averaging 36 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists for the series. But the effort took its toll on him. He shot just 40 percent for the series. In the last three games, he could not impose his will, and Golden State won all three with ease. The best Cleveland could hope for this year was that when the two teams met again, the Cavaliers would be healthy.

    Well, the Cavaliers were healthy coming into this series. And … James is alone again.

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    Irving has been atrocious, shooting 12 of 36 and getting schooled on defense. Kevin Love had a few moments in Game 1, but he was passive and virtually non-existent in Game 2 before getting elbowed in the head (Cleveland doctors inexcusably let him stay in the game; it was only after a disoriented Love left on his own a little later that he was entered into the concussion protocol). Tristan Thompson has been barely visible, which is better than J.R. Smith who has gone into full cloak mode.*

    *A quick question about Channing Frye: Where exactly has he gone? He averaged 18 minutes a game against Atlanta and Toronto, and he was a three-point miracle. He made 25 of 43 three-pointers in those 10 games, that’s 58 percent. In this series so far, he has averaged five minutes per game and has shot a grand total of one three-pointer. I get that it might be difficult to fit him in against the Warriors — who will he guard? — but he was a real weapon, and this is a team in dire need of weapons. Cavaliers rookie coach Tyronn Lue has looked a bit over his head so far.

    And James has looked utterly discouraged so far. He has put up some numbers because he’s simply too good NOT to put up numbers. But he’s made no difference at all. His jump shot is gone, so Golden State’s defense essentially BEGS him to shoot. His bullet passes are going through his teammates’ hands. He is having trouble finishing around the basket. At one point on Sunday night, he was called for traveling on back-to-back possessions. When has that ever happened before in his career?

    Let’s face it: He looks a bit lost. It’s ludicrous and wrong to blame LeBron James for the Cavaliers troubles — it’s like blaming gravity because you fell into a mud puddle. But there are limits even to his powers. Golden State just had the NBA regular season for the ages. James cannot beat them.

    And James certainly understands this better than anyone. Some years ago, just before he left Cleveland, he played a dreadful playoff game against the Boston Celtics, probably the worst playoff game of his entire career. Afterward, he famously grumbled, “I spoil people with my play.” I think he was in a bad place and he was lashing out at the absurd expectations that have haunted him and because he had no one to turn to.

    I sense some of that same frustration in him now. LeBron doesn’t want to do this alone. He’s one of the great passers in the history of the league. He’s one of the great two-way players in the history of the league. He’s one of the great big-game performers in the history of the league.

    But what does any of that mean when you’re all alone? Sure, it’s possible that his teammates will pick it up come the return to Cleveland, but let’s face the inevitable: The ending is written. Golden State is going to beat the Cavaliers. The only questions left are the final score and how hard LeBron James is willing to work to make that final score look more presentable.

    The icon we needed

    No athlete has been more written about, talked about, rhapsodized and eulogized and defined and redefined than Muhammad Ali. And that covers “ever.”

    In other words, none of them will do him justice, including this.

    He is almost surely the one athlete who transcends the history-means-nothing divide between his generation and the two that have followed him. Nobody isn’t aware of him, or his impact upon American and even global culture. He was for decades the most recognizable and ultimately admired athlete in the world, so much so that unlike Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown and Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you almost cannot find a young person who doesn’t nod in appreciation at the mere sound of his name.

    In short, they may know all those names, but Ali’s is the one they know viscerally and reflexively.

    Ali stood for more than himself in a business that almost demands hyper-narcissism. He didn’t just leave money on the table with his beliefs, he left time at the height of his career on the table as well. Others might well have if they’d been forced to do so, but he’s the one who did it. He spoke loudest in an era in which the idea of athletes speaking out was in its adolescence.

    Oh, and he was almost indisputably the greatest boxer of all time when being the greatest boxer meant something more than Floyd Mayweather cashing and flashing his latest check.

    He was a towering monolith and an idiosyncrasy, a stalwart and a hyperactive entertainer. He commanded that you watch, and then that you listen. And the nation did, reluctantly at first and eventually with more open minds and hearts. He was a man before, of, and ultimately after his time.

    One might make the case that he could not thrive as well in this more cynical, self-obsessed and technologically intrusive time, because what he had to say would more easily be drowned out by hot takes and media covering media and “blackboard material” given full electronic throat. After all, our media fixations devour all their young indiscriminately and without regard to value.

    But to assume that Ali could not handle these times as he handled his own is to shortchange his gift for adapting himself to his surroundings, and then standing apart from them. Ali’s extraordinary boxing skills (spend a few days seeking out the highlights – you’ll thank yourself later) were the stairs he climbed to reach the height of his significance because our culture gives more weight to the thoughts of the famous, especially the athletically famous. But once on stage, his communicative skills drew the main spot and the audience’s eyes and ears to him, and his intellect held it there. He was the perfect amalgam for the emerging television age, and the most recognizable spokesman for his time’s most objectionable notions – racial equality, social and economic justice, and freedom of thought and action.

    These are social wars we still fight today, and sadly will probably be fighting again in 40 more years – ground seemingly claimed for good will always be disputed by the disputatious. Ali is in many ways as needed now as he was in 1960s and 1970s.

    But he also provided the hope that maybe some things can transcend tribalism and the defense of privilege and the malicious distrust of the powerless by the powerful. When he climbed the stairs to light the Olympic torch to begin the 1996 Atlanta games, he had reached the point where he was that most misused of appellations – he was an icon representing our best selves.

    We have no such icon now, at a time when we need one as much as we did back at Ali’s cultural height. Even in his physically enforced silence, his mere presence stood for something more than the sum of all our parts.

    And maybe we won’t get another; the luck of the draw is a cruel thing. But we – the four generations who spanned his life – had Muhammad Ali, the life he led and the lives he reached. Consider him a gift we must work harder than we are at present to have earned.

    Ray Ratto is the Senior Insider for csnbayarea.com

    Magic man

    He is old now, and his left hand flutters like a butterfly’s wings, and his head shakes too. It is 1996, Atlanta, the Olympic opening ceremonies, and in his right hand, Muhammad Ali holds a torch as high and still as he can while a hundred thousand people all around him shriek and cheer and cry.

    Mostly, we cry.

    No, stop, he is not old. Ali is a child now, 12 years old, Louisville, Ky., and someone has stolen his bicycle. The unfairness of this sears through him. His name is Cassius Marcellus Clay. He races toward a police officer and through hot tears Clay shouts that he’s going to whup whoever it is that took his bike. “Well, if you’re going to whup anybody,” the cop and boxing coach, Joe Martin, said, “you better learn how to box.”

    He is a young boxer now, an Olympic gold medalist, and he’s “pretty as a girl,” as he likes to say. How do you describe his boxing style? It is unlike anyone else’s. He stands straight up even though trainers teach boxers to crouch. He keeps his hands down even though it is a hard rule that fighters must keep them up. He punches while dancing backward, which everyone knows is the wrong way to punch. But what does form matter when you are invincible? No one can lay a glove on him. No one can avoid his hands, a blur of jabs and crosses, hooks and uppercuts, left and right, faster and faster. He shuffles. He rumbles. He stings like a bee. He is the greatest, he is sure of that. “They must fall in the round I call!” he bellows as he predicts what round he will complete the knockout. And they fall.

    MORE: Ali dies at 74 | World mourns, remembers | Ali’s greatest fights

    He is on his stool now, and his eyes are stinging. He cannot see. Poison! Sonny Liston has poisoned his eyes! Ali (or Clay, as he is still called) screams, “Cut my gloves, cut my gloves, the fight is over, he’s blinded me!” He was a massive bettor underdog. Many thought Liston would literally kill him. Instead, Ali had dominated the early rounds with his speed and power. Then comes the poison — a liniment on the gloves? —  and Ali’s eyes burn and he is ready to stop the fight and declare his opponent a cheater. But his man in the corner, Angelo Dundee, has been through fighting wars. Dundee fixed planes in World War II, and he was the cornerman the night Carmen Basilio beat Sugar Ray Robinson at old Yankee Stadium. Dundee grabs his fighter. “Cut the gloves?” he shouts. “What are you, crazy? Baby, this is for the title!” And he pushes his half-blind fighter back into the ring, sure that his man would find a way through the dark.

    Ali is champion now, the unbeatable champion. He has beaten Liston twice, though both fights ended mysteriously. As champion, he flashes a bloodthirstiness that people had not known was in him. He bludgeons the beloved former champion Floyd Patterson. He destroys Cleveland Williams. He screams “What’s my name? What’s my name?” as he relentlessly pummels a half-blind Ernie Terrell, who dared call him Cassius Clay leading into the fight. When asked if he carried Terrell for 15 rounds just so he could inflict more pain, Ali does not shrink away from the obvious. “I’m out to be cruel,” he says. “That’s what the boxing game is about.”

    He is shouting now, his face a mask of rage, as he stands on a college campus and stares down a student who is questioning his manhood and his courage and his patriotism. The Vietnam War rages on. Civil rights demonstrations rage on. Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam rages on. Ali refuses to go into the army. “If I’m going to die,” Ali shouts, “I’ll die now, right here fighting you. If I’m going to die. You my enemy. My enemy is the white people, not the Viet Cong, the Chinese, the Japanese. You’re my opposer when I want freedom, you’re my opposer when I want justice, you’re my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight. But you won’t even stand up for me here at home.”

    He is joking around now. Howard Cosell puts his arm around Ali’s shoulders. Cosell is a windbag, as everyone knows, but he is also America’s most fundamental sports broadcaster, the voice of his generation. Cosell stood with Ali when he changed his name and stood with Ali when he fought the draft board. Cosell also makes sure to remind everyone that he stood with Ali. He ties himself to Ali’s star. It works for both of them; they inundate pop culture. Cosell is in a Woody Allen movie and hosts his own variety show. Ali plays himself in “The Greatest,” and stars in a comic book where he fights Superman. Cosell hosts “Battle of the Network Stars.” Ali fights a Japanese professional wrestler. They are both inescapable in the 1970s. But in so many ways, they are at their most vibrant in their exchanges, with Cosell trying to teach the champ, and Ali coming back with the counterpunch, a bit of Abbott and Costello. “You are being extremely truculent,” Cosell says to Ali. “Whatever truculent means,” Ali says, “if that’s good, I’m that.”

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    He is a bit heavy around the waist now, certainly not chubby, but also not the sculpted Adonis he had once been. Ali is in Zaire, and he covers his face, and he leans back into the ropes, and he lets an assassin named George Foreman pummel his body, over and over. Sledgehammers to the solar plexus. All around him, the African fans shout “Ali Bomaye!” — “Ali Kill Him!” — only Ali does not fight to kill. Instead, he leans back and endures the blows because along the way he has learned a surprising secret. He has learned that the assassin will wilt before he can finish the job.

    No, wait, now he is on his stool in Manilla, beaten to the brink of death, and he stares across the ring at his executioner, at Joe Frazier, and he sees that Frazier too is beaten to the brink of death. Their fight, the Thrilla at Manilla, is perhaps the the bloodiest of modern times. Ali then feels the strangest emotion a fighter can feel for his adversary, something approaching love. “This,” Ali tells reporters who insist he won the fight, “is the closest thing to dying that I know.”

    And now he’s on his stool again, only it is in the Bahamas, and a cowbell rings to signify the end of the fight. Someone found that cowbell just in time. The shameful fight is over. Ali’s opponent, Trevor Berbick, looked to land a punch on the chin early to “take him out of his misery.” But Berbick was not skilled enough to knock out even the shadow of Muhammad Ali, so he simply clubbed the champ for 10 long, painful, unnecessary rounds. “Nothing but Father Time,” Ali says when it is over and promises to stop.

    And now, he is old again, back in Atlanta again, and he’s lighting the Olympic torch. His left hand shakes. His voice is a rasp, his rasp is a whisper. Parkinson’s has Ali under its spell. To see Ali again, in this moment, it is overwhelming. All around him, people shriek and cheer and cry because we remember.

    Mostly, we cry.

    Muhammad Ali died Friday night. He was surrounded by family. There is no way to sum up his life because it was so big and contentious and fun and thrilling and, ultimately, silent. He was the most hated athlete of his time and the most beloved of all time. He was the loudmouth kid who couldn’t be touched, and the bruised warrior who would not go down, and the aging man who, though trapped by silence, talked about love. He was my father’s favorite athlete. I was raised on Ali.

    No, there is no way to sum up Muhammad Ali at the end, there is simply a flood of images, Sports Illustrated covers and countless books. There are all those epic fights and special guest appearances and awards. There are all those punches and feints and Ali poems — including his shortest and most essential poem: “Me! Whee!” Brilliant writers like George Plimpton and Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson and Mark Kram and Joyce Carol Oates and Gary Smith never tired of trying to unravel his magnificence. The brilliant actor Will Smith tried to recapture him on screen. Musicians across the last 50 years have tried to replay his rhythm.

    But there was no one like Ali. He defined his time. Once, the writer Bob Greene asked to interview Ali for a special Esquire issue featuring the most influential people of their time. Here’s what followed in Greene’s classic story:

    “I’m the most famous man in the world,” the voice said.

    I said that there would be other famous people in the issue; people, perhaps, as famous as he.

    “Who?” Ali said.

    I said that some of the others were John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King.

    “They’re all dead,” Ali said.

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    There is no way to sum up Ali, but there are images to cling to. I think of one now. Ali is in his 50s, and the Parkinson’s has him, or at least part of him. He is at the opening of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, a museum dedicated to his life. There’s a bicycle here. There’s a boxing ring here with loose ropes. There’s a photograph of him refusing to be inducted into the Army. There’s a heavyweight championship belt.

    And there’s a little girl running around, the daughter of someone or another. She is maybe 6 or 7 years old. Ali watches her for a little while and then walks over to her. She does not seem to know who he is.

    He does not say a word, cannot say a word, but he puts his hand on her shoulder. “Here,” his eyes say, “I want to show you something.” And Ali pulls out a red handkerchief. He gives it to her, lets her inspect it, she hands it back, and then in an instant, the handkerchief is gone. As she squeals with delight, he watches her with a sweet look on his face. He is happy.

    Then, just as she is about to run off, he gently grabs her hand and shows her one more thing: He is wearing a fake thumb and has simply tucked the handkerchief into it. She does not understand, so he shows her again exactly how he made the handkerchief disappear. Magicians do not reveal their secrets, of course. But, then this is the point. Muhammad Ali did not see himself as a magician. He wanted that little girl to understand that anyone can make magic.

    What if it’s not enough?

    In many ways, Game 1 of the NBA Finals was predictable. The game was in Oakland, where Golden State almost never loses. The Warriors were undoubtedly still going to be hyped after their stunning and uplifting comeback against Oklahoma City — this while the Cleveland Cavaliers had not played for almost a week and were all but certain to come out a bit rusty and flat. This was the highest of ground for the Warriors to fight on, and their professional and straightforward 104-89 victory is just about what you might have expected.

    “It’s just one game,” are the four words that appeared in just about every Cleveland Cavaliers related tweet, blog post, story, story comment, email and talk-radio take, and it was indeed just one game.

    That said: It’s hard, from a Cavaliers perspective, to imagine that one game being more discouraging. Yes, absolutely, Cleveland might still make a fight of this thing. Forget about momentum talk. Momentum is an invention of sportswriters on deadline. And as a sportswriter on deadline, I fall for it all the time, but I should have learned a long time ago that momentum means almost nothing . I should have learned it back in 1985, when the Boston Celtics overwhelmed and embarrassed the Los Angeles Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. If ever there was one game that should have ended a series, it was that one. I would have bet my life savings (a used bicycle, savings bonds my grandmother got me, my baseball card collection with its many Cory Snyder rookie cards), that the Celtics would roll to an easy victory. The Lakers breezed in six.

    Also, in both series LeBron James won an NBA championship, his team lost Game 1.

    But the big problem for Cleveland here is not momentum. The big problem is that sports is about matchups — that’s one cliché that DOES tend to hold up — and the Cavaliers have huge matchup issues. Oklahoma City did expose some weaknesses in this Golden State team in the last series. They forced the Warriors into some sloppy play, they pounded Golden State on the offensive glass, they threw so much defensive pressure at Steph Curry and Draymond Green that, for a time anyway, they made the pair look tentative.

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    It wasn’t enough for Oklahoma City to win, of course, because the Thunder could not make a 3-pointer, because Klay Thompson was all of the X-Men rolled into one in Game 6 and because Curry found his wizardry when it was most needed. Still, it was something for Cleveland to work with.

    Only … it wasn’t. I have no doubt that Oklahoma City did unlock some of the mysteries of the Warriors. But Game 1 suggested that the Cavaliers simply don’t have the keys to open any of those locks.

    1. Unlike Oklahoma City, the Cavaliers are not an especially good defensive team, and they did nothing at all on Thursday to make Golden State play too fast or feel uncomfortable.

    2. The Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson is a fantastic offensive rebounder, and this should play well against one of Golden State’s relative weak spots. Unfortunately — and he reminded everyone of this in Game 1 — Thompson is not a good finisher, and he is an almost non-existent passer, so those offensive rebounds (he had six) generally went to waste.

    3. The Cavaliers’ bench was horrendous. They were outscored 45-10 — with some of those 10 points coming at garbage time — and backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova was a gruesome minus-19 in about 11 minutes of play.

    The Golden State bench was well-neutralized by Oklahoma City. Sean Livingston shot 36 percent against the Thunder. He looked like Paul Pierce in Game 1. Leandro Barbosa was a nonentity against the Thunder. He scored 11 and was like a Harlem Globetrotter in Game 1. And so on.

    4, Cleveland did not (cannot?) bring enough intensity to faze Golden State’s Draymond Green. The Thunder often made Green look out of control and feverish. In Game 1 against the Cavs, he had a more typically juicy Draymond Green line (16 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, four steals, one block) and seemed completely in the flow.

    All of which leads to the two most demoralizing parts of Game 1. The first is obvious: Golden State won easily even though Curry and Thompson combined to shot 8 for 27 and scored just 20 combined points. They could not have been less effective and never again will be that ineffective — this was a once-in-a-decade moment. And it didn’t matter in the slightest as far as the final result goes.

    If Cleveland can’t come close to beating Golden State on a night when Curry and Thompson are off, what chance do they have on any other night?

    Let’s add this: It’s pleasant for the Cavaliers and fans to believe that it was the Cleveland defense that held Curry and Thompson down. This was certainly the general vibe of Cleveland’s postgame comments — stuff along the lines of, “Well, we did a good job on Curry and Thompson, now we just have to play better against everyone else.”

    But I think that might be a bad read on what really happened Thursday. Curry got open looks. Thompson got open looks. They just missed. I didn’t think either one of them had to work as hard for their shots as they did against Oklahoma City. The Kansas City Chiefs used to have this cornerback who would celebrate after incomplete passes, even if he was thoroughly beaten on the play and the receiver just happened to drop the ball. The “We did a good job on Curry and Thompson” theme seemed a bit like that to me.

    And that’s the second demoralizing part: It happened late in the fourth quarter when Cleveland was in the midst of a mildly interesting comeback. The Cavs trailed by 17 with five minutes left, when guard J.R. Smith — who decided for the first time in his career to be shy — finally hit a 3-point shot. Smith is one of the all-time gunners in NBA history, a man who ALWAYS thinks he’s open, a 3-point gunslinger who has spent his euphoric career making people scream “No!” and “Yes!” in equal measure. He took THREE shots against Golden State. Three. He usually takes that many on the drive to the arena.

    In any case, he made a 3-pointer to cut the margin to 14, and then LeBron James rattled in his own 3-pointer to cut the margin to 11. It stayed there until, at roughly the three-minute mark, Kyrie Irving stole a pass and LeBron James got the ball in the open floor. He was going full speed ahead, the classic LeBron James get-out-of-the-way train, and you could imagine the Cavaliers cutting the lead to nine or even eight if he would make one of his glorious three-point plays. No, the Cavaliers were not going to win the game, but this was a chance to make Golden State a little bit nervous …

    And here’s what follows:

    Draymond Green reaches in and steals ball from James. Bam.

    Steph Curry, sensing the moment, takes Kyrie Irving one-on-one, steps in, steps back, swishes a 3-pointer. Bam.

    Irving, no doubt feeling the need to make up for his defensive ineffectiveness, drives into the lane and takes a tough shot. He’s one of the great finishers in basketball, but this time the ball clanks off iron. Bam.

    Green rips down the rebound, passes to Curry, who passes to Thompson, he fires a 3-point shot, it’s good. Bam.

    And, like that, in 30 seconds, the two guys who couldn’t make a shot all game long ended any of the Cavs’ illusions. The lead was 17 and that was that. All that was left for Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was to put in the scrubs. It was only one game, yes, and it’s perfectly logical to believe that LeBron James and company will come up with more intensity and heat for Game 2. As one Cleveland buddy says: “There are reasons to hope.”

    Well, there are always reasons to hope, that’s part of being a Cleveland fan. But there’s another part of being a Cleveland fan, a more obvious part, a part that need not be mentioned.

    Goliath is wobbling

    The most jolting and fascinating story of these NBA playoffs so far, of course, is just how mediocre the Golden State Warriors have looked. Yes, you can talk about about Steph Curry’s physical woes, and, yes, you must give due credit to the rising talent of Portland and the size and will of Oklahoma City. And you can also discuss among yourselves the varying effects of exhaustion and the wearying consequences of mounting pressure and Daymond Green’s tendency to overheat… but none of this changes the simple and stunning truth:

    The Golden State Warriors, for long stretches of time these playoffs, have been a pedestrian basketball team.

    It has been shocking to watch. I never thought the Warriors were unbeatable. No team is unbeatable. It did not shock me in the least that Oklahoma City gave the Warriors a great series — when you have two transcendent players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook along with the indefatigable Steven Adams, you can scale the heights with any team.

    But this series was not often about scaling the heights. Golden State was adrift for long spans of time in just about every game. Let’s just say it: The Warriors were kind of lousy. They would seemingly go entire quarters without grabbing a defensive rebound. They often played out of control, like someone driving just a little bit too fast into a turn They turned the ball over repeatedly with dumb hero passes and reckless drives. They couldn’t get to the free-throw line. They gave up easy basket after easy basket. They were dreadful in the paint. In the last two games, with their season on the line, they shot an almost-unbelievable 35 of 91 from inside the 3-point line. That’s 38 percent from INSIDE the 3-point line.

    During these prolonged stretches of horror, it was hard to remember how this team won 73 games in the first place. How do you win 73 games when you can’t keep Steven Adams from getting every single offensive rebound? I mean, he’s a good player with a bright future, but come on. How do you win 73 games when your most versatile player, Draymond Green, is passing the ball to shadows and clanking shot after shot and seems constantly on the brink of turning green and turning into the Hulk?

    [nbcsports_mpx url=http://vplayer.nbcsports.com/p/BxmELC/nbcsports_embed/select/media/1mhLvkZxBSvu?autoPlay=false]

    How do you win 73 games when your unanimous MVP Steph Curry looks tentative, can’t seem to find any openings and won’t shoot the ball. Of course, much of the leaden way the Warriors have played comes back to Curry, who hurt his ankle AND his knee AND his elbow, who missed a bulk of the playoffs and seemed bruised and unsure when he did return. But this isn’t the whole story. After all, Curry did seem himself in the second half of Game 6, when the Warriors put on a stupendous comeback and forced Monday’s Game 7.

    And then in Game 7, for the entire first half, yeah, the groggy, uninspiring Warriors were back, turning the ball over, getting beaten to every loose ball, playing just over the edge of control. If Oklahoma City had been on its game, the Thunder could have led by 20 at halftime. Instead, Oklahoma City had its own issues putting the ball in the basket, and the Warriors stayed relatively close. Golden State then played one inspired quarter, held on for another, and the series was over.

    But the series opened up some captivating new ways to look at the NBA Finals, with the Warriors playing the Cleveland Cavaliers. All season long, it has been assumed that we would end up here — with the Warriors and Cavs facing off — and that the Warriors would win like they did last year (only easier). The teams played twice this year, and the Warriors won with relative ease at home and then annihilated the Cavs in Cleveland. Let’s be honest: Golden State seemed to be playing in a higher league. Even the most optimistic Cleveland fans seemed to understand that the Cavs would be a longshot in the Finals.

    But then came this Oklahoma City series, and suddenly the Warriors look, well, more than just flawed. They look eminently beatable. I mean, if Adams can dominate the offensive boards, you would have to think Tristan Thompson can do that. If Durant and Westbrook can impose their will on that Warriors defense, you would have to think that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving can do that. If the Thunder, with its self-destructive tendency to play one-on-one ball when it matters most, can take Golden State to the brink, what can a Cleveland Cavaliers team with the ultimate team player in LeBron James do?

    And then there’s this: Golden State won because of the 3-point shot. Period. In both Games 6 and 7 (and really, throughout the series), Oklahoma City was better in just about every way except for those 3-pointers.

    Game 6:

    Oklahoma City: 3 of 23 (13 percent), 9 points.

    Golden State: 21 of 45 (47 percent), 63 points.

    Game 7

    Oklahoma City: 7 of 27 (26 percent), 21 points.

    Golden State: 17 of 37 (46 percent), 51 points.

    That means the Warriors outscored the Thunder 114 to 30 on 3-point shots. Think about that for a minute. And then think about this: Golden State could have lost both games anyway. If Oklahoma City had shot even SLIGHTLY better from 3, it would have won.

    Now, think about the Cleveland Cavaliers. They finished second to the Warriors in 3-point shots made during the season, and in the playoffs they have been extraordinary from 3-point range. With Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert all shooting 45 percent or better behind the line, and Channing Frye essentially NEVER missing three-pointers, this team has a real chance to hold its own with the Warriors from behind the arc.

    So put all that together and you suddenly think: The Cavaliers have a real path to victory here.

    I don’t think anyone could see that path just a month ago.

    Of course, all of this assumes that the Warriors remain earthbound and do not start again playing the celestial basketball that they were playing for much of the season. When the Warriors were right, they played such fluid, dynamic, exuberant basketball that all the weaknesses that now seem so apparent — their lack of size, their defensive shortcomings, their high-risk, high-reward tendencies, their overwhelming dependency on 3-pointers — were beside the point. Oh, people knew about the weakness. They just didn’t matter. Golden State overwhelmed and exasperated and defeated teams with their energy, with their enthusiasm, with Steph Curry’s 35-foot jump shots, with Draymond Green’s pinpoint passes, with Klay Thompson’s hand-in-the-face swishes, with Andre Iguodala’s swipes at the ball, with Mo Speights filling up the basket.

    Can they get that mojo back? Maybe. They definitely flashed it in the second half in both Games 6 and 7.

    But maybe not. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the winningest teams in the other three sports — the 16-0 New England Patriots of 2007, the 2001 Seattle Mariners and 1906 Chicago Cubs, who both won 116 games, the 62-win Detroit Red Wings of 1995-96 — all lost in the postseason. Stuff tends to happen in short series, and everything gets a little bit harder, and the magic that was so easily conjured up during the season doesn’t quite spark.

    All of which is to say: The Warriors might win the NBA championship that everyone granted them back in December. But the Oklahoma City series proved the Warriors are beatable. Now, it will be interesting to see what LeBron and company can do with that information.

    Hamilton

    This story originally ran on Joe Posnanski’s blog.

    ”How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
    And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
    Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
    impoverished, in squalor
    Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

    — The opening words of “Alexander Hamilton.”

    * * *

    The idea took hold a few months ago. It’s hard to say exactly what sparked it other than … well, have you ever been the parent of a 14-year-old girl? It is a daunting experience. Elizabeth is a good person. She’s a good student. She has a huge heart. She’s a loyal friend. She’s funny too. She likes Death Cab and Spinal Tap and comic books and reading. The other day, she told me that her favorite movie of all time is “The Godfather.” I mean, she is more me than I am.

    But she is 14, and in some ways that explains everything. In some ways it doesn’t. There are times I feel closer to her than ever … and times I feel so much further away. Farther away? Further away? One gorgeous day in autumn, I was sitting on the porch, working, and she came outside and sat next to me, and it became clear after a few choice words about tattoos and nose rings and such that she had come out for the sole purpose of starting a fight. There was no specific reason for it other than she’s 14, and I’m her father, and this is the timeless story.

    There have been other things, trying things, unforeseen things, a punishing year, and one day I came up with this idea. I would take Elizabeth to see “Hamilton.”

    We have a flaw in my family, one that goes back generations: We tend to grow obsessed with, well, stuff. What kind of stuff? OK, my mother through the years has had been possessed by countless activities including (but not limited to): paint-by-numbers; cross-stitch; stamp collecting; Harlequin Romances; computer programming (the most profitable of such obsessions); various soap operas; various reality TV shows; crossword puzzles; cookbooks; Candy Crush; all sorts of collectibles and, most recently, coloring books. She recently had coloring pencils shipped from Sweden or Switzerland or some such place. She’s very good at coloring. You can find her work on Facebook.

    This is just how the family mind works, I guess. I have known all my life about my weakness for growing obsessed by things. This is the reason I haven’t seen Game of Thrones or The Americans or Downton Abbey or House of Cards or any other recently popular television show. It isn’t because I dislike television — it’s the opposite. I like television too much. I know the only way to avoid free-falling into that television hole is to never start watching in the first place.

    I don’t mean this theoretically. For years, people have been on me to watch “Mad Men.” Three weeks ago, I caved in and decided to watch. I have now seen every show, all seven seasons, 92 episodes. That’s in three weeks. In other words, I have spent roughly four of the last 21 days doing nothing but watching Mad Men. That’s not healthy. I mean, the show was superb but I’m glad it’s over. I would rather obsess about something else.

    Elizabeth is one of several million people — so many of them teenagers — who have become obsessed with the Broadway show “Hamilton.” It is funny, if you think about it. Kids all over America are smitten by a show about a previously minor Founding Father who probably would have gotten chucked off the $10 bill had it not been for the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda. When I was Elizabeth’s age, we all wore Rush and Black Sabbath T-shirts and sang about how Mommy’s alright and Daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird.

    These kids are singing about Alexander Hamilton’s argument with Thomas Jefferson over a plan to establish a national bank and assume state debt.

    All of Elizabeth’s friends seem to be into Hamilton. One of them will periodically and for no obvious reason break into “You’ll Be Back,” a song where King George tells the colonies they will eventually return to England’s rule (‘’Cuz when push comes to shove/I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”). Another somehow got to see the show back before it became a national phenomenon and this has turned her into something of a superhero.

    But of course, Elizabeth is more consumed by the show than most. She has memorized every word of the musical, read every word she can about Alexander Hamilton, and, naturally, she has asked us to start calling her “Eliza” after Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler. She wears one of her three Hamilton T-shirts every single day that she’s allowed, and she regularly says things like “Thomas Jefferson was the worst,” though it has nothing at all to do with what we were talking about, and she will actually tear up a little thinking about poor John Laurens.

    This is all hilarious, of course — a 14-year-old girl utterly fanatical about the Founding Fathers — that is until you realize that it isn’t going away.

    All of this reminded me, strangely enough, of the Cleveland Browns. They were my first obsession. Even now, I’m not sure I can put into words how consumed I was with the Browns. In classes, when I should have been learning how to find the area of a circle or how circuits work or what the heck Hawthorne was talking about (things I still don’t know), I was scribbling stupid little stories about the Cleveland Browns. You might think this was because I wanted to become a sportswriter, but no,I had no idea about sportswriting, no ambitions to be a writer. I was writing these Browns stories because I couldn’t stop thinking about them — no, more to the point, I did not want to stop thinking about them. I was happiest pondering Bernie Kosar and Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack and Hanford Dixon and all the rest. I was happiest dreaming up imaginary plays that might work, strategies that might pay off, preview stories that might come true.

    Now, of course, I see it: The rest of life was kind of scary. School was scary. Girls were scary. My parents were scary. Homework was scary. All the other kids seemed to me to know something I did not know. They knew who they were. They knew how they fit in. They knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Of course, they did not really know any of that, but they sure seemed to know, and here I was, too small for one sport, too uncoordinated for another, too stupid or lazy (or both) to excel, too homely to ask out the cheerleader, too nearsighted to give up the glasses, too shy to be the class clown, too unimaginative to play Dungeon and Dragons, too uncool to be first, too uncommitted to think about it all very much. Ah, but the Cleveland Browns. That was a world I understood. I did not want to leave.

    Elizabeth does not have any of my weaknesses — she has lots of friends, works way harder and does way better in her classes, is beautiful … but it’s only when you get older that you realize that ALL kids have at least some of these emotions. It is scary being a teenager. But it’s also exhilarating. She finds herself seesawing between childhood and and adulthood, enjoying a few minutes of peace doing girlish things but then growing outraged when the waitress gives her a kid’s menu, proudly interviewing and getting a summer job but then wanting to know why she can’t just stay home and read. It’s all so confusing.

    It’s so much safer in the world of Alexander Hamilton.

    So, one day, I decided to take on a speaking engagement for the sole purpose of raising enough money to take Elizabeth to see Hamilton. You probably know that it’s hard, almost impossible even, to get Hamilton tickets. This is true but it’s also not true. It’s true that getting Hamilton tickets involves lotteries and luck and trying to buy tickets months in advance and knowing somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody.

    But … it’s also true that you can simply buy resale Hamilton tickets — that is, if you are willing to spend more money than you could ever imagine spending. How much money? I still can’t say the number out loud.

    Rain fell in New York the night we saw Hamilton.

    And Elizabeth held my hand tight and couldn’t stop crying as we walked into the theater.

    * * *

    “I may not live to see our glory
    (I may not live to see our glory)
    But I will gladly join the fight
    (But I will gladly join the fight)
    And when our children tell our story
    (And when our children tell our story)
    They’ll tell the story of tonight

    — The Story of Tonight from Hamilton

    The thing about seeing Hamilton RIGHT NOW at its peak moment is that even before it begins, the entire theater is filled with wonder. Every single person would rather be here than anywhere else in the world. As a sportswriter, I often feel that sort of energy at the biggest events, at the Masters or the Super Bowl or the Olympics, but it’s even more pronounced in this theater. People look at each other with the same wide-eyed expression: “Can you believe we’re here?”

    And then the show begins, Aaron Burr on the stage, talking about that bastard orphan Hamilton, and within about two minutes you realize the thing that makes Hamilton magical is this: It’s going to be even better than you had hoped.

    How do you know only a minute in? You just do. The charms of Hamilton are so overwhelming and come at you from so many different directions that it’s hard to pinpoint. The music is fantastic, of course, and of every style. The actors are all thoroughly wonderful. The set, which is so simple, is ever changing as people bring things on the stage and take things off, almost without notice. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics are so fun and surprising and joyful and glorious …

    Here, the Marquis de Lafayette is the “Lancelot of the Revolutionary set.”

    Here, George Washington is not the white-haired truth-teller known for annual white sales, he is the only hope when the Colonies are “outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned.”

    Here, the Revolutionary War is not some bloodless classroom lesson, but the answer to the question: “How does a ragtag army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?”

    Here, duels are explained in rhyme:

    Number one!
    The challenge, demand satisfaction
    If they apologize, no need for further action
    Number two!
    If they don’t, grab a friend, that’s your second
    Your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned.

    And maybe this begins to explain the sorcery of Hamilton: It is new and it is familiar all at once. You know these characters and don’t know them at all. You know the story and don’t know it at all. I can’t remember anything quite like that. When the second act begins, Aaron Burr introduces Thomas Jefferson (“You haven’t met him yet, you haven’t had the chance/‘cause he’s been kicking’ ass as the ambassador to France), and then Daveed Diggs’ Thomas Jefferson rolls out wearing a glorious purple suit, looking for all the world like a revolutionary version of Prince …

    … and it’s JUST RIGHT. Do you know what I mean? You might be aware that Thomas Jefferson really didn’t look like Prince and he wasn’t much of a hip hop performer. He was a Virginia slaveowner. But by the time the second act begins, no, this is Thomas Jefferson. It feels exactly right. This is the closest experience I’ve ever had to that feeling inside a dream. You know: In the dream, you are talking with your best friend only he’s actually a grizzly bear wearing a stethoscope, and you’re inside a car that’s not exactly a car and you’re parked inside the Taj Mahal but it’s orange and looks a bit like old Shea Stadium … and none of it seems out of place. None of it seems unfamiliar. It doesn’t just make perfect sense, it feels perfect. There are goosebumps detonating because, my God, look, that’s Thomas Jefferson.

    No, I guess I cannot put you there in the theater, though I wish I could. I wish you could see it if you have not. I don’t even know you, but I wish you could see it because you will be happier after you see it. You will be happier after watching Hamilton and Jefferson have a hip-hop rap off about whether the U.S. should honor its treaty with France. You will be happier after watching Angelica relive the moment that she introduced her sister Eliza to Hamilton. You will even be happier after seeing the Burr-Hamilton duel, which is indescribably powerful and so utterly simple all at once.

    My friend Michael told me something before I saw the show and after he found out how much I paid to see it — I think he was saying it to make me feel better about the expense. He said it is the one thing, maybe the only thing, that lives up to the hype. He was exaggerating to make a point. After all, the Golden State Warriors, when right, live up to the hype. A Bruce Springsteen concert lives up to the hype. In ’N Out Burgers live up to the hype. Playoff hockey, The Great Gatsby, Paris, The Gettysburg Address, first kisses, baseball day games, chocolate cake, all of these live up to the hype. There are many other things, too — Messi and Harry Potter and Adele and Kansas City barbecue — that rise up to our highest hopes.

    What made Hamilton different, I think, was that in addition to rising up, in addition to surpassing those hopes, it felt familiar too, as if we’d already seen it long ago and are now happily remembering.

    * * *

    “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
    When I was young and dreamed of glory
    You have no control
    Who lives
    Who dies
    Who tells your story.”

    — The closing song of “Hamilton.”

    Throughout the show, Elizabeth would periodically grab my arm and squeeze it as tight as she could. It was as if she was trying to hold herself up.

    “Dad,” she whispered in my ear during a quiet moment, “I cannot believe I’m here.” She was sobbing.

    One of the enduring curiosities of parenthood is that you have no idea what moments will endure. I can vaguely remember, so many times, doing something with Elizabeth — holding her when she was just a child or taking her to her first something or other or having one of those important heart-to-heart talks — and thinking: “Oh, I’ll never forget this exact moment.”

    And I’ve forgotten them. The details are lost. Oh, I’m sure they’re in my mind somewhere, and maybe they will emerge at some point, but right now they are gone. Her first day of school? Her first ballgame? Her first full-throated laugh? The unforgettable time that she … what did she do again? Gone.

    Meanwhile, other moments, silly things, pointless things, they stand out, like something red in a fog of white. A bad pun she said once. The time I helped her study for a fairly meaningless quiz. That soccer game when she stood around talking to a friend even as the ball rolled by her time and again.

    So, while it’s fresh in my mind now, I cannot imagine forgetting any detail of sitting with Elizabeth while we watched Hamilton. But I will forget. I will forget the details of this difficult but hopeful year. I will forget the size of eyes as she stared at the stage and tried to memorize it. I will forget because the years pile on, and memories cloud as they bump into each other, and I barely remember where I was yesterday.

    But she will remember. That’s the thing. She will remember every detail. She will remember it the way I remember what it was like inside Cleveland Municipal Stadium with those stupid steel beams blocking every view of the field and the wind howling off of the lake and the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke. She will remember every little thing about that theater, about that stage, about Lin’s voice, about my jacket being around her shoulders, about Burr’s unplanned little laugh when watching King George dance, about that night.

    As we walked out into New York, the echo of the show still ringing, she held on to me tight, and she stumbled because she was still inside the dream. She leaned up and kissed me on the cheek.

    “Are you going to start crying again?” I asked her.

    “No,” she said, but she did, just a little, and she clung to me tighter, and I leaned down and sang in her ear:

    ‘They’ll tell the story of tonight.”

    She smiled and wiped away her tear. “They’ll tell the story of tonight,” she sang back.

    * * *

    Postscript: The response to this essay has been overwhelming … and it has been humbling. I have heard from so many people who have shared their own stories about Hamilton, about family, about connection. I suppose that speaks to the power of the arts. More, it speaks to the power of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s crazy genius.

    And speaking of Lin … there is one more story to tell.

    In the hours after I posted this essay, I got a notification from Twitter that Lin had tweeted something. Well, he had tweeted this:

    Whoa. Of course, after he did that, there was a flurry of activity, and the thing went viral and all that. But the key question my wife Margo asked was this: Do we wake up Elizabeth to tell her?

    We decided, in the end, not to do that. We could wait until morning. When morning arrived, Elizabeth was as groggy and grumpy as any 14-year-old who wakes up in the morning, and when I told her that we had something to show her, she was as skeptical as any 14-year-old would be. Show what? Some educational video? A lame adult meme that isn’t at all hip with the kids (Elizabeth and our other daughter Katie have started saying again and again that I’m just not “hip with the kids”).

    When I handed her the iPad, she looked blankly at it, and you could see her mind working around it.

    Hey, this is a tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

    Hey, he mentions someone named Elizabeth

    Hey, wait, that Elizabeth is actually me.

    And then she just started bawling. It was the most overwhelmed with emotion I think I’ve ever seen her, including when her favorite Harry Potter character died (no spoilers). She just cried and cried, and she didn’t try to stop, and we didn’t try to stop her. I talk about never really knowing what you will remember and what you will forget, and that’s true. I’m pretty sure I won’t forget that.