I remember the first time I was going to go to a professional basketball game. It wasn’t a regular season game, because the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, where I grew up wasn’t a big enough market for a professional sports team, but it was an NBA preseason game being played between the Washington Wizards and the Los Angeles Lakers. I don’t recall the exact year, but I was in elementary school, probably either fourth or fifth grade, and was accompanying Jeremy, one of my friends, to the game, along with his dad who had been kind enough to invite me. It was in October, at the same time the Arkansas State fair was in town, and since my family was going to the fair on the night of the game, it meant me having to miss out on it that year, which after much internal debate, concluded that going to see a basketball game was clearly the better option.
The game was to be the first event held in the newly built Alltel (now Verizon) arena, in downtown North Little Rock. The day of the game came and as we were headed to the venue, my friends dad got word that the basketball game had been cancelled, I think because of cracks in the overhead beams of the arena, or something else dealing with the architectural integrity of the building. When he relayed the news, I was devastated, not only because I was missing out on my first NBA game, but because I was also missing out on going to the fair, but even though the night seemed ruined, Jeremy’s dad, tried everything in his power to turn it around. We drove to the Little Rock national airport, and stood watching the people coming and going through the airport, hoping to glimpse some of the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, Shaquille O’Neal was one of my favorite basketball players, partially the reason why 34 was my favorite number, so I was really hoping to see that giant of a man walking past. Perhaps he would see us and stop to sign an autograph or take a picture, or see my potential as a basketball player and insist that I get on the plane with them back to LA, joining their team immediately, but none of those things happened.
It was pretty big news when the arena was being built, and also as the first event in said arena approached, so when that fell through, it too became a story, and a local news team showed up at the airport and saw my friend and I, and decided that we would be perfect to be on the news that evening talking about how disappointed we were at this unfortunate turn of events. I don’t remember what Jeremy said, but I mentioned something about giving up going to the fair to go to the Lakers game. At this point in my life I was still handicapped by a southern accent, so it was perfect for the news, a simple country boy hoping for a chance to see some of them fancy stars from the big city play basketball. So I didn’t get to go to the game, but I did make my television debut, so the night was far from a bust, and the next night, that same friend and his family invited me to the fair with them, so everything turned out okay.