Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Later on in the evening I headed to the El Nacional game to watch P-Mac's new club play Comodoro Rivadavia, who had just defeated El Nacional two nights earlier.
I bought my 10-peso ticket and sat in the metal bleachers directly behind the hoop El Nacional was warming up on. P-Mac only dunked in the lay-up line once, but it was still impressive as he lobbed the ball off the backboard, caught it with his strong-left hand and slammed it through with ease. The rest of the time he lazily fired off 15-footers during warm-ups.
P-Mac played like shit for the better part of the game, hitting about half his shots as he jogged back and forth between possessions. At halftime I moved over to sit courtside at halftime next to Nené. The gym could not have held more than 600 people and I sat there the majority of the time wondering how the club affords to pay P-Mac 11,500 USD, if they only draw a couple hundred people at 40 pesos a head.
Before the second half P-Mac walked over to me and shook my hand in the awkward way you'd expect a black man from the Southside of Chicago and a white kid from Scottsdale to shake hands. Except this time it was smoother as we had the whole being-from-the-United-States thing in common and he recognized that I was the only one in the building (and probably country) who knew who he was before seven days ago.
Nené was crazy the entire game yelling at players and being just as enthusiastic as any Argentine football fanatico. Argentina is known for its tango, steak and wine, but a little known fact about the country is its collection of knock-off Roger Moores. The other American player on the team was a black man named James Moore, however, few of the fans knew his first name, so everyone just called him Roger. Whenever Moore had the ball, fan would begin screaming “Dale (pronounced Dah-lay) Roger!” “Dale” is the universal Argentine word which has about 8 million meanings, one which roughly translates into "go!"
Somehow El Nacional blew an 11-point lead with 2 minutes left in the game. The game was tied with 12 seconds left and P-Mac was bringing the ball up the court. I stood thinking this was it. P-Mac was going to win the game for me. How truly unbelievable that I get to watch Paul McPherson win a basketball game in Monte Hermosa, Argentina. This is the greatest moment of my life.
P-Mac drove the lane and dribbled the ball off his foot in the paint. The other team picked it up and threw a 85-foot heave toward their hoop that wasn't close as the clock expired. Overtime.
In overtime, some of the El Nacional's better players were fouled out, so P-Mac, who sadly wasn't the best player on the team, ran most of the plays and was in control of the ball often. Unfortunately he didn't do much with it, but he had his chance to redeem himself with eight seconds left in the game and his team down two points.
He brought the ball up the court again. I stood thinking this was it. P-Mac was going to win the game for me. How truly unbelievable that I get to watch Paul McPherson win a basketball game in Monte Hermosa, Argentina. This is the greatest moment of my life.
Then he forced a hideous three-pointer from the top of the arc, in which he awkwardly double-clutched and his shot bounced hard off the backboard, nicked the rim and fell into the opposing team's hands.
Game over. El Nacional's third straight loss and their record became 1-4 since acquiring P-Mac.
After the game I walked to the players' locker rooms and met P-Mac again, since he said he was going to try to give me some El Nacional gear. A reporter from a local paper interviewed me about why I was such a big P-Mac fan. It was a rough interview because at the time it was just one of those moments where I could barely speak Spanish, even though before I met P-Mac I had exclusively spoke Spanish for the last three days.
P-Mac exited the locker room and told me to meet him back at his hotel because he only had dirty clothes and he didn't want to give me the “dirty joints.”
I spoke with the reporter more and told him I was now unsure if I was going to head back to Capital Federal to watch the Super 8, a tournament between the best Argentine teams that was taking place in a few days, or if I was going to carry on with my initial travel plans and head south.
Before I met P-Mac, saw how poor the quality of play was and how shitty of a player he had become I was sure I was going to the Super 8, but now I was full of doubt. In a perfect world I planned on hanging out with P-Mac in Capital Federal, showing him around the city, doing copious amounts of ecstasy and hitting the clubs (I have never done ecstasy but I imagined if I was clubbing with P-Mac ecstasy would be a requisite) and eventually having a Thanksgiving dinner with P-Mac, since the tournament ended on Thanksgiving day.
The reporter didn't hesitate and told me to keep traveling because the team was shit and the quality of play in the tourney would not be any better. I was happy to learn that miserable beat writers were a universal phenomena and not just limited to Tucson sports writers who hated any team they followed and subsequently their own lives.
It was just before midnight, since the game did not start until 9:30 and it went into overtime, I began walking the six blocks from the gym to the team hotel when a little kid who was also walking alone came up beside me. He asked me a few basic questions about where I was from and what I was doing in Monte Hermosa. I learned he was from Bahía Blanca and was only here for the game. As we walked, he interrupted me mid sentence to point out that Manu Ginobili also has a house in Monte Hermosa and it was just two blocks from where we were standing. He told me also plays for the El Nacional junior squad back in Bahía Blanca, I asked if he knew Franco, Marquitos' little brother who plays for the same squad. He told me he did. I was proud of my Bahia assimilation. Then he we parted ways and I carried on to the team hotel.
I walked up to P-Mac's room, knocked on the door and was told to walk in. He was sitting there wearing only a pair of black boxers and a black du-rag. We talked about the game and how shitty he played.
“Man if my boys back home saw me dribble the ball off my foot with four seconds left in the game, I wouldn't be able to return home,” P-Mac said.
“Yeah what the hell happened with that shot in overtime,” I said, feeling pretty comfortable with P-Mac at the time. “That was pretty fucking ugly.”
“I don't know what happened there, that shit was ugly,” P-Mac admitted.
I asked P-Mac about some of his tattoos since they covered his arms and legs. He explained the more obvious ones, such as the tribute to his hometown, a mural of the Chicago skyline with the words “Windy City” emblazoned beneath. He then pointed to his right inner bicep which read “The Gift” with a date beneath it and explained that it was for the day his son was born. On his left bicep it read “The Curse” with an date representing the day his NBA contract expired.
I didn't bother to ask if the Psalm 23 on his leg had an actual meaning to him or was just chosen because he wore the number 23 at DePaul and with the Phoenix Suns.
Then a team manager knocked on the door and said something in Spanish telling P-Mac they were going to eat dinner soon and then catch the bus back to Bahía Blanca.
“Oh we fitna eat?” P-Mac quickly rapped back, failing to take into consideration that the manager barely spoke English and most English-speaking North Americans would have a problem understanding “Oh we fitna eat?”
“Si,” said the team manager who then closed the door and walked away.
I told P-Mac I was going to head down south to keep traveling, but I would e-mail him when I got back to Bahia and we could hang out. He jotted down his e-mail address on my contacts page of my journal. I was pretty happy that my battered notebook, full of people's names and contact information from all over the world now had Paul McPherson's e-mail. Some people had drawn maps of where they live in the world. Other wrote me poems or famous quotes next to their name. P-Mac simply wrote, “email@example.com.”
I walked out of the hotel, hit the corner store and grabbed my dinner which consisted of one strawberry yogurt since funds were becoming increasingly tighter. I headed back to my hotel and saw P-Mac and James “Roger” Moore walking down the dark, empty block. I yelled at P-Mac and thanked him for everything.
“Peace dude!” he yelled back throwing up a peace sign over his shoulder as him and the bootleg Roger Moore walked away.