Awesome! Portland Trailblazers coach Maurice Cheeks just had one of the proudest moments of his career, and it had nothing to do with plays or scoring:
There she stood at center court, this little girl with the big, big voice, poised for the moment of a lifetime, the house lights dimmed, 20,000 people waiting expectantly for her, 20,000 people ready to hear her sing . . .
. . . and the words wouldn't come.
They lodged in her throat and couldn't be budged, no matter how mightily she strained. It was the song she knew by heart, the one she had heard a million times, the one she had sung over and over and over, the very one that she had rehearsed in a dressing room perfectly - every single run-through dead solid perfect - only minutes before, for heaven's sake. But now the words all tumbled over each other, crazy-quilted in a jumbling, confusing mish-mash:
"rocket's last gleaming ... twilight's red glare ... flag's not there ... oh say can you see ... yet wave . . .
She wanted to disappear, of course. She wanted the floor to open up and swallow her. Or a spaceship to beam her up and carry her off. Natalie Gilbert, a 13-year-old eighth grader, was living the nightmare each of us, in moments of morbid, fearful imagining, has conjured.
And then, suddenly, silent as a shadow, he was there, standing beside her, his left arm protectively, comfortingly around her, and he was whispering the forgotten words and she began to nod her head - "yes, yes, I remember now - and she began to mouth the words, and then he started to sing them, softly, and she joined in, hesitantly at first, but with a growing confidence, and soon they were a duet, and he was urging the crowd on with his right hand, and soon the duet had 20,000 back-ups, 20,000 people singing partly out of relief, partly out of compassion, partly out of pride, and rarely has the national anthem of the United States of America been rendered with such heartfelt gusto.
It was a glorious, redemptive moment.
Surely, you thought, sport has never been grander.
In fact, it says here that, for all the acrobatic, aeronautic, pyrotechnic, cruise-o-matic moments that the NBA playoffs have presented to us thus far this spring, all pale in comparison to the night of April 25, in the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore., shortly before the Trail Blazers met the Dallas Mavericks in the third game of their series.
That is when Maurice Cheeks, once the quintessential point guard, selfless and without ego and pretense, for many meritorious seasons a 76er, and most recently the coach of the Blazers, came to the rescue of Natalie Gilbert.
"I don't know why I did it," he said. "It wasn't something I thought about. It's one of those things you just do."
(continued in the next post)