The worst part about sportswriting is that it kills the fan in you.
When SI pro basketball reporter Desmond Wallace quotes this line, exactly as it was once penned by a jaded scribe, he adds, "That will never happen to me." We believe him. Wallace has covered pro basketball for SI for the past four years, and his wide-eyed enthusiasm for sports has not only survived but flourished.
By his own estimation Wallace has attended some 150 games in the past year, in sports ranging from college football to field hockey—many in his spare time, for his own enjoyment—and he says he has watched an additional 100 or so NBA games on TV this season. But it is at this time of year, when the championships of pro basketball and college lacrosse, his two passions, collide that he is truly in his glory.
After covering the first two games of the NBA Eastern Conference finals last week for SI, Wallace took some time off for his Memorial Day Madness trip, a ritual of his for the past seven years. On Saturday he awoke at 4 a.m. and drove five hours from his suburban New York City home to Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md., to watch the semifinals of the NCAA lacrosse championship. On Sunday he took in the Division III championship game, also held at Byrd Stadium, and on Monday, the Division I championship. A day later he was back on the NBA beat. "Memorial Day weekend doesn't mean beaches or barbecues to me," says the 25-year-old Wallace. "It means lacrosse and basketball."
During the winter months, when Wallace is forced to stay indoors, he is busy operating his remote control, videotaping NBA games and replaying old tapes over and over again. With stacks of cassettes piled high in both his home and his office, Wallace has more videos than your local Blockbuster, or so it seems. His collection boasts such varied selections as the 1989 McDonald's All American high school basketball game, starring a deft-dribbling center named Shaquille O'Neal, and the 1989 Illinois versus Michigan NCAA semifinal, featuring nine players who went on to the NBA.
Wallace was transformed from a casual basketball fan to a fervent one back in January 1985. At the time, he was a high school junior on a monthlong student-exchange program in Madrid. "I stayed with a family who knew more about the NBA than I did," he says. "They're crazy about basketball there. It's funny that I had to go all the way to Spain to learn to love the game this much."
Wallace became an avid lacrosse fan a year later. Though he had played both midfield and defense for the White Plains (N.Y.) High lacrosse team, his devotion to the sport didn't reach its current intensity until he was accepted at the University of North Carolina (where he would major in political science) and began following the Tar Heels' 1986 national championship team.
And what if we were to fast-forward Wallace's life, say, 20 years? Will the fan still be alive and kicking? Or will the fan be spending Memorial Day weekends knocking back burgers at a beach barbecue?
"No, that will never happen to me," Wallace says with conviction. "For one, I'll never miss a lacrosse Final Four game as long as I live."
We believe him.