Hockey players, among all athletes, have the coolest way of entering a game, hopping over the boards with one hand, like Steve McQueen getting into a convertible. But basketball is forever, and so players are often made to genuflect in front of the scorer's table for a moment before stepping onto the court, as if entering a house of worship. Which, in a manner of speaking, they are.
For one is baptized into basketball not with water but confetti (conferred on the head by Curly Neal). And one believes in basketball, as one believes in the Bible and in all those names that are common to both: Moses and Isiah and Jordan....
Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden and so—eventually—were the Celtics, and sometime in between I became a believer, and this is my profession of faith:
I believe in Artis Gilmore, whose wife is named—as God is my witness—Enola Gay.
I believe in new hightops, always evocative of Christmas morning, for you get to open a large box, remove the crinkly paper stuffed into the toes and—before wearing them for the first time-inhale deeply from each sneaker as if from an airplane oxygen mask. (It's what wine connoisseurs call "nosing the bouquet" and works for Pumas as well as pinot noirs.)
I believe in tearaway warmup suits, which make the wearer feel—when summoned from the bench—like Clark Kent, ripping off his business suit to reveal the S on his chest.
I believe a team's fortunes can always be foretold—not from the length of its lifelines but from the integrity of its layup lines.
I believe in God Shammgod and Alaa Abdelnaby and James (Buddha) Edwards (and in Black Jesus, Earl Monroe's nickname long before it was the Pearl).
I believe in accordion-style bleachers that push back to expose, after a game, car keys and quarters and paper cups, which sound like a gunshot when stomped on just right. (And always, stuck to the floor, the forlorn strands of molting pom-poms.)
I believe—now more than ever, in this time of global disharmony—in World B. Free and Majestic Mapp. And that control of the planet's contested regions might be better determined by a simple, alternating possession arrow.