"Tonight I leave," he said in his closing remarks. "I leave basketball forever. I leave the game that I love. I'm saying good night, Boston. And may God bless each and every one of you."
You watched as he pulled one of the long ropes that hoisted the green and white banner (his number, 33, next to DJ's number, 3) from the floor to the ceiling. His wife, Dinah, was next to him, and his year-old son, Connor, was in his left arm. One last ovation rocked the place. A show-biz putt of smoke was shot at his feet. Lasers danced against white screens. He left the floor.
The one problem with the entire production was that as an athlete he could no longer do what he once did. When a singer retires or an actor, there can sometimes be a final performance, maybe even a best performance. The athlete cannot do this. His best performance is captured on a screen or inside a mind. He cannot repeat it.
"Wait a minute," you wanted Larry to say as he walked toward the door, passing his child back to his wife. " Xavier McDaniel. I see you're taking a lot of my time, playing a lot of my minutes. Let's see if you deserve them. Are you ready?"
You wanted the ball to be bounced, the moves to be made. If McDaniel played him close, you wanted Larry to drive toward the hoop, maybe even forget his back problems and jam the ball for a final, giddy time. If Xavier played him loose, you wanted Larry to start hitting that little push shot, his feet just inching off the floor. You wanted score to be kept and the crowd to be yelling, "Lar-ree! Lar-ree! Lar-ree!"
You wanted time to stand still, for things to be the way they always were, at least for one last moment. Alas, it just doesn't happen that way. Not even for the best of us. Not even for Larry Bird.