AP NEWS

The Mother Lode: LeBron and the Mom

March 13, 2019

And so, as basketball season heats up, I am reminded of one very cold night a couple years ago.

I am not a sports person. No one in my family is. My kids announce they “hate” all extracurricular sports every fall and my husband, Ian, and I rarely watch games at home. We go to Super Bowl parties for the chili.

But a couple winters back, one of Ian’s friends invited us to a Knicks game.

“This is a big game because the Knicks will be playing the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Ian’s friend said to get me on board. “And we have floor seats next to the Cavaliers. I think you’ll like it.”

Whatever. Where was Cleveland?

When the night of the game rolled around, I was so not into it. I had strep throat (again) and all I wanted to do was crawl under a blanket and eat gummy worms. Even worse, this particular Saturday night happened to be one of the coldest nights of the year.

Being a New Yorker (and cheap), I refuse to pay for parking so we ended somewhere in the 20s all the way west. Thus, we trudged our way to 7th Avenue and 31st through an icy wind channel as I raged at Ian like King Lear.

“I don’t even know what sport this is — basketball? Why did you make us do this, you hate sports?” I raged. “Can we please just call them? I think I have strep, I am freezing, why did you take the goddam liner out of this jacket.” I was not happy.

“Listen Claire, I think these tickets are a big deal, so you need to settle down and at least try to fake it,” Ian suggested calmly.

I was furious.

When we finally met with our friends, I couldn’t fake it. My right hand was frozen because someone had stuffed a half-eaten fruit roll-up in the thumb section of my ski gloves and among the zillion random objects in my pocket, I couldn’t seem to find my phone. Apparently it showed.

“You looked like you wanted to hurt us,” my friend told us later.

The metal-detector at Madison Square Garden is no joke. It took me four times to get through the gate as I dumped out endless crap from my bottomless pockets. Lego pieces, a unicorn horn, gum spit out, crinkled-up school permission forms, a large plastic Batman head — the normal stuff. At one point I looked up and saw that all the security guards (and my husband and friends) were outright laughing at me. Not helpful.

“Are you OK?” my friend asked.

“Listen, I appreciate the night out, but I’m just really tired.” I snapped back, as I stuffed the Batman head in my pocket. I hated everyone, especially the Knocks and Caviars, or whatever they were called.

But then things started to look up. We were led to some underground room with giant plates of sushi, gourmet appetizers with basketball themes and really good wine.

“Yeah, grab some food and let’s go to our seats,” our host informed us.

“Is this all for us?” I gasped.

It was a private spread for fancy seats. No stale popcorn in sight.

After gorging myself on steak tartare shaped like mini basketballs and red wine, I was led to my seat by a very large and frightening man.

“I don’t understand, aren’t we supposed to sit up there?” I said pointing to the bleachers.

“No Claire, these are floor seats,” Ian’s friend explained, confident I was going to love this.

Floor seats meant we sat directly behind the visiting team. Like you could touch the players on the shoulder, which was not likely to happen due to the large, scary bodyguard who patrolled our section like a hawk.

And then the players came out.

Now, I know basketball players are supposed to be tall, I get that part — but this was absurd. It was like a species of giants had emerged, and there was one that caught my eye immediately.

“That’s LeBron James,” my host gushed. He had arranged for me to sit directly behind him, which was apparently a big deal.

It took me a few minutes and then it hit me.

“Wait — he’s the guy in ‘Trainwreck’!” I shouted way too loudly. “I love that movie!”

Ian’s friend seemed embarrassed as people around us laughed, but LeBron just smiled.

OK, I love my husband, but something happened that night. Watching LeBron James play basketball was breathtaking. The guy’s arms were muscled machines, and when he passed the ball sideways the ball moved so fast all you could see was an orange blur. His moves were elegant and brutal at the same time. I was mesmerized and suddenly became a major concern to the bodyguard in our section.

“Lady, you got to sit down and take it easy,” he told me.

“I knew this would happen,” our host told Ian, beaming with pride.

I totally lost it. I was hollering and cheering like a maniac and call me crazy, but I felt like LeBron was with me. He had giant religious tattoos on his arm praising Jesus and at one point I just started screaming “God Bless you!,” completely freaking out everyone around me (at this point Ian was practically hiding).

But I didn’t notice anyone around me. It was just LeBron and me, caught up in the beautiful ballet of basketball and life — cheering each other on with passion and joy.

“Except LeBron wasn’t cheering,” Ian noted in the re-telling.

“Does this guy have kids?” I asked our host. I wanted to know everything, especially if he did the dishes when his wife cooked.

At one point the Cavaliers coach huddled his team, and LeBron stood back annoyed and said, “I am conducting this whole thing myself here!” — and as if by instinct I sprang to my feet and shouted “That’s right! Support him!”

There were a few times LeBron and I locked eyes that night.

“Yeah, because the guy was terrified you were going to charge him,” Ian said.

But I saw something else there. I saw a beautiful connection between two passionate players in the treadmill of life who choose to play on. Sacrifice, patience, muscle and grace. It was all there, and we were one.

Ian was a nervous wreck.

“Claire let’s get out of here,” he said as we headed toward the exit after the game.

Meanwhile, all I could seem to think about was how short Ian suddenly appeared.

Basketball took on new meaning for me that night. And despite my cluelessness, I got it — and felt I understood. Full-Court Press, Baby Hook, Killing the Clock, “I’m conducting this whole thing myself here” — all of it was stuff I knew all too well.

Just ask the Batman head.

And maybe even LeBron himself.

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.