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Around the League in 80 Days
By Gabriel Allen, William Allen
XlibrisUSCopyright © 2015 Gabriel & William Allen
All rights reserved.
THY KINGDOM COME
Rather than begin on the East or West Coast, we began on the North Coast. Cleveland was founded by Moses Cleaveland who, like the Biblical Moses, saw and surveyed but never entered the Promised Land. Moses Cleaveland was a shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company, which purchased the Western Reserve, present day Northeast Ohio, from the state of Connecticut for $1.2 million. Commissioned to survey the land and establish a town, Moses led a party of pioneers against resistant indigenous tribes and eventually assuaged them with gifts of whiskey, wampum and beads. Arriving at the mouth of a river on the banks of Lake Erie, he prophesied it would become a prosperous place, and then returned to Connecticut where he died without ever again visiting the metropolis that now bears his misspelled name.
In 1888, after a century of prosperity, the city commissioned a statue of Moses Cleaveland for the town square. When the sculptor presented a 7-foot, 2-inch plaster version, it was rejected as being too tall. Consequently the sculptor then lopped off a couple of feet from the midriff before casting it in bronze and installing it in the square where it still stands tall.
After another century of prosperity passed, there was a mass exodus of the middle class from the city to the suburbs. As its socio-economic status declined and its professional sports teams floundered, some began calling Cleveland "The Mistake on the Lake." In recent decades Cleveland has rebounded into a global city, which also plays host to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If Cleveland ever commissions another statue, perhaps it will be of LeBron James, the new Moses, for leading the Cleveland Cavaliers back to its future land of promise where there is no need to diminish the height of "le bronze" statue of King James, the basketball player of Biblical proportions. Thy kingdom come in Cleveland as it is in Heaven.
On the second day of January 2015 we hit the road for Cleveland with two of Gabe's childhood basketball buddies, Sean and AJ, who accompanied us for the first game of the Gravity Tour. The drive from Moorestown, NJ to Cleveland is a straight shot across Pennsylvania to the Ohio Turnpike into Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland, where we dropped off Sean at his grandmother's home. Sean's grandmother, Bernadien, is an octogenarian who has lived in Lakewood all her life, and her parents came to Ohio during last century's wave of Polish immigration. "I absolutely love LeBron; he changed the city. But he is overpaid and he is no king because there's only one King, and he reigns from Heaven," she said.
Bubba, AJ and I proceeded to the Lakewood Travelodge where we had reserved rooms for fifty bucks a night. There we met Joseph, the hotel host from hell. "My name is Joseph and I'll give you ten thousand dollars if your reservation is prepaid," he taunted. There was a misunderstanding between AJ and Joseph concerning pre- payment. Joseph raved at AJ: "You're insulting my intelligence. I own five properties and I drive a Bentley and a Kia, and I did not get here by taking crap from customers."
No matter what conciliatory words any of us offered, Joseph pretended to phone the police and summon them to the hotel, apparently to have AJ arrested for erroneously believing he had already paid for his room. Next, Joseph theatrically raised both arms above his head and tore to shreds the Priceline reservation confirmation number that AJ had presented as proof of payment. Joseph exclaimed: "I am cancelling your reservation because I can." In all fairness to Joseph, he explained that a customer had recently brandished a gun in his face over a dispute terribly similar to the one in which he and AJ were now engaged. All at once, Joseph's rage began to make sense, and we successfully completed the check-in without much further ado.
Sean and AJ are the two biggest LeBron fans I know, and they were understandably disappointed to learn just days before departure that LeBron was hurt and would miss the game they had come to see. The Quicken Loans Arena is the third largest NBA stadium, yet the setting is intimate and the seats are plush. Before tipoff, late sportscaster Stuart Scott was honored with a moment of silence, broken by bellows of Scott's signature call, "boo-ya."
We sat next to a young married couple of diehard Cavs fans. During the original LeBron Era, Tony and Sarah attended a home game in every playoff series. "I always thought he'd propose to me at a Cavs game," Sarah smiled. She also told us about the time she brought her nephew to his first Cavs game. "Somehow he lost his shoe over the railing near the players' tunnel. Not only did the usher help retrieve the shoe, he arranged for us to get autographs after the game!" Tony and Sarah were given the honor of waving the Cavs' flags to rally up the fans in the fourth quarter, and they proudly performed their part in producing pandemonium.
We also met Mike, an FBI agent born in Cleveland who returns to visit family and catch Cavs games several times a year. Mike expressed pride over the progress Cleveland has made. "When I was young, people had to leave here in order to find work because there weren't enough jobs. It's gotten much better, and it's still rapidly improving," he said. Mike coaches and sponsors an AAU church-affiliated basketball team, and had this to say about LeBron's return to the Cavs: "Beyond basketball, LeBron coming back to Cleveland meant so much to the people here. Someone finally chose Cleveland." However, without the King in his court, the Cavs lost the game.
The next day we drove Sean and AJ to the airport for their return home to New Jersey before continuing our exploration of Cleveland, including a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where the Beach Boys' Mike Love is enshrined. His nephew, Kevin Love, plays for the Cavs. Cleveland loves Love! Whenever Kevin hits a shot, the league's largest jumbotron blasts out a sound byte from one of several hit rock songs, Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," George Thorogood's "Who Do You Love?" or the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."CHAPTER 2
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
The drive from Ohio to Michigan was three and a half hours of smooth sailing with very little traffic. The Beach Boys produced so many pop chart hits that we listened to them all the way through Michigan, but once we started seeing signs for Detroit, we tuned into Motown music.
We checked into the Rodeway Inn and went out for lunch at a place nearby called Hoops Sports and Spirits, a veritable museum of sports memorabilia celebrating the legends of Detroit's glory days. As soon as we walked in the door, the waitress greeted us with "How about those Pistons?" proudly touting their seven-game winning streak. We never ate so well for so little, ever, anywhere. We each had large plates of salad, two tacos, Spanish rice and a beer. When we got the check, we had to ask about its accuracy because our grand total was only ten bucks. It may still be true that there is no such thing as a free lunch but it certainly challenged the adage that you only get what you pay for.
Detroit was founded by a pretentious fraud who added Cadillac to his given name in order to bump up his social status to aristocratic; he even fabricated a Cadillac coat of arms, which remains the car's insignia to this very day! He was removed from his post for embezzling the city's money and sent off to govern in the swampland of the Louisiana Purchase.
Detroit is home to Henry Ford's assembly line and the epicenter of a unique American Motown genre of music called soul. Detroit is over 80% African-American and other Black ethnicities. It was the first American city to go bankrupt and ranks number one in the nation for violent crimes. In the mid-twentieth century, it was the bastion of Klu Klux Klan culture and a stronghold of segregation policies, factors that helped ignite the Detroit race riots of 1968. It should be no small wonder why one night at the Palace of Auburn Hills lives on in infamy as the "Malice in the Palace." This title aptly describes the scene that night when all hell broke loose in a brawl between players and fans. In Detroit, all pistons are firing. And as Bob Dylan said on Super Bowl Sunday, "Detroit made cars and cars made America."
The Pistons don't actually play in Detroit itself but in Auburn Hills, a suburb thirty-three miles from the city. Suburbs don't necessarily reflect the demographics of the cities nearby. The Pistons' palace has the largest seating capacity in the NBA, and despite a wicked winter blizzard which caused a fatal twenty-four vehicle pile up and shut down southbound Interstate 75 for hours, there was hardly an empty seat in the house.
After circumambulating the lower level, we made our way to our section. Our seats were close to the court, quite comfortable and more than reasonably priced. One of our seats was designated to receive a prize — a pair of Pistons earphones. The proximity of our seats to the floor and our early arrival made it easy for me to ask two former Pistons players, Grant Long and Mateen Cleaves, what the team means to the area. I noticed Grant Long doing a pre-game recording for FOX Sports Detroit so I had time to slowly saunter up to ask my question. "What do you think the Pistons mean to the area?" I asked.
"The Pistons are a source of pride for the people here. Back in the 80s and during the 2000s when this team was winning, this was a place everyone felt like they had to be, and we're hoping to get back there," Long said.
Next I spied Cleaves walking up the stairs in a section nearby, so with pen and notebook in hand, I quickly rushed after him. As I caught up to him, memories of my childhood basketball camp flooded my mind. There the camp coaches showed us a recording of the 2000 NCAA championship game in which Cleaves led the Michigan State Spartans to victory. Flustered in the presence of greatness, I struggled to ask him what the Pistons mean to Michigan.
"This means the world to us. We've been blessed to see some great teams over the years. Personally, being from this community, growing up watching the Pistons, playing for them, and now working here — this is what it's all about," Cleaves said.
We were lucky to sit beside season ticket holders who were born, raised, fell in love, and got married in Detroit. Kristie and Darrell bought season tickets last year, and they love Stan Van Gundy, who coaches like an orchestra conductor wildly waving his arms on the sidelines. Though the Atlanta Hawks held a solid lead for most of the game and seemed poised to blowout the Pistons at several junctures, the home team fought hard, nearly accomplishing an extremely improbable comeback. Despite the Pistons' defeat, when the final buzzer sounded, the fans gave the home team a standing ovation for their extraordinary effort.CHAPTER 3
It was a short two-hour drive from Auburn Hills to the Canadian border. As we pulled up to the police patrol checkpoint, evidently Bubba failed to heed a sign to stay back from the booth until the car in front had cleared customs. The border guard leaned his head out of the booth and shouted in a commanding voice: "Back up." This was our prelude to problems entering Canada.
When it was our turn to pull up to the booth, Bubba presented our New Jersey drivers licenses to the officer, who briskly reacted: "Is this all you have for identification? Don't you have passports or birth certificates or some valid proof of United States citizenship?" Bubba apologetically admitted that we did not realize we needed anything more than our licenses. He asked us where we were coming from and why we were trying to enter Canada from Detroit since it was an unlikely route to take from New Jersey. Bubba explained how we were visiting all the NBA arenas, starting in Cleveland and Detroit, and that Toronto was our next destination. He asked who owned the car we were driving and Bubba told him it belonged to his wife. "Does she know you are attempting to drive her car out of the country?" he asked. Bubba smiled saying, "she does know, and we have her blessing for the trip." Although it was obviously just Bubba and I in the car, he nevertheless asked, "How many people are in the vehicle?" as if we might be hiding someone in the trunk. He asked, "What do you have in the car besides clothes?" Bubba told him "just some snacks." He asked, "Do you have any alcohol, tobacco, or guns?" "No sir," we answered in unison. He asked: "Have you ever been to Canada before?" "Fifty years ago I played in the Canadian National Biddy Basketball Championships in Montreal," Bubba proudly reported.
After the barrage of questions, he said: "Well, you look like nice enough guys but we don't want you getting stuck here, and without proof of citizenship I cannot let you proceed." He then directed us to pull over, park and walk into the border patrol building where officials would determine what to do with us. So, we pulled into the designated parking area where we were met by officers who asked us "Is your camera on?" We have a GoPro video camera attached to the visor on the front passenger side to visually document our adventure. I turned off the camera and we made our way into the office, where we were interrogated again.
The agent asked us, "Why do you want to enter Canada?" And we told her about our father-son tour of all the NBA stadiums. She asked Bubba "What are the last four digits of your social security?" which he unhesitatingly recited. Next she asked, "Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime anywhere?"
Immediately the five incarcerations I experienced in three states as a hippie hitchhiker back in the Sixties flashed through my mind. Without hesitation, I cleanly confessed, "As a matter of fact, yes, I was arrested as a teenager for vagrancy." She asked, "Where else have you lived?" Gabe rattled off the places where we have resided, beginning with Blairstown, New Jersey, then Philadelphia and Skippack, Pennsylvania, Sherman, Texas and finally our current address in New Jersey.
The agent stared silently, as if waiting to hear more. Prompted by her interrogating gaze, Bubba volunteered that he had lived in right many other places and began listing the litany of states he has called home, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida and California. Perhaps our apparently itinerant existence gave the agent pause because she cut Bubba off and announced her decision not to allow us to go any farther without providing proper papers proving our citizenship.
In desperation, I politely protested that we possessed passports and birth certificates, which my sister back home could photograph and send to us digitally. She agreed to allow us the opportunity to produce photos of the documents. I reached my sister Emma by phone; she was out, but said she was on her way home.
Soon thereafter the agent told us she could not allow us to wait there all day. I pleaded with her for more time since Emma had just called to say she was almost home. The officer said "I'll give you just ten more minutes." With only a minute to go on our extended time allotment, Emma came through with a buzzer-beating text message photo attachment of our passports. We anxiously presented the photos to the agent, who said: "That satisfies me, but there is no guarantee that the customs agent at the American border will let you back into the United States when you try to return. He may not be as nice as I am," she said.
When we returned the next day from Toronto to the U.S. border at Niagara Falls, the agent warmly welcomed us back without the slightest reluctance. He asked us a few routine questions about where we went and what we did and if we bought anything in Canada that we were carrying back with us. He asked if we possessed passports but when Bubba told him we had photos of them on our phone, he did not even bother to look, but took him at his word and bid us farewell. I guess we looked more like tourists than terrorists.
Meanwhile back over the Canadian border as we continued on the highway toward Toronto, the first thing I noticed was the different- looking speed limit signs, posting 100 per hour. I was flabbergasted to think that Canada permitted such reckless racecar travel rates of speed — but crossing the United States borderline into foreign territory seemed to go hand in hand with transcending limits, so I stepped on the gas and accelerated to over eighty miles per hour. Fortunately Gabe noticed that Canadian speed limits are measured in kilometers per hour rather than miles — so I slowed down and set the cruise control for a relaxed ride to Toronto.
Excerpted from Around the League in 80 Days by Gabriel Allen, William Allen. Copyright © 2015 Gabriel & William Allen. Excerpted by permission of XlibrisUS.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Thy Kingdom Come, 1,
Chapter 2 The Hills Are Alive, 5,
Chapter 3 Jurassic Park, 9,
Chapter 4 Back to Basics, 15,
Chapter 5 Nothing But Nets, 21,
Chapter 6 How Does Your Garden Grow?, 25,
Chapter 7 Under Construction, 29,
Chapter 8 Political World, 35,
Chapter 9 The Home Team is Home Again, 39,
Chapter 10 Welcome to the GrindHouse, 43,
Chapter 11 Birds of a Feather, 47,
Chapter 12 Everything Is Up, 51,
Chapter 13 Faith and Family Fun, 55,
Chapter 14 Over the Rainbow, 59,
Chapter 15 Space Scientists, 63,
Chapter 16 Remember the Alamo, 67,
Chapter 17 Priceless, 71,
Chapter 18 The Sound of Loud, 75,
Chapter 19 For Those Who Think Young, 79,
Chapter 20 Life Elevated, 83,
Chapter 21 Pathway to the Sun, 87,
Chapter 22 Space Jam, 91,
Chapter 23 Golden Gate Globetrotters, 95,
Chapter 24 Royal Flush, 99,
Chapter 25 By Any Other Name, 103,
Chapter 26 Shooting for the Moon, 107,
Chapter 27 Where Would We Be Without the Ball?, 111,
Chapter 28 Center of Gravity, 115,
Chapter 29 House of Dreams, 119,
Chapter 30 Home Again, Home Again, 123,