He’s remembering tonight.
“I like to reminisce,” he says. “I ain’t got that much else to do. It’s one of the few joys of getting old.”
As much as a sporting contest, Friday night’s game served as a portal to that time and place. Cubs flags and banners decorated grave sites all over Chicago; at one suburban cemetery, an old man in a Cubs jacket laid a pennant in between his mother and father. At Rene’s apartment, while the game stretched out on TV, Rene and Helene talked about the past. Two of his daughters hung out, and they heard some stories for the first time, leaning in rapt, desperate for every detail because soon it will be too late to ask. Every Easter, the union boss gave him a chocolate egg with a dollar bill in it. Sometimes he and his friends rented a party room in the local auditorium, bought some luncheon meat and a case of beer. He played softball for a team named the Jokers.
“I’ve never seen him this good,” his nurse says.
The girls pour a round of drinks from the Blue Label bottle in the seventh inning, and his nurse says that he can have a sip. The hot whiskey hits his throat and stuns him a little. When the Cubs lose, he curses in Flemish — the language of his parents, still burned into his memory — and sinks back into his chair. His time is running short, but tonight, he was living, surrounded by his wife and two of his girls and by the memory of his departed son. He sat in his chair, watching one of the last baseball games he’ll ever see. His eyes sparkled, and he looked content.
Curry’s progression demonstrates how he has epitomized grit in multiple ways. As a prep player, he had to ignore doubts about his ability to overcome a small frame to be a contributor in college — famously not getting a scholarship offer from an ACC school — let alone in the NBA. Having established himself as an NBA player, Curry subsequently had to deal with the setback of recurrent ankle injuries, resulting in surgery that limited him to 26 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
This time around, Cleveland saw its early 12-point lead turn into a one-point deficit with 2:37 left in the fourth thanks to DeMar DeRozan scoring 22 of his 32 points after halftime. Yet, remarkably, the Cavs won by going to Irving with less than a minute left even though he was just 1-for-9 in the fourth quarter up to that point.
“I mean, the fourth quarter is usually money time,” Irving said. “I’ve always felt that way since I’ve kind of played basketball, but having the trust of your teammates and trust of the coaching staff, it means a lot. It goes a lot further than I think people realize.”
Deprogramming the overconfidence from achievement (the championship) or complacency from assignment (a regular-season game versus a playoff game) also is a lot more difficult than people realize, to be sure.
Yet Cleveland has done an admirable job of it so far. On ring night, the Cavs waxed the New York Knicks so as to not spoil a great event for their town with the Indians’ World Series opener going on simultaneously. And on Friday, they outplayed a Raptors team that spent its offseason stewing over how close they came to knocking off the Cavs, not celebrating over how great it felt to knock off the Warriors.
Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics is one of a handful of coaches, including Pete Carroll of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, who have built more lasting relationships with Duckworth. She spoke to the Celtics last season before a game in Philadelphia, and Stevens’ endorsement appears on the back of her book, alongside those of authors such as Malcolm Gladwell.