I may not be the best mom in the world, but I can assure you that I rank amongst the champs for effort. After divorcing nearly 10 years ago, “single-momdom” has brought its many challenges, ranging from affording to put food on the table for my 4 sons to answering tough questions about a teenage boy’s everchanging body.
This week brought on a whole new challenge of its own, taking my 14-year-old to his first NBA game. Here’s the thing, my boy Brody is a GIGANTIC Giannis Antetokounmpo fan. It started when his oldest brother Blake, now deployed oversees in the Air Force got his first Giannis’ jersey and only grew exponentially after watching the autobiographical movie “Rise,” the story of the Antetokounmpo’s struggle to become the family now synonymous with basketball royalty. Brody was easily hooked.
So now back to the rollercoaster. After attending the Orlando Magic vs Memphis Grizzlies game with the illustrious SportsChump and crew this past January, we were already pining for another trip to Amway Arena and started scrolling through the schedule before even leaving our seats. It was then that I realized the Milwaukee Bucks would be making their rounds to Orlando in March, just in time for my youngest’s 14th birthday. I knew I needed to get tickets, and they needed to be GOOD. Unfortunately, the mixologist wouldn’t be able to attend being it was on his infamous Tuesday nights at the Pub, so it would be just me and my boy cheering Giannis on.
As a single income household, I unfortunately would have to make the daunting decision on which tickets I should buy…the less expensive but less thrilling upper 300 section that wouldn’t break the bank or splurge for the lower bowl, setting me back a pretty penny. Knowing this was going to be one of Bro’s core memories for the rest of his life, I knew I couldn’t shortchange this experience and SC and I made our way to Amway early the next morning to buy said tickets to surprise the birthday boy.
Again, I am sure you’re wondering where the roller coaster begins. Well, the initial $600 price tag for Section 104, Row 12 tickets was just the beginning. To add to the mix, I had major surgery coming up in roughly a couple weeks from purchase, that I needed to now work my recovery around this game. Fortunately and unfortunately, Covid had other plans, so my surgery was postponed until April so now I would be good to go for his NBA game debut. A few short days later, I gave Brody the tickets with a printout of the view from our seats. He was beside himself with joy. Now we only had to pray that Giannis stayed healthy so we could make Bro’s dreams come true. I recall one SC saying “Oh, he’s young, Giannis will be fine.” That being said, I believe we jinxed it. February 16th, Giannis suffers a wrist sprain during their game against the Chicago Bulls, leaving him potentially out for the NBA All Star game. While perched on the couch next to the SportsChump himself, we were ecstatic to see he was dressing for the game! The reassurance was short lived as he left the game immediately following his first scoring play, but we had hope that this was only precautionary. Joy ensued as Giannis took to the court in his next game against the Miami Heat on February 24th. Our string of bad luck would strike again, as Giannis called for a mid-play timeout, only to remove himself from the floor after knocking knees with a Heat player, injuring his right knee. Again, my heart completely sank. I know, I know, there are much greater things at stake here than this mom’s $600, being this man’s entire livelihood is on the line, but having to tell my son the game was off would have been beyond heart wrenching. As we waited anxiously for confirmation on Gianni’s return, I brought up to Brody the possibility of Giannis not playing in Magic game coming up in less than 10 days, but his optimistic heart couldn’t even consider the idea that this “Superman” wouldn’t be on the court that night. We anxiously watched for news notifications, praying fate would intervene, the stars would align and Giannis would be healthy on that Tuesday night.
To our delight, no new injuries ensued and Brody and I anxiously loaded up the vehicle and set out to Orlando. As we roamed around downtown Orlando, Brody rambled off Giannis stats, boasting about how he couldn’t wait to see Giannis dunk in person, or how his team was going to destroy my poor Magic. He bounced down Church Street, donning his white # 34 jersey and his green and white Greek Freak 4s while carrying his big brother’s green Antetokounmpo with an autograph ready Sharpie in his pocket.
This was starting out to be one of the best days ever. We made our way to the arena and jumped in line nearly an hour early, making sure we could be in our seats promptly for warmups. Brody was literally on cloud 9…until we got the news. As we stood second in line to enter Amway, those just ahead of us heard Brody’s chatter about Giannis and unfortunately broke the news that he would not be playing tonight due to “non-Covid related illness.” I haven’t felt pain like watching the light swiftly snuffed in my boy’s eyes. My heart was on the pavement.
As he stood there completely defeated, he tried his best to calm his quivering lip and keep his composure, but the mood had entirely shifted. We stood quiet for a good 15 minutes while he processed the news. I tried my best to lighten the mood, talking about anything and everything to bring a smile back to my boy’s face. The next 45 minutes were the longest in history. After the doors opened, we darted into the Team Store and bought the small basketball he had his eye on while waiting outside and took off for our seats. Despite the recent news, his eyes were wide with excitement, walking the halls of the arena, seeing the montages to Shaq and Penny from many years prior and the mild roar of fans husting through the halls. We snapped pics and eagerly chatted as we made our way to section 104.
After finally making our way down the long stairway towards the pine floor, we slid into our seats. The floor was crowded with commentators and coaching staff while the athletes were warming up. We saw Holliday on the court taking shots despite also being ruled out due to neck soreness, so that gave Brody the false sense of hope that maybe Giannis would also be coming out. His eyes nervously scanned the floor for the entire hour prior to the game beginning and unfortunately, no Giannis. As the teams lined up and the color guard hoisted their flags for the National Anthem, Brody’s face was now overcome with disappointment. His smile was gone, his voice was now low and quiet and his little heart was absolutely demolished. This mom was completely crushed. As I tried to keep choking back my emotions and refusing to let my eyes well up, it happened. Giannis walked into the building and he was sitting DIRECTLY in front of us. Brody couldn’t contain himself and screamed “GIANNIS!!!” at the top of his lungs, startling everyone within earshot of us. It was like the heaven’s opened and this tower of a man just completely rejuvenated my boy’s spirit, just by being there. I lost it. I cried like a baby I was so damn happy.
The entire game, Brody watched Giannis’ every reaction, recording video after video of his basketball idol sitting courtside. I also watched him, noticing how he teased his fellow players, offering handshakes only to snatch his hand away and “psych them out.” I watched how Giannis sat next to his brother who was dressed but never had any playing time during the game. I noticed how Giannis watched the silly antics on the jumbotron and even played along with some of the guessing games like a little kid. I watched him continue to steal what looked like Gatorade chews from the commentator desk, offering them to nearly everyone he walked up to. He was literally a big kid himself and I have never been more thankful. The night ended with a Bucks 134 to 123 victory over the Magic and despite my team losing, it was a good night.
As we drove the nearly 2 hour stint home from the game (thank you Orlando traffic), my heart was full. Did Brody fulfill his dream of seeing his idol lace up and dunk on someone? No. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Did he get the opportunity to watch a rather close game in the same room as one of the greatest players of his generation, sitting next to a mom who would do anything to see him smile? Absolutely. This rollercoaster was not for the faint of heart, but it was worth it, nonetheless. I just hope when the players decide to sit a game out for whatever reason, that they understand they are driving this rollercoaster, taking along with them the rows and rows of kids crossing their fingers with their eyes closed tight, praying they walk out on the court. I hope they remember the sacrifices those kids’ parents make, just to bring them in the first place. Eiter way, thank you Giannis for at least coming to the game, you saved the night, for sure.