Several months ago, my brother’s dog, Bella – a female – and my parent’s dog, Roscoe – a male – did what dogs of opposing genders do when they are left alone without supervision.
Some time after, Bella gave birth to nine puppies in an apartment in Oklahoma City, a single mother of nonuplets. Fortunately for Roscoe, Bella’s humans sold eight of the nine, thus letting him off the hook for child support – which is good news for an overweight senior citizen that is currently “in between jobs,” living in an Igloo, and bumming left over table scraps.
My parents bought Roscoe when I was a sophomore in high school. I picked him out and named him.
Perhaps now you’re wondering, “Why Roscoe?” Well, if you must know, I was sort of feeling this new rapper called Young Roscoe. Young Roscoe had a song on his only good album ever – Young Roscoe Philaphornia – called “5 Seconds.” In it, for some reason, voices can be heard in the background calling Roscoe like he’s a dog – “Get ‘em boy. Get ‘em Roscoe.”
I’m pretty sure the listener was meant to draw a metaphorical parallel between the rapper and a pit bull. Unfortunately for Young Roscoe, I heard it and decided that his name would be a cool name for a beagle – a miniature hound, known for its gentle, amiable temperament.
Anyway, I just thought that was a back-story worth sharing. In retrospect, perhaps not.
So, Roscoe, Bella, puppies, I bought one. A few months ago, Griffey – named for the greatest ballplayer since Mays (A better namesake than a nobody rapper with three tolerable songs, no?) – moved into a new, shiny, carefully selected kennel, in the corner across from by bed.
Frankly, it also bears mentioning that Griffey was the absolute pick of the litter. His coloring is nearly perfect, his physical development has dwarfed that of his siblings, and he appears to be far more cognitively advanced, as well.
Of course, I picked him out when he was the size of a gerbil, so I had no way of knowing any of this. I wanted a boy. Griffey had two brothers. The 33.3 percent odds fell in his favor thanks to a pronounced white stripe down the center of his head that no longer exists.
As time passed and the puppies grew, I wrestled with what began to feel like an unnecessarily rushed decision. Griff’s brother, Harvey, was the sweetest dog I have ever seen. The other boy, Sam, was everyone’s favorite if only because he was so ugly that he was adorable. He looked like something out of a puppy calendar.
Truthfully, the only reason that remained loyal to Griffey, was that I had this weird – admittedly irrational – feeling that he knew he was my dog. I couldn’t stomach the thought of his first emotional experience being that of abandonment.
Finally, once he was here, and it was too late to back out, there was an overwhelming feeling of, “Oh, crap” – for both of us, I’m sure. In my mind, I had this laundry list of things to teach him, but no idea how effective my methods of tutelage would be.
One of our first lessons was Jogging 101. Incredibly, he picked it up almost immediately, if only because he was terrified that I was going to run away from him. I didn’t care. I was ecstatic. To celebrate, I rushed upstairs, filled up his water bowl, and offered him a treat.
I barely escaped with my fingers, he chugged the entire bowl of water, and then puked in the center of my living room.
From that experience, we learned to place an emphasis on manners related to treat retrieval, as well as the inadvisability of drowning your dog with a bottomless bowl of water three minutes after he runs a mile. Check and check.
Of course, there were also the issues of housebreaking, begging for food, jumping, stealing socks, chewing up headphones, housebreaking, sleeping past 6 a.m., riding in a car, barking indoors, playing nice with other dogs, housebreaking, and a weird affinity for sandals.
We’re no more finishing one triumphant victory dance over the preservation of carpet, when I turn to find my perfect puppy masquerading as a mischievous mutt with a shoe in his mouth.
It’s a constant roller coaster of emotions, full of highlights and half-eaten underwear.
One day, though, my puppy will be a grown dog; seasoned and obedient. I’ll look back and laugh at his adolescent bouts with misguided treachery. One day, long after that, my grown dog will become an old dog. When that day comes, and our time together is entering its twilight, I will long for these firsts, these triumphs and failures, these puppy breath licks of redemption.
The same could be said for Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and the young Thunder of Oklahoma City.
In Durant’s rookie season, the franchise’s last in Seattle, the then-Sonics went 20-62, playing in a half-empty Key Arena that must’ve echoed like the Grand Canyon.
When the team arrived in Bricktown a year later, we had zero expectations of them. Chew up a baseball mitt, treat the rug like a urinal, we didn’t care. They were ours, and everything they did was lovable. Sure, P.J. Carlesimo and the boys dropped their first three contests, but we beat Minnesota! So what if they followed that inaugural victory with 10 straight L’s? Fire the coach. Give the job to Opie Taylor. We’d still sell out the Ford Center.
As a city and as a fanbase, we had a point to prove. We belonged. If we were important enough to have an NBA team, it validated our status as a real city. Games were less a competition and more an event, a sort of showcase of our fandom. Besides, our two best players weren’t even of legal drinking age. At the very least, we owed them a seemingly limitless amount of patience. At most, we were indebted to the organization as a whole for putting professional athletes in jerseys with “Oklahoma City” sprawled across the front – even if it was nearly impossible to stuff 12 letters on the chest plate of a tank top; and even if they couldn’t decide on a color, so they chose seven; and even if, what appears to have been a 12-year old with Photoshop, designed the worst logo in professional sports.
Those were our letters, those were our colors, and that was our stupid looking crest. And, anyway, Thunder up.
A year later, things began to change. Durant, as it happened, was really good; Westbrook was, too. There was a 28-point blowout victory over the defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic, and a 16-point shellacking of the reigning NBA champion Lakers. There were road victories in San Antonio, Salt Lake and Miami. Then, from Jan. 29 to March 14, the Thunder reeled off a stretch of 17 wins in 20 contests, including conquests in Boston and Dallas, and suddenly the post-season was a realistic possibility. One month later it was a reality.
Of course, we never expected to win a series versus the mighty Lakers. That wasn’t the point. Our boys won 50 games, earned their first playoff victory, and then their second. Civic pride overflowed, even as the eventual champions dispatched our young guns in six games. Westbrook committed eight turnovers in Game 5. Durant shot 5-of-23 in Game 6. No one cared. Our puppies were sitting on command and doing their business outside. In other words, enjoy that dress sock. We were too enamored with their progress to care.
The funny thing about success, though, is that it breeds the expectation for greater success. Fifty-five wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals was enough improvement to outweigh the disappointment associated with the team’s inability to close out games last season. Forty-nine wins (the strike shortened equivalent of 60 wins in an 82-game season) and a dominant run to the NBA Finals should have accomplished the same degree of pacification this season – only suddenly, after four straight losses to James and the Miami Heat, it hasn’t.
Never mind the fact that each loss was a one possession game with less than a minute to play. Never mind the fact that LeBron James turned in one of the all-time great Finals performances in the history of the Association. Never mind the run that preceded the shortfall: the sweep of the defending champion Mavericks, the bookend beating of the Lakers, the four straight victories versus the previously invincible Spurs. In the glare of the championship round, past triumphs have given way to recent inadequacies.
We ought to know better. We’ve watched with admiration, patience and understanding, as this group has grown up. We’ve fallen for Kid Clutch, embraced The Beard, and learned to love the most electric – if occasionally erratic – floor general in the world. With a collective understanding that we’ve been playing with house money for nearly a month, the sentiment of every rational Thunder fan began with, “If we can just get back to the conference finals, I’ll be satisfied,” which evolved into, “If we can just get to the Finals, the season is a success,” but then became, “We are too close to let it slip away.”
The latter disposition induced mass panic as the losses mounted, and the blinding lights of the grand stage threatened to destroy the carefully constructed make-up of the NBA’s most promising team.
Outsiders looking for a story-line proposed the idea of starting James Harden, as if Scott Brooks and his staff hadn’t thought of that before. Talking heads accosted Russell Westbrook’s game as if he was Mike Bibby. The very same people that praised Kevin Durant for his willingness to facilitate early and take over late, disparaged his selflessness, wondering aloud why he wasn’t more demonstrative. Meanwhile, we sat on our sofas in our “Team is Family” T-shirts, nodding along as if they knew something about our guys that we didn’t.
In my brief time as a dog owner, there is one thing that I have noticed above all else: Griffey does not handle new environments very well. He understands the rules and the key points of my apartment. He sort of understands the expected decorum at my girlfriend’s house. But take him somewhere he’s never been before and he will demonstrate overwhelming bewilderment, and an inability to locate the appropriate lavatory. After a couple of days, though, he starts to figure it out.
Oklahoma City is just figuring things out.
Two years ago, the opening round of the playoffs was confounding. Last season, the conference finals – in particular, Dirk Nowitzki’s refusal to quit – proved to be an insurmountable riddle. This season, we couldn’t keep from chewing up the baby’s toys in Miami. The atmosphere felt similar to what we faced in San Antonio, but it wasn’t. It was altogether different.
Now we know.
In the NBA, you have to fail before you can succeed. Michael lost to Isiah. Shaq lost to Hakeem. Dirk lost to Wade. Lebron lost to Duncan – and Dirk. Dr. J had to lose once to Bird and twice to Magic before a loaded Sixers team finally broke through in 1982-’83 – a struggle that OKC assistant Maurice Cheeks is all too aware of.
Because this group seemed to do everything ahead of schedule, because Durant didn’t care who’s time it was, because we won when everyone else said we wouldn’t, we assumed that we would win when those very same defeatists did an about-face. It was fair to feel that way – count me among those guilty as charged. But we were wrong.
Right now, it’s LeBron’s turn. Just know that the dogs in Oklahoma City got next.