ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, my wife said, and so I did. No matter that she
bought the tickets from Father Dan, her confessor at the church, that the
game was basketball, not baseball, or that I had to be reminded at regular
intervals that we had a date to see the Raptors play the Timberwolves on
the last Friday in January. Off we went, joining the crowds at Union Station,
making our way through the tunnels under the train tracks by the waterfront
to the Air Canada Centre, the cityís newest sports facility.
Iím always surprised to see what a prosperous, decidedly
white-collar crowd fills the stands at pro sports games these days. Even
up in the cheap seats the crowd is white, well-fed and waiting for the
earliest opportunity to bolt from their seats for their cars. As soon as
itís obvious that the home team is going to win, the exodus begins. But
Iím getting ahead of myself.
THE LAST AND ONLY TIME I was in the Air Canada Centre
was at least four years ago, during the doomed election campaign of our
last decent mayor. She held a presser in the concrete shell of the ACC,
to try and dispel her leftie image, the one that assumed she was hostile
to big business and the guy-ish pleasures of corporate sports stadia. It
didnít work, and we ended up with a mayor whose world-famous stupidity
didnít preclude his re-election.
Iíd seen a couple of Raptors games in the SkyDome, our
botched megastadium a few blocks west of the ACC. The sightlines were awful,
as youíd expect when you try and watch basketball in a stadium designed
for both baseball and monster truck shows. The ACC is a vast improvement,
a tight bowl where you look almost straight down onto the court.
I guess I should remember more about the actual game,
but I was distracted by any number of things. First of all there were the
ads. Iím being naïve, I know, but Iím always amazed by the saturation
of ads in public spaces. Besides the permanent ads for TD Waterhouse and
Bell Canada and the airline that gives the place its name, there are the
revolving billboards running the circumfrence of the whole room, changing
constantly throughout the game.
Then there are the corporate boxes, one whole tier of
which is owned by Bell, apparently. In addition, every ticket holder will
win a pepperoni slice from Pizza Pizza if the Raptors score 101 points.
Itís an added incentive for folks to stay in their seats, I suppose, and
a way of making the absurdly high scores of the average basketball game
seem like a good thing, and not just the dreary by-product of a game played,
like so much else these days, by stars and not teams.
Near the end of the game, a whole row of young men behind
us have stopped chanting "deee-fence" whenever Milwaukee has the ball,
in favour of a lusty, hungry "peeee-zaaa".
I DONíT REMEMBER MUCH about the game itself, besides the
fact that we got our pizza slices. I do remember the music Ė the
little sampled snatches of hip-hop and R&B hits that have become the
soundtrack of pro sports in the post-roller rink organ era. I play a game
of name that tune with myself, pleased at how many of the vamps and intros
I get, until it becomes obvious that the repertoire is limited, and I lose
I find my eyes wandering from the court to the massive
four-sided jumbotron hanging above it, which selects the important slice
of play and blows it up so much that the real thing happening underneath
canít really compete. My wife is into the game, cheering and groaning as
the Raptors pull ahead, then the Timberwolves make a short burst at closing
the gap, then finally fall behind again. I sit with my chin in my hands,
scanning the crowd, the signs, making an obligatory "ahh" or "ohh" whenever
I perceive something to have happened on the little wooden table far below.
WE HAVE A COUPLE OF BEERS each, and some wildly overpriced
food. My sausage on a bun is a few notches below street vendor quality.
Itís Friday, so K. isnít eating meat. I order her a mini-veggie sub. We
chase it with a bag of popcorn.
Iím curious about Father Danís season tickets. "Isnít
he a hoosier or something? I guess that would explain the basketball thing."
"Heís from Ohio."
"Oh. Whatís a hoosier?"
My wife is a sportswriterís
I notice a change in the music during a lull in play.
K. starts invisibly dancing in her seat; itís an old favorite of hers from
the era of asymetric hair and big earrings. "I Could Never Take the Place
of Your Man". I remember reviewing the album.
They play the song for more than a few bars, well into
the first chorus. The jumbotron focuses in on a celebrity courtside.
"Prince is here," K. says, just a bit excited.
So he is: up on the screen, he smiles the usual coy smile
underneat the gigolo moustache. Next to him is a beautiful young woman,
all big eyes and café au lait skin underneath massive curls. Sheís
the spitting image of Vanity or Appolonia. Iím amazed I remember those
"There he is. Whatís he doing here?"
"Isnít Prince a bitÖgayÖfor a basketball game."
"Well, this is his home team," I mutter; idly, reaching.
I couldn't tell you why he's here.
"I donít know. I always thought he was a bitÖgayÖfor sports."
"Heís Eighties gay. Which isnít really gay at all. You
know what I mean." I say this with a lot more confidence.
"Yeah. I guess."
We crane our necks, examining the courtside crowd.
"Can you see him?" K. asks.
"Nah. Too short. Look for the wall of beef."
K. doesnít say anything.
"Security guards. He should be surrounded by big guys."
We scrutinize the crowd below for a minute, then turn
our attention back to the game.
THE RAPTORS ARE AHEAD by a comfortable margin when the
game slips into its final minute. Thereís a brief flurry of play, and the
Raptors have the ball when the clock starts counting out the last ten seconds.
Whoever has the ball for those last moments stops his rush for the Minneapolis
end of the court and just stands there, on the edge of the three-point
line, dribbling out the game. Somehow it seems lazy, a bit of a cheat;
cynical, even. We get up and join the exodus out of the building.
Itís a beautiful night. Warm for January; warm for April,
even. We light up a couple of smokes and walk up Bay Street to the streetcar.
K. slips her arm in mine. Sheís very happy. We donít get much of a chance
to get out like this these days.