When I was in grade school, our teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up.
My classmates had all kinds of answers. A fireman. A super hero. A princess. The President.
All I wanted to do was play in the NBA.
Justin Marietti | Daily Press
Milwaukee’s Monta Ellis shoots as Boston’s Courtney Lee (11) and Brandon Bass (30) defend during their game Saturday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
Of course, a lack of height and athletic talent shattered my childhood dreams. But as a kid, I couldn't understand why all my classmates didn't have the same answer to that question. We got to grow up during one of the greatest eras in the history of the league.
We had Magic and Kareem; Larry Bird and Kevin McHale; the "Bad-Boy" Detroit Pistons, and the greatest team of all time, Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
The nature of the game was much different back then, and there are a lot of NBA fans who don't care for the way things have changed. They say sportsmanship has faded, and no one plays defense anymore. They say the league is unrecognizable to what it once was.
Well, on Saturday night I attended my first NBA game. The Milwaukee Bucks (3-2) hosted the Boston Celtics (3-3). As I walked from the press area up through the seats during team warm-ups, I witnessed something that made me realize that although the game may have changed, some things never will.
I saw a little boy and his father walking to their seats, holding hot dogs in one hand and an ice cold soda in the other. As they walked up the stairs to their seat, the boy looked up to his dad with the biggest smile on his face and he said, "This is so awesome, Dad!"
Since this was my first game, I didn't care as much about the result as I just wanted to see a competitive game. Milwaukee came into this game with a 3-1 record, and they had already beaten the Celtics 99-88 at the TD Garden on Nov. 2. Boston has struggled to gel together so far this season, posting a 2-3 record as they entered the Bradley Center Saturday.
Ironically, defense was the story throughout the first two quarters, and the Bucks entered halftime clinging to a narrow 42-39 advantage, led by Monta Ellis' 13 points.
Milwaukee began the fourth quarter up 68-64; it was clear that this was going to come down to the final minutes, which is more than any true fan of the game could ask for. After the game was tied at 74, Boston went on to hit eight of its next 10 shots, including three straight field goals from Paul Pierce that included a three-pointer.
The Celtics' offense had set the pace of the final quarter very high. However, Ellis was on fire, and his effort helped to keep the Bucks in the game. In response to Boston's run, Ellis answered Pierce by hitting a three to give Milwaukee an 82-81 edge.
This game was beginning to resemble a chess match. Boston's Kevin Garnett connected on a pair of shots, and then Brandon Bass found the basket for two more points. The Celtics were up 87-82, and time was beginning to run out.
Ellis' late game energy contributed to one final run by the Bucks, and a jumper by former Celtic Marquis Daniels cut the deficit to 91-90 with only 25 seconds remaining.
Milwaukee, who was in the penalty, was forced to commit fouls to conserve time. Boston was able to make enough of their free throws in the final minute to keep the Bucks late surge at bay and come away with the 96-92 victory. Ellis led all scorers with 32 points.
"A game like tonight builds mental toughness," said Celtics guard Jason Terry. "Milwaukee beat us earlier in the season, but tonight was a great effort on both ends of the floor."
Boston coach Doc Rivers had a roster of eight new players to begin the season, and his team isn't off to the start that he may have wished for. But he has coached for long enough to know it's too early to get concerned.
"It's going to take time, we've got to keep reminding ourselves of that," Rivers said. "We have to keep working for it. I love our guys. I understand that it's a process, but we've got to go through it."
Despite the loss, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings feels good about what his team has accomplished so far this season.
"We've got a great group," he said. We've got guys that are competitive, as we showed tonight. I feel like we're pretty stacked at every position.
"(It was a) tough night tonight. But you can't have a good night every night."
Over the years, the dynamics of the NBA may have changed. But this experience just reminded me of why I fell in love with the game of basketball when I was a kid. And even though I am much older than I was that day in grade school, I can still relate to that little boy walking to his seat with his dad.
This game really is awesome.