the hardwood club.

we turned into an underground parking lot beneath the arena, lined with newly-waxed black cars. handing off the keys to the valet, she turned to us and said, they wash your car during the game. we continued through the arch of a metal detector, entering the building where the charlotte bobcats were about to play their last home game of the season against the philadelphia seventy-sixers. everyone came up to greet us as we walked along the concrete floors in the bowels of the coliseum, then passed through a curtain, finding our seats between the visitor’s bench and scorekeeper’s table.

they had purchased the tickets one night out of boredom, looking for something to do at night. they bought two extra so they could entertain friends. everyone was so polite to them that we felt it worth mentioning, as if they hadn’t noticed. they told us that that year before they had been invited on a road trip to minnesota, aboard the team jet, because they had always stopped to talk to everyone associated with the organization, and that was their reward, they supposed, for being generous with their time.

they lead us toward a restaurant full of season ticket holders, and we inquired if that was where we were headed. no, that club has three hundred members; ours has thirty. after talking with the ushers assembled in the doorway, we passed into a small room with three high tables in the middle and plush chairs along the outside. there was a chef slicing prime rib and a buffet counter with trays of asparagus, mashed potatoes, rolls, and corn-on-the-cob. we filled our plates turning to the bar where a man asked us if we wanted a single or double. what’s the price difference?, my friend asked, in similar amazement at being brought here as a guest. they’re both free, was the reply. we both ordered doubles and a shot of whiskey, also at no charge. while we ate, we took note of a man asking if the chef could put his prime rib on a roll, and she obliged.

we returned to our seats for the first quarter, players standing within feet of us as they waited to be substituted into the game. i glanced at the computer to my right, then announced to the group a team’s shooting percentage or how a certain player already had two fouls. when the buzzer sounded, we returned to the club, choosing a prime rib sandwich, another double, and an accompanying shot. it was getting warm, so our hosts suggested placing our jackets in their locker. we went down the row of lockers, reading the names — so-and-so motorsports, the blank corporation, this-and-that incorporated (not actual company names) — until we arrived at theirs, merely listed under their surname. also, they had two.

we continued in this pattern: watching some basketball and returning to the club for drink refills. during halftime we stepped outside. we helped ourselves to the pile of candy left for the players on the announce table. late in the game, after someone running the length of the court lofted his gum toward the desk, we even advised the other players to watch their step. during the fourth quarter, aided by the free drinks and, likely also, by the idea that we were in a dream, we stood up, alternating between shouting encouragement to the home team and lambasting the referees for their botched calls.

at the end of the game, we told our hosts that we would like to tell our friends about our night but no one would believe us. my knowledge of basketball hadn’t increased much. i knew a few more names and a few more statistics thanks to my seating position (by the way, raymond felton scored a career high thirty-two points). most importantly, the bobcats won by three, so now i’m seen as a lucky charm or talisman to be welcomed to games next season.

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