Throughout my life desires, fears and dreams have changed.
When I was six I wanted to be Wayne Gretzky. When I was fourteen, and again at twenty-two, I wanted to be Tiger Woods. At eighteen I wanted to design characters for video games. At sixteen I just wanted to write and at twenty-five I wanted to be Danny Boyle (the director, not the sour-faced neanderthal defenseman).
There have been phases of craving travel and periods of nurturing my home. I’ve feared failure, I’ve been terrified of success. I’ve been a Jew, an atheist, a Buddhist, apathetic and genuinely confused. A family man and a loner, a craver of spotlights and a lover of shadows. I’ve lived with a righteous edge, a carefree saunter, a manly snarl and a feminine demureness. I’ve vacillated between maniacally egotistical and detrimentally humble. I’ve been blissfully ignorant, joyfully knowledgable and catatonically depressed.
Single-mindedness has never been a virtue I’ve harbored.
However there are exceptions to everything and as far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to see the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup.
You know the feeling.
As I sat down in an unfamiliar seat in section 207 at Staples Center, I settled in to watch a replay of the final five minutes of a hockey game I will never forget. After having stood in the heat for three hours to watch the Kings pass by in buses filled with family and hardware for a few minutes, I was bordering on tuckered out. The cold beer on my lips, the sight of game six of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals and the voice on Bob Miller caressing my ear with his call of the game renewed my vigor. So excited was I for the Kings Cup Rally that the lack of sleep and the fact that I was alone without any of my normal Kings fan cohorts failed to put the slightest damper on the promise of the moments to follow. Me, the malcontent that had an irrational and outspoken disdain for rallys of all kinds throughout every level of education in which I was forced to participate to the point of maddening feelings of disenfranchisement (who, after all, threw the rally for the grumpy teenager who hated rallys?), was barely able to sit still. I didn’t know what to expect, mostly speeches I was sure, lots of platitudes repackaged and repeated by those required to address a group of people they may or may not truly care about in earnest.
It didn’t really matter what was to come, it represented the culmination of a lifetime of struggle, the cessation of an ever-present pang of desire, and I was excited. And why not? Why shouldn’t I be excited?
The Los Angeles Kings had won the Stanley Cup.
Just three days before, I was there. I saw it. I watched twenty players in red solemnly shake the hands of twenty in black. I jumped and screamed like a madman, tackling people in narrow aisles the same as large men in padding tackled each other on a frozen indoor lake. I was mesmerized by the appearance of a beacon of silver light such as I had never witnessed as Lord Stanley’s Cup, the trophy other trophies aspire to, was hauled down a red carpet. Blinded by watery eyes and streaking reflections as the thirty-five pound marvel was hoisted again and again and again, kissed tenderly and thrust skyward jubilantly.
Adrenaline kept me ignorant of the fact that I was overcome with shock, rapidly and greedily gathering sensory information in an attempt to store, catalog and redistribute sights, sounds, thoughts and emotions. The excitement level has not been matched by anything that I care to remember. Whether that is the truth of my experiences or another symptom of shock, only the years will reveal.
This week, this Finals series, these last two months of hockey have been a bejeweled escapade. I’ve been, like you, swept up in a whirlwind of enraptured tenacity, often consumed with joy and at times beleaguered by anxiety. There were things I needed to do. Calls to be made, projects to start and to finish, clutter to be cleaned and much tedium of everyday life to be addressed. All were shoved without remorse into places of my mind and house where they could not trouble or distract me from what my heart told me was truly important. Life comes and goes, responsibilities wax and wane, funds are earned and spent but this Los Angeles Kings playoff run was special from the onset. It felt… necessary.
It was not until after the St. Louis Blues had been swept brusquely out of town and the playoffs that the concept of winning the Stanley Cup this year fortified in my hockey soul. After game one against Vancouver in the first round, what sixth sense I feign to have was piqued. The ferocity with which Dustin Brown hit, the deception that Mike Richards sprung on Roberto Luongo, the game without flaw that Anze Kopitar deployed, the spectacular and timely scoring chances that Jonathan Quick denied and others that the defense refused to let germinate, these things and more put the scent of victory in the air. All it took was one whiff for the rest of my world to fade away.
Game five, Jarrett Stoll beats Cory Schneider high glove in overtime and the Kings had won their first round of playoff hockey in a decade. That was as good as it gets, at that time. That night I left my father’s house with the warmth of proud hugs steaming off my chest to the sound of the neighbor’s dogs still barking at the sudden outburst of raucous commotion. Then I watched in awe as Blues shook Kings’ hands without the pleasure of enjoying a single victory and the next day I was horribly hungover. That was definitely as good as it gets. So good in fact that a flight to the desolation known as Glendale, Arizona was quickly arranged. One invasion, five games and four more wins later and I found myself with three thousand of you standing in the cold outside LAX at one in the morning and I’d never been happier. As good as it gets kept getting better.
From zero to sixty I’d gone, and from sixty to thirty-thousand I went again, this time to New York. Two magnificent trips to Newark (a sentence never constructed before this day), three more wins and the first scary moment of the playoffs followed and as good as it gets was getting threatened by as bad as worse could become.
I walked into Staples Center one last time.
Like passing through a wormhole, strobing lights, gliding objects, blaring cacophonies and congested emotions swirled, expanded and collapsed and suddenly I find myself here now, and its over. Without warning or the courtesy of a soft landing, there is nothing to look forward to and I’m lost in refractory. The one thing I was sure I wanted in life, I have. I’ve had it all week but I didn’t realize what I had it until I sat in that unfamiliar seat in section 207 at Staples Center and waited for the Kings Cup Rally to begin. I had heard Bob Miller say the words on youtube, disjointed, without context. I’d heard Mike Emrick say them and Nick Nickson too. I’d said them to myself when I saw it unfold in front of me.
“The Kings are Stanley Cup Champions”
When I first heard Bob Miller’s call of the Kings winning the Cup, it was anticlimactic. It was too soon, too, oh, only 30 seconds on youtube. Sitting in Staples, viewing it on the big screen, hearing his and Jim Fox’s voices cascade across the walls and the ice for the whole period, I was made supple. I was not prepared for the words I had already heard.
“This is for you, Kings fans.”
Any amount that the Los Angeles Kings having won the Stanley Cup had sunk in over the week quickly and violently evaporated. I did not tear up, like I had done several times each day since the Kings became Cup champions, I bawled. I sobbed, uncontrollably. The emotions overwhelming me to the point of severe ocular perspiration were buoyed by the obvious; pride, ecstasy, fulfillment.
As I cried, I found I was terrified. I didn’t understand it and I didn’t think about it more than to recognize it was there.
The rally began and I listened with raw eyes and a wet face as Bob Miller introduced the top staff and the team. Council people, Luc, Leiweke, Hextall spoke. I clapped for them. I roared for Darryl Sutter. I laughed at Matt Greene poking fun at Drew Doughty’s casual brevity and Dustin Penner’s playful jab at L.A.’s predominant race. I cheered that Jonathan Quick showed no inhibition in honoring with the profane the team that helped him realize his dream. I thoroughly enjoyed and ate up every second of the day as I had done the past two months.
And then it was over, and I was a shell.
I mentioned earlier that at one time I considered myself to be Buddhist. The hallmark principle of Buddhism, the one that attracted me to and also ultimately designed my failure in it is that our attachments to our desires cause suffering. Either we don’t get want we want and we suffer, or we get it and without exception lose it. And so we suffer.
Only the experience of such supreme happiness as I have relished this week can imbue such a terror of loss. Something that had been with me my whole life, a constant throughout my ever fluctuating existence is now gone. The Los Angeles Kings have won the Stanley Cup and never again will I want to see the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup before I die. I’ve seen it. As grand, as cathartic, as unquestionably ridiculous, orgasmically, transcendentally sublime it was, it begins a new part of my life. This is not a bad thing. It is a different thing. It is the agony of metamorphosis.
Three days ago I thought the term “long suffering Kings fan” need not apply anymore. Today I know that is not true. In that, I suppose I find the solace of constancy. As I suffered once for my love of this silly hockey team, I suffer for that love still.
As I grappled with this idea, I was forced to ask myself, have any of us truly suffered?
As I sat and meditated in front of the Gretzky statue prior to game six on Monday, I reflected on my life as a Kings fan. I remembered the moments that made me a Kings fan, the things that drew me to the game and the things that nourished me all these years. I only ever suffered when they lost because I rejoiced when they won. I stood in awe as a child outside the locker room and nervously asked that Luc Robitaille, the man whose shot dropped my jaw so many times, sign my jersey. I proudly displayed where Rick Tochett had penned my hat, because since he was such a badass and had signed my hat, I was kind of a badass too.
As a youth I regarded Kings as Titans, larger than life characters in a real storybook whose ending changed every time I read it. Later I grew to appreciate their humanity, their own struggles and triumphs and related to Palffy on the personal level of knowing we are both goofs, respecting the fearlessness that Norstrom and Deadmarsh employed that I never will, sharing the passion that Laperriere had for the game and admiring the sheer lack of vanity to which Kelly Buchberger’s helmet, let alone his face, was a clear testament. Having come to understand and appreciate the Kings that came and went as people, I then again came to revere them as something more than that, the expression of hopes and the dedication to dreams and the perseverance through pain that I can only wish all people embodied.
Dustin Brown is a Titan. Anze Kopitar, a Titan. Jonathan Quick and Willie Mitchell and Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are all the rest are Titans. Their hopes are mine. Their trials and tribulations, I feel. They’re accomplishments ours to savor and their Stanley Cup is ours to enjoy. Ours to be proud of and to hold dear.
Have I ever suffered as a Kings fan? I have gained many of my most precious memories in this seemingly vapid endeavor of sports fandom. This was true before the Cup was won. The Cup is simply the pinnacle. Not the final one sweet moment after endless eras of bitterness, but the nectar of the fruit finally tasted after soft skin punctured, tender, delicious flesh chewed and seeds spat out. It has not always been easy being a Kings fan, but I have never truly suffered for it, as I have only suffered when my love has swelled.
The question becomes, is this the exclamation point at the end of the sentence?
This team is the culmination of a lifetime, and by my numerical standard for that, two lifetimes for many of you. The subtle gathering of talents and passions, well rounded and specified and the undeniable spark of a fire from the striking of a perfectly tuned chord. Both in team and in fandom, the continuum has stretched as far as it can in both directions for those of us old enough to have ridden the wave. For us, now we tread charted waters.
We will still do so with glee and exuberance. We will still cheer loudly and bemoan indignantly. We will win another Cup and it too will be a glorious occasion, but nothing like we have now experienced. That was once in a lifetime. Now a new era begins. For us it begins with pride and goes forth with satisfaction. For the new generation of Kings fans, those still fostering their insane passions for this sport and this team and those yet to find their way to us, it begins with expectation. Those that come after us will not be like those who came before. We are the end of a generation my Kings brothers and sisters.
What was once a hope, a jealousy, a dream, has become reality. My beard is not the only thing I lost this week. Innocence, such as that has not known the irresistible flavor of ultimate victory, is shattered. And though life as a Kings fan will never be the same and the high achieved this year never replicated, I will follow down what path the Los Angeles Kings lead me, with more conviction than ever.
For I am a Kings fan. Regardless of what else I may have been or am yet to become, despite any amount of change my life presents to me, without distinction to class, title, wealth, location, age or beauty, I will always be, at my very least, at my very worst, and now, in this moment, at my very best, a Los Angeles Kings fan.