Gone too soon

June in North Dakota is often characterized by its severe thunderstorms and the ever present threat of tornadoes. As I sat in the newsroom of my TV station office last night, a major storm system was quickly moving into the area. It was the first of its kind that we had experienced in the western part of the state this year. It’s the kind of event that on most nights would have producers scrambling, reporters scattering in different directions and a general air of excited panic permeating through the building. Not on this night.

As our meteorologist frantically tries to keep track of the storm’s movement while alerting the viewing audience every few minutes with live updates, the remainder of the staff whoops and hollers around a small television screen. Young and old watch with intense fervor. Fans and casual observers alike position and push to catch a glimpse of the flickering images streaming from some 2,000 miles away. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to Rockwell’s Americana.

I – amused as much by the proceedings unfolding before me as I was by Game 6 of the NBA Finals – could only smile as I watched Dirk Nowitzki exit stage right, the clock ticking towards zero. Perfection.

I’m not talking about the fact that Dallas won. I’m not talking about Miami losing. In that moment I could care less about the ongoing narratives of Good vs. Evil, Cough-gate or the impending tidal wave of columns both condemning and defending LeBron. Dirk’s victory waltz off the court stands as the commensurate, bittersweet conclusion to the best NBA season since the end of the Jordan era.

Overcome by the magnitude of the moment, all Dirk could muster as he entered the tunnel at American Airlines Arena was placing his hands on his head, before wiping the sweat and tears from his tired and worn face. Encompassing that moment, even for the man experiencing it, proves a difficult task, much as defining this season will undoubtedly prove in the upcoming days.

Spurred by a spectacular youth movement and the continuously evolving narrative of the Miami Heat, the NBA reemerged. I can’t think of the last time the league harbored not only a surplus of storylines, but so many that were so compelling. Perhaps it’s poetic justice that a veteran laden Dallas Mavericks team should claim the throne in 2011, it leaves so many other narratives open ended, so many questions unanswered.

In the last month we’ve questioned the validity of an MVP, the stability of a burgeoning duo in Oklahoma, the timeline of a Hollywood legend and the unwritten legacy of a once great prodigy. Isn’t it best that the questions we ask of these scenarios remain unanswered, marooning us on an island of our own thoughts? Will we even get the answers we desperately seek in 2012?

That’s what brings me back to Dirk’s reaction. In his characteristic soft-spoken manner, Nowitzki captured the mood of the NBA and its fans, celebrating with an air of reserve. It’s bittersweet because at its highest height, it may all soon come crashing down, it’s momentum brought to a sudden stop. The potential of the lockout looms.

Outside, lightning began to cut across the North Dakota sky, illuminating the street outside our downtown studio. The funny thing during thunderstorms is how it warps our view of otherwise normal surroundings. We see buildings and other landmarks daily, lit up by the sun, but in the brief moment where they appear in the flashing white of an electrical charge there is something almost sinister in their exterior.

As I walked to my car amidst a oncoming storm, the rain beginning to come down, I couldn’t help by wonder if the NBA’s return to this level of success – capped off by Dirk’s iconic celebration – wouldn’t be gone as quickly as those flashes of lightning.

Twitter: @JoeyWhelan

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