You don’t truly value your co-workers as friends until you’ve worked in a job where no one is your friend. Am I speaking from experience here? You bet. My previous office job involved a small cadre of people whose company I enjoyed. We started out calling ourselves the “Junior Principals,” as if the company depended on us. The crew’s size ebbed and flowed, people quit, others were hired. We had our traditions — including me usually stopping by everyone’s desk at around 10am for a chat, and of course Friday lunch — and then we’d buckle down and get to work. That was life for five years.
Eventually, I left the job, mostly because the pressures of the work were driving me in a direction I did not enjoy. I’m in a more peaceful place now. But, as I should have expected, my connections to those people has waned. I saw some for lunch not long ago, and a wedding is coming up for another. One even made a recent visit from out west, coming all the way from San Francisco to celebrate with the gang of us for the weekend. These are small moments in the larger picture of life, but they feel good. I can’t go back, but I can remember.
I imagine a basketball team in this same way. When players say “it’s a business,” what they’re really trying to do is keep their emotions and perspective in check. The job won’t last forever, neither will the team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the friendships have to die too. With the Raptors and Lucas Nogueira, change has happened and will continue to happen. The team is different today than it was three days ago, and it will be different again by this time next year.
Whatever happens, in Bebe’s life, in mine, or in yours, we can remember those times among friends, as co-workers or otherwise — even long after the union has passed on into a mere sweet memory.
The peak for me definitely came last night when everyone was hassling poor innocent, baby-faced Delon Wright. Remember when he said “I’m not a baby”? This is a man who understands what it means to be a little brother (because he is literally a little brother; shouts to Dorell and big bros everywhere). I wrote about this earlier today, but I want to run through it again.
As the Raptors are currently constructed, Nogueira is something of a focal point — off the court, that is. He’s a natural born agitator, and after two terrible losses, it was as if Bebe was given license to have fun again. And when Bebe is having fun, everyone is having fun! That entire wing of the locker room — Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson, Bebe, Norman Powell and Jakob Poeltl — were in on it. The jibs and jabs were flying and you could see what it meant for them to be loose and free again. These guys are all striving and, at times, struggling as one. In last night’s breakthrough, it was revealing to see everyone just revelling in the shared success. And as a part of that revelry, it sometimes means Nogueira has to ask, as a crowd descends on young Delon, “Hey, who’s that, Justin Bieber? Is Drake here?”
What a time.
It’s worth noting, however, what came pre-game. Bebe does this thing with his face when you can tell he’s saying something sad, something that affects him in some personal way. He’s smiling at you, all teeth, but his eyes relay a different level of emotion. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I swear I saw it last night as he discussed the recent Raptors trade. And, not that these two events are on the same level at all, but it was there too when Nogueira tried to discuss the devastating plane crash involving friends of his. I wanted to applaud his desire to keep things in perspective.
Now, let me reiterate: an NBA trade is not the same as a death. It’s not. But for Bebe, these events have an effect. They change the way he perceives his life, his work, his presence in relation to others. “People know that I love [Terrence] Ross,” said Nogueira. “I was sad because T-Ross, Patrick [Patterson], JJ [James Johnson], you guys know how much I love them. I love everybody, but T-Ross, JJ, Patrick, we are close. It was tough to me to lose T-Ross, but I understand the business is here.”
Level of High Level
It’s sad that Bebe has lost one of his running mates in Ross. We’ll always be able to cherish those insane two-man fastbreaks they managed to pull off. And there will always be something winning about the combination of the soft-spoken Ross and the gregarious Bebe. But all good things must come to an end somehow, some way. It’s a business, but it’s also a part of life.
High Level Result: 9 out of 10 — It’s difficult to overstate how joyous the locker room felt last night. The Raptors have lost more games than they’ve won as of late, but there are still those moments. It’s what we have to hold on to and build upon, together. On to the All-Star break!