On April 21st, 1995, my father took me to a nominally professional basketball game featuring the 28-52 New Jersey Nets playing at home, before a few thousand time-rich, tri-state oglers, against the 20-60 Washington Bullets—who are now, of course, the entirely unmagical Wizards.
Both franchises were mired in a combination of tenured mismanagement and rotten luck. The Nets had lost their star two guard, Dražen Petrović, to a car accident two years before. In the meantime, their once arguably franchise youngsters, point guard Kenny Anderson and big man Derrick Coleman, had aged into overpaid, try-free maturity. Anderson was shooting the ball at slightly less than 40%, a mark of infamy for all but mysteriously effective show-running bricklayers like Jason Kidd (who would eventually turn the franchise around), and Derrick Coleman was still scoring 20 a game on bad shooting while replacing his blood with booze. Coleman, as it happened, was out that game, ceding minutes to the statistically misleading power forward Armen Gilliam, nicknamed the “Black Hole” for his solipsistic scorer’s mentality.
The nee’ Bullets were even more elaborately disappointing than their lackluster divisional counterparts. During the offseason, Washington had seemingly struck gold in trading the empty scoring of Tom Gugliotta for future superstar Chris Webber, but somehow they got worse. Webber and former Fab-Five teammate Juwan Howard were supposed to be the one-two punch that would return the club to, I don’t know, at least the modest success of the , but that didn’t happen. A mix of injuries and personal limitations kept the Bullets at or near the bottom of the division all year.
It was still a basketball game, though, featuring luridly tall and talented sports men who might, for want of anything better to do, put on a show. Howard and Webber were an inarguably exciting pair of prospects, and the Kenny Anderson-Rick Mahorn pick and roll game—oh, never mind. But! There was one other attraction, feasibly worth the ticket price and Garden State traffic: 30-foot tall , barge-footed, Romanian export, Gheorghe Muresan. Muresan, if you don’t remember him for his hardwood antics, would go on to star in the Billy Chrystal “comedy” My Giant—the premise of the film being that while Chrystal is tiny, Muresan is very, very big. But before his brief novelty film career got churning, Muresan played basketball, first for Washington and then as an oft-injured coat tree of a backup center for, who else, the Nets!
On this day, though, Muresan was in his prime, a man knocking on the door of, if not greatness, certainly, perhaps pretty-goodness. Unequivocal not-badness, at the very least. He was averaging 10 points and just under seven boards and two blocked shots per game. He somehow managed to shoot over 70% from the line despite having hands that looked like pterodactyls. After a quarter of back-and-forth action, during which time Webber proved lithe and crafty, the young star left the game with an injury, carving a big hole in the Bullets’ front-court rotation. But never fear, Gheorghe Muresan was there! Muresan played a miraculous and likely career threatening 39 minutes, snowshoeing up and down the court like a Space Jam kaiju, racking up 18 points, 12 boards, and four blocks, en route to a…one-point loss. While Muresan was doing his best impression of a peak Mike Giminski, teammate Doug Overton was clanking long twos by the bushel. Not even a feisty 23 points from margarine tower Don McClean could save the day for the leaden Bullets.
What I remember most from that game is the peculiar physics of Muresan’s lonely stampede down the floor. Watching him run made me wonder what running was anyway. Did both gargantuan feet have to be off the ground, however briefly, at the same time? Was there a minimum speed? Say 4.3 miles per hour? Was he really just marching while looking strained and purposeful? Muresan prompted other quandaries. Like, for example, were jump-free dunks truly dunks? Was he so tall that his status as a basketball player was somehow in question (not fair!)? Or did his parodic ultra-height align with game’s ideal?
In any case, Kenny Anderson had 20 points on a respectable seven of 15 from the floor, good ole Armen Gilliam confiscated 28 points for himself, and the Nets won. The outcome mattered not at all to either team but the game matters to me now, decades later, because my mother recently mailed me the original ticket stub (the listed price was 50 bucks, but it was likely bought at a steep discount by my loving, coupon-brained father) for the game in question, along with some newspaper articles and a card. The ticket itself is graphically tepid (Anderson dribbles, appropriately, in isolation while off on the right-hand margin, alone and unguarded, Coleman dunks his very own basketball, as Nets insignia slash diagonally across aisle and seat numbers), though it is a portal to another time, a discrete moment of history that everyone could seemingly do without .
This wasn’t a happy time in my life. It was late in my sophomore year of high school. My good friend Joe Pesci  had just moved to Florida. I had stopped playing sports and had begun reading science fiction novels. That’s enough personal information, ok? It felt the way it sounds—not tragic, by any means, but standing in the middle of a field by yourself lonely. Still, there is a part of me that says, almost audibly, whenever I gaze upon an artefact such as this, I would give anything to go back.
Why does this happen? It’s not because of Gheorghe Muresan’s sloping hook shot, that’s for sure. Neither is it because I want to return to the heady days of chaperoned driving with my learner’s permit in an ’83 Chevy Chevette. My guess is it’s your basic fear of dying and loss kind of stuff mixed with some suppressed but genuine affection for the past—I would, come to think of it, give an extraordinary amount of money just to be able to walk back into my old house, close my eyes, smell it, open my eyes, and see it as it was and not as I remember—all fish-eyed and foggy, a fading dream. I would give anything to be able to sit on the front porch again with my brother and friends and to have time the way very rich people have money. To talk, and stare at the cars driving by, the bees in my mother’s garden.
If I let myself dream of heaven, I see it as a place where, among other riches, the past is almost like a town you can visit, and while you’re there, the parts of you that are broken or missing are found  or fixed but without costing you who you are. You can be yourself there but be whole. You can come and go as you wish, leaving without estrangement, and always somehow remaining fully in the place that you left.
And so, in heaven, the undermanned Bullets are always just barely losing to the charmless Nets, and that’s as it should be, and if I peel my eyes away from the court I can turn and see my father, sitting beside me, worrying about traffic, and—though it doesn’t matter anymore, we are safe and have time in abundance—the long drive home in the dark.
 7’7” actually.
 For example, I could find nowhere online any reference to Webber’s in-game injury, though I didn’t imagine it; the box score reveals that he only played 15 minutes, and I remember the deflated feeling of watching that game’s biggest star wince from the court early in the contest.
 From Marilynne Robinson’s great novel Housekeeping: “She conceived of life as a road down which one traveled, an easy enough road through a broad country, and that one's destination was there from the very beginning, [including finally] a room where everything one had ever lost or put aside was gathered together, waiting.”