Frankie O blog: A place in my heart

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Frankie O blog: A place in my heart

Life has a way of cruising along. We get to places and wonder how we got there. You know, like being behind a bar for the last 18 years. It was never part of the plan.

Then when reality hits you in the face, especially when you reach a certain age, you get reflective on the influences that have shaped the circumstance in which you exist. Among my many issues is the sports affliction that has guided me on this path that Im just along for the ride on.

From an early age sports were the driving force behind everything I did. Be it playing, watching or reading about them. Thats just how life was. A large part of that I attribute to my Philadelphia upbringing. Very few places are as psychotic towards their sports as Philly, so I guess I never really had a chance. This point has really been driven home to me from the conversations I have on a daily basis with people from around the country. For some reason my Philly influences really stand out and they always seem to get a reaction. Go figure.

Among the many questions that Im frequently asked is how I would rank my interests in the four pro teams from my hometown.

The easiest answer would be: Whos playing now? Since that team would likely get most of my attention. But like most people in this country, if I really had to put them in an official order, football and baseball would be at the top, followed by hockey and basketball. This is not to discount hockey and basketball, and remember for me, all Im really talking about is level of psychosis anyway.

But If I was asked which one provided my favorite memories, or which one started all this for me, it would have to be hockey and my beloved Philadelphia Flyers.

For someone my age, where I grew up, the Flyers where the first team that loved me back. They did this by winning. Twice! That was a team that forged a love affair with a community that was dying to be in love. That they were a team that did it with incredible flair and a us-versus-the-world mentality only made it better. That was Philly.

My entire family caught Flyers fever. We went to a lot of games and Flyer conversation was a constant. As was the No. 6 Moose DuPont jersey that I always wore. The first jersey I ever owned. But my fondest memory was Saturday night, the best night of the week.

At that time home games werent on TV, just the road ones. The Flyer schedule seemed to be dominated by Saturday road games followed by a Sunday home one.

Saturday night was a time for my family to get together, a lot of the time it was at our house or, mostly we went on my favorite road trip, an hour away to my Aunt Pegs. No school. No homework. It was just family fun and a Flyers game. Oh, and dont forget the snacks! I know I never did.

Like any young kid, it was fun watching the adults in the family interact. My family was full of personalities that were larger-than-life and very influential on someone in their formative years. The things I remember the most were the teasing and the laughter. Those who know me at all Im sure are not surprised to hear that. Im a product of my upbringing -- still!

This is also where my love of cards -- or should I say, playing poker for money -- started. Invariably the whole family would eventually gather around the kitchen table, talking about the game, snacking and telling stories, sometimes about each other. The smiles and laughs were always in abundance. Even as a young teen, the most awkward of ages, I never felt uncomfortable. It was always about having fun. If you cant goof on the people you love, or better yet, if the people that love you most cant goof on you, who can? It was really a cool time for me, that time right before all you wanted to do was hang out with your friends. At that time, all I wanted to do was hang out with my family. And laugh.

Then around 11:00 p.m. or so, the cards would come out: Penny ante, dealers choice. Me, my folks, aunts and uncles, my grandmother and my great-grandmother would be around the table. The exact group would change once in a while, not everyone was always there, but the spirit always was. The games were always very competitive, but the banter is what you always remember. I remember being ultra-competitive, and being brought down to earth on more than one occasion.

Speaking of my competitive issue, two other things that come to mind, and both happened at picnics at Aunt Pegs: Once, while playing in a volleyball game in which I was probably the youngest one on my side, I took out one of my Aunts while trying to return a ball that was definitely her play. Oops. My bad! Afterwards I felt awful. I guess it really is just a game.

Then, and I cant remember if it was the same year, wouldnt surprise me though if it was, the softball incident occurred. My aunts house was in the country and down the street was a camp that had a baseball field that we would use. So were having a friendly game. On the other team was my younger sister. Shes playing near shortstop and not paying attention to the game. Shes talking to everyone within earshot without a care in the world. I dont know why, but I found this extremely annoying. When I stepped up to the plate, I politely reminded her that it was not safe to stand in the field that close to the plate and not pay attention. Just because my decibel level increased to ten times normal doesnt mean it wasnt polite. Just a big brother looking out for his little sister. Of course what happened next was as predictable as the Eagles blowing a fourth-quarter lead. Thats right. I promptly lined one off the side of her head. Blood. Tears. Drama. And worse yet, the end of the game! Honestly? Pay attention! And in case youre wondering, it was accidental. I mean nobody can hit a softball where they want, can they?

The other fun of the poker games was when they ended. It was so cool staying up late when you were a kid, especially if you had a bunch of hard earned change in your pocket. And more than one time I can remember going to 6:00 a.m. mass after the ride home. Look at that nice family, getting up so early for church! You got that right, Sister.

I think about those times a lot as a father. Just like a lot of things in life, they dont make as much sense or mean as much, until you look back on them. Right now Im having a great time in my own home because my kids, for the first time, are getting into watching the baseball playoffs. It doesnt matter that a team that they, or I, root for is playing. They are getting a kick out of how fun watching playoff baseball can be and I just get a kick out of watching them. In the end its about sharing an experience, a way to connect.

Of course watching your team win really adds to the connection. Like I wrote here a couple of years ago, the thing that really stung about watching the Flyers loss in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final to the Blackhawks was that I didnt get to share the experience of winning and I had to watch it all around me. The fact that the Hawks hadnt won in forever created a bond among those who had suffered with them, and they got to share it and tell the youngsters how cool what they were experiencing was.

So when people ask which team is my favorite, they kinda all are. But that first time I went through the winning part of being a fan was with the Flyers so that always has a special place in my heart. And I cant remember those teams without thinking about my family and how much following the team during those magical years brought us all together.

Sitting around that kitchen table was like yesterday and I can still see it and hear it.

Goodbye Aunt Peg, your laugh is going to be missed.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."