Sometimes I wonder where writers were and what they thought about when they wrote something. Perhaps you don't. Nonetheless: I am now, three days before my deadline, writing about the Atlanta Hawks while watching the SEC championship game between Georgia and Alabama at my dad's house — I don't own a TV — while sharing a Dark and Stormy with my girlfriend, who is reading Cutting For Stone and occasionally glancing up at the television to see what I'm yelling about. Our dogs remain indifferent to all but their bones and I wonder if that's the best attitude to have toward sports. Then Georgia scores.
To reach Alfred Horford last week, a Hawks rep led me through a series of back doors, a labyrinth of tunnels, and an apparent loading dock, with a brief peak at the empty, cavernous expanses of Philips Arena itself. Travel-time — from the moment I was frisked at the entrance of the arena to the moment I shook Horford's huge hand in the bowels of the arena — was roughly six minutes.
I may as well have gone through the wardrobe into Narnia: I found myself in the kind of clubhouse I dreamed of as a kid. (Nice pass by AJ McCarron, but Alabama punts away the ball on its first drive.) There was a Ping-Pong table, a giant television, leather couches made for big, friendly giants, and a refrigerator full of sugar water; I grabbed a Sprite. (Nice screen pass from Aaron Murray to Todd Gurley. The dogs are barking at nothing again.)
Horford, who plays both center and power forward for the Hawks, is the centerpiece of a rebooted team: Louis Williams, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, and a handful of other new players were brought in by new general manager Danny Ferry before the start of this season, and these new Hawks have jumped out to a 9-5 record, good for fifth in the eastern conference. In the absence of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, who were shipped elsewhere, Horford is the leader — the "head of the snake," as commentators like to say.
I don't know how to say this, since the Hawks center is obviously a very tall human being, but Al Horford isn't that tall. He isn't, for instance, as tall as Los Angeles Lakers big man Dwight Howard, or fellow Hawks center Zaza Pachulia, or even the Al Horford that you see on TV (Mark Richt looks like he's been spray-tanning.) Anyway, the big-but-not-huge guy was sitting in one of the couches made for dudes like him; I allowed a neighboring one to swallow me. (Football commentators love using the words "splendid" and "my goodness." Someone should compare the lexicons of different sports announcers. My girlfriend is a linguist ... maybe she'll do it.)
Horford had a copy of ESPN the Magazine in his hands. (Saban isn't mic'd up, but I can almost hear him say "fuck.") I had my list of questions for Horford — like, "Do you and your Miss Universe wife, Amelia Vega, do the merengue?" and "If so, where?" along with Hawks esoterica — but I was nervous. (Tavarres King makes a "deep grab" late in the first quarter. LOL.)
My favorite moment came about 20 minutes into the interview when Horford told me that he loves to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and has finished eight of his books. It just so happens that I'm reading A Hundred Years of Solitude right now. Or, at least, I'm trying to as I go to bed: I've re-read pages 13-15 at least four times. Garcia Marquez is a beautiful writer; that much I can tell. But I'm a better sleeper. (Murray throws to Jay Rome, also a UGA basketball player, for the first touchdown of the game! This drink isn't strong enough.)
Horford, who is from the Dominican Republic, prefers to read books in Spanish and said that Garcia Marquez is much better in Spanish. (John Jenkins, Georgia's 358-pound nose tackle, just sacked McCarron for a 15-yard loss!) He listed Garcia Marquez books I hadn't heard of, and warned me not to bother with Memories of My Melancholy Whores. I wrote that down and then lowered the discourse: What did he think of Houston Rockets guard James Harden's 1970s beard? (Crazy catch by Amari Cooper ... then Lacy runs it up the middle. 'Bama closing in on its first score.) He told me that he didn't approve. Nor did his wife, which was why he keeps his facial hair close to his face.
The rest (helmet-to-helmet call against UGA ... Richt clearly mouths "that's bullcrap") of ("Ball's out" says the commentator, with a straight face, after a fumble) the (UGA interception ... back shoulder throw in end zone ... Alabama's first five drives have ended in: punt, fumble, punt, punt, interception) interview was (Lacy is a big-time runner: tie game) fairly (Murray gets absolutely hammered. I'm on my second drink myself) straightforward. (Rendered in high definition, the cheerleaders' makeup, says my girlfriend, is "ghastly.") Well, except for when Horford said that he does yoga with teammate Ivan "The Terrible" Johnson, which is a reality TV show in the making.
As I left the arena, passing through security again, the guard lady rechecked my bag. "You got any Hawks in there?" she asked. "Yeah," I joked. "I've got Al Horford." She smiled: "Take that Josh Smith, why don't you. He shoots all them air balls." [I'm at my mom's house now for dinner. Alabama scores on a deep pass with three minutes left in the game and locks it down with a subsequent interception. Time for some Garcia Marquez. Al says that always takes the sting out of a loss.]