From behind her closed door I hear the drone of the television and the low buzz of her voice as she talks on the phone. Her shout--"Who-eee! . . . Did you see that!?"-- draws me striding down the hall toward her room.
Jerry Springer? MTV? . . . What inappropriate thing is she watching this time, I wonder as I knock and push open her bedroom door.
On the screen are 10 big, sweaty men in tank tops and shorts, pushing and shoving, groaning and yelling as they run down the floor--playing basketball.
"It's the Bulls against the Pacers," she says impatiently, gesturing at me to get out of her way. "Last quarter, Mom. . . . Move over, please, so I can see."
It has been a long time since the television sets in our all-female household have been tuned so religiously to playoff games; many years since the schedule of our weekends and nights has been dictated by who's-playing-when.
My late husband was a basketball fanatic, and, as babies, my daughters were weaned on the game. But in the four years since their father died, there have been few games we cared enough about to watch on TV.
But suddenly, the sounds of the sport are background music in my home again--courtesy of my teenage daughter, who has embraced this year's Chicago Bulls with the ardor her younger sisters reserve for Leonardo DiCaprio and the Spice Girls.
It's a communal pursuit among her friends, who watch with telephones glued to their ears. They whoop and groan as teams' fortunes change. They cheer their favorites, boo the opposition, second-guess the referees.
Their play-by-play is about what you'd expect from a group of 13-year-olds. They hoot at one player's skinny legs, swoon at another's hunky physique. They think Dennis Rodman is the essence of cool with his tattoos and earrings and multicolored hair. And Michael Jordan is the epitome of hot.
Heartthrobs emerge through curious means. Scottie Pippen, says my daughter, "is so adorable," but not because of his athletic prowess or the bad-boy antics that have marked his career.
He won her heart when he blew two free throws, costing his team a critical game. "It was sooo sad," she told me later. "I felt so sorry for him. . . . His face looked like he wanted to cry."
Maybe, a cynical friend suggests, they watch to have something to talk about with boys--an attempt at flirting that would rate an endorsement in "The Rules," if there were a counterpart to the dating manual for 13-year-olds.
Or maybe, for these junior jocks, the games are a kind of training camp. Look for our girls on the court this summer, trying to copy Kobe Bryant's crossover dribble or Reggie Miller's floating jump shots.
These are girls who know the game, after all--who play at school, in parks, on makeshift courts in friends' backyards. They understand a pick-and-roll, have felt the thrill of a three-point shot, can critique a player's free-throw style.
But something more, I suspect, has made the playoffs "must-see TV"--something larger than the moves of the giants on the floor and more important, even, than who wins.
What hooked them was one pivotal game, whose last few seconds had the kind of drama a fan waits all year to see. Bulls versus Pacers, a one-point game, a brawl on the bench, two missed free throws, a free-for-all under the boards. That miracle three-pointer, almost undone by an in-and-out shot as the buzzer went off.
Hope, then heartbreak; defeat followed by triumph . . . it's played out on the court in these playoff games. Who could watch and not feel his elation as Reggie Miller whooped and twirled when his desperation shot appeared to clinch the game for his team? Who could not share Michael Jordan's anguish at the end, as his last-second shot teetered on the rim. . . .
There are basketball lessons the kids are learning, no doubt. The frequent sight of Shaquille O'Neal throwing up bricks from the free-throw line has done more than anything I could say to get my daughter to practice her shots.
But the bigger lessons are the ones about life. To watch an underdog team eke out a win, an underrated player make the game-winning play; to see the humiliation of a blocked shot register on a young man's face, and to watch that turn to pride as he scrambles back to salvage a play.
It's about being down but not out, rebounding from the vicissitudes of life, not to mention a ref's bad call.
The pro basketball season may end tonight, but summer league play at our local park is about to begin.
Just like in the pros, our games will hinge on free throws missed, fouls not called, star players out because of family vacations or Hebrew school (ok, maybe that wouldn't happen in the pros . . .).
And, though the TV cameras won't record it, something else will happen as the season wears on.
That shy, quiet girl picked last for her team will discover a jump shot that makes the crowd cheer. The ungainly kid, too big for her years, will learn to take pride in her rebounding skills. The loudmouth will be humbled, the hard worker rewarded, the natural talents will find that natural talent isn't always enough.
And that's why, like my daughter, I L-o-o-o-ove This Game.