My best professor at Stanford, the one who made the whole thing worthwhile, told me people think incorrectly about the past. Most people think the past is over, fixed, closed, he explained. He said the past is as open as the future.
I knew what he meant. He didn’t mean past events would change. He meant the meaning of the past events was endlessly fluid and open to interpretation.
Meeting Don Nelson on Tuesday got me thinking about this. Two events came to mind — past events.
About five years ago, give or take, I was at a Warriors practice. When it was over he invited me to a bar on Grand Avenue, Oakland to play shuffleboard with him. It’s one of those table games. I thought about it and said no. I don’t usually get close to the people I cover, even though I’ve known Don forever and we can have fun together. And there was something else. Don, I believe, would be friendly to a writer to influence him, even own him. I was wary of risking that, so I said no. Please keep this story in mind because I’ll come back to it.
The second incident happened in Don’s final year. It was preseason and the Warriors were giving media access to Don for one on ones. When it was my turn, he answered my first few questions in an abrupt, grumpy tone. “Am I boring you?” I said. “Yes,” he said.
I took a deep breath and soldiered on with the crummy interview. Many times after that, I scolded myself for not getting up and walking away.
OK, cut to Tuesday. Several media people and I had a great time with Don. After a while, I needed to leave. I shook his hand and wished him all the best and meant it. He looked at me and said, “We never did get to play shuffleboard.”
I was taken aback. I had forgotten about it and was surprised he remembered. It obviously meant something to him, I don’t know what.
So, now I change the meaning of that event. If I had the chance to do it over, I would have played shuffleboard. Instead of something to be avoided, it might have been something I should have embraced. I don’t know why I had been so standoffish.
Now I come to the interview, when he said he was bored. I’ve resolved it, for now. I’m glad I didn’t get huffy and walk away. What would have been the point? Maybe Don was having a bad day. Maybe he was having a bad year.
The past changed for me.