Jerry Stackhouse handed the pen and card back to the young boy and started to leave the tunnel for the locker room, waving off a couple of remaining autograph hunters on his way out. Twenty-some scribbles of his name on pads, magazines, and cards for those who had waited for him to finish his pregame shooting seemed more than enough with just over an hour before gametime. Stackhouse came to the end of the tunnel where it intersected the hallway and spotted his coach, George Irvine, chatting to an old friend. “Jerry, come over here,” Irvine said. “There’s someone I want you to meet.” Stackhouse grinned widely and extended his right hand to the man. “I know who this is, coach,” Stackhouse said. “The Iceman…” his voice turning from deep into this adoring whisper, with George Gervin’s moniker extended out slowly for emphasis. Stackhouse, the superstar player now playing the role of the giddy fan, not unlike those he had just appeased minutes earlier in the tunnel. “Ice and I played together in Virginia in the old ABA,” Irvine informed Stackhouse, the words carrying extra weight for Irvine as it does for all ABA survivors, the bond set in stone some quarter-century after the league folded. “I played with George when he was the same age you are now,” Irvine said with a smile. Stackhouse liked that.
Gervin sensed the alignment he had with Stackhouse, and began to talk to him. They shared an ironic bond, these two, that of the offensive power on a mediocre team, where a burden that could potentially grate against any player is in fact embraced wholeheartedly; the idea of an alternative would be offensive, and yes, pun intended. Gervin folds his arms and a smile comes across his face, explaining to Stackhouse the elevation his game took when Julius Erving left Virginia, leaving the show to Gervin. Stackhouse started nodding halfway through the sentence when he saw the significance. Yeah, yeah… he said, countering to Gervin those exact same feelings once Grant Hill left Detroit. Gervin is clearly in his element, talking about offense and about himself, not in a selfish or off-putting way, but a way that is endearing. He talks about defenses and teams geared to stopping him, and still getting 30. It’s something of a creed for Gervin, one he believes endures long after wins and losses are tabulated. How you play the game, or something like that. His frame is still gaunt, but he carries with him a distinct aura as he stands beside the young, athletic, well-built star.
The Pistons were no match for San Antonio, who jumped out early behind mind-numbing, methodical balance. Gervin watched this with some satisfaction, but he was also drawn, obviously, to Stackhouse. He watched as Stack consumed a gargantuan slice of Detroit’s offense—thirty shots taken, double-figure free throw attempts—in the same manner that he did for well over a decade. Unlike other great virtuosos, Gervin didn’t seem tortured by his lack of team success, and he saw some of that in Stackhouse. It can tear you in different directions: the great scorer caught between the disappointment of group failure and the intense satisfaction of his own individual brilliance. Leading a late Pistons rally that wasn’t taken seriously by the opponent but that was still stylistically pleasing, Stackhouse curled off a screen and caught the ball in stride with a running start to the hoop. Without the benefit of a dribble he extended high with his right hand, the ball inching from his palm slowly up his index and middle fingers, releasing with a beautiful forward spin that allowed it to barely evade the reach of the help defender. The ball dropped through the hoop sans a ripple of the net, drawing a gasp from the crowd. It was a beautiful move. Stackhouse wasn’t to win on this night, but that didn’t prohibit from doing what he did best. It was then that Gervin smiled, his legacy secure.