They all walk onto the court for their first NBA game in essentially the same way, full of nerves and excitement, a head full of dreams, some realized and some to come. The beginnings are about joy and promise.
The endings? Those can be ugly.
Nothing is promised once the journey starts — that’s as clear as ever right now.
The Lakers stuck to their plan — to stay in the moment — even if that moment came with an international controversy in China and unimaginable heartbreak after a cloudy Sunday morning in Calabasas. The Clippers did the same, persevering through load management, bum shoulders, hamstring strains and roster turnover to seemingly start to peak at the right time.
They were two trains on the same track — and only one could get to its destination.
But life, as it does, interfered. Basketball is on hold for 30 days at least as the country tries to get a grip on COVID-19. While everyone wants the season to resume, want to might not be enough.
It’s not hard for this pause to become a period, and if it does the Clippers and the Lakers will have lost an incredible opportunity. If it remains in a hold, both teams could come out of the break stronger.
The Lakers and LeBron James, with the best record in the West, get a chance to recharge, some of the effects of a full season of being the team’s point guard and of carrying such an emotional and physical load surely lessened by a month-long break.
The Clippers, who are in second in the West, are a team hungry to learn together and could certainly use time to practice and get to know one another as players, assuming players will be allowed into the same gym together at the same time.
If the NBA figures out ways for the season to end with traditional playoffs, the Clippers and Lakers should remain on track for a Western Conference clash with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake.
The coronavirus might rob the Clippers and Lakers of a normal ending — and if it does, there will be bigger problems that need addressing. It might force the NBA to audible in drastic ways, which could lead to the league finding new ways to transform.
“Y’all locked an innovator in the house for a month,” Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie tweeted Friday. “Let’s get weird folks.”
Within the next 24 hours, Dinwiddie had started spit-balling ideas for a March Madness-style tournament to end the season.
Chaos can breed creativity, and the NBA is a perfect lab for that kind of thing. With things at that most confusing last week, in the final moments before everything went dark, the NBA managed to create a good ending for at least one of its stars.
Vince Carter, who had announced that he would be retiring from the NBA after 21 years earlier this season, was on the bench in Atlanta for the final seconds of overtime Wednesday night. The fate of the NBA had already been decided, Rudy Gobert having tested positive for the coronavirus and the league quickly deciding to suspend action.
With less than a minute on the clock, the crowd began to chant Carter's name, imploring the Hawks for one final look at the player.
“This could be it for Vince,” Hawks coach Loyd Pierce said after the game. “I’m glad the fans were able to remind me of that.”
At the urging of his teammates, Carter peeled off his warmup shirt and jogged to the scorer’s table to check in, 19.5 more seconds to savor everything.
On the Hawk's next possession, Carter caught a pass from Trae Young and stepped into an open shot at the top of the key. With the NBA seconds away from stopping, Carter made his 2,290th career three-pointer — his fans and teammates celebrating like crazy.
“If it ended today, at least I scored my last basket. It will be a weird but cool memory,” Carter said.
It’s not what he had planned as a rookie. It’s not what he had planned as a veteran when he announced that this season would be his last.
But it might be the ending he gets, and it would be more than good enough.
“Basketball’s been good to me,” Carter said, a grin on his face. “I’ve enjoyed each and every moment of it, the good and the bad.
“If this is it, it’s all good.”