HOUSTON IS not my town, and the Rockets are not my team, but marriage gives us things, whether we want them or not. Things we love, like a recipe for sweet potato casserole with orange juice, and things we don't, like a teal COWGIRLS ARE FOREVER sign, and things we thought we'd hate but came to love, like a bulletin board bigger than Dwight Howard that can display every holiday card sent from the metropolitan area. We make room for all of it, and eventually our spouses' things become ours, even the Felicity DVDs. We share passwords, PayPal accounts and Pandora stations. But not teams. Something must be sacred. A line must be drawn.
A good friend, from San Francisco, is married to a woman from Indianapolis. He is a 49ers fan, and on fall Sundays, I see him in a Colts jersey. Maybe he is more of a man than I, but I'd rather be fitted for a straitjacket. When I began dating my wife, it was 1998 and my hometown baseball team played hers in the first round of the playoffs. She flew back from college for Game 1 to root them on, an act of betrayal so grave I'd have preferred she go to a frat party with another guy. I still maintain that had the Padres not outlasted the Astros in the National League Division Series our two children would never have been born.
But the Rockets were different. I didn't have an NBA team, and hers was as endearing as Hakeem Olajuwon, who handed her one of his size-18 sneakers after a game at the Summit, only for some jerk to snatch it from her and leave her in tears. She and her family flew to Boston for the 1986 Finals, and she introduced herself to Ralph Sampson on the plane, back when teams traveled commercial. He rode down the escalator at Logan Airport by her side, 7'4" and 4'0".
As high school seniors, she and her friends drove to San Antonio for Game 1 of the 1995 Western Conference finals, stopping at a midway point called Grumpy's Motor Inn in Flatonia. The night they graduated, they watched Game 6 on a big screen at prom. When Magic guard Nick Anderson clanked his free throws in Game 1 of the '95 Finals, lights were out in the Hill Country summer camp where she worked as a counselor, but she listened on a radio in her cabin with a homesick eight-year-old girl. Marriage gives us this, too, a scrapbook of stories that are so familiar we eventually adopt them.
In April my wife took our son to Houston for spring break, and they saw James Harden drop 51 points on the Kings at Toyota Center. I cover the NBA, so I only root for helpful p.r. staffs and GMs who return calls, and the Rockets have both. But I won't mourn when they are eliminated by the Warriors, which is imminent, and I won't rejoice when they land their next megastar, which is inevitable. They are my wife's team, not mine, and these boundaries must be respected.
Two years ago I visited Olajuwon's ranch, where he teaches post skills to young big men. On the way to his basketball court, which is inside a barn, I passed through a room where he keeps some of his memorabilia. I told my wife about the photos and game balls, but not the size-18s, preserved behind glass. I didn't want her to cry again.
ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
JUST FOR KICKS Olajuwon and his oversized, purloined shoes played a part in one girl's lifelong love affair with the team.