What do a stingray, NBA legend Clifford Ray & the Orlando Magic have in common?

Although I usually blog about NBA legal/business topics, I’m going to veer from the normal path and write about my recent adventures in Florida.

On October 9th, while on vacation, I was swimming in the ocean at St. Pete’s Beach when I must have kicked a stingray. Its venomous bony tail snapped up and the ray punctured my left ankle. I felt a sudden sharp pain and when I looked down saw the head, of what I thought was a shark, swimming in front of me from left to right just under the surface. The stingray was a light tan color and appeared to be about 3 feet wide. I panicked and swam to shore barely able to hobble out of the water. The wound looked like someone had pounded a large nail into the side of my foot and it was bleeding profusely. My husband ran to the front desk of our hotel for help and they told him I’d have to go to the hospital. Since the hospital was only five minutes from our hotel down Gulf Blvd he told them to forget calling an ambulance. He said it would be faster not to wait. He grabbed me under the arm and more or less dragged me from the beach to the car.

The pain from the venom was excruciating. I began to shake uncontrollably and felt chilled. I later learned that the venom causes tissue damage and the necrotic tissue causes secondary infections and nerve damage. At the time, as the venom quickly spread, my foot, ankle and lower leg started to swell. The venom spread under the skin like spilled ink turning my foot gradually a mix of red and blue.

My husband ran into the hospital and came back with a wheelchair. He ran behind the wheelchair pushing me toward the emergency department. As soon as we came through the door the nurse skipped the routine questions about insurance and got up and retrieved a basin of steaming hot water. He poured in some betadine and forced my foot down into the water. It was counterintuitive, but the hot water actually helped combat the pain by breaking up the protein in the venom. Our intial instinct was to get ice to counteract the swelling, which would have been exactly the wrong thing to do. Several hours later, after x-rays to make sure no foreign objects were in my ankle and nothing was broken, I was given a prescription for antibiotics and told to keep my leg elevated.

Hospital personnel downplayed the seriousness of the injury. I’ve broken bones & not been in so much pain. For the next three days I was non-weightbearing. Gradually, as the swelling subsided and the infection healed I was able to begin limping around. It took about three weeks and another round of antibiotics before I totally healed.

In the meantime, still on vacation, we had tickets for the Magic/Heat preseason game on October 13th and there was no way I was missing it. We skipped all of our other planned activities but not this one. It took a while but I was able to limp from the parking lot, across the pedestrian bridge to the arena. Any truly dedicated basketball fan, with tickets on the floor, would have dragged a disfigured foot behind him/her and withstood the pain rather than miss an opportunity to sit right behind the players.

On the street they blasted music with a Mexican or Spanish beat and there were a lot of European fans, talking in a multitude of languages, about the professional soccer stadium that was going to be built a couple blocks away. The only bars and restaurants were two blocks over from the arena and none of them were crowded. It was definitely a family atmosphere with kids lining up with their parents to get inside the souvenir store at the arena entrance.

When we walked into the arena, this was the view from our second row seats behind the visiting Heat bench next to the water cooler. The usher told us the only thing that could get us into trouble was putting our drinks on top of the cooler. There was a hallway parallel to the baseline that led under the stands to the locker room. A rope was all that separated fans from players. Veteran players Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosch & Chris Anderson made my husband look tiny despite being 6’7” tall. The difference is how wide these guys are which is something that you can’t appreciate on television. TV also gives you no real idea how fast the game is or how much ground they cover in just two or three strides. Rookie Justice Winslow from Duke was solid muscle and already has the build of a mature man.

I was surprised how much the players on the bench were into the game. They were focused, listened to the coaches. Clearly Chris Bosch is their leader. He was vocal, helping the young Heat players recognize picks and cuts, and taunting “rook…rook….make the free throw rook….” whenever one of the Magic rookies went to the foul line. He seemed to be getting to Magic PF Aaron Gordon who, after an impressive dunk, motioned to the Heat bench in a kind of “how do you like that?” way. Bosch laughed out loud and mocked him. But then actually sat down next to Dwayne Wade and quietly said “that was impressive”. It was hilarious to watch all of this up close.

Wade and especially Bosch seemed to mentor Justice Winslow. Bosch walked up to him at many of the stoppages of play and spoke to him. Winslow would nod. After one good drive to the basket, Bosch yelled “that’s it…that’s it” and I finally saw Winslow smile.

Victor Oladpio played some minutes in the game and the Heat players talked among themselves about him. Judging by the jerseys being sold in the fan store, he is definitely a crowd favorite. Elfrid Payton’s was the only other number I saw anyone wearing.

I was hoping to get a chance to see Magic PF Andrew Nicholson who went to St. Bonaventure University south of Buffalo in Olean, New York. Ever since the Buffalo Braves left in 1978 and eventually became the LosAngeles Clippers, we have rooted for the local players who end up making it to the NBA. Christian Laettner (Duke), Damone Brown (Syracuse), Andrew Nicholson, Jonas Jerebko (Depew), Clifford Robinson (Riverside) – Buffalonians don’t have one team that we root for; rather we cheer for any team that has a player who used to be one of us.

Looking over to the right of the players bench, near the basket, there was a man sitting in the front row that had legs as big as tree trunks. I am not exaggerating. Despite simply being dressed in a mint green polo and shorts his size alone caused him to stand apart from the crowd. He made the Heat players look skinny. We learned from a security guard it was former Chicago Bulls & Golden State Warriors 6’9” center Clifford Ray. He sat alone, didn’t really talk to anyone except a couple of Heat players that went over to shake his hand. Security told us he comes to a lot of the Magic games. After his playing career he was an assistant coach in the league including for the Magic from 2005-2010. He may have been helping with some scouting or he might have just been enjoying the game.

The Heat coach, Eric Spoelstra, looked like an honor student still in college because of a combination of his smaller stature and baby-faced, clean-shaven features. Despite appearances, he clearly had control of the bench and used quick hand signals to direct the players on the floor. When he wanted to make a substitution, he would say a player’s name in a normal tone of voice – “Rich” for Josh Richardson or “you wanna get in?” while looking at a training camp invitee-all downplayed and understated. Not at all what I expected – even during the timeouts when he grabbed a chair and clipboard, he spoke articulately and quickly but did not get overly excited or raise his voice.

There were three assistant coaches sitting on the other side of our water cooler – I couldn’t figure out what their role was except that a member of the Magic arena staff would deliver printed stats to one of them at the end of each quarter. Otherwise, they had no apparent role during the game.

The rest of the assistant coaches sat on the bench between coach Spoelstra and the players. Notably, among them was Juwan Howard, one of the legendary “Fab Five” at the University of Michigan. As he walked out at halftime and my husband yelled “Fab Five” Howard reached over and gave him a fist bump. Howard was very active on the bench, during timeouts talking to the players, and clearly was enjoying himself.

My favorite moment, captured in the attached photo, was when Dwayne Wade let me take a picture of him. He didn’t play in the game but any disappointment at not seeing him play was made up for by getting to sit close enough that I pretended I was a member of the team.

So the moral of the story is… when you go through a very painful experience, keep going…it just may lead to something amazing. Think about what happened to me:  Sting…Heat…Ray…Magic!

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