We arrived at the AT&T Center a full two hours before the game, knowing we would be waiting in line for an hour before they opened the doors. The newly inaugurated NBA season, compacted by the disagreements between the owners and the players, was finally underway and people were antsy and anxious to see this team play.
Other lines formed near ours by each of the entrance doors. The close proximity necessitated by the sheer numbers of people made overhearing other folks' conversations unavoidable.
"My eggs are getting old. Why are you still so afraid? We need to get pregnant before my time runs out!" one woman scolded a man by her side.
"Didn't I tell you to go before we left the house?" asked a frustrated man as he and a dancing, anxious little boy with a crew cut abdicated their place near the front of the line and headed in search of a restroom.
Two men wearing Spurs jackets, caps, and jerseys compared notes on their hunting leases. An older man wearing a Korea veteran's cap laughed with his two grandsons as the boys talked about wanting to get certain star players' autographs.
A loud voice rose up from somewhere behind us. "Girrrllll- you can't believe how little that thang..." a young woman launched into an x-rated story to a trio of giggling twenty somethings. They were out of our sight although their sound carried far beyond. Someone cleared their throat loudly near them and they lowered their voices.
A group of sharply barbered men speaking an unfamiliar language conversed animatedly, replete with large hand gestures.
My husband pulled me closer as the sun faded and the night chilled the air. The crowd was getting restless and some questioned why they weren't opening the doors yet.
A rustling and a sudden quieting of the chatter from behind us made us turn to look. The man in the Korea veteran's cap snapped to attention and saluted a group nearing the front.
Three soldiers in wheelchairs led the group, one moving slower than the others as he worked to keep his chair steered correctly. One of his legs stretched down so his foot rode on the foot rest. The other leg ended in a stump above where the knee should have been. Several more soldiers were on crutches or walkers, heads held high although their gaits were altered. One using a walker had only one hand to manipulate it with as his opposite arm ended above the wrist. Another had burn scars on his face visible under his hat. Helpers walked near them, but each was entering the arena under his own power.
The lines parted to let these warriors through to the front doors. A smattering of claps that followed them through the line formed into a loud wave of applause as the doors opened to let them in. They looked a little sheepish as the applause continued and grew. They finally turned to look back, then smiled and waved to the crowd.
The Korea veteran behind us held his salute until they disappeared from sight and into the arena.
"Grandpa, I want their autographs, those soldiers!" the younger boy said. His grandpa turned away and brushed his thumbs under his eyes.
He faced his grandsons again and replied in a husky voice, "When you're looking for real heroes, that's who you need to look to." He ruffled the boy's hair as the doors opened and we all made our way into the arena.