Earlier today, I presented my niece with her first ever Build-A-Bear pet and it didn’t mean much to her. She was more concerned with picking at my stud earrings. I get it…she’s about a month shy of 2 and still very much in that “attractive nuisance” phase. If it’s shiny or pointy or moves uniquely, odds are she’s going to mess with it. It just so happened that I was holding her and trying to make her laugh with weird faces and my earrings were glistening. Fortunately for me, most of all she did was rub them. I probably would’ve been in a world of hurt if she pulled them. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: getting my ears pierced.
How I first came across this moment? It all started with the 2005 NBA Finals between the Spurs and the Pistons. I was stationed down at Moody AFB in Valdosta at the time and I engaged in a high stakes bet with one of the guys from my unit. He and I were both ranked at Airman First Class so the stakes weren’t about money because we didn’t have a lot of it. Instead, it was about leaving a mark…a permanent mark. The bet was pretty simple. If the defending NBA champion Pistons repeated, he had to get a tattoo of the U.S. Air Force symbol on his left forearm. And if the Spurs won, I had to get both of my ears pierced and maintain them forever. We shook hands and the bet was on. The first 2 games in the series were lopsided victories for the Spurs and it looked like I was gonna be getting my ears pierced in sweeping fashion. But the Pistons fought back and took the next 2 to even up the best-of-7 series. Big Shot Bob happened in Game 5, giving the Spurs a 3-2 lead. They split the final 2 games in San Antonio and the Spurs were champs after a 4-3 series win. Being a man of my word, I headed to Claire’s at the Valdosta Mall after work the next day to get my ears pierced. It was during that trip to the mall that I also purchased my first-ever digital camera. Before I took to the interstate to start my 2 ½ week leave in Birmingham, I stopped by my office and took a picture of me with my ears pierced. I emailed it to my buddy and he let me have it with jokes for the remainder of our time in the unit.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, I was a pride thing. That’s the only reason I agreed to the bet. I’m sure that’s why he did too. For me, I was still seething from my Sonics losing that playoff series lost to the Spurs about a month earlier so I absolutely hated the fact that they were in the Finals. At the heart of it all, however, it was about one-upping the other. He and I had a bit of a friendly rivalry going because of our dislikes for the other’s home city—I was from Birmingham, he was from New Orleans. That, more than anything, probably fueled the bet. And in the end, he got the better of me in it.
What it means to me now? The beauty of hindsight—in this case, 10 years—tells me that this was an extremely immature decision on my part. I was only 20 at the time and that was the equivalent of a 20-year-old decision. The real damning part of the scenario was that neither of us was a Spurs or Pistons fan. I rooted hard for the Seattle SuperSonics—who had been eliminated from the playoffs by the Spurs 2 rounds earlier—and he was a fan of his hometown New Orleans Hornets. If I was maybe a year or 2 older and my dislike of New Orleans wasn’t as fierce, I wouldn’t have agreed to that bet. But I did and it didn’t turn out all bad. The addition of earrings gave a new element to my look. It made me a “lot cuter”, according to a couple of the women on the base back then. Today, I still rock the earrings. It has always been an interesting icebreaker conversation.