By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com
ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — The first time I visited Houston, Texas, was just after Christmas in 2002. I was there for SLAM magazine to write a profile on Yao Ming and Steve Francis, and I spent about a week hanging around the Rockets. I also saw one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen while driving.
The Toyota Center, their current home, was not yet built; back then they played in the Compaq Center, previously known as The Summit. On a Sunday morning while I was there, the Rockets held a shootaround at their arena. It was relatively early, and because it was a weekend morning, I remember how quiet things were on my drive to the arena. I was in no hurry, so I cruised along, looking out the windows and trying to get a feel for Houston.
And then I came upon a railroad crossing. As I pulled up to it, the light above it turned red and the crossing flags began to lower, blocking the road and signaling that a train was coming. I slipped my rental car into park and settled in to sip my coffee and wait for the train to pass.
In my rear view mirror, I noticed a late-model sedan coming toward me. This car was in the lane next to me, so it wasn’t in danger of hitting me, but it was coming fast, much too fast to stop in time for the train crossing, and it seemed to be accelerating. I looked ahead and saw the train nearing the intersection. I turned my head just in time to follow the car as it hit the wooden crossing flags at full speed, shattering the wood and sending shards flying. The car shot across the train tracks, bouncing as it hit the other side of the road. Maybe two seconds later the train barreled through the intersection, as I sat there, my heart pounding, wondering if I was being Punk’d.
(Initially I wondered if the car was being pursued by authorities, but no other cars ever came along. I just sat there, totally alone, at the intersection until the train passed. I combed the local papers the next few days but never saw any mention of what I’d witnessed.)
I bring all that up because we have another NBA-related driving story out of Houston. Last night on his way to the Toyota Center, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons was involved in a minor car accident. How do we know it really happened? The other driver asked Parsons for an autograph after hitting his car…
A driver outside Toyota Center ran a red light and hit Parsons’ SUV near the entrance to the loading dock. Parsons said he and driver were not hurt, though it made him a few minutes late for treatment before shooting to see if he would be cleared to play.
“She said she ran a red light and it was her fault,” Parsons said. “She had a little car so it kind of messed up the front bumper of my car. She was OK. Asked me to sign her insurance card.”
I think we can say Parsons was fine — he played 40 minutes and scored 21 points.