As ER ends, a few words on basketball and bromance

After 15 seasons on the air, the television show ER wraps up Thursday with a two-hour finale. If you care at all, you can read Alan Sepinwall's excellent wrap-up of what made the series groundbreaking, if not always great. It's weird for me to write this, but I was 16 years old when it debuted. I used to come home from basketball or football practice on Thursdays, half-heartedly do some homework, and then glue myself to the television until ER was over. Although I stopped watching it somewhere around the sixth season -- actually right after I moved to Baltimore -- it truly is one of the reasons I fell in love with episodic television.

And one of the main reasons I loved it, believe it or not, was that Mark Greene and Doug Ross often unwound and talked about their lives by playing pickup basketball outside the ER.

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Television, and popular culture, can't get enough of the term "bromance" these days, and thanks to shows like Scrubs, Boston Legal, How I Met Your Mother, Entourage and Flight of the Conchords, it has become perfectly acceptable for guys to express their affection for one another. The Judd Apatow Universe has thrived on this very idea, in fact. But for the most part, a lot of us still use sports as a way to communicate these feelings, whether it's shooting hoops or playing golf or watching football.

ESPN even wrote recently about "The Best Bromances in Sports" and included Juan Dixon and Steve Blake as well as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed among their picks. (This might be a good time to point out that Reed and Lewis haven't exactly been locker room BFFs throughout their careers, but I guess we'll give ESPN a pass.)

I always enjoyed the subtle way Anthony Edwards and George Clooney played those scenes. (It was supposedly Clooney's idea to have a basketball hoop on set, just so the actors could play ball and blow off steam, and the producers liked it so much, they decided to incorporate it into the show.) Mark and Doug could be furious with one another, stressed out about work or down on love, but they could still find time to talk about the Bulls and play one-on-one to 20, loser having to fork over a buck a point. I grew up on outdoor basketball rims like that one, chucking up 3-pointers and confessing to my best friend that I had a crush on some girl in our English class. When family members died, or relationships unraveled, my friends and I sought refuge in driveways and backyards. We'd shoot jumpers late into the night, cracking jokes, sharing our dreams and our fears, and we'd play until the neighbors complained about the noise.

It's bizarre, I guess, that I associate this show with sports, since it was almost always about anything but sports. I haven't seen more than 10 minutes of the show in years, and have no vested interest in the current characters, (although I will confess that Parminder Nagra was pretty cute in her one sports movie, Bend It Like Beckham). But long before helicopters started falling on doctors and chemical spills were threatening to wipe out the city of Chicago, ER was a show where two guys could disappear in a game of pickup basketball and talk about life, or about nothing at all. That subtle ode to male friendship meant a lot to me. And for that, it will be missed.

Photo: LA Times

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