The best place in Fresno to watch the NBA Finals, in the company of Fresno's two biggest NBA fans, is a dimly lit bar tucked behind the corner of Shaw and Maple.
Step inside and let your eyes adjust to the darkness of the Red Wave Inn. There you'll find best friends and basketball lifers Rick Clarke and Sam Hairston. If you're lucky, one of them will buy you a beer.
"I got this," Hairston insists.
Clarke and Hairston both stand 6-foot-3, but the similarities end there.
Clarke, 59, is white, thickly built and wears a distinctive hairdo that seems to be inspired by Genghis Khan. His head is completely shaved save for a bushy gray goatee and a scraggly gray ponytail. He's a Fresno native, a Bullard High history teacher and lifelong Golden State Warriors fan.
Hairston, who just turned 61, is black and rail thin. He speaks in a rich voice deeper than most mine shafts. The northeast Ohio native and post-secondary education counselor is a lifelong Cleveland Cavaliers fan.
For years – no, decades – Clarke and Hairston dreamt of their two favorite teams facing off for the NBA title. Except that was a preposterous fantasy. For the Warriors and Cavs, just making the playoffs meant a good season.
Everything changed in 2015, when the Warriors bested the Cavs 4-2 for their first NBA championship since 1975. Then came 2016, when the Cavs overcame a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors to win their first title in franchise history. The Warriors returned the favor in 2017, which brings us to the fourth straight Finals meeting between Golden State and Cleveland.
Talk about wishing for a morsel of food and getting a five-course meal.
"We never thought anything like this would happen," Hairston says as Game 2 is about to tip off.
"It's crazy, man," Clarke replies. "But you know Donald Trump is president, so anything's possible."
That's the only time anyone mentions politics – thank goodness. Otherwise, basketball talk dominates. Of all the memorable Finals moments Clarke and Hairston have witnessed together, Michael Jordan's acrobatic mid-air, switch-handed layup in 1991 is one that stands out. The play sent them running into the parking lot squealing like "excited kids."
The Red Wave Inn is usually closed on Sunday. But for the NBA Finals, the owners make an exception. Clarke is the only one there when I walked in. Hairston arrives next, and soon other regulars begin to stream in.
It's one of those places where everyone knows everyone. The vibe is friendly, comfortable and familiar.
Even though Clarke roots for the Warriors and Hairston for the Cavs, there's a mutual admiration and begrudging respect. These guys are fans of high-level basketball first and laundry second.
So when Klay Thompson, who must have rubber ankles, launches a 3-pointer off the dribble that practically scrapes the roof of Oracle Arena before swishing through the net, Hairston can only smile and shake his head.
"It should be illegal to have (Kevin Durant), (Stephen) Curry and Thompson on the same team," Hairston says with a chuckle. "They should get fined for that!"
Later, after LeBron James pirouettes around two defenders for a layup and then swishes a 3 from the top of the arc with Durant in his face and an ugly red blotch in his left eye, it's Clarke's turn to marvel.
"He's playing better now than he has in his whole career," Clarke says. "Who does that in his 15th year?"
The question is mostly rhetorical, since no one does. At least not until James came along.
On this night the Warriors are at their free-flowing, sweet-shooting best. Has basketball ever been played with this much skill? Nonetheless, the Cavs stubbornly stay close and even manage to diffuse Golden State's typical third-quarter deluge.
Not until Curry starts doing what only Curry can do, making all manner of impractical shots from ridiculous spots, does the dam finally break. Only then does Hairston concede defeat – in this game, not the series.
The Cavs might be going back to Cleveland down 2-0, might look completely overmatched, but Hairston keeps the faith. He's watched too many Finals, witnessed too many momentum swings (including a memorable one in 2016) to think otherwise.
The way Hairston sees it, Cleveland will come back to win this series and even its Finals record against Golden State at 2-2. Which means next year, the fifth straight Warriors-Cavs meeting, will be the rubber match in a cosmic best-of-five. Clarke ponders his best friend's hypothesis for a moment and grins.
"There's a dark part of me that's hoping that happens," he says, "and I'm a Golden State fan."
Warriors-Cavs Part V? You heard it here first.