Monday, April 5, 2010

What could have been ...

It's 15 years from now.

My son's 13 years old, we always go outside to play basketball in the driveway on a hoop I installed myself. It was the first time I'd ever poured concrete. What a mess.

But today was different.

It was raining, right after the National Championship game, two teams we didn't care about played each other. We watched anyway. I gave him the look and, without words, he ran upstairs, put on some shorts and a hoodie and met me outside.

We usually talk about all sorts of things. Baseball, school, any boyfriends his sister has that I haven't met yet. Today, we played in silence for the first half hour. He was deep in thought, and who was I to ruin that? Kids need to be deep in thought more often. That's why we go outside and play basketball, so he can lose himself in the rhythmic bounce and swish of the ball.

He broke the silence first.

"Dad?" he asked.

"Gimme my change!" I clap my hands.

"In a second!"

We exchange another look. Go on, I say with a smirk.

"What's the greatest thing you've ever seen?"

"Besides you being born?"

"Sick!" he squirms.

"The greatest thing I've ever seen ... that's a tough question ..."

It wasn't really a tough question, but dammit, he's 13, he's too young to hear about all the kickass stuff I've seen. Gotta' earn your stripes, son.

"In sports, Dad ... what's the greatest thing you've ever seen in sports."

Ahhhh, now we're onto something. The greatest thing I've ever seen in sports. I've been a sports writer since I was his age. I wrote in junior high, high school, won national awards as a columnist in college and joined the Chicago Tribune right out of school. I've seen a lot of things, heard a lot of things, but what's the greatest?

"Well, one time, I went to the new 'American Gladiators' tryouts in Chicago, it was really amazing, I met all these people, all these people who were deeply hurt inside because they hadn't accomplished something special to them, who were there to prove to themselves, to everyone who'd ever hurt them, that they were wrong," he passed me the ball, obviously losing interest.

"Okay, okay, that wasn't the greatest thing I've ever seen," he was already a curmudgeon like his father. I felt sorry for my wife.

"Djibril Cisse's haircut?" I sarcastically suggested as I clanged one off the back iron.



He dribbled between his legs a few times, trying not to look down at the ball as he sped up his dribble. I was proud of him.

"Come on, Dad!"

I ran through the Dewey-decimal system in my brain, remembering back to the Randy Johnson strikeout in 1995 to send the Seattle Mariners into the playoffs. I remembered being in the Kingdome when Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a game-winning home run in the 13th inning. I remembered Arsenal's Invincibles, going an entire Premier League season without losing a game.


He had a perfect jumper. I'd coached him well. I was still holding out hope he'd play soccer though. Not a lot of Norwegian NBA players, I tried to remind him. He'd bitch and moan when I'd wake him up early to watch Arsenal matches with me, but usually turned around once we swung by McDonald's and headed to the soccer field right after for some shooting practice. Put your boot through the ball! Beautiful!

The catalogue stopped.

"All right, I got it," I said to him, his head turning  sideways a bit to listen better. "When I was 25, you hadn't been born yet, but your mom and I had just been married a few months earlier. The NCAA Tournament that year was crazy, only 65 teams!" he guffawed with an inaudible yeah right, Dad.

"I can still picture that championship game. Duke against Butler. Goliath against David's little sister Wendy. Nobody thought Butler could win the game, they'd gone 11 minutes the game before without making a field goal and still ended up winning to make it to the final."


"Butler fought so hard, son, I wish you could've seen it-"

He cut me off, "I can just go download it right now ..."

"I mean seen it live!"

The disconnect was apparent.

"Butler had no business being in that game, they had no business staying close to Duke, but they played like their lives depended on it, like they owed it to the entire sports world, sick of Goliath always winning, to do something spectacular on the biggest stage."

He passed me the ball, just wanting to listen.

I took a jumper from my spot. I always smoked him in HORSE with that spot.

"They got the ball back with 3.4 seconds left, down two points, I was standing on the bed-"

He cut me off again, "Why were you standing on the bed?"

"Because ... shut up ... I was standing on the bed and they looked like they'd blown it. They were down one with the ball 10 seconds earlier, but a missed shot, right off the back iron, gave the ball back to Duke. But the guy missed the second free throw, Butler got the ball, this guy with a mustache flatlined a Duke player on a screen and opened up, what was his name ... Hayward, that's right ... Hayward grabbed the rebound, sprinted up the court and launched a shot from halfcourt as the buzzer sounded."

"Well?" he said excitedly, "What happened?"

"He hit it, son ... he hit it. Butler won, 62-61. I still remember the score to this day. 62-61."

My voice trailed off a bit as I took a shot.

My son grabbed the rebound and ran as far away from the hoop as he could go.

"From here?"

"Further," I said, a smile on my face.

1 comment:

  1. awesome column...if only the rim was a little to the right, this could have been....