Basketball. It’s one of those things I have a love-hate relationship with in many ways.
Basketball is the only sport, the only television programming, my dad and I viewed together. We would watch many a game where we could chat openly about whatever was on our minds. It was the only chance we really had to bond over the years. Sure we went for walks, we went camping and fishing together and played board games as a family but those things never churched up much in the way of conversation like a game of round ball could.
Going even further back I remember this vividly. It was probably 1993 but I can’t tell for sure I was a young kid. It was the NBA finals. The Chicago Bulls were facing the Phoenix Suns for a championship. My dad asked me to watch the game with him and I agreed. He told me this guy Jordan was amazing and I’d be impressed with his talent. I thought okay sure. He asked me which team I wanted to root for, and as I was still harboring ill-conceived fantasies of being a “cowboy” someday I picked the team with a bull for their logo. Made sense to me.
Up to this point in my life I had avoided sports altogether. Whenever my dad tried to coerce me into joining a team or playing a game I showed no interest whatsoever. He even tried buying me sports memorabilia in a vain attempt to spark my interest. It never worked.
This was different. Watching the Bulls and Suns in a duel for the trophy I became caught up in the excitement of this was the team that had just won three championships, in a row. During the games themselves my dad tries to teach me the ins and outs of the sports and how the game worked. He also told me bits of basketball trivia he picked up over the years. He didn’t absorb stats like stereotypical sports dads, in fact outside basketball he had no further relation to sports himself. It was kind of like our world. The rest of the sports world was for everyone else.
My dad grew up in the Midwest. Mostly in Kansas but he spent some time in Nebraska and Indiana. It was there, in Indiana he developed his appreciation for the sport. He got his earliest tastes playing on a team in high school. My dad never told me very many stories from his childhood that weren’t gut-wrenching but his basketball stories were apparently the highlight of his youth. He tried very hard to pass that onto what he thought at the time was his only son. Playing the role as best as I could I played along. I even went so far as to try out for the basketball team when I was in high school. That was another endeavor in futility.
Dad and I, along with my sisters, would often go to the local court and shoot hoops. We never played a game, we were kids and didn’t have a full team. It was still a lot of fun bonding with my siblings and dad. It was one of those rare times dad was approachable. In my earliest days he drank a lot. He had to find Jesus before that began to change. Since I was still into witchcraft when he started his conversion to Christianity and I was too young to have formed a political opinion yet, we had basketball. That was it. Over the years I tried to learn the game. I do understand the mechanics for the most part. I also get caught up in the stats when the announcers report so and so grabbed a triple double for the game or a rarer triple triple, I understand what those terms mean.
I was fortunate in that I grew up in the Jordan era who literally raised the bar. It was easy for me to dig in and become a die hard bulls fan. While to an outsider it may have looked like I was riding the bandwagon, the truth was I had no interest in the sport prior to my dad helping me discover what made it so much fun.
To this day everyone is always asking who’s going to be the next Michael Jordan. Well it was clear to me and everyone around that man was the late legend Kobe Bryant himself. I never cared for the L.A. Lakers. My reasoning was simple. I don’t like flashy teams. Same as my dad apparently. I prefer a good underdog story. Which is why despite their massive success in the 90’s, I stuck with the Bulls all these years. That was their 15 minutes of fame. It was a bright hot 15 minutes, but before and after that era they’ve basically been struggling to make a name for themselves. Riding high purely off the Jordan era many of their fans are now my age and moving on to other interests.
Back to my dad. From that first game all the way until I moved out of his house, every year the one thing we did together was watch the NBA playoffs. Game one through all several rounds of sweaty players chasing a ball around the court we would make it almost a ritual. We had snacks. We had soda. We would even have our sports attire. Not jerseys because gross but I had a ballcap of my beloved Bulls. Even the summer we moved across country during the finals we listened to the games on the AM radio in our U-Haul. When I got my first job at a TV station we were offered free tickets to see the Harlem Globetrotters. It wasn’t a “real” basketball game but it was the first time my dad and I got to sit in the stand of a live game. It was also the last time either of us will have anything to do with that act so moving on.
Despite our growing apart in recent months I will never forget the time I spent sitting on a couch rooting for this team, throwing popcorn at the TV when the wrong team scored or listening to my dad tell stories from his past. He might not have a son anymore, but we can still cherish the good memories we had. No need to dwell on the not-so-good ones. That’s one thing sports does for people. It brings people together who otherwise might not have the interpersonal communication skills to do so on their own accords. My dad and I did occasionally talk about the things that interested me. I told him about the music I was into. What was going on with Star Wars and talked his ear off about Nintendo more than he’d ever care to hear. It didn’t matter. Basketball was a gateway to the foundations of a relationship that perseveres to this day.
Why then did the Bucks winning this season cause me so much turmoil? Just as I did as a kid watching this team that had a long history of sucking rise to the level of champions, I had flashbacks to those days long gone with my dad watching basketball games. I tried to watch the series this year but wasn’t able to make it work for a number of reasons. Despite all of that I was super thrilled when the Bucks pulled it off. I have never rooted for Milwaukee and I never will but I was exceedingly overjoyed they won the title this year. I don’t expect them to pull a double three peat out of their collective butts but the universe is a strange and wonderful place so you never know.
For now I will share in their triumph in so far as it makes me feel good to see an underdog overcome the odds. And I will look back fondly on all the games I enjoyed watching with my dad over the decades. We never missed a game once the playoffs started.
Today my dad and I struggle. I am no longer pretending to be his son. I have fully embraced my transition to becoming his fourth daughter. While we do still talk, he’s made it known he isn’t on board with that. I fear we’ll only drift further apart but in the meantime I will hold onto what I have and mourn what I lost only after it’s gone. Until then way to go Bucks! You truly inspired young kids everywhere across this land.