My Dad taught me everything I know about basketball. Growing up I remember him pulling into the drive way after a long, physically demanding day at work, and then taking me to school right there on our black top. Jab step right, hard dribble left, pull up, Logo-esque release, swish. He was automatic. On defense he was relentless, even in his work boots. He was my Dad, and I was his Son, but our shared genetics only meant that we both equally hated to lose. There were elbows, bruises, hurt feelings, but always a hug at the end to go along with the realization that I just wasn't ready to beat my old man.
When I was in the 8th grade my Dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the signs of which were almost immediate. His silky smooth jump shot, which he spent hours perfecting as a teenager growing up on a Woodburn dairy farm, began to fall short as his increasingly wobbly legs failed to deliver the lift and balance he needed. By the time I was playing on my high school team he needed a cane, and sometimes two, just to get around.
He continued to work hard to support the family, fighting fatigue every minute of every day. Despite his failing body and demanding schedule, he managed to come to every one of my high school basketball games. Home or away, potential victory or certain blowout, he was there without fail. Our games weren't always pretty, but he was proud of me and he made sure I knew it.
As I grew up my Dad and I grew apart in many ways. I went away to college. Religion and politics became topics that were almost certain to end in argument, which as it turns out we both hated to lose just as much a game of pick up in the drive way. But no matter how heated the arguments got, no matter how strained the relationship seemed at times, all it ever took to be at peace again with my father was to steer the conversation back to our common ground—basketball.
“Did you catch the Blazers last night?”
Every new NBA season brings with it that spark of hope that the Blazers will be special, and last season that spark was brighter than it had been in years. My Dad and I had started a tradition several years earlier of attending one Blazer game a season, usually during Christmas when I was home from college. I was more excited than ever for our young tradition when I called my Dad last October in the days leading up to the season opener. When I asked him what game he wanted to go to he got quiet. As it turns out his retirement fund had taken quite a hit when the economy went to garbage, and he didn’t think there would be money for a game this year. I had just started law school and as a result had even less money than my father who was forced to retire early because of his multiple sclerosis.
“That’s ok,” I told him, trying to stay optimistic. “We’ll watch some games on TV together, that’ll be just as fun.” It was hard for me to mask my disappointment.
As the days went by I tried to think of how we could get tickets to a game. It wasn’t just a chance to see my favorite team live, but an opportunity to spend quality time with my Dad. His MS had continued to take its toll on his body, and I wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be around. I wasn’t willing to just let our tradition die because money was tight. So I did the only thing I could do.
I wrote Channing Frye.
Now, I don’t know Channing Frye. All I knew is that he was involved in raising money for MS research, and I thought there was a chance, a .001 percent of a chance, that he might actually help my Dad get tickets to a game.
Weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything. I started to feel bad for even writing, just another annoying fan, asking for a handout. My email probably went straight to the trash, I thought. But one day I got an email from someone at Channing’s sports agency saying there would be a pair of tickets at will call for my Dad and I for a home game in December. I couldn’t believe it.
My Dad and I went to the game and enjoyed the best seats we’d ever had. And even though the Blazers lost in heart breaking fashion, it didn’t seem to matter in the end. I hate to go all Bill Walton on you all, but basketball is not just about throwing a ball in a hoop, wins and loses, championship rings or All Star games. Sometimes it’s about the relationships it helps create, or in my case, maintain. For me it’s about memories of black top battles with my old man, hugs after blowout loses, and knowing that, no matter what our differences, we will always be able to celebrate the beauty of the game together.
And while Channing may have struggled at times during his time with the Blazers, he represented everything that is good and right about the new “culture” adopted by this team. Channing worked hard in the off-season, was dedicated to representing the city and the team, and was a positive influence in the community. Yet many of us fans were quick to yell, “Trade Channing!” or “Channing sucks!” when his shot wasn’t falling. But if we are going to demand a positive culture from our players, the least we can do as fans is return the favor. I hope we can learn to be a positive influence in the lives of our players by always cheering them on and finding constructive ways to build them up when they are struggling.<!--EndFragment-->