A hug and a kiss on draft night. That's all the air time that proud mothers and fathers of America's top young basketball players usually see. (Barring tragedy or their own fame, of course. We heard about James Jordan and Arthur Agee, Sr.; we remember Jellybean Bryant and Mike Dunleavy, Sr.) The rest of the parents, the single moms, single dads, loving couples, divorced-but-friendly, divorced-but-not-talking, garner nary a second of television time nor a passing mention in the paper.
I suspect most fathers prefer it that way. That the spotlight shines only on their shining star, the apple of their eye. But look on the AAU sidelines; look in the stands. Fathers are there.
Yes, I know there's a story about absent fathers too; this isn't that story.
* * *
At various basketball games over the past 12 months, I've sat next to dozens of beat writers; a "posse" or two; front office members; former editors of newspapers; scouts from the Jazz, Bulls, Mavericks and Pacers; the man who wants to kill Blaze; writers from scout.com, rivals.com and FreeDarko; reporters from Canada, Australia, Finland, and Germany; and Dave(!). If there is a single best benefit of attending games on behalf of BlazersEdge, it is the opportunity to watch games alongside the professionals, to see the action through their eyes, to pick brains.
Without fail, there is a rhythm and a comfort to these interactions. The start-slow introductions, the take-a-side barroom argument, the find-some-common-ground resolution, the I-never-thought-of-it-that-way moment, the Let's-look-it-up-on-your-iphone-to-see-who's-right confrontation. Each stands as a unique conversation but together there is a larger narrative that becomes overwhelming in a Truman Show kind of way. Let's talk Blazers. Ok. Wedding. Funeral. Supermarket parking lot. Podcast. Gmail Chat. Facebook wall. Instant Message. The information transmits in multiple directions in more ways than I can list.
(To be clear: I'm not complaining, I wouldn't have it any other way. I could talk basketball literally all day as long as you shut up for a second, so I can finish reading this article online. After all, I can't do two things at once.)
Last night the narrative broke for a few hours, the rhythm halted. I was in a familiar place, courtside at a basketball game. To be specific, the championship game of the Nike Global Challenge. Next to me was a new face.
As far as introductions go it was awkward but harmless; he asked me if I was Canadian (No? Wait, what?) and I asked him if he was a coach (No, just a dad).
Abdul Gaddy's father.
* * *
Abdul Gaddy, one of the top 10 players in the Class of 2009. Abdul Gaddy, one of the most scrutinized prospects of late, thanks to an ill-advised call from the CEO of FedEx (a Memphis Tigers booster) to Abdul's mother, who just happens to be a FedEx customer service employee. Abdul Gaddy of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Washingon, a sure-fire All-American, All-McDonalds, All-everything.
Hype is a funny thing when misplaced but a beautiful thing when lived up to. With 40 minutes of watching him play under my belt, I am more than prepared to declare that Abdul Gaddy is the total package. Gaddy got next.
A point guard with good size (6'3") and great court awareness, his chin is almost permanently parallel to the floor below him. Last night he rarely, if ever, failed to see a passing angle. He changed speeds while changing speeds; bursting out of hesitation dribbles and taking the necessary half-step advantage with him. He showed an above-average jump shot, although he preferred feeding his team's leading scorer, Avery Bradley (with whom he shares a high school backcourt at Bellarmine). He crucified opposing point guards off the dribble. He exploded vertically off the deck for a dunk and floated an on-target alley-oop pass more than once. On defense, he created deflections that no one else imagined. He moved his feet. He did it all with only the faintest hints of emotion and certainly without outburst. Calm, cool, collected. Shaft with the swag minus the sex.
Nearby, his father offered only brief encouragement from his courtside station. "Keep shooting." "Nice pass." "Good hands." Simple things. Advice muttered almost unconsciously and quietly enough so as not to actually be instructive. Indeed Mr. Gaddy offered the same encouragements to his son's teammates: Jordan Hamilton, Avery Bradley and Roscoe Smith. They couldn't really hear him. They had a game to play.
Mr. Gaddy could have been your dad; he could have been my dad. Nothing flashy, nothing blinging, nothing untoward in the slightest. If the chairman of UPS was giving him a buzz, shoot, he had me fooled. Mr. Gaddy was just another dad on Sunday night. Sitting in the front row, edging forward in his chair, cheering on his son's team. Admiring the play of the opponents too. Composed, at all times.
* * *
The same couldn't be said for me. Reacting to one too-quick-to-be-appreciated-in-anything-but-slow-mo crossover sequence from Abdul, I couldn't help but yelp out that all-purpose Lil Wayne-ism: "Got emmmm!" His rock left, rock right, fake left again and then woosh right by you was a million dollar move and it would surely have ended in an uncontested layup if not for a no-other-choice foul.
Turning to look at Mr. Gaddy, with amusement and awe written all over, I didn't need to say anything . "I saw that," he responded preemptively. He answered the only question my eyes could have been asking, "Did you see that?"
"Did you see that?"
He's seen it before and he will see it again. He's seen my reaction before too.
Plenty of times.
* * *
Imagining having a son this talented causes the mind to wander. Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you; daydreaming and I'm thinking of you. Yes, day-to-day life would be a minefield. Agents, recruiters, coaches, writers, teachers, test scores, text-messages, you name it. The list of drama-causing, headache-inducing annoyances would be a mile long. The temptation to turn into Stan Love would be overwhelming.
But, on balance, it would be worth it.
I can only imagine. Is there a greater joy than watching your flesh and blood just work his opponent over on the basketball court? To watch him do it the right way, to watch him do it consistently, to watch him do it at the all-American level? To know that this is just the beginning?
To watch Abdul Gaddy do it so coolly.
It's almost too much to imagine.
* * *
Abdul Gaddy ended last night's game victoriously, putting up 12 points and 7 assists. He ended the weekend as tournament co-MVP, sharing the award with, who else, his teammate and partner in primetime, Avery Bradley. Before the trophies were handed out, the courtside chatter had already turned to familiar topics: the upcoming AAU events, potential campus visits, and the rest of the off-the-court minutia that defines life as a chosen one.
* * *
You read about parents with the wrong priorities, that supposedly preach the me-first style that has "killed team basketball" but led to an embarrassment of personal riches for a select few young millionaires. The Steve Francis Career Plan, I guess you might call it. You read about those parents occasionally, but you don't usually read about Abdul Gaddy and his father.
Perhaps that is because a team-first point guard with his head on straight doesn't make for easy copy. Perhaps that is because his story doesn't fit a stereotype that will provoke reader reaction. Perhaps that is because it seems too good to be true.
I think if you asked Mr. Gaddy, which I didn't, because I didn't feel it was necessary, he would tell you that he was the luckiest man in the gym. And I am sure, without question, that there were other fathers in the building that felt the same way.
* * *
At one point during the second half, I asked Mr. Gaddy what he thought of Clackamas' Nigel Williams-Goss, another young point guard prospect from the Northwest who is currently listed, by at least one online service, as the #1 rising 8th grader in the country. A searching look came over Mr. Gaddy's face so I pointed out Nigel, who was seated in the last row of the Liberty High stands. "He's wearing a white shirt with a backpack." Mr. Gaddy followed my finger, "Sitting there with his parents?" Mr. Gaddy's eyes examined Nigel and his parents for an extra beat.
Mr. Gaddy looked back over at me, and he just nodded and smiled.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PS As much as I just praised Abdul Gaddy's game, Avery Bradley's is worthy of the same. The hardest working man in Oregon, Tim Brown, has a great video of a Bradley dunk up on Oregonlive. And be sure to check out the rest of OLive's tournament coverage.
PPS If there is a team in the country that can defeat a Gaddy/Bradley backcourt, I'd like to see it. Here in Portland, we are blessed to have such a talented duo playing nearby. I highly recommend that you make the trip up to Tacoma this winter to check these two out. You will not be disappointed. Barring injury, both will be in The League. It's only a matter of time.