The unspoken rule in our family has always been that, as long as you get a good story out of what you're doing, it's all right. My mom, dad, sister and I have no problem telling tales about ourselves.
It all stems from my dad, a journalist and an incredibly good sport. An example: He wrote an article about a Segway tour in town and wound up being pictured in the article, from behind with what he called a "monster wedgie." Was he embarrassed? Hell no! He wrote an article about everyone who called and wrote him to have a laugh. He was laughing with them because he knows it's a good story.
A story that always makes my dad laugh is one his proudest moment of me playing sports: when I fouled out of a youth basketball game before halftime.
It's not the greatest thing I've ever done in sports, not that I frequently did amazing. As far as achievements go, it's closer to the bottom than the top. But that never stopped my dad from smiling when telling the tale of me getting sent to the bench, just like he did that day as my coach.
Basketball was my dad's favorite sport to play. It still is when his knees can hold up. He's got this ass-ugly, low-altitude hook shot that starts from around his waistline and just can't help but drop every time. It's the whitest version of the sky hook you'll ever see, but if it gets up, it's hitting twine (I've since talked to some of the guys he hooped with twice a week, they all haaaaate that shot).
When I started playing, I knew I wasn't going to be any good at my daddy's favorite sport. That weighed heavy on my pre-adolescent mind. Even when he put a backboard up in our driveway, I didn't get any better, even though I wanted to be. He didn't pass down his version of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook -- it's more like a 5'10 guy's spazzy George Mikan hook that was undefeatable -- but he never passed up an opportunity to hoop with me.
The only things I could do respectably on a basketball court were play defense and rebound. So when I started playing for my dad's team in a youth league, I'd wind up guarding a bigger kid who was decent. My dad was incredibly fair about making sure kids got the playing time they needed, so I wasn't going to be stuck guarding him the whole game.
The day I fouled out, I was up against this kid named Joby. Joby already hit his growth spurt and was bigger, taller and faster than most kids in the league. He was wrecking the league by himself on layups because nobody could stop him.
It was here that I'd like to say I concocted a plan that could be called a predecessor to Hack-A-Shaq, fouling the bejesus out of a player and sending him to the free throw line early and often (keep those checks rolling, Gregg).
In reality I fouled the living hell out of Joby because I couldn't keep up. I did everything. I slapped the floor. I tried to draw a charge. I tried, failed and fouled until I got marshaled to the bench by a ref.
I had no idea I could foul out.
When I gave my dad the WTF face, he came down and told me what had happened, told me he was proud of me before I could apologize, and everything was cool. I shut my happy ass up, had a Capri Sun and kicked it at the end of the bench.
We lost that game, in which Joby had his worst game of the season (his coach, a football coach of mine in high school, confirmed this years later). I count it as my highest achievement in basketball because it still makes my dad laugh to this day.
So, happy Father's Day, dad. Thank you for teaching me the value in laughing at yourself -- it's served me better than almost anything. Thank you for making sports more about fun and being fair than about anything competitive. Sorry for stinking at basketball, but I'm glad I could make you laugh.
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that."
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