Friday, February 22, 2013

Fathers and Sons

As I make my way across high school gyms across the Rocky Mountain Region, I find a common theme.   The most frequent fan, the person that I most often see in the gymnasium is the parent.  The father or mother watching their son or daughter.   I often see people I have know for over twenty years now, people that I once played these same games against who are now the parents of a son or daughter that now plays in the same high schools that they played.  

Often, they are friends, often I have not seen them since the last time I played against them.  Having been out of the state of Wyoming for over ten years often they don't know my name, but I can remember them.   They are parents that yell at me now when I miss a call.  Often they are now coaching their son or daughter.   Sometimes, I'll have done so many games involving their son or daughter that they will recognize me from officiating.   This was true in Utah, it was true in Washington State and now it is true in Wyoming.

What I notice is the central theme -- that basketball, like baseball and like football is a game passed from generation to generation.  This is demonstrated at all levels of basketball from when you watch Larry Nance Sr. watching his son Larry Nance Jr. play for the University of Wyoming.  When the camera pans on former NBA star Dell Curry watching his son Stephon star for the Golden State Warriors or his other son Seth playing at Duke.   It's there when Mike Dunleavy is watching son Mike Dunleavy Jr. playing for the Milwaukee Bucks.   It's demonstrated when those fathers that once played high school basketball in Big Piney, Mountain View and Evanston are now yelling at me for the calls that I make against their sons or daughters.   Basketball is a family game. 

As a lifelong subscriber to Sports Illustrated, when Rick Reilly was the author of "The Point After" on the last page of each issue, I would turn to read the piece first.  It usually touched on something deeper than a score or a story.  Reilly had (and still has as an ESPN columnist) a gift for finding a chord and hitting it when he wrote.   There was an issue, maybe five years ago that featured a republished piece that he had written.  It was regarding "Nets".  Not the "New Jersey Nets" or even basketball "nets,"  but SI ran Reilly's (here is a link:  Life of Reilly -- Mosquito Nets ) column on the need for malaria mosquito nets in Africa multiple times.  The article  is exactly what Reilly does well.

The troubling part about the piece wasn't how powerful it was, but that Reilly later republished this same article in a later edition.   In an email I wrote to the esteemed columnist and questioned his dedication to his craft.  After all I'd paid for 52 issues wasn't I entitled to 52 new columns from Rick Reilly every year?  

Besides responding that he'd been on vacation Reilly responded that this piece had more meaning and had not nor could it ever be read enough.    With that thought, with the thought of Gonzaga's and David Stockton's role on the current Gonzaga team and the thoughts regarding fathers, mothers, sons and daughters from above I'm republishing something I wrote long ago regarding these relationships and the game which this blog touches on.   Similar to how Reilly felt about his piece on mosquito nets to prevent malaria, I felt this piece was not read enough when I first wrote it on January 8, 2008, it was titled Point Guard then, but perhaps a better title given what I point out above is Fathers and Sons.

It is roughly sixteen blocks west and eighteen blocks north from Behnken Field House where the Westminster Griffins play their home basketball games to the intersection of 300 West (John Stockton Boulevard) and South Temple where the statue of John Stockton is prominently displayed in Salt Lake City.

It is impossible to be a basketball fan and attend a game involving the Westminster Griffins of the Frontier Conference of the NAIA level, see Stockton's son's name Michael Stockton in the program and not think of the greatest point guard that ever played. The Griffins gym is smaller than most high school gyms in Salt Lake City. In spite of this fact my thoughts are on Stockton's brilliant career as I watch his son and the rest of Griffins warm up.

In the realms of college basketball, the entire concept of the point guard was a new and developing one. I had heard the phrase used in my first summer at Camp Wahoo, but the necessity of having a guard who directed the offense and distributed the ball to the big men and the shooting guard (also a new concept) was gradually spreading around the theorists and innovators who created new wrinkles in offensive patterns and strategies.

Conroy on the advent of the point guard position.

I am still a bit surprised when I look up and see the greatest point guard that ever lived walking up the bleachers next to me. Stockton's first NBA coach Frank Layden advised him to not change the way he was when he first entered the league. That probably holds true even after he has left the league. Stockton's admonishment and desire to not be bothered is so well respected at Behnken Field House that aside from only a couple of young kids who ask for autographs at halftime he is completely anonymous as he sits only two rows away from me. This is a player that never missed the playoffs during his nineteen year NBA career. This is a player who has spent the longest time with one franchise in NBA history, right here in Salt Lake City. Stockton retired as the all time steals and assist leader. In seventeen of his nineteen season Stockton played in every single game. Additionally, Stockton is the only NBA player former UCLA coach John Wooden has said he would pay to see play. Yet, tonight, he has somehow managed to escape all that - tonight, he is a father watching is son.

My philosophy of life was caught up with what I believed were the responsibilities of a point guard -- the importance of outhustling your opponent, watching for the unexpected, moving teammates to their proper spots on the floor, barking orders and calling the plays, exhorting and inspiring your team, and never quitting until the buzzer has sounded.
Conroy, who like Stockton attended Gonzaga Prep, albeit in different locations, could never play the position as well as Stockton, but his philosophy of the position is the same.

The Griffins play at the NAIA level, they enter this game against Lewis-Clark with a record of 10-2 -- it is the Frontier Conference opener for both teams. Westminster is rated 12th in the country slightly ahead of Wiley College. The same Wiley College that Denzel Washington coached to victory against Harvard in the movie the Great Debaters -- no word yet on whether either Wiley's basketball team or debate team has won today.

Michael Stockton, is left handed, he wears number 20, he plays point guard like Conroy and Stockton, but only briefly in the first half and in spite of the fact that his father's number is retired in the rafters only 38 blocks from here Michael gets called for a questionable travel midway through the first half. He does hit one of two free throws moments later.
Former Utah point guard Tommy Connor coaches the Griffins and both he and Lewis-Clark coach Tim Walker are as animated as any division I coach. There are no cheerleaders or drill teams at this level. This is all about the game and it is as competitive as any game I will watch this season. It goes into overtime. The crowd, Stockton included, spends most of the last five minutes of regulation and the overtime period standing. In the end, Westminster's point guard Danny Reeder is fouled with .8 seconds remaining and the Griffins down by a point. Reeder misses both free throws and Lewis-Clark wins by a point.

On the drive home, my father critiqued every aspect of my game, slashing the air with his index finger to emphasize his points as he listed my shortcomings.
Pat Conroy.

Hopefully, John Stockton is a little kinder to Michael than the Great Santini was to his son.


  1. Travis:
    Your'e starting to mellow with age. Nice piece.

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