The recent documentary, The Last Dance, about the Chicago Bulls’ remarkable six NBA championships in eight years was a great relief from the relentless noise of COVID and politics for many Chicagoans. It was great fun to relive the many iconic moments from the 1990s when Chicago was the center of the basketball universe. My sons and I parsed each episode in great detail. I’m sure many might not appreciate how special those golden years were to us fans. After all, basketball is only a game.
Not so for me. Like art or music or dance, for me and my family, basketball is much, much more. As a child of the 1950s growing up in southern Indiana, there really wasn’t any other sport. I played basketball all the time. I shoveled my court, cut off the fingers of cloth gloves to dribble, and played against myself, pretending I was Rick Mount or Jimmy Rayl (who was Indiana “Mr. Basketball” in mid-’50s), eventually making the winning buzzer-beater. My Uncle John had a hoop on his barn. For real. Marsha’s rites of Hoosier passage included her first season ticket to the New Albany Bulldogs high school basketball team when she was in junior high.
I wasn’t all that good at basketball except for defense. I was afraid to shoot, and never wanted to take the last shot because I was afraid to miss. The anti-Jordan.
Marsha and I had three sons. The four of us were nuts about basketball. I coached. They played. Park league, YMCA, Julian Junior High, OPRF, countless camps, and hours and hours in the alleys behind our homes. I’d referee, coach, announce, and break up fights. I had a vast collection of basketball coaching tapes and books. There were high times and low times, joy and sorrow. Exhilarating wins were followed by soul-crushing defeats.
We followed high school, college and pro basketball. I’m currently in a fantasy basketball league with my sons and their friends. I’m the oldest by 30 years. Lily and Ava, my two oldest grandchildren, are now playing basketball, coached by their dad. I was awarded Best Fan by the fifth-grade Glen Ellyn Titans last season. It is one of my proudest accomplishments.
The documentary reminded me of how central basketball has been to me and our family. Of course there are lots of different ties that bind our family together, but the long multi-generational history of the sport is pretty special for us.
My three sons are my closest three friends for a number of reasons. The role basketball has played in creating those relationships is certainly one of them.